Healthcare managers: Less Telling. More Asking.

telling vs askingMany managers get caught up in the part of their job that focuses on the dispensation of information. Indeed too many managers think that is the job. What they fail to realize is that their jobs often become easier and their teams function more effectively when they reign in their instructing, advising, directing, and informing. To get the most out of individuals and teams, managers at all levels should remember this simple mantra:

Less telling. More asking.

In healthcare front-line and mid-level managers are deluged daily with questions. They are often the go-to person to confirm procedures, enforce policies, and ensure consistency in performance. As I’ve heard so many say over the years: “I put fires out every day.”  A day filled with answering questions quickly and directly, attending to patient complaints, running down issues raised by physicians, and many, many other demands makes it nearly impossible to STOP sharing information.

But are you letting people off the hook?

When managers become the fixers, when they respond to every question with the answer, it can relieve the asker of the responsibility to think critically in many situations. And in no time at all the manager finds themselves surrounded by a team asking many of the same questions over and over again, taking little initiative or action without oversight. What’s a manager to do?

Take a brief moment and shift…from telling to asking.

One powerful question I encourage managers to use frequently in my leadership training is What options do you see? It’s a basic coaching question, one that forces the asker to access a different part of their brain. Now, instead of showing up as a receiver, they become a problem solver. Once an answer is identified collaboratively it’s less likely that employee has to ask again.

When managers embrace asking instead of telling it can also transform one-on-one time, staff meetings, and interaction between managers and teams.

Setting aside one-on-one time to ask employees What part of your job excites you and why? What aspirations do you have professionally beyond your current role? What do you need from me that you’re not getting? What are you most proud of this month? attends to critical needs employees have related to ownership, input, and autonomy.

Using staff meeting or team huddle time to periodically ask the team What’s working? What can we do differently? What needs to change? How can we improve? fosters dialogue, investment, and communication across all levels of the team and is often the catalyst for positive change.

When managers spend time working side-by-side with employees and regularly ask What can I help with? Where can I chip in? What needs attention? it leads to visibility, credibility, and loyalty.

Asking promotes problem solving and critical thinking. It invites contribution. It automatically assigns value to the opinion, experience, and knowledge of the person across from you. It’s a part of nurturing shared purpose. Every one of these are key components of employee engagement.

So…in what part of your job will you work to apply this mantra?

Just thought I’d ask.


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