Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. I have a brave soul who’s willing to let you take sneak peak into our coaching session. Vanessa is her name. Welcome Vanessa.
Vanessa: Thank you.
Doctor Neha: I’ve asked you to come up with a communication question. What is it that you were wondering about?
Vanessa: I’m wondering about communicating with my peers at work. I’m a physical therapist, new grad, two years out of school. I’m confident and comfortable communicating with patients and every other colleague who’s been out of school the same amount of time.
But several times, I’ve caught myself showing my doubt in confidence several times with those who have 20+ years of experience. At the end of whatever discussion we’re having, I find myself stating something like, “I think that’s right.”
Vanessa: How can you kind of get around that or get past that?
Doctor Neha: Great question. What you’re saying is that you’re new; you went through your training and you’ve been in practice for two years, right? So you have a level of confidence with your patients.
Doctor Neha: You even seem to have a level of confidence with your peers. But there’s this one little thing you do when [your colleagues] have a lot more experience than you do: you change your inflection; your tone goes up at the end, which signifies question.
Doctor Neha: Or you turn a statement into a question, kind of indicating your doubt. Tell me what does it mean that someone’s been doing this for 20 or 30 years?
Vanessa: Right away I think they better know how to treat a patient more effectively and efficiently. They’re going to get a patient in there for treatment and progress them a little quicker than I can or have more tools to use.
Doctor Neha: They might. So there’s a way that you give up your personal power. There are a couple kinds of powers, and I think sometimes people get these confused.
Doctor Neha: For instance, in a job, a family or a company there is positional power, such as I’m the mother and you’re the kid, I’m the boss and you’re the employee, I’ve been at this company twenty years and you’ve been here two.
Doctor Neha: I might have a senior physical therapist title or something like that that then triggers the thought that I have more experience than you do. Now, do any of these therapists have a different title than you?
Doctor Neha: Okay, so there’s no title difference, signifying positional power. So you’ve decided based on how many years of experience they have that they have more personal power than you do.
Doctor Neha: Do you know where you picked this up? Where did you come up with the idea that somebody who’s lived longer or had more experience in something is better than you?
Vanessa: I don’t know. Just created it I guess.
Doctor Neha: Do you have siblings?
Doctor Neha: Where are you in the hierarchy?
Doctor Neha: Oh, you’re in the middle. Tell me what you thought of your older sibling? Did your older sibling seem to know things that you didn’t?
Vanessa: Yeah, but I tended to do the middle child thing and go my own route.
Doctor Neha: Oh, did you?
Vanessa: I’ve always been more independent doing my own thing.
Doctor Neha: Okay, so the pattern is more in relation to those people who went the same route as you and now have more experience. Do you see how there’s like this complicated little grid that you think through to determine if you give up your personal power? If they are in my line of work, then yes. If they have been doing it longer, then yes. If they have been at it the same amount of time, then no. You’re very clear about how you decide whether you give up your personal power to somebody.
Doctor Neha: Now when you’re saying something to one of these colleagues who’s been working longer than you, do you really have a question at the end of your instruction or assessment, or is it that you just want to make sure they don’t think that you’re challenging their authority or something?
Vanessa: When I caught myself a couple days ago answering questions for a student there and the other PT with 20+ years of experience was there, I was giving my opinion about treating and evaluating patients to this student. At the end, when I change my tone, I guess I’m asking for approval or their confidence and their belief that what I was saying made sense and that it was right.
Doctor Neha: You’re looking for approval?
Vanessa: Yes, exactly.
Doctor Neha: You’re looking for approval from someone who’s been down this road farther than you have. A great way to do that would be to just say, “That’s what I think. Vanessa, what do you think?”
You can ask a question directly because that’s collaboration.
Vanessa: Yeah. That’s fine.
Doctor Neha: The other thing your situation tells me is that you value doing an excellent job.
Doctor Neha: You’ve been doing this for two years; have you made mistakes?
Vanessa: Of course, that’s how you learn, right?
Doctor Neha: Yeah, but a part of you doesn’t want to be there. Has there ever been a time that you felt like you looked like a fool or you felt like you didn’t know what you were doing?
Vanessa: Not many particular incidences. But I know that feeling for sure; I just couldn’t relate it to one instant though.
Doctor Neha: Okay, so you might be trying to protect yourself from being in that kind of situation.
Now when you are talking to students, what do you want to make sure the student learns from someone more experienced than them?
Vanessa: To be able to make better clinical judgment and to give better treatment to the patients.
Doctor Neha: Is it okay if they make mistakes?
Vanessa: Of course.
Doctor Neha: It’s okay for them just not you?
Vanessa: Just not me.
Doctor Neha: How about this? Let’s say I am you, and I just did that whole thing where I was looking for your approval by asking a question. What if I just called myself out, and I just said, “You know what, Vanessa, I think there’s part of me that’s trying to see if you agree with me and think I’m right, because you’ve been doing this for so much longer than I have. Instead of doing that dance, I want to try this again, so I’m going to do a take two.”
Doctor Neha: So when you notice you’re falling into that pattern, just call it out. It will actually connect you to the other person. If you have somebody you really trust whom you work with, say to them, “I notice that when we’re all talking with students, I feel pretty confident in what I’m doing. But there’s a part of me that gives up my personal power when you’re in my presence because I give you more authority. I want you to think that I’m making great clinical judgments, but I don’t actually ask you honestly. What I do is I just create a question or an inflection at the end of my commentary. Will you give me feedback when you notice I do that? I want to make sure that I show up with equal personal power with my peers in the room and I’d love to get your feedback on that to see if I can change that.”
Doctor Neha: Or you could ask, “Did you ever notice that I do that?” There is nothing that bonds people more than the truth.
Vanessa: Right. Absolutely.
Doctor Neha: If one of your students came to you and asked you for that kind of feedback and for help in being more confidence in your presence, what would you do?
Vanessa: I would let them know how and guide them that way.
Doctor Neha: You’d be honored to help them in their growth.
Vanessa: Oh, absolutely.
Doctor Neha: So in that moment when you’re guarding yourself around your colleagues, let yourself be vulnerable a little bit and say, “Hey, you know what, can I try that again?”
Vanessa: Okay. I can do that.
Doctor Neha: If any of you who are watching or reading notice that you have some sort of a rule in your head about others—whether it’s positional power, the title someone has at a company, the title they have in the household, years of experience, a sibling—that allows you to give up your personal power when you are around a certain person, get clear about what that rule is. Are you confident in what you’re saying but then change your tone? Do you ask an indirect question looking for approval, but not directly asking for their feedback? That’s how communication gets kind of complicated, because you’re asking for something without really asking for it. Thanks to Vanessa for showing up and asking the question. I’d love to hear your comments below or on Twitter—use #AskDoctorNeha.
- What are the ways you give up your personal power? With whom? In what situations?
- What stories and comparisons are you making up that lead you to that conclusion?
- Challenge your thinking. If the situation was reversed, what advice would you give someone else to stand in their personal power?
- Get clear about what are you’re looking for (e.g., feedback, insight, approval).
- Make sure you ask for it!
To putting the comparison game to rest,