As managers learn how to take their rightful place at the forefront of the patient experience movement, it’s important to make sure that when they communicate with staff, they go out of their way to verbalize the positive actions they are taking on behalf their team and patients.

Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford University says that almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail. 

In fact, he says that we also tend to see people who say negative things as smarter and therefore give greater weight to critical reviews.

So if managers fail to constantly emphasize the positive actions they are taking on behalf of their staff, they can be assured staff will remember all of the things he or she hasn’t done and view this as a lack of leadership.

We think this is one of those instances where it is important to talk in the first person.  “I did this for you.”  it is a way to reinforce to staff in a fast-paced healthcare environment that the manager is listening and fully engaged.

Let me provide an example.  In working with an orthopedic unit conducting deep dive audits with staff, we realized that among other issues, the staff perceived that the unit manager was not listening to their needs.  

This manager’s passive style was clearly contributing to a lack of respect by staff and undermining her leadership.   

In further conversations with the manager we discovered that she was making subtle changes but failed to take credit for them.

We saw this as an avoidable barrier, so we asked the manager if there were any changes expected in the near future such as equipment purchases or scheduling improvements – with an emphasis on things that had been requested by the team. 

She told us there were, so we coached her on how to handle this for an upcoming staff meeting.   We instructed her to be assertive in taking credit for the changes.  

In her next unit roundup, she announced, “We will be getting three new blood pressure cuffs that I ordered because you indicated we needed them.”

The manager is now aligning with her team as they move together to improve the patient experience.

However, it is not enough to only communicate successes.  It is also important to keep staff updated on the progress of requests or meaningful information the manager previously communicated.  

Explaining is a critical form of communication, but only if it is not perceived as an excuse.  An explanation is factual – while an excuse seeks to defend or justify.  

Taking credit for action or faithfully keeping staff informed is the type of leadership necessary to keep teams focused on patients.