Maryann is a nurse manager with 30 staff members that she supervises. She describes her job as akin to playing the game of whack-a-mole. No sooner does she get one problem solved when another rears its ugly head. The constant stress was taking its toll on her emotionally until she learned a three step process for effectively resolving issues with people: express empathy, establish a win-win outcome, and identify the person’s strengths.
When problems arose in the past, Maryann frequently found herself having fight or flight reactions. She became tense and her anxiety level skyrocketed. Her immediate response was to assign blame. She frequently fired off critical comments to the person she found to be at fault, setting off a defensive reaction in her subordinate.
Playing the blame game destroyed any chance for collaborative problem solving between Maryann and her staff. Instead, both sides were walking away muttering derogatory comments to their colleagues. Needless to say, staff satisfaction was very low on Maryann’s unit, leading to a turnover rate over 20%. Recent research estimates that it costs an average of $85,000 to turnover just one nurse. Maryann’s unit was replacing at least six RN’s every year, costing her hospital over a half million dollars a year.
Blaming is bad for everyone regardless of whether you’re the one leveling the criticism or the person receiving it. Fault finding generates negative emotions in both people, and leaves each side feeling pessimistic about the future of the relationship. No wonder the primary reason people quit their jobs is that they don’t get along with their boss.
At first, Maryann defended her approach, maintaining that when confronting problems she needed to figure out who’d done what wrong so she could correct their behavior. The trouble with that way of thinking is that Maryann assumes she can control other people’s behavior, which is only possible to do when she’s standing right over the person forcing them to comply.
Maryann ended up in power struggles, which she couldn’t win even if she replaced a staff member because of the tremendous cost of turnover. Instead, she needed to learn how to create collaborative relationships with her nurses. People perform at their best when they feel that their boss and coworkers care about them.
To accomplish that outcome, Maryann needed to develop an overwhelmingly positive connection with her staff. By doing so, she was able to create a team capable of taking as good of care of each other as they do their patients. It all began to change when her staff started to feel that Maryann cared about them because she showed an interest in their needs.
Now when problems arise with a staff member, Maryann views the nurse as needing support, and she’s able to empathize with her having had a setback. Staff feels that Maryann is on their side in terms of helping them to remedy the situation. After empathizing with a staff member’s point of view, Maryann learned to ask people what a positive outcome would look like if the problem were to be resolved with a win-win solution. Maryann often adds her suggestions during this brainstorming phase.
She finishes conversations with a final boost to her staff member’s confidence, inquiring about how that individual has successfully overcome similar problems in the past. Here’s an example of a conversation in which Maryann is collaborating with Susan, an employee who’s had a problem occur:
Maryann: “Susan, tell what happened when you and Maria were shouting at each other in the hallway.”
Susan: “I was upset that Maria wouldn’t help me move a patient when I ask her to. When I said something, she blew me off.”
M: “Makes sense you’d be mad when Maria wouldn’t help.”
S: “Yes – we’d all agreed in the last staff meeting that we’d help each other.”
M: “How have you seen people elicit cooperation from coworkers in the past?”
S: “They become friends so they know there’ll be someone to help them when they need it.”
M: “How could you do that?”
S: “Well, I could ask the people I’m working with if they need me to cover for them at lunch time.”
M: “That seems like it would work really well! You’re putting favors in the bank for when you need one. How have gone about making friends in the past?”
S: “By complimenting people when they do something well.”
M: “So you’re at your best when you catch people doing things right. I think that’s a great approach.”