Everyone recognizes that respect is essential in critical relationships with colleagues, patients, their families, and others. So why should the topic deserve closer scrutiny?
Seven Ways to Fix Policing NOW: Building Trust, Authentic Partnerships, and Safe Communities was authored by Kathleen O’Toole and my colleague Robert Peirce. They describe why a Chicago detective had such an exceptional gift for handling even the most fraught situations.
He explained that “everyone was born a perfect ten, but after the moment of birth, you can deduct three points straightaway because life is temporary and has its challenges. You can deduct another three points if you are born into a dysfunctional family, with substance abuse or domestic violence and no role model. And you can deduct another three points if you are a member of a minority community because some opportunities may not be open to you. That leaves one point, and that point is your dignity and self-respect. The detective said that cops should do what is necessary in order to do their jobs, but they should never do anything to take away someone’s self-respect because sometimes that is all they have left, and they will fight you to hold on to it.”
The relevance of these comments for health care professionals
An interview with Candace Saunders, RN, CEO of the Wellstar Health System in Georgia captured how leaders can and should be viewed by their organizations. In the January 17, 2023 issue of the Becker’s Hospital Review newsletter, she stated, “At every point in my career, I have found that honoring every voice through active listening is at the heart of serving and leading as it keeps my focus on what is most important — people. To truly honor a voice, you must create environments and spaces where people feel safe, respected, and valued and empowered to share their voice because they know it matters.”
“I believe that everyone’s voice is shaped by their personal story and perspective, based on their life experiences, which adds value to any conversation and discussion. As a leader, I strive to model the way by genuinely listening to the people we serve, whether a patient, physician, caregiver, or team member, and ensure that all voices are heard at every level of care.”
Building trust and credibility takes time and consistency. Every executive understands why it is crucial to be sensitive to the feelings of others. However, if his or her behavior and decisions do not demonstrate this commitment, they can and should be viewed as disingenuous and hypocritical.
Highly admired executives are more likely to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the opposite. Admittedly, it is not easy when you want to generate strong enthusiasm for a new initiative or strategic priority. But all of us are properly judged by fulfilling our obligations.
Creating and sustaining mutual respect is foundational to successful professional interactions. As highlighted by Ms. Saunders, genuine listening is crucial. Most of us know the adage, “You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.” Benjamin Franklin’s perceptive comments are no less important: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Their statements reinforce why respect is crucial to establishing and maintaining productive relations and serving as role models for others in our organizations.
Respectful and clear communications enhance trust. Furthermore, just as we expect subordinates to be held accountable for their actions and inactions, we too must hold ourselves accountable. The basic objective is to build and sustain an organizational culture that will attract and retain employees who are committed to its vision, mission, and values.
The ultimate beneficiaries of such a culture are the patients who will be confident they will be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their condition, background, religion, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. Our health care institutions should always be a safe haven for those who may feel disenfranchised or, as noted previously, born into a dysfunctional family, with substance abuse or domestic violence and no role model.
Stimulating exceptional performance
When the American Hospital Association initially refined the requirements for hospitals applying for the Quest for Quality Prize, committee members found that applicants had no difficulty documenting how they satisfied the first five of the six aims in the Institute of Medicine’s Crossing the Quality Chasm report: safety, patient-centeredness, effectiveness, efficiency, and timeliness. Without exception, hospitals were most challenged by demonstrating they had dealt successfully with the sixth one – equity. This required identifying health disparities in their service area, developing and implementing programs to reduce them, and providing evidence of their progress in doing so.
Unsurprisingly, all these national awards provide opportunities for hospitals and health systems to illustrate how they have irrefutable evidence that their patients, families, and staff will never be disrespected due to condition, background, religion, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. Admittedly, we may be reluctant to acknowledge patients who are physically and emotionally fragile, vulnerable, and dependent will be treated with anything other than complete dignity and respect. Yes, it is undeniably true that the vast majority of patients are recipients of excellent care and support. Yet conceding that even some do not indicate more progress is essential.
Paul B. Hofmann is a health care consultant.