Effective Interviewing Techniques are Key for Care ManagersFamed motivational speaker Anthony Robbins hit the nail on the head with this quote on what leads us to life-changing, life-affirming behavior: “The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions you are asking yourself.”
If you’re a care manager, the same principles apply to the quality of questions you ask a chronically ill patient as you develop an effective care plan. In other words, only when you ask the right questions will you get the answers you need.
Asking good questions, however, takes practice and training in strategies like motivational interviewing. You aren’t born with great interviewing skills! A good interviewer can get a patient to reveal information without realizing what was said − significantly helping the healthcare team form a strong plan of care.
There is an old adage that says we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: we should listen twice as much as we speak. A great case manager understands the importance of formulating probing questions, and then listens intentionally, even in the silences. When the other person is not speaking, communication is still active.
What Are You Looking For?
Before starting any patient interview it’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want to discover, or information that may be missing. The purpose of the interview will help define the focus. In other words, are you gathering facts or opinions? Do you need greater clarification or more information?
Thoughtful and relevant questions are one of the most effective ways to obtain qualitative information. They help you to better explain and understand your patient’s behavior, experiences or choices—information that is valuable in developing and evaluating a successful healthcare plan.
Care managers, of course, must also collect quantitative information, using questions requiring a “yes” or “no” response, or that seek out specific information such as a phone number or address. Quantitative and qualitative information are both necessary, but the qualitative interview style requires greater skill and adaptation to acquire the most pertinent information.
Be Prepared and Ready to Adapt
The ability to adapt in life is one of the greatest tools you can develop. Your ability to adapt your interview questions based on the answers being given will help you to delve deeper into the subject matter at hand and come away with more information than you thought possible.
Adaptation is a skill you learn overtime and with experience. By paying attention to what the patient is saying and the answers they’re giving, you have a chance to reformulate your own questions or even ask new ones. This is one specific instance in which listening more than you speak is a significant advantage.
Too often, individuals start to formulate responses before the other person has even stopped speaking. Although the brain has an ability to multitask, it’s impossible to fully listen to what the other person is saying and formulate a response at the same time
Spend time listening to what your patient is saying and don’t be too quick to jump in with a next question. Sometimes, as you sit quietly developing your next question, your patient may unexpectedly clarify a point even further.
Use the Right Frame to See the Best Picture
Picture frames perform more than one function. Framing protects artwork, enhances its beauty, and helps anchor it in a space. When artwork is framed perfectly you notice the artwork and the frame is complimentary. Using the right frame in your interview questions can have the same effect. When you ask questions using a good frame, you get the answers you need without upsetting the patient.
Some of the best ways to do this is to ask open-ended questions. Unless you are seeking a “yes” or “no” answer, start your questions with who, what, where, when or how. You may be tempted ask “why,” but refrain. Too often this question leads others to be defensive and the answers you get are not exactly what you’re looking for.
If you notice gaps, follow up without directly addressing the issue. Direct questions often result in quick, direct answers; asking a patient to clarify how they felt, or how something happened, often gets you more information without offering your patient the opportunity to say “yes” or “no.”
Never interrupt when your patient is answering your question; it tells them you don’t value what they’re saying and interrupts their train of thought. This directs the conversation away from them and toward you. Instead, ask the question and let the patient answer it in full, even if you believe you’re not getting the information you need. You might find by listening fully to what they’re saying, you can redirect with a next question or even be surprised by the answers they’re giving you.
Now It Is Time to Ask Yourself . . .
How you ask a question determines the perspective on the answer you receive. For instance, in your own life, you have the choice of asking “Why did this terrible thing happen to me?” or “How is this the best thing that ever happened to me?” How you phrase the question often changes the answer you receive. When interviewing patients use neutral language that doesn’t unintentionally skew the answer.
Once your interview is over, it’s helpful to replay it in your mind and ask yourself several questions so you might improve the next time. Be sure to focus these questions in a positive manner so you can learn from the experience.
- What could I have done differently to make the patient more at ease or get better results?
- What skills do I need to improve?
- What lessons do I need to learn from this interview?
After nearly every interview you’ll discover answers to these question that will improve your skills over time. Whether you need to work with a skilled interviewer to improve your skills, do additional reading or develop new methods of asking questions. Asking yourself the right questions will only help you to grow professionally.
Leonard, I., The Art of Effective Questioning: Asking the right question for the desired result. Coaching for Change
Ross, J., (May 6, 2009) How to Ask Better Questions. Harvard Business Review
Watanabe-Crockett, L., (June 6, 2018) The 5 Key Steps for Helping You Ask Good Questions. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation