By Carol L. Wyatt, MPA, CBET, CHTM
A few years ago, I sent my border collie, Trapper, to a 60-day sheep herding camp in a town about an hour away from me. Midway through the camp, I drove down to visit with Trapper and check on his progress. The instructor very nicely told me: “Trapper is a nice dog, but he’s a little too soft to work sheep in the open fields. He’d probably do OK in a closed pen or arena.”
What I heard? “Your dog is terrible!” While the instructor intended no malice, it crushed my dreams of herding greatness.
I share this story to illustrate how the words we say can be perceived entirely differently than how we intend. Let’s face it: Time constraints stress out all of us and we sometimes say things in frustration. In other words, you may mean no malice, but the things you say can taint the way your team looks at you.
So, here are the top five things HTM leaders should never say:
1. “I’m busy.” This may seem like a harmless enough statement since all healthcare technology management (HTM) leaders are busy. But does your technician hear: “I’m not as important as that email or report?” Everyone announces that they have an open-door policy, but how often do people get the “one-more-minute” finger or hear “let me just finish this email first!” when they show up at the door?
Such gestures can make people feel second-rate. Every interruption is just that—an interruption—and it takes the same amount of time to smile and greet someone at your open door as it does to put them on hold for a minute. Instead of saying “I’m busy,” take a few minutes to talk to your technicians. If it’s truly a bad time, try scheduling some dedicated time to discuss matters.
2. “That’s not my job.” Ah, the old “pass-the-buck” technique. When a technician or customer bring you a problem and hears “That’s not my job” or “That’s not in my job description,” it’s incredibly frustrating.Although the task may not be something you would typically handle, it doesn’t mean that you can’t help or find out who should have ownership of the task. I’m not saying you have to—or even should do—everything asked of you.
But instead of saying “That’s not my job, try “Let me help you find the appropriate person to address your problem.”
3. “That’s not my problem.” This statement is very similar to “That’s not my job.” However, any issue that degrades patient care or minimizes patient satisfaction is your problem. If I hear this from a leader, I immediately think that he or she is not a team player and doesn’t have the patient’s best interest at heart.
A better response is to work with the customer to find a situation to the problem. Instead of saying “That’s not my problem,” try “Let’s work together to resolve the problem.” After all, as HTM professionals, we should always have the patient’s best interest in mind.
4. “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” When a tech brings you an idea and hears: “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” you’re basically saying that his or her idea is dumb.” It fosters exactly what you don’t want: complacency. And lack of ideas or innovation will not help your program improve or the technician grow. It will not develop team members or foster a culture of innovativeness.
Instead of saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” work on ideas together. Or, better yet, empower the technician to try new things. It’s important to listen to ideas with an open mind.
5. “Never mind, I’ll do it myself.” This little phrase has big implications. It essentially means: “I don’t trust you. I don’t believe in you. I have no faith in your skills.” You are not helping your team members by denying them the opportunity to work through problems. Such an action can build a culture of dependence whereas we want to build cultures of trust. Instead of saying “Never mind, I’ll do it myself,” use these events as a training opportunity.
Further, leaders spend a tremendous amount of time getting technicians engaged via one-to-one roundings, huddles, meetings, and engagement surveys. Instead of viewing interruptions, problems, and tasks that are dumped on you negatively, consider them opportunities to engage technicians to resolve issues and concerns.
Remember: Words shape perceptions and perceptions shape reality. And your words are your techs’ reality of you. Sadly, it can be difficult to recover from a negative perception based on a harmless comment.
I think back to those herding instructor’s words. Trapper and I dropped out of herding. Don’t let your techs drop out on you.
Carol L. Wyatt, MPA, CBET, CHTM, is director of healthcare technology management for the Northern region at Texas-based Baylor Scott & White Health.