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Critical Feedback

Posted Aug 08 2009 11:53pm
    There is no harder conversation to have than one in which you will be passing on critical comments.  Let's face it criticism is hard to hear.  It's also hard to give, especially if you feel that the person or people you're giving it to won't take it as you intend it. 
    I had to pass on some information to a staff member at a practice that we refer to the other day.  I asked for the staff member who was concerned in the issue, told her what the problem was and felt we'd had an amicable talk.  I wasn't annoyed with her, I didn't even know for sure if she was at fault.  I just wanted to give her the information that I'd been given about a situation and let her take it from there.  I went on and felt we were done with it.  Well, hold on a minute.  Her office manager called me back and asked me if I was having a bad day.  I was mystified at why she'd ask that and she told me she felt it might explain why I'd attacked their staff member.  Since attacking is not my style, and I'd felt we'd had a good conversation I was shocked.  I told her that I hadn't attacked anyone, but that was not to be the end of it.  She insisted that I had and what should have been an acknowledgment of a misunderstanding became a mess. 
    Now, I'm incredibly stressed because I don't understand why it would benefit either practice to continue this.  I suggested agreeing to disagree and move on, but that's not going to happen, it seems.  So, how to fix it?  I was thinking about it and I've decided that I can do one more thing.  I can take my own interest out of the situation and look at it from the other staff member's view of what happened.  Obviously, she felt criticized, whether that was my intent or not.  The other om felt she needed to defend her staff member.  Maybe she feels that will build loyalty, maybe she truly feels I offended her.          There's one thing I can do if I really want to move forward.  I can acknowledge her view of the situation and tell her that although it was not my intent to hurt her, I obviously did and I'm sorry she experienced that.  Then I'm done with it.  Now, they have to deal with the fact that I'll never be able to give them critical feedback.  It may mean that eventually we won't be able to continue a professional relationship, because if our patients won't be served well because of it, we'll have to make a change.  I for one, welcome critical feedback as much as I welcome praise.  I like praise better, who doesn't?  But, I know that giving critical feedback means that the other person cares enough to risk doing it.  Most people will just walk away when they don't like something and find something else.  I'd rather be given the opportunity to rectify a problem. 
    We have to have the ability to hear criticism without letting it crush us, or taking it personally.  If we feel it is given unfairly, then just acknowledge it and move on.  It's a sign of maturity to be able to hear that we need to make changes or corrections and accept it in a spirit of goodwill.  It's a sign of humanity to be able to give another person the benefit of the doubt if they say no harm was intended and accept that. 
    For myself, I look at this unpleasant situation as a learning experience.  I will never casually pass on a critical comment again.  I will think through my words and look for any way in which I might make anyone feel defensive.  If nothing else it will be worth it to save myself days of stress and replaying the conversation. I also value my relationship with staff in other practices.  We all work better when we work together.  In the end, stress is felt by the patients and the rest of the staff and that's not what we're about.
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