Dear Medical Establishment,
Yesterday, I realized that I’ve never complimented you on how wonderful your organization is usually run. The staff always remembers our names, is wonderful with my young daughter, and we never have to wait long. Going to the doctor in your hospital is always a great experience.
I realized I’ve never complimented, because yesterday I had a pretty big complaint, which sent me searching for a way to reach out. Let me take this time to apologize for being slack with my compliments and quick to complain.
That being said, let me tell you a story: Yesterday, we went in for my daughter’s four-year-old check-up. We knew she would have to get shots, and she was naturally very scared. We spent days prepping for our appointment and we talked about how shots are to help us prevent diseases that could make us sick and die. In exchange for one small prick, we get to be healthy and keep playing. I promised her that I would get my flu shot first, so she could see that it wasn’t a big deal. We also made a plan to bring her best fluffy toys, Rufus and Hugsy along with us so that they could get their shots. Lorelei would go last, and she’d be just fine, just like the rest of us.
These kinds of things are a big deal in my world: I had a childhood were we didn’t get vaccines, we just got measles or chickenpox instead. We didn’t go to the doctor for ‘well-child checkups’ or have any positive medical experiences, we only went to emergency rooms in cases of extreme trauma. I’ve been traumatized by medicine AND denied proper care, so it matters to me what kind of experience my child has. For more on my story, click here.
Things started to go wrong when we showed up to the hospital and they told us they were out of vaccines and we’d have to go to another location. Still, the staff was wonderful. They played with my daughter, brought her her yearly book in Spanish, a language she speaks at home, and explained how the blood-pressure cuff was going to hug her arm really tightly. They made appointments for both of us at the other clinic and off we went.
When we got to the other clinic they were a bit more brusque, informing me that Lorelei would need 5 shots, rather than the three we’d known about, as if two more was no big deal. But we proceeded. When I asked to go first, my request was summarily denied, because my appointment had been scheduled for 10:45, my daughters’ for 10:30. When I asked, not breaking character, if Rufus and Hugsy could receive their shots first, the nurse responded in complete seriousness, that the stuffed animals could not receive shots if they weren’t scheduled.
While I grant that the stuffed animals are not on our health insurance plan, I was flabbergasted at the lack of care being shown to a child. Are nurses so immune to their daily procedures as to be oblivious to how exceptionally traumatic it is to a child of four to be held down and stabbed five times in a row with a sharp, metal object? My daughter begged for Mommy to go first, the nurse didn’t budge. Three shots down and prepping for two more, my now hysterically screaming daughter kept repeating, “Please get Mommy now, please get Mommy”, it wasn’t to be.
Shortly after this procedure, we were shuffled out of the doors, my daughter’s little body still wracked with sobs. As we loaded into the car and I took the toys out of her hands to strap her in, she looked at me with all the concern in the world, “Mommy, what will happen to Rufus and Hugsy now that they didn’t get their shots? Are my babies going to die?”
As I mentioned earlier, I love your organization and have had nothing but great experiences for four years, but today was very hard for us. After spending the day with a traumatized little one, I wanted to reach out and remind the hospital that ‘routine visits and procedures’ can be especially hard for small children. A little more care, willingness to slow down, and be less procedurally rigid would never go amiss.
A heartbroken Mommy
What is culture? Culture is all the little things. Culture is every interaction of any kind undertaken by anyone in your organization with anyone else. Culture is hard, culture is huge, and culture is never perfect, even the almost great ones. This particular hospital has been nothing but wonderful to my family, only to leave some (hopefully not too long lasting) significant trauma through one rushed interaction. As a mother, this made me angry, but as the “Organizational Culture-Hacker” this kept me up all night thinking, “where did this go wrong?” and “If I was the leader here, what would I do to address this”. Honestly, even though the mother in me did reach out and send a message much like this to the hospital, the thinker side of me knows that it isn’t cut and dried. There were a lot of things that could have been going on, organizationally, personally, or professionally, in the life of the nurse that we encountered that day.
As a mother and a client, I was satisfied when the company responded promptly, apologetically and with processes and solutions. They asked follow up questions, assured me that they would talk to the managers and employees involved, and offered to schedule a convenient visit for my daughter to bring her babies in to get their shots. As an organizational behavior coach, I was glad that they intended to dig into this as a complex situation—not something overly simplified that could be answered by firing someone or throwing money at the complainer.
A mentor of mine once told me, “Leadership is love”. I didn’t get it at the time, especially in our organization—the US Army. But the more I’ve studied leadership and culture, I’ve come to see they were 100% right. Anyone can be the boss, but it takes love to slow down, and look beyond the obvious elements of any situation. Yesterday on my podcast, Culture-Hacking with Daniella Mestyanek Young, my guest Dr. Suzanne Roberts, reiterated the same idea as she shared her number 1 “Culture-Hack” with my guests, as we ended a discussion on how to travel and truly understand different cultures and people. “Slow down and be kind”, she said. If that isn’t the perfect answer for so many ‘cultural misunderstandings’, then I don’t know what is.
So what can we do to implement “Leadership is Love” in our organizations? How do we take this fluffy concept and make it tactical? You know me, I have 5 tips:
- “Slow Down and Be Kind”
In the example above, I don’t think the nurse understood my request about the stuffed animals. She appeared to just be in such a hurry and operating with such a brusque manner, that when I said that “Rufus and Hugsy also needed their shots”, she seemed to think I was speaking about additional humans, not stuffed toys. Simply slowing down and making sure she understood the request likely would have resulted in a different outcome for all of us.
- Flip the Situation Around
As a leader, when you hear about the upsetting actions of someone in your organization, especially someone who answers to you, try to stay calm enough to ask questions. Approaching a bad situation with questions, not assumptions, can go a long way to helping employees feel understood and supported. I don’t believe our nurse was evil Nurse Ratchet who wanted to emotionally hurt my child. I know that most people want to do well at their jobs, and have good intentions at heart. Sometimes we see malice where there is really just misunderstanding. Looking at the situation from a different point of view—or better yet, asking team members to share why they did something a certain way—can make a 180-degree difference in our understanding of any given situation.
- Use Imperfect Situations as Opportunities for Learning and Growth, Not for Heads to Roll
If we understand that most of our team members want to do the right thing and want to make their superiors happy, then we can use unfortunate situations as an opportunity to teach and grow as an organization. My hope is that my letter can become a ‘case study’ of how things that seem like an ordinary part of a daily job can be a big deal in someone else’s world, not an opportunity to make an example of a specific person. We should always try to dissect bad situations to see how we can learn from our mistakes.
- Remember to compliment not just correct
I almost didn’t make a complaint at all yesterday, because when I went to do so, I realized that in 4 years of WONDERFUL experiences, I’d never given good written feedback. I eventually did write a letter, but started and ended with legitimate praise. So often, we only comment when things go wrong, but a little bit of praise when something is awesome can be the building blocks of a great leader/team-member relationship, customer/company relationship, and is even true within our families.
- Don’t Respond in Anger
This is different from ‘don’t get angry’, which would be impossible. As humans, we are quick to anger, it’s evolution and survival instinct. As leaders, it’s okay to feel anger, but it’s less ok to let it show, even when it’s justified. Seeing anger from a leader only makes team members want to lock up, shut down, justify, or disassociate—that’s also an evolutionary response. Taking the time to calm down, think our responses through, and eventually respond with care and complexity can make the difference of finding out that your employee’s father was just diagnosed with cancer and that’s why her head wasn’t in the game during that incident, versus truly believing that your team-member is just a ‘bad-apple’, because they’ll be much more likely to open up when approached with care.
One of my favorite quotes for these kinds of situations is “always remember that everyone you meet is in mourning”. Everyone has been through trauma in their life, everyone is struggling with something, and everyone is a complex human being deserving of care. Even a 4-year old. Even an over-worked nurse. Let’s all just slow down and be kind.
DANIELLA YOUNG IS A TEDX SPEAKER, AN AUTHOR, COMBAT VETERAN, ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE-HACKER, HOST OF THE CULTURE-HACKING PODCAST, BOARD MEMBER OF OPERATION CODE, & THE CO-FOUNDER OF CAVNESSHR—AN HR-TECH COMPANY WHO’S MISSION IS TO MAKE BIG-BUSINESS HR AVAILABLE TO SMALL BUSINESSES, AND HELP YOU RECOVER HOURS IN YOUR WORKDAY. DANIELLA SPECIALIZES IN HELPING BUSINESSES CREATE CULTURE ROADMAPS, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PLANS & EFFECT TEAM TRANSFORMATION. WANT TO LEARN MORE? VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT cavnesshr.com.
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