Casting Off Negativity To Bolster Your Practice’s Success

Lynn Homisak, PRT, CHC

There are so many good business improvement books out there to read and when you find one that really has an impact on you, you want to share it. One such book is The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. The premise was nothing new and yet I wondered: if so many people know this, why don’t we practice it more?

   Some days, it appears there are more insensitive people around than nice ones. If you don’t believe me, pay attention on your next airplane trip. Many passengers seem to think the flight is their personal transport and overhead luggage space is reserved in their name. What about cell phone courtesy? Ha!

   That said, I suspect many of us would consider ourselves nice people. I know I do. Look around though. Unfortunately, a lot of what we see is nicety by design, nicety by convenience, nicety by selection or nicety for the sake of acceptability. Waking up each morning and devising ways we can be nice today is just not something that we typically do as a society. There are too many daily interactions that easily set us off and instead of being kind, we allow (key word: allow as in choose) a more negative reaction. It can be as simple as a bad hair day or a wrong coffee order, or something much more provoking like an inconsiderate driver cutting us off (and then offering the ubiquitous hand gesture as if it was somehow our fault).

   Our offices are not immune to negativity either. I find it interesting that some doctors and staff go out of their way to treat their patients politely, but refrain from saying nice words to each other. Sometimes, there isn’t even a shared “Good morning!” I see unresolvable conflict between partners and front and back office staff who ironically have a static mission statement hanging on their wall representing them as a care team.

   Sadly, it takes much less effort to turn on negativity than it does to turn on niceness, even though there is much more to be gained by being nice. Thinking optimistically, I would like to believe that if more people tried a little harder to acknowledge the positive response of paying an unexpected compliment or a word of appreciation, reaching out to someone in need or giving encouragement to someone who could use a boost in morale, negativity would have a much more difficult time rearing its ugly head.

   While this book speaks mostly from an advertising perspective, it is packed full of customer service and life lessons that we can use both personally and professionally. It teaches Six Principles of Nice and even the best of us could stand a daily dose. As we’re not too far off from our resolutions for the new year, I can’t think of a better time to read these simple principles and commit to making at least one new practice improvement (that won’t even cost a penny).

Principle #1: How Positive Impressions Are Like Seeds

Not long ago, there was a commercial on TV showing how one act of kindness toward one individual encouraged the recipient of that kindness to do something nice for someone else and so forth and so on. This concept has become known as “paying it forward” and teaches us that whether or not we personally witness the consequence of our one nice deed, it can actually end up touching or impacting the lives of many others in a very positive way.

   The authors Thaler and Koval describe how we are so busy starring in our own movie that we tend to forget or ignore our supporting cast, and forget to plant the necessary seeds of kindness. This is something we could fix if we were resigned to be more attentive and took the time to appreciate those around us.

Principle #2: Treat People Positively Because You Never Know

How many have ever heard the urban legend about a woman alone in the elevator in Las Vegas who was frightened by two larger men who later got on with her? At the command of one of the men to “Hit the floor!,” she immediately dropped to the ground expecting the worst. The quarters in her casino bucket were bouncing all around them.

   Trying hard to hide their laughter, the two men helped her up, picked up all the quarters and placed them back in her bucket. One gentleman explained that “Hit the floor” was only an instruction given to the other to hit the button of the floor on which they planned to get off. The next morning, she received a dozen roses with a $100 bill attached to each one and a note that said, “Thanks for the best laugh we’ve had in years!”

   The story may not be true but the message is powerful. Don’t be so quick to judge people before you know more facts. Preconceived notions almost always lead to misconceptions.

   We encounter a lot of different patients on a daily basis and we may never know the effect that we can have on them or them on us. Think about this. If you are able to create a brighter day for just one of those people, it could result in a positive scenario that comes right back to you. That is a good thing. You just never know.

Principle #3: Treat Everyone Equally

Do you secretly classify (and treat) people by how much money they make or by what kind of car they drive? I know people who do. It should make no difference whether your patient is a bank president or a janitor when it comes to extending kindness. It should be clear that regardless of appearance, insurance coverage or job title, you should treat all people equally.

   Things change and roles reverse in this very unpredictable world we live in. As the book authors point out, you may think you can categorize and analyze who people are but in reality, you have no idea who might become quite important to you tomorrow, next week or even years from now.

Principle #4: Being Nice Must Be Automatic To Work In Practice

I mentioned earlier that we should not only extend niceties when it is convenient. There is no denying that it is simple when someone does something nice to reciprocate by doing something nice in return but going out of your way to be nice is a bit more demanding. Why is it that our good nature is at times dependent on what others do for us first? Why can’t we be the initiators of kindness for the sake of just being nice for no reason?

   I remember one “difficult” patient back in New Jersey. None of the staff wanted to take care of (let alone be nice to) her because when they entered her room, she seemed to want to bite their heads off. She was always in a bad mood, never had anything nice to say and complained about everything we did for her.

   I was just as confused by her behavior but considered her a challenge. Never thinking I could ever get her to be congenial or have a conversation with me, I at least wanted to see if I could make her smile. I was determined to kill her with kindness and see what would happen and soon, it was no longer a challenge. When receiving an acceptable response was not a factor in how I chose to behave, I no longer had to try to be nice to her. It came naturally. In time, she not only softened but was one of our best referral sources.

   If being nicer to people was a way of life, like brushing our teeth or combing our hair, none of us would have to try so hard, not even with our difficult patients.

Principle #5: Negative Impressions Spread Like Germs

Have you ever sat in your treatment room and had a look around? Are there nail clippings on the floor from the previous patient? Boxes of supplies in the corner? How about in your reception room? Dying plants? Scattered magazines? Do you have a staff person who others find hard to work with? Did your receptionist neglect to immediately acknowledge the new patient and make him or her feel welcome?

   Every day, actions or situations that appear perfectly normal to you (because they happen routinely) can wind up packing a pretty negative impression on your patients. Negativity is a virus that spreads quickly.

   Let us assume you had a dissatisfied patient and instead of complaining to you, she left the practice, dragging her unhappiness with her. It is said that one dissatisfied customer will tell nine to 12 others and in the same way that one germ can spread, so too can one unaddressed bad impression. Get inside their heads. Connect with them. Listen for clues of displeasure. Conduct patient satisfaction surveys and inoculate the disappointed patient with kindness and compassion to prevent a potential epidemic from happening.

Principle #6: Patients May Never Know About Your Negativity But You Will

Do you believe in karma? Do you think that everything you do (good or bad) ends up coming back to you one way or another? Let’s face it. No one else has to know that you upcoded your service or did not give a small donation to a friend to help fight her crippling disease or overcharged a patient for a product. They may never know but you will. How many unkind or wrong choices can you live with before they start chipping away at your conscience or come back to haunt you? How will you ever be able to convince others to believe in you when deep down, your choices make it difficult for you to believe in yourself?

Strategies For Being More Positive

The book suggests trying to “exercise our niceness muscles” by offering the following three activities.

   Get into the habit of being nice. Every day for the next week, do five nice things that have no immediate payoff for you. Say thank you to others. Take an interest in lives other than your own. Donate money to charity. Compliment a stranger. Give a larger tip than usual. Simply get into the habit of being nice and rediscover how good that makes you feel.

   Be a “best supporting actor.” See yourself as others do and instead of being the lead, do an inventory of all the people in your life and be the supporting actor in their movie for a change. What kind of character would you play in their movie? Are you the loving, present daughter or the distracted, absent one? Are you the sweet, supportive boyfriend or the needy, selfish one? Are you the office troubleshooter or the drama queen? Then stop and think about each relationship and write down five ways in which you can make your “character” more sympathetic.

   Model yourself after the kind of person you admire. Do you admire people who do volunteer work? What about those who reach out to family members and make plans to do things together? What about people who admire, help and mentor others at work? Chances are, you know folks who ask about and remember the details of the lives of patients, employees and colleagues. Finish this statement: To be a better person, I would …

   In Principle #6, Thaler and Koval want readers to understand that niceness is a two-way street. “The power of nice,” they say, “is not about running around manically smiling and doing everyone’s bidding, all the while calculating what you’ll get in return. It’s not about being phony or manipulative. It’s about valuing niceness — in yourself and in others — the same way you respect intelligence, beauty, or talent. Niceness is a powerful force …”

   Finally, contrary to what you may have heard about nice guys finishing last, in a race between nice and nasty, nice always finishes first.

   Ms. Homisak, the President of SOS Healthcare Management Solutions, has a Certificate in Human Resource Studies from the Cornell University School of Industry and Labor Relations, and a Certificate in Health Coaching from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is recognized nationwide as a speaker, writer and expert in staff and human resource management.

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