Risk Insider: Terri Nichols

The Information Gap

By: | August 22, 2014

Terri Morris-Nichols is system director of risk management at PeaceHealth, a not-for-profit health care system with 10 hospitals and medical facilities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. She is a registered nurse with a master's degree in health administration. She can be reached at [email protected]

All too often, we hear antidotes about circumstances where important information was not provided to the risk management team because of the fear of retribution or retaliation.

When that happens, we lose the opportunity to improve the organization’s performance. Particularly in health care, this leads to ineffective feedback for patient safety.

“Compassionate communication” encourages others to share and express their thoughts. It has been described as ensuring we hear the underlying values, needs, and fears of those we communicate with.

With compassionate communication — and the coaching and mentoring that follows — our colleagues will ensure that critical information is provided and that risk management can be seen as a partner.

Organizations that have a highly evolved risk culture have designed opportunities for this open dialogue. Approaching the risk culture with a mind-set linked to valuing and engaging the individual through compassionate communication still provides the necessary parameters around which we can protect the organization and mitigate risk.

A Hurtful Silence

We have heard stories about individuals who isolate after a mistake has been made or when their actions result in an untoward outcome because they believe that opening up to someone is a risk to themselves and their organization.

They silence their opportunities to process their feelings and emotions in exchange for safety from legal ramifications, believing they will be met with blame and criticism for their actions.

Yet, in a culture of compassionate communication, these doors are opened, and leaders can nurture the space between recognition and reporting to inspire, create hope, and engage employees in areas that might have been neglected in the past.

With compassionate communication, the culture is enhanced and enriched.

Each of our employees has the ability to see and report situations that could bring about risk to the organization, so visibility and approachability are crucial.

Using opportunities to seek information — explore what is keeping your employees up at night — and to provide education on a structured schedule demystifies the idea of who is behind the door.

Risk managers also need strong communication and conflict resolution skills.

While many risk managers understand the skills related to negotiation and mediation, we sometimes forget that we are working with human beings who bring their fears and hesitations when thinking about risks in our organizations.

Training risk managers in empathetic approaches, the principles of cooperative power, and sound communication skills will provide an infusion of compassionate communication within the risk culture where it is needed to ensure that the right thing is done on behalf of those served.

I was once told that it takes at least two years to fully develop trust in another individual. Trust at a level where no matter what the decision or action, support can be given indicates a trusting relationship.

Working to develop and solidify strategic relationships with risk management, through our use of empathy and compassion, will contribute to the kind of risk culture that benefits those serving the organization and those being served.

Read all of Terri Nichols’ Risk Insider contributions.

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