Medical educators have promoted skillful communication as a means for doctors to develop positive relationships with their patients. In practice, communication tends to be defined primarily as what doctors say, with less attention to how, when, and to whom they say it. These latter elements of communication, which often carry the emotional content of the discourse, are usually referred to as interpersonal skills. Although recognized as important by some educators, interpersonal skills have received much less attention than task-oriented, verbal aspects. Moreover, the field lacks a common language and conceptualization for discussing them. This paper offers a framework for describing interpersonal skills and understanding their relationship to verbal communication and describes an interpersonal skill-set comprised of Understanding, Empathy, and Relational Versatility.
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