Avoiding the Telephone Game

The rumor mill can create operational challenges and impact employee satisfaction in any organization. Information that has been spread and retold by multiple parties often results in the obfuscation, distortion, or exaggeration of the original statement. Healthcare leaders often find themselves unwittingly playing the “telephone game,” receiving feedback that has made its way “down the lane” and is not a true reflection of reality. These alternate perceptions can, in turn, cause disruption and negatively influence decision-making.

Generalities or blanket statements such as “this happens all of the time” or “we are always short-staffed” can fuel employee frustration and contribute to a heightened sense of burnout. That is why it is critical for leaders to assess and react to only facts; promoting clear and concise communication among team members.

Below is an example of how the “telephone game” can transform a truth into a generality:

  • Phase I: John and Jane, who work as RNs on the night shift, were upset because the IV pumps on the unit were not in the supply closet where they are typically stored. When they went to access them, they found them misplaced and on another unit.
  • Phase II: John and Jane mention the displaced IV pumps to their day-shift counterparts during report-out/patient hand-off with the intention of ensuring they are properly stored moving forward. The day-shift RNs collectively speculate about how the IV pumps ended up on another unit which spurs further discussion about how another supply was once not where it was supposed to be. The conclusion drawn from this exchange is that equipment on the night-shift is constantly misplaced.
  • Phase III: During a routine team huddle with the unit Manager, the staff complain that equipment is always missing and that it is impacting their workflow/taking a great deal of time to track down. There is continued conjecture that staff from other units are responsible and/or supplies are not being readily restocked. The Manager agrees to address the matter with the other department leaders and take into consideration the current issues when evaluating productivity on the unit.

Misconceptions such as these can create a slippery slope for leadership and are best to avoid altogether when possible. ALTIUS offers hospitals and health systems advanced education and development options for their management teams that focus on building healthy, collaborative work environments beginning with consistent and succinct communication. Stop playing games and start empowering your staff to optimize processes and improve their experiences. To learn more, reach out directly at [email protected] or visit our website at www.altiushcg.com.




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