Six Powerful Words: “Can You Help Me to Understand?”

It’s hard to admit you don’t understand a topic. But in showing that you aren’t perfect – you don’t know EVERYTHING – you gain not only the knowledge you need, but powerful allies.

“Can you help me to understand?”  — those six little words have made a big splash for a young hospital COO that I know. Her background is non-traditional; she earned her stripes in the marketing and strategic planning realm of healthcare, but had limited exposure when it came to the operational and clinical aspects of the industry.

Because of her unique background, others were often quick to question her credibility in meetings. Instead of becoming defensive or questioning her abilities, she developed a healthy approach and made it a habit of asking those six words: “Can you help me to understand…..?”

This humble and unassuming request for help resulted in her not only getting the knowledge she needed, but provided the added benefit of “winning people over.” Who among us doesn’t enjoy using our know-how to come to someone’s aid, or is flattered when asked to lend our expertise? This is especially true of those of us in health care who have built our lives around helping others.

Even the most seasoned leaders among us can’t know everything all the time. Mr. Bank President, for example, may know the ins and outs of business lending better than he knows himself, but he may be at a loss when asked about mortgages – after all, residential and commercial loans are two completely different animals.

Just because we may be leaders within an organization doesn’t mean we are magically equipped with the power to be well-versed in all areas of our industry.

It can be said that leaders truly gain the most valuable insight and experience through the questions they ask – not just the answers they provide.


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