When was the last time you were advised to slow down? More likely, you feel pressured to move quickly to your next task or project.

It caught my attention at a recent conference when I heard Julie Miller-Phipps, President of Kaiser Permanente Southern California, encourage a group of hospital leaders to slow down. Describing herself as a Type A personality, Julie admitted it takes a lot of self-management, but says we must do so to build the deep relationships healthcare leaders need.

The Approach

Julie shared that in the south, where she worked early in her career, she learned that she first needed to get to know her colleagues before talking business. This custom took time and she called it her “3-cups-of-tea approach” to building a relationship.

How long does it take to really get to know someone over a cup of tea? About an hour? Multiply one cup of tea by a factor of three, and don’t even think about bringing up the topics of business until you have finished that third cup of tea. This is Julie’s recipe for a 3-cups-of-tea approach to building better business relationships.

Investing time and care to build strategic business relationships is more critical than ever. If your goal is to improve the patient experience while decreasing the cost to provide that care, you must engage with diverse stakeholders. Some stakeholders in your health ecosystem will have different priorities than you, and some may even be a competitor.

Julie said she frequently observes leaders skipping over deep relationship-building because they feel in a hurry to get results. That’s understandable, yet you need to create an environment of psychological safety so your colleague will speak openly and honestly with you. Deeper conversation is required to find common ground and create win/win solutions.

The Steps

A 3-cups-of-tea approach takes face-to-face connection. Use these tips to build deep relationships:

1) Understand yourself. What might get in your way of creating safety in a relationship? A personality test or feedback from your peers or a coach can provide insight.
2) Listen to understand. Most of us listen to know how to respond. Instead, listen to understand what drives, motivates and challenges the person you’re speaking with.
3) Ask questions. Ask open-ended questions, rather than trying to get to the bottom line too quickly. Be curious and explore how people think.
4) Stay open. Saying “Yes, and…” builds on what has been said. Saying “no” or “yes, but…” kills an idea and decreases trust.

A lot has changed in the healthcare environment, but what people need has not. Sharing a cup of tea (or three) may just be the key to building better business relationships and a better healthcare system.

For more healthcare leadership articles and resources, visit www.DeborahMunhoz.com/blog/

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