7 healthcare leaders on conducting difficult conversations with peers

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share tips for conducting difficult conversations with peers. Read their tips below.
Michelle Fisher
Chief Strategy and Operations Improvement Officer of Piedmont Healthcare (Atlanta)
"First, stay calm, be professional and pick up the phone. Second, start with something like, 'I probably got this wrong, but when this happened [explain the situation]. I felt like [explain the situation].'
"Lastly, assume no one had bad intentions. It's typically a misunderstanding that just needs a five-minute discussion."
Mike Garfield
Mid-American Group President for Bon Secours Mercy Health and CEO and Senior Vice President of Mercy Health-Cincinnati
"Assuming that these discussions would be with individuals who don't report to me but on whom I rely in my position and in the scope of what I do, my first tip is to be timely when there are problems to be dealt with. The longer you wait, the worse it gets. It's not fair to the individual or good for me if I postpone discussing an important issue.
"Second, I recommend being completely honest with my concerns. Give examples, be specific and prepare for the conversation so that you are able to describe the problem and ways in which it can be rectified so that you and the other person are on the same page.
"Finally, I seek to understand the situation. I always ask for feedback from individuals on what I've noted to see if our interpretations line up. I'll say, 'I have seen this. What do you think? Is it as much of a problem as I think it is?' I always assume there may be more to the story and there's always room for compromise or meeting in the middle based on a full understanding of the situation.
"If I am having a difficult conversation with a direct report, I would also be very clear about my expectation and timeframe for change. Following up that conversation in writing is a good idea."
Michael Gentry
COO of Sentara Healthcare (Norfolk, Va.)
"When approaching difficult conversations with peers, it is important to be intentional with our time. We need to ensure enough time is allotted to appropriately discuss the concern and to be sheltered from interruptions. For the dialogue itself, first and foremost, in order to have a productive conversation, we must understand our colleague's point of view, the information they have regarding the issue at hand and their perspective. On many occasions where I anticipated conflict, my colleague actually had the same or similar concern as my own, and he/she was just expressing those concerns in a different manner. Lastly, humor is our friend — in many instances there is a humorous observation of the situation that helps lighten the moment and adds to our ability to creatively solve the issue."
Sue Hiser
Executive Coach in Talent Management at OhioHealth (Columbus)
"In all the debriefs I have conducted with leaders on their personality profiles and leader assessments no one has ever said 'I like conflict,' and this is particularly true when having conflict with a peer. People may believe they are good at handling conflict because they win and get their way, but they don't realize they are losing in the long run. Handling conflict with anyone requires playing the long game. 
"Since leaders are promoted into senior roles because of their ability to get results, attention to the long game can sometimes be a low priority. The long game is about building relationships that create a win-win environment, utilizing the strengths of all members of the team, and solving problems in such a way that attention is paid to short and long-term impact in all key areas. These steps need to be integrated into a weekly plan to meet peers, get to know them and understand the business from your perspective and theirs. We talk about 'owning the business' and not having a limited perspective. Good executives make time for these things. These steps don't prevent conflict but create an environment where the tough conversations can occur."
Jennifer Kozakowski,
Associate Vice President of Providence St. Joseph Health's Institute for Human Caring (Torrance, Calif.)
"It's never easy but avoiding these discussions and letting issues fester hurts individual and team performance. I now view tough conversations as organizational acts of kindness; they're also opportunities to cultivate empathy, learn different perspectives, and solve problems collaboratively.
"For me, the approach is key. That means listening more and talking less. It's important that you are open to hearing — and really understanding — a different perspective and that you assume positive intent. Don't take the unpleasant task of being the bearer of bad news personally. Be mindful of your frustrations or anger and remember that this conversation isn't easy for the other person either.
"Impart how the situation or behavior has affected the work and ask how the situation has affected your peer. Asking questions opens up communication.
"Finally, inviting your peer to work with you to make things better yields better odds of success. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be, I've learned something from each one — and that has helped with other hard conversations."
Rick Majzun
President and COO of Women & Infants Hospital (Providence, R.I.)
"My advice is to — in a timely manner, so that tensions don't build unnecessarily — ask if someone is open to feedback that I hope would be helpful, be direct, and be kind. Problems below the surface continue to exist. Problems we bring to the surface we can partner to resolve."

Marie Timlin, RN
CNO of
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)

"Be open, forgive and forget. Approach the conversation gently, as you never know what might be going on in another’s world that could impact the situation. Don’t hold grudges. Once you deal with it, it should be done."





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