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SBAR conversation: A useful tool for fast, urgent communication

by Phil Dourado August 17, 2009

If you watch ER, House, Gray's Anatomy or any TV show where someone is periodically rushed into 'Emergency' you'll have noticed the handover conversation, maybe, in which the paramedics bark information at the medics as the gurney or trolley is run along the corridors.

There's a formula to these conversations. It was developed for obvious reasons - to convey maximum relevant information for action in minimal time and with minimal scope for confusion and omission.

You may know this already, but I'm a bit slow sometimes and only learnt it recently from Ronan Knox, a consultant I was doing some work with. Ronan stressed to me how valuable this kind of urgent conversation is as a formula to cultivate in times of crisis leadership.

It's known as an SBAR conversation, because of the essential four elements that have to be clearly conveyed:

1. Situation

2. Background

3. Assessment

4. Recommendation

It's a useful formula to apply to any fast, urgent conversations you need to have where agreed action has to follow. Actually, shouldn't most conversations at work be like that? Why aren't more meetings at work like that? 

Talking of House, just as an aside, I was at college with Hugh Laurie and, just to show how annoyingly talented some people are, not only is he a TV star, he plays a mean self-taught piano and he's so good at rowing that in our third year at college, even though he had glandular fever ('mano' I think you Yanks call it?), he was selected for the Cambridge eight to row against Oxford in the annual Oxbridge University Boat Race.

Isn't it great when your peers are super-talented and go onto great things? What's that mantra I heard recently on 'King of Queens' on TV - "I must learn to be delighted when good things happen to other people. I must learn to be..."