“Why are you always so mean?”
The question surprised me. I was meeting with the business manager of our medical group about some issues I had with the billing and support staff. My expectations had not been met and several requests had been ignored so I arranged a meeting with her to address my concerns. I was not the most tactful person in my business relationships but I thought bluntness was acceptable in the businesses arena. I had high standards and was a firm negotiator but I did not think I was mean.
She obviously disagreed with my personal assessment and apparently had a number of employees who agreed with her. The staff were intimidated by me and felt that I had a tendency to make demands and deliver ultimatums. I paused a moment to reflect on previous interactions before I responded to her questions. It only took me a few moments to realize the truth implied in her words. I was mean at times. Why? The answer came to me a moment later.
“Because you don’t respond when I ask nicely,” I said, “I tried that and was ignored. I learned that when I was mean, people listened.” I went on, “I would much rather be nice. If you promise to listen when I ask nicely, I won’t be mean again.”
“Deal!” she replied.
That was over 20 years ago and we still have a business relationship. She is the manager of the management company that administers my medical group and handles all of my billing and insurance contracts and we interact frequently. We have worked together on numerous projects and dealt with many complex issues. Meanness and anger have never once been necessary. She kept her promise and I have done my best to keep mine.
The lessons learned from that conversation have had a profound impact on the way I run my practice. My staff and I work hard to make sure there is never a need for patients to raise their voice or make demands. Complaints are rare because patients know we will always do our best to meet their needs and exceed their expectations.
I have been mean and I have been nice. I have learned that nice is better.
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