What’s Your Approach to Problems?

One of the cool things I get to do within my health system is co-facilitate half-day retreats focused on kindness and empathy. These retreats are designed to reiterate our values with staff after they’ve been us for 3 to 4 months. We talk about ways they’ve seen these values play out along with ways they, themselves, can make their hospitals better places to work.

One of the exercises explores communication styles and how we deal with patient complaints. We boil it down to 4 main types: 

  • The how: these people are process-driven and want to understand how things unfolded as they did and how we can make changes so they don’t happen that way again.
  • The why: these are the visionaries. They are future-focused and imagine the possibilities of designing a system that supports the people and the process.
  • The who: the people-people.Their main concern is taking care of people’s feelings. They can’t change what happened so they focus on caring for the people involved.
  • The what: these folks take action. They’ll make a list of the issues, rank them in order of importance and get busy fixing them.. 

As a facilitator, I’m supposed to remain dispassionate and espouse the virtues of each group, but it’s plain to see that I’m a ‘who’ person. I am fully invested in the people and how they feel. It’s not better or worse than any other group, but it’s clearly me. 

I spent a few moments with each group, helping them through the exercise and facilitating the discussion. The group I found most interesting was the ‘what’ group. These are the action-oriented people who want to get to the business of fixing things as quickly as possible. 

They acknowledged they can be seen as cold by the ‘who’ people but they felt they were the most helpful; they’re going to fix the problem. And isn’t that why people complain in the first place, to get things fixed? It’s not a therapy session, it’s a grievance. 

Now I understand why some families roll their eyes at me when I say things like, “I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been for you,” or “I see your frustration, I’m sure I’d feel the same way if this had happened to me.”  They aren’t about the feelings. They want it fixed. 

I get it. 

And that’s what the real point of the exercise was: we are all different in how we approach problems so we all need to work together to fix them. We can miss things when we work alone but working together gives us a more complete solution. 

This part of the retreat is often the most highly-rated section. It helps the participants appreciate other people’s communication styles and understand the limits of their own. It’s a nice example of teamwork and being part of something bigger than yourself. I’m so glad I get to be a part of it.

Author: Kate Kalthoff

It's simple: leave people, places, and things better than I found them. For more than 20 years, Katherine Kalthoff has been working to improve the way healthcare organizations connect with the people they serve. She began her career at Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization for Illinois, approaching families and securing their consent to donate a loved one’s organs for transplant. Through compassionate, empathetic listening, Kate led the Family Services team to one of the highest consent rates in the country. From there, Kate went to Advocate Health Care, Illinois’s largest healthcare system, as a Physician Relations and Business Development Manager, improving physician satisfaction and strengthening the relationships of both the employed and independent physicians with the system as a whole. Just prior to joining Northwest Community Healthcare as the Patient Experience Officer, Kate was the first Manager of Patient Experience at DuPage Medical Group where she built a platform of organization-wide service excellence through her inspiring brand of education, training, and one-on-one coaching. A much sought-after speaker and trainer, Kate has a very simple approach to her work: leave people, places and things better than you found them.

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