Bad People Skills Can Kill!

docs popup 300x184 Bad People Skills Can Kill!
Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times. Applicants prepared for “multiple mini interview” at Virginia Tech Carilion.

Unbelievable but true.  According to a recent “New York Times” story (“New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test” ), “…a growing catalog of studies (pins) the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.”

Doctors, like many of their geek brethren, “can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls who bully nurses and do not listen to patients.”  What I call “expertism” is rampant in the geek world and although it doesn’t often have such extreme consequences, it’s destructive in any work environment or, for that matter, personal relationship.  Expertism is the belief, either real or imagined, that you know a whole lot more than anybody else on a given subject.

Geeks are often either in their own world or, when they know something about a subject, you can’t shut them up. Often, the young geek doesn’t fit in to a social group but they’re always rewarded for their intelligence. In a difficult youth, it’s often the only thing they can be proud of. Sometimes, they’re a little too proud of it and claim expertise in things they aren’t actually expert in.

We’ve all been in meetings with people who are full of opinions but won’t allow anybody else express theirs. Geeks will often hit the same subject over and over again, in an attempt either to be heard and/or to refine their point. It’s also often tied-in to the geek’s inability to listen to others, repeating a point almost as a shield.  Listening, of course, is at the core of good communication skills.

“Medicine is evolving from an individual to a team sport… The strength of such teams often has more to do with communication than the technical competence of any one member,” according to the “Times”.  This applies to business world in general.  Teamwork is an essential element in every job.

And even though the bridge may not fall down because all of the engineers are know-it-alls, a geek’s influence in a company can certainly be diminished simply because he or she sounds like a broken record. “Okay, we get it. You don’t think that the new version is ready to release.” That geek is going to have to have a lot of genius to avoid getting the guillotine when times get tough for the company.

Follow-up: Letters to the New York Times on this issue.

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