Speak Up! Healthy Conversations Prevent Disease and Improve Results

People say “talk is cheap.”

They say our words don’t make a difference — it’s the actions that matter.

They’re wrong. Sometimes our talk leads to a change in action. Our words can make a difference in the actions that matter. Here’s how:

Simple Steps to Prevent Major Disease

Maybe you’ve heard of an awful disease called nosocomial infection. It means “hospital-acquired.” You didn’t have it when you checked-in the hospital — you got it while you were there. In the healthcare industry, we want to do everything possible to prevent nosocomial infection and dramatically reduce the causes of it.

I’m not sure how it is where you live, but where I’ve studied in Utah, they’ve developed cutting-edge technology that effectively fights nosocomial infection:

Soap and water.

If people just adequately, consistently, and regularly wash their hands between patient contact, the incidents of nosocomial infection drop dramatically.

The solution is simple, but getting people to do it has proved difficult. For years, the medical community has struggled to get medical professionals to wash their hands.

Maybe they’ve been trying too hard. The solution could be as simple as a conversation.

The Silent Treatment

During The Silent Treatment, our major study of healthcare, we found 50% of the physicians at one particular hospital failed to adequately wash their hands between patient contact.

Doctors know that one of the crucial factors in reducing nosocomial infection is handwashing, but 50% of the medical professionals weren’t doing it!

As surprising as that is, we also realised another vital behaviour in hospitals was missing (besides handwashing).In that same hospital, 80% of the medical staff said nothing when they saw a doctor not washing their hands. They were silent.

Their silence allowed that behaviour to continue.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

What if every person in that hospital owned the problems they saw? What if they spoke up when others didn’t comply with standards of hand washing? What if they had these crucial conversations?

Would rates of nosocomial infection drop? Would people start washing their hands adequately?

YES. Our willingness (and ability) to have crucial conversations matters — in significant and powerful ways.

What Is A Crucial Conversation?

Most of our conversations (about 90%) are routine, regular, and casual. These are the conversations we handle really well! Keep up the good work!

But, when the following three factors come together, your approach needs to change. You’re entering a crucial conversation.

1. High Stakes

This is a conversation that matters. It’s about something important. It matters to you, me, or both of us.

If two people have a high-stakes conversation where they agree, there’s no problem.

When they don’t agree, we see the second qualifying condition:

2. Opposing Opinions

When we have a lot at stake but don’t agree, the intensity of the conversation increases.

This intensity naturally brings the third qualifying condition:

3. Strong Emotions

When we’re talking about something that matters and we don’t agree, our emotions rise.

The combination of importance, opposition, and emotions indicate a conversation has turned crucial.

The way you handle these crucial conversations makes a huge impact on results and relationships.

Learn To Look

If you think you’re entering a crucial conversation, what should you do?


Mid-sentence if necessary. Don’t say another word. Put both feet on the brakes.

When a conversation turns crucial, the way you handle it shapes your results and relationships. It’s time to open your toolkit and use every skill you have to ensure this conversation goes in a positive direction.

“Learn to Look” is a skill we see master communicators use in their conversations. They learn to look for the moment a conversation turns crucial. And you can too.

Just ask yourself:

  • Is this high-stakes for me or them?
  • Are we disagreeing?
  • Do I see any evidence of strong emotion?

If you answer “yes,” you’re in a crucial conversation.

Stop, open your toolkit, be conscious, and be thoughtful.

The Courage to Speak Up = The Results You Want

A crucial conversation is the key to improving performance. There are a lot of levers leaders can use to improve results.

Some rely on technology. By improving technology, leaders can leverage and dramatically improve results. Other leaders work on process improvement to boost performance. They use process-mapping and analysis to find ways to improve efficiency and quality in the workplace.

These are two great levers, but they’re not the best.

The way you handle crucial conversations is the single greatest lever to improve results and relationships.

Whether it’s patient safety, quality, cost-cutting, or productivity improvement, these important business results that we, as leaders, care about can be significantly impacted by our ability to have crucial conversations.

So, do you have the courage, conviction, ability, and skills to have a crucial conversation? Will you speak up?

By learning to look for crucial conversations and using your best skills to navigate them, you can have a huge impact on the results you care about most and the relationships you have in the workplace and at home.

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