It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it


I think I have spoken about this before, but it has come up again in my life, so I am choosing to revisit it. Maybe this will bring forward something new for you as well.

Many years ago I worked for a large hospital here in Southern California. During the orientation, we were repeatedly told that there were patience and their families who would try to give us, individually, money to guarantee that the care received would be top notch. And that if we accepted the money, we would be fired and potentially prosecuted.

The HR director who presented this information was adamant that this should not happen. She stressed all the scenarios of what our responsibilities were with the caveat of, but be nice while you say NO!!!!! because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.

I put up my hand and said, thank you for expressing why we can’t take the money personally, but could you give us any constructive solutions and better ways to handle the situation which would support a positive dialog between the person offering the money and the person to whom it’s being offered?

This was followed by stunned silence.

I then said, could you give us a suggestion which will empower us?

Why, yes, here is a positive option.

While I completely understand the necessity to make sure that the new employees understood the policy and the reason behind the policy, I also found the focus on the negative consequences with no real, workable options, to create artificial limitations which do nothing to up hold the larger agenda, which is basically good customer service. Had the trainer gone over the policy and then presented alternatives, an overall more positive message would have been received. I know that several people later came and thanked me for speaking up, because they had felt that they were being treated as though they were thieves and liars, and because of the length of time spent on the subject and the detail with which it was addressed, that the Hospital anticipated that everyone would be tempted to take a bribe, and that everyone would be offered one.

The suggestion was truly that the Hospital believed that we were all corrupt or corruptible.

So I tell this story because I have been thinking about how things are presented and how they are designed to make us feel. And while I stand by the idea that no one can make me feel anything unless I allow them to, I also believe that when provocative language is chosen, it is done in order to achieve a specific reaction. Charismatic speakers use this technique all the time in order to elicit the results which they are looking for. They count on peoples training to submit to those in power, to the basic training to not question the experts, and to the idea which most people are raised with that they are unworthy to know and understand the more higher ideals which are being presented, and therefore they should not worry overly much about things which bother them.

This is disrespectful in the end only serves to cause a rift among employees. It sets up a us and them mentality. It also disempowers people, keeping them within narrow confines and undermining creativity and team work. Because the emphasis is on what not to do and the negative consequences of being doing the wrong thing.

What might happen if, as in my example, people where not only given the policy but also given solutions and encouraged to create other, more positive solutions? What might the result be if people are recognized and empowered to be a valuable part of the team? Could they work together more effectively and efficiently? Is it possible that there will be a higher job satisfaction and even an enjoyment of coming to work every day? What would that look like? feel like? Taste like? And who would you be if this were the case?

Things to think about. Until next time.

Nancie Kay Shuman

Leave a Reply