A relatively unexplored aspect of clinicians' communication skill is their interpersonal sensitivity, or ability to perceive their patients accurately with regard to patients' feelings, desires, intentions, needs, physical states, personality, attitudes, beliefs, and values. The present article argues for the importance of this skill in clinical interactions and summarizes supportive research.
Reviews approaches to measuring interpersonal sensitivity and research on correlates of clinicians' and laypersons' interpersonal sensitivity.
Studies on clinicians' interpersonal sensitivity suggest that this skill could be improved. Furthermore, there are important correlates of clinicians' interpersonal sensitivity, including, on the patient's side, satisfaction, appointment-keeping adherence, and learning of conveyed information, and, on the clinician's side, awareness of patients' cues of anxiety and distress, commitment to patient-centered values, self-reported awareness of own emotions, and female gender. Furthermore, a very large non-clinical literature points to many other correlates of interpersonal sensitivity that are relevant to the clinical situation, including empathy, prosocial behavior, skill in negotiating, selling, teaching, and managing, better personal adjustment, and better interpersonal relationships. Research also suggests that interpersonal sensitivity is a trainable skill that could realistically be included in clinical education.
Clinicians' interpersonal sensitivity is an important component of quality of care and deserves further research.
This important skill should be incorporated into training programs to improve clinician-patient communication.