Manage Up

One of my pet peeves (and it appears I have a lot of them) is being led to an exam room by a receptionist who puts me in exam room 4 saying, “Someone will be with you shortly.”

Someone? Someone who? Who will be with me shortly? I sit and I wait. For someone.

It would be so much nicer if the receptionist said, “Okay you’re going to be right here in exam room 4. Tom will be your medical assistant today and he’ll be in to take care of you in just a few minutes. Tom is great. He’s one of the best we have here and patients love him. You’re in good hands.”

Three great things come from those simple words.

  1. A nervous patient starts to relax. She has heard that this other care provider is good at his job and is good with patients. She feels better already.
  2. Employees actually do a better job after a set of expectations has been set. I step up my game when I know someone has heard that I’m good at my job. If someone says I’m warm and friendly, I am turning up the warm and friendly for sure.
  3. Co-workers get along better when they get into the habit of speaking well of one another. Less gossip and more praise mean higher morale. And by the way, patients pick up on that, too.

But what are you supposed to do if you’re handing a patient off to Tom and you don’t like Tom? Do you lie and make something up so the patient feels better? Of course not. Find out a little something about Tom, like how long he’s worked here or how many years of experience he has.

Maybe patients like Tom just fine, even if you don’t. Try this, “Okay, here we are in room 4. Tom is going to be your medical assistant today. He’s been with us for about three years now and patients love him. I’m sure you’re going to love him. He will be here in just a few minutes.”

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

And you know, there’s a very good chance that after hearing you say nice things about him every day, Tom might actually become easier to work with. You might start to genuinely like him. You’ll like coming to work, patients will pick up on the energy and collegiality around the office, and nervous patients aren’t so nervous anymore.

All because you managed up.

What’s stopping you?

I Did My Job

Lately, I’ve been part of some skills training that focuses a lot on checklists. I think there’s a lot to be said for being very specific when you’re trying to teach someone how to interact professionally and compassionately with people. For many, these are skills that don’t come naturally and we need to show some concrete actions that demonstrate warmth and caring. Simply telling someone to be nice often isn’t very helpful. Everyone thinks they’re nice.

There’s no shortage of checklists out there for behavioral standards and ways to make patients feel more comfortable, but what if you do all the things on the checklist and patients are still unhappy?

I had a coaching session with someone for this very thing. He couldn’t understand why, after doing everything he was taught to do, patients still complained about him. He made sure he said hello, introduced himself and his role, he explained how long the tests would take and what was going to happen. He even said thank you at the end of every patient encounter. His manager was having a very difficult time giving him some helpful feedback because he was doing everything on the checklist and still not getting very good survey scores from patients.

To me, the answer was obvious. He wasn’t connecting.

I was looking at a perfectly competent employee with very good technical skills who was simply going through the motions without any sincerity. He was focused on his to-do list, there to do a job and complete a series of tasks, doing just enough to not get fired.

When we put the focus solely on ourselves and our actions, we forget that experience is a two-way street. Simply doing the items on a checklist doesn’t guarantee that the other person understands what we’ve said or interprets those things as helpful. It takes a genuine connection, even if it’s brief, to demonstrate caring to a patient.

Simply saying hello doesn’t convey a warm greeting but “Say Hello” was an item on the checklist. Should we have written “Sincerely and warmly greet every person with whom you come in contact”? Well, if that’s what you want, then that’s what you need to write if you’re going to use a checklist.

A better way is to hire people for whom this comes naturally. Warmth is tough to teach.

Thankfully, my coaching story does have a happy ending. This employee used to display warmth and sincerity with patients, but over time, he got jaded, bored, and burned-out. All it took was a little reminder from me about why he went into this field and he was able to reconnect with that part of himself he’d let go dormant. For those that never had it to begin with, I wonder if you can teach it. I’d rather spend my training budget helping people with the right kind of interpersonal skills and a desire to get even better.

What kinds of criteria are you using to hire your employees?