In your professional network, include those who challenge and question you. Peer feedback and coaching can help improve your care of patients.
Many things about networking have changed during the pandemic. While having a group of strong and trusted professional connections is as important now as ever, there are different opportunities for meeting new colleagues and different ways we might engage our existing network.
The most obvious change is the lack of in-person events to build and nurture relationships. And we need to manage both processes—increasing the number of relationships and choosing which ones to nurture most carefully. The ones we choose to cultivate depends on what we hope to derive from our network—validation, commiseration, empathy, access to opportunities, or challenges to our assumptions and conclusions.
The first four are easy to understand—we all want people around us who help us to feel good about ourselves, help us to feel better when something is not going as planned, and help us to find new opportunities. The last item isn’t an entirely new concept. I first heard the term “challenge network” on a “Hidden Brain” podcast with Adam Grant. In a world going through some of the biggest, most rapid changes in recent history, a strong and trusted group that challenges us is critically important. With so many new decisions, or old decisions in a new context with new constraints, it’s essential to ensure that at least some members of our network are comfortable challenging us to question and think through our assumptions and to reanalyze how we move from assumptions and data to a decision.
While I don’t give clinical care, I enjoy personal and professional rewards from mentoring. I’ve been considering how to make it an increasingly important aspect of what I do for my job rather than just an extra activity. In doing so, I wrote a series of commitments that I feel summarize my approach to professional and community mentoring. I have a close enough relationship with my proteges that I asked them to play the challenge role for me. All were willing. One, in particular, reads carefully every written word that I share and listens closely to every word in conversation. She asks a lot of questions, like, “Is that what you really meant?” or “Have you thought about how else that might be interpreted?” or “Do these ideas fit together?” or “Do you think these really represent the best part of what you offer as a mentor?” Through this type of interaction, I’m able to hone my ideas, strengthen my arguments, improve the pitch I make for others to consider adopting mentoring practices, and make better arguments for why I should be someone’s mentor.
Healthcare professionals with a network that includes those who challenge can engage those people to check decisions on care for specific patients and one’s practice that affects the ability to give exceptional care to all patients.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.