Skip to main content

Michigan Medicine

A Minute with Marschall

Reviving a Dying Art, the Old Fashioned Way

January 20th, 2020

In a recent discussion, a faculty member brought up the dying, or at least faltering, art of conversation and healthy debate. With so many technological advances that allow us to communicate without actually talking, I wonder if the convenience and ease of email, texts, social media, etc. actually creates misinformation and confusion.

For example, last year a division chief in one of our clinical departments received an electronic report that a faculty member was not meeting their required clinic hours. In line with past protocol, the division chief sent an email with the report, asking the faculty member to correct the situation, based on the current  clinic hour expectations. In response, the faculty member asked the division chief to  reconsider the expectations. The email exchange continued, looping in additional people at various leadership levels, until it finally landed in my inbox. After looking into it, and asking for a brief meeting with key stakeholders, the issue was resolved very quickly. The faculty member wanted different, not fewer clinic hours.

Adjusting the schedule easily solved the problem. Instead of multiple emails, involving many leaders, and a formal meeting, an initial conversation between the division chief and faculty member would have likely fixed the problem.  

Reporting systems and protocols are absolutely necessary. We gather very valuable data from our productivity dashboards, compliance hotline, and quality metrics, just to name a few. These are great tools, but they cannot replace the human connection that helps us really understand a problem or concern, and allows us to relate to how a colleague is thinking or feeling. More importantly, taking the time and effort to have a personal conversation, although it may be awkward or difficult, helps us engage and empower our team members, while improving our work climate.

My hope is that with the help of our ongoing high reliability training, which encourages us to speak up, we will learn how to respectfully engage each other in those crucial conversations that shape our culture. I encourage you, despite all of the technology at our fingertips, to remember and use the old school practice of inviting a colleague to chat over a cup of coffee.  

What do you think? How does high technology help or hinder your connection with others? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comment section below.


  • I think that within all our technology we have lost the art of appreciating each other’s contributions. I find that having regular face to face interactions with all the various staff that work in our ACU is enjoying and meaningful, and truly valuable. I am able to see the work happening, so when I hear concerns of workload or difficulty in being able to accomplish certain tasks I can see the why – the clinic staff meeting patient needs on the computer isn’t just “sitting at a desk” as can be perceived by others who are unfamiliar with the work, and this can go on an on. Being inquisitive, seeking to understand, and going to to see is always most important, and worth every minute. What things appear to be on a computer screen are frequently very different looking in reality and sending electronic communication to discuss these issues usually ends up with poor results.

    • Thanks Julia, for your feedback. I appreciate that you are taking the extra steps necessary to truly understand your staff and colleagues. Person to person interaction can certainly go a long way to recognizing and responding to individual concerns.

  • Minerva Garcia-Barrio

    I agree wholeheartedly with the strategy suggested by Dr. Marshal. Furthermore, I did take the “high reliability training” although we were informed that the research track did not need to take such training “because of the clinical focus”. My counter argument is that we desperately need these type of trainings in the research enterprise across UM. Indeed, I did learn quite a bit in those 4hs. Now, that said, we face other challenges on a daily basis in the research areas. Those challenges should be incorporated in a focused “high reliability training in research” equivalent. To mention the main 2: Cross-cultural communication, considering the diversity of our research teams and the language barriers we face daily, and addressing head on the ‘fear of retaliation’ when it comes to discussing matters of compliance and safety. Bottom up communication should be encouraged, facilitated and protected. Giving us the right tools will only empower us and create a better working atmosphere overall.

    • I appreciate you taking the training, Minerva, and I ’m glad you found it beneficial. Although the training is “clinical focused,” we encourage everyone to take it because, as you stated yourself, you learned quite a bit in those four hours. We understand the skills training is not as well suited to basic science researchers compared to clinical positions, and we’re exploring how we might refine the training in the future. Your feedback is much appreciated.

  • Thank you for bringing this important topic forward, Dr. Runge.

    Composing a third email on the same topic should be a warning flag to pick up the phone or chat personally instead! It’s important to connect with people, tell them you’re happy to help and clarify, treat each person respectfully and understand no one is perfect (especially ourselves when having to send multiple clarifying messages). Michigan Medicine has so many moving parts, data points, priorities and goals – all of which are based on serving patients. Let’s not forget we are serving one another as well.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Amy. I certainly agree that we should remain as focused and respectful in our interactions with each other as we are with our patients.

  • What a beautiful article on how decisions can be made, or conflicts can be resolved, with simple face-to-face engagement and learning. Ultimately, it may have saved multiple Emails, and escalating tensions, that never would have occurred it we only stopped to seek understanding.

    My favorite Stephen Covey principle of all time is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It makes you be a more compassionate colleague and friend, and a better listener. Even in one’s use of social media, ask someone first ” Tell me more about why you feel that way.” You might be surprised on what you learn that you never knew.

    Great article – thanks!

    • Thank you Mary for reminding me of that great quote by Stephen Covey. What a great idea to seek that kind of understanding through social media. We could use more of that.

Comments are closed.