Eight Steps to Success in the Workplace: Self-Awareness Is Key

by Margaret J. Sumption, SPHR, SHRM-SCP,LPC on Nov 7, 2016

Have you ever said something you immediately regret? It’s a terrible feeling—the moment when you Think-Positive.jpgwant to crawl in a hole and never come out, asking yourself, “Did I just say THAT?!”

Words and actions are powerful—more than most people understand. Each of us have the capacity to make or break a person’s day, just by how we frame our words and actions. The famous quote from the Spiderman movie, “With great power comes great responsibility,” is well served here.

My philosophy is that you never have to apologize for something you DON’T say. It doesn’t mean that a person should stay silent—it means that each person should measure their words and actions carefully as they navigate relationships in the workplace. It is also important to remember that words are only part of the communication we project to others. Our body language, tone and facial expressions account for more than 75 percent of the communication value we project to others.

The reality for most of us is that who we really are and who we project ourselves to be are often in conflict. Many of us feel very vulnerable and are far more easily hurt than we would ever want anyone to see. Instead of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we puff ourselves up and attempt to project a strong invulnerable image. The very act of creating a barrier to a perceived threat increases the tension and likelihood of inaccurate communication and further deterioration of the relationship.

There are eight key strategies to break the pattern of relationship failure in the workplace. Consider them as you interact with colleagues and be very aware that patients are picking up on the emotional tension, or lack of tension, in the environment. If we are in harmony, patients will feel and benefit from that calm. The outcome will be patients who are less stressed and perceive the patient experience more favorably.

My eight keys to relationship success in the clinical setting are:

  1. Say “hello” first. Be the one who steps forward—making the first interaction you have with co-workers a positive one. Also, make your interactions count. Positive eye contact, shown with positive body language, sends the message that your ‘hello’ is genuine and you really are glad to see and be with your colleagues.
  1. Be aware and manage your non-verbals. Your facial and body language will betray you if you're not hyper-aware of the messages you’re putting out. If you are conveying one message with your voice and you catch yourself giving a high-arched eye-roll, rest assured that the eye-roll (a statement of contempt) is the message the receiver will take with them.
  1. Stay in the game. When people back off and give the silent treatment, it is a form or “screaming out loud” that you are not happy with the other person or people in your workplace. It is important to stay in the game. Let go of the emotions and seek always to be highly assertive and highly positive. If you allow yourself to indulge in being icy in silence, patients pick up on the coldness of the space and will be more likely to have increased anxiety and negative sentiment about their care.
  1. Don’t make stuff up. If a fellow co-worker comes into the workplace with a sad, angry or worried face, be cautious about jumping to the conclusion that those feelings are directed at you or are about you. We don’t know the burdens other people carry with them. A kind word, a statement of assurance or a simple hello without judgement can go along way. The reality is that we have a tendency to mirror (i.e., take on) the emotions presented by others. Resist this by remaining positive and engaged. It will lighten the mood, create a more comfortable environment for the patients being served and add value to your co-worker relationships.
  1. Breathe...and practice the five-second rule. In the workplace, disruptions are common, hassle is the norm and there is always someone in a hurry. As tensions increase, the common reaction of the human body is to breathe faster and more shallow. This rapid, shallow breathing increases tension and anxiety, which lessens our capacity to be self-aware. Take note of your breathing. Slow your breathing when under stress, take deeper breaths, count to five before responding to questions and be aware of your surroundings. This will lessen your tension and stress. Others will mirror your calm mood, and the entire environment will calm. Patients respond to the non-verbals more than they do to the verbal interactions. Give them the gift of a calm, assertive, comforting and thoughtful setting in which to receive care.
  1. Pay attention to your self-talk. If your self-talk is projecting anger, defiance, disappointment or defensiveness, it bleeds out your pores. Your self-talk is important in keeping a positive sentiment, which is necessary to have a calm and comfortable environment for patients and coworkers. What is your self-talk? If it is negative, that aura will be what others around you will feel. Stop. Let your self-talk be, “I have a choice. I can be calm, assertive and positive. It is my choice to decide how I am feeling at this moment.”
  1. Don’t give away your power. We can only be a victim if we decide to place ourselves in that role. We have the choice to present a positive image or be the vinegar that sours the workplace. You have great power. You can be a kind, positive and thoughtful part of a successful workplace. If you contribute to an unhappy work environment, you are giving away your power to be a positive force. Your medical team is in charge of diagnosing, treating and healing people who are hurting. Use your power for good.
  1. When tone matters, talk it out. Today’s workplace is inundated with passive communication. Email and text messaging have become the norm in communicating even when people are within speaking distance of each other. Be very cautious in using written communication to covey message and intent. Written communication only gives about one-third of the intended message. Be prepared that people are predisposed to read a negative tone into your written communication. If you need to convey a critical message, do it at least by phone, or better yet, in person.

Self-awareness is the key to being a force of harmony and improving the patient experience in settings that are stressful and chaotic. Knowing yourself exceptionally well goes a long way to contributing positive feelings in your work environment. I think about it this way: There may be exceptions, but most people don’t get up in the morning and say to themselves, “I’m going to make someone’s day miserable today, and while I’m at it, I think I’ll make a few patients suffer as well.” Be the force for good. It makes the day go faster and helps generate a feeling of accomplishment when the day is done.


Hear more from Margaret at Cassling’s Rad Tech Week webinars that took place on Nov. 7 and 10. She presented, “Managing Change and Staff Satisfaction: Setting the Stage for High-Quality Patient Experiences.” Watch the webinar now.

Meet the Author

Margaret J. Sumption, MSED, LPC, SPHR-SCP, has over thirty-five years of experience as a teacher and counselor, nonprofit administrator, development officer, and volunteer board member serving a wide variety of organizations. She is a popular, dynamic, and effective speaker and trainer for nonprofit professionals, customers, and policy makers.

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