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“They” Are Killing Your Morale

Posted by Kristin Baird on July 5th, 2009 • No Comments »

Words are pretty powerful tools. They can inspire nations, unify millions to serve a common cause or, when driven by anger or malice, tear communities and families apart. If you want to improve morale, start by watching your language.

In managing people, I find that it is the little nuances in language that can align teams under a single goal or vision or drive wedges between members causing poor morale and disengagement. One of the biggest culprits I have observed is using Us vs. Them (UVT) language. “They” can be any person or group being blamed for a problem. We can often point a finger at who “they” are. “They” are often administration. “They” say no to things, chop budgets and don’t listen. “They” set policies and make rules to make the rest of the organization miserable. They don’t have any idea about what goes on in the real world of patient care. “They” are villains, whereas the “us” are victims.

When managers or supervisors use the “e;us vs. them”e; language, they may be trying to strengthen a bond with the team, but at what cost? The cost is that these words create a division between the front line associates and the senior leaders. The division may start as a small fissure, but when left unchecked, it can create an insurmountable chasm placing the staff miles apart from the leader’s vision and goals. When managers and supervisors model the UVT behavior, staff will emulate it, fostering a victim-centered mindset.

I was recently in an outpatient center with a family member. Twice during the visit, I observed staff members using UVT language. One commented that he worked three jobs because, “e;They pay me like crap here.”e; (Read: I am a victim at the mercy of the big boss.)

Another person commented that he was just following the rules when asked why he checked the patient’s wristband every time he administered a medication. “They make the rules. I just follow them.” (Read: I am a helpless cog in a machine being forced to comply with useless rules.)

I can’t help but think that the senior leaders would cringe if they could hear these statements. What they don’t know is hurting them. Imagine how different that encounter could have been if the staff member would have seized the opportunity to build patient trust by saying, “e;Your safety is our top priority. This is just one way we ensure that the right patient is getting the right medication.”e;

In this example, the culture has created an environment that makes it acceptable to use the UVT language. To make a change, each person in the organization must become more aware of his or her language. In this month’s Tactical Tune Up, we’ve listed some great suggestions for avoiding UVT language. Meanwhile, start by figuring out which camp you are in. Are you an Us or a Them?

Baird Consulting


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