I was reminded today of the importance of having good "people skills." As medical students, we have several opportunities to interact with Standardized Patients. These individuals donate their time, pretending to be patients, and allow us to practice being physicians. We then get a chance to receive feedback & discuss ways to improve. Today, we had one such session during which we were practicing conversations about behavior change, such as smoking cessation or diet & exercise for weight management. I had absolutely no idea how to address these issues with a patient, so naturally I was quite nervous! We were given some direction, but mostly left to "wing it," while still managing to gather all the required information. I ended up doing well which I attribute primarily to having good people skills.
What are people skills and how can we develop them? To me, "people skills" include, among other things, the ability to carry on a conversation as well as the ability relate to another person. And as with everything, practice makes perfect. I enjoy going out with people I don't know very well as a way to practice my conversation skills, and I take every opportunity learn more about being empathetic. This probably also explains why I'm constantly trying to incite dialogue here on the blog!
I went into the exercise today worried that I didn't know the right questions to ask or the proper suggestions to make, yet it turned out that all I needed to do was to start the conversation and the rest followed naturally. The same is true for a variety of applications, in all walks of life, thus I think it is important for everyone to develop their people skills. It makes you more confident, and so often confidence makes all the difference.
Moral of the story: forget class, go out to dinner more often!