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Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

–Zig Ziglar

Your ability to use communication to engage, influence, and motivate others is essential for building professional relationships and achieving high-quality patient outcomes. Effective communication lays the foundation for a healthy workplace environment (Babiker et al., 2014). Miscommunication in a health-care environment is both common and costly. Worse, it’s a leading cause of mortality and morbidity.

One main reason for ineffective communication is that most people approach situations and conversations with certainty rather than curiosity. We automatically place judgment on someone or something when things go wrong. This is not because we are mean people; it’s because of our values, beliefs, and experiences—in other words, our mental model (Dweck, 2006; Gentner & Stevens, 2014).

A mental model is a framework we create in our minds to help us interpret or make sense of the world around us. Our mental model guides our perceptions and behaviors and helps us problem-solve and make decisions. Each person’s mental model is different.

There are two main types of mental models, or mind-sets. One of these is a fixed mind-set. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), observes that people with a fixed mind-set assume their intelligence, creativity, and character are set in stone. The other type of mental model is a growth mind-set. A growth mind-set positions us to be more open-minded and to see things more holistically. Having a growth mind-set fosters resilience and enables us to maintain a positive outlook. Those who embody a growth mind-set believe that their most fundamental abilities can be developed through hard work, dedication, and perseverance, not just intelligence or talent (Dweck, 2006).

The problem with people who have a fixed mental model is that they filter every problem they encounter through that mind-set. As a result, they often fail to accept or consider all the facts—shutting out anything that doesn’t mesh with their mind-set. As the common proverb says, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Here’s an example. Suppose a patient tells his nurse that he did not take his prescribed medication. Thanks to her fixed mind-set, the nurse immediately concludes that she’s dealing with yet another noncompliant patient who thinks he knows best. After further discussion, the patient reveals that he did not take the prescribed medication because he could not afford it and was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Had the nurse maintained a growth mind-set, she would have approached the situation with curiosity rather than certainty and would not have been so quick to judge the patient.

Mind Over Matter, or Matter Over Mind?

Recently, researchers conducted an experiment that involved providing students with a nonverbal IQ test that contained several challenging problems. Afterward, the ...

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