Emotional Intelligence, EI, is a popular topic of conversation. It seems to operate from the position that most of us are socially inept and unable to cope with the unspoken or mis-spoken communications of those around us. Outside healthcare physicians are often labeled as difficult people to work with, independent, head-strong, etc… and often lacking in EI. I would disagree. I believe most physicians function at a fairly high EI level. However, I would say most function at a fairly low OI – Organizational Intelligence, level.
OI is the ability to navigate the political infrastructure of the average nonclinical organizational setting. I was speaking with a physician client recently who was frustrated in feeling overlooked for some important corporate roles. His job at the time had already shifted to about 60% administrative and 40% clinical with doors continuing to be opened to further administrative responsibilities. However, as he said to me, “I feel that people stop listening to me when I offer honest opinions.” He explained by giving me a specific example where the CEO had asked his opinion on a significant issue. His response was effectively a one-sentence condemnation of the issue before walking away. He wondered why the CEO seemed to exclude him from any future discussions of that issue. What’s your opinion?
To the physician executive, he believed he had only been straightforward and direct. He addressed the CEO the same way he would address a colleague who might inquire about the efficacy of a procedure or a new pharmaceutical. The physician executive considers himself an expert in various areas, and in those areas, he expects his opinions to be accepted and respected. That works among colleagues, among support staff and often, even among patients. In other words, his EI relative to his clinical environment is highly suitable.
However, his OI is in the gutter. Why, because the nonclinical, administrative, executive worlds are not as direct. Expertise is considered variable and somewhat subjective. The marketing people may second-guess the finance people, operations may not trust staff level positions and the CEO is the loneliest person in the company. It truly is not just what you say, but how you say it. To paraphrase Churchill, “you may have your own opinions, but not your own facts.” And nonclinically, there are often more opinions at play than actual facts. Or as a mentor advised me one day early in my career, “Being right simply isn’t enough.”
Developing a high OI is based on that realization and putting it into play. You have to ask yourself how others will likely react to your opinion. Who has a vested interest in a project or a program becomes relevant to what you say about it and how you say it. I’m not saying you don’t point out problems or concerns, but you look for ways to present them that can be Organizationally Intelligent. I once had a colleague who never openly disagreed with anything anyone said. However, when he was in disagreement, he would simply state, “Could we challenge that….” Hmmmm, he’s not disagreeing and it’s not just him, but “we,” we just want to challenge a position or a statement, an assumption, etc… Actually, he was disagreeing but in a very agreeable, Organizationally Intelligent, way. You can do the same if you try.