“Argue like you’re right, and listen like you’re wrong.” It sounds simple, but remembering this advice can go a long way in helping you communicate more effectively with others on your team, whether in healthcare, technology, or any other field.

When I was in school, I always dreaded the time when report cards came out. There was only one part of the report card that ever worked in my favor … the conduct grade. Maybe this is just a Texas thing, but when all else failed, I could point to the “gets along well with others” part of the report card to make a case for how well things were going. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to keep me from being grounded and losing my rights to my Nintendo. 

Little did my parents know that when it comes to teamwork, “gets along well with others” is a very important component that can determine success in careers throughout adulthood! Someone needs to talk to them about that...

But here's the double-edged sword: while getting along well with others is certainly a virtue and can predict success, if we focus too heavily on it, that mentality can sometimes actually damper teamwork. Another saying we have been taught since grade school is “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all." Also a good piece of advice to live by ... as long as it's not taken too far. 

not listening-485669-edited.jpgWhen working with a team, be it a hospital team, the sales team at a tech company, or your paramedic colleagues, getting along is important. BUT we also need to challenge each other and make sure that we don’t withhold important thoughts and information even if it isn’t something people will be thrilled to hear. When we focus too much on being nice and not hurting people's feelings, it puts the team in an impossible situation. What usually happens is one person on the team ends up being “that guy” or “that lady” who always speaks their mind and the eyes start rolling.

If we’re honest with ourselves, this is an area where we can all use a little help. So let's take a look at what this one simple principle can do to help us get more from ourselves and our teammates. The chances are you are good at half of this equation, but both sides of the equation are needed to be the team member we all want and need.

1. Argue like you’re right 
You know what this looks like. When someone knows they are right, their words have a very distinct feel about them. Some characteristics of this kind of speaker are:

  • They are passionate. They speak with conviction, almost as though they were a lawyer, and the group were on a jury. There's no "well, maybe this happened or maybe that." Instead, it's all persuasive speaking.
  • They are not easily swayed from what they know to be true.
  • They aren’t afraid to ask or be asked questions because they’ve already asked them to themselves.
  • They reek of confidence.
  • They don’t know when to stop ... “Let's argue all day because I know I’m right.”

You get the point. Secretly many of us want to be this person, but it can be hard to speak up. This is especially true when we’re dealing with someone who’s above you on the food chain. If you are reading this and feeling good about yourself so far, let's see how you do on the next section! (Or if you're one of those people who almost never feels like what I described above, perhaps this next section is where you shine).

2. Listen like you’re wrong
To do this, just think about a time when you needed to learn about something and you were clueless. What does that look like?

  • You ask a lot of questions (hopefully).
  • You clarify the parts you don’t understand (again, hopefully).
  • You try to put it all together in your head like a puzzle. Are there pieces that don’t fit?
  • You ask others what they think. Maybe you Google things and watch YouTube videos.
  • You read others for signs of confidence and assurance.
  • You consider others' experience to evaluate if they have the expertise to be giving advice to you or others.

There are very few people who are naturally good at both of these. Many people are great at speaking their minds but as adept at taking the time to quiet down and really listen when others speak (and vice versa). The good news is, being able to do both is a skill set that can be learned and honed over time. In the medical profession, the stakes are too high not to work together this way. The challenges we have today are too complex to just be addressed by one type of person (either the speakers or the listeners).

You're a valuable part of your team, and you're there for a reason. If you argue what you know to be true like you are right, and then listen to others just like you would if you were wrong or ignorant about something, then the team wins every time. This means safer patient care, better technology development, improved employee satisfaction, even happier families.  

Best of luck!


Shane Elmore, RN

Written by Shane Elmore, RN

Shane is an RN who has worked as a Chest Pain Coordinator and is certified in CCRN, CEN, and CFRN.