I arrive at the airport early to see if I can catch an earlier flight home. While I sit and wait, I observe an airport staff person I’ll call Wendy become agitated and flustered with every customer who needs her help. Customers slink away like scolded children after interacting with her.
Stage left enters a traveler I’ll call Janet. She’s carrying a large square package – a framed object of some sort. Uh-oh. Wendy is so not gonna be happy.
Janet politely asks Wendy if she can have a yellow tag for her package so they can put it with all the other slightly too large luggage. Wendy growls, “You can’t wait til you’re at the gate to do this! And how would you even secure the tag?”
“Tape?” Janet offers in an even tone. (This is obviously not her first rodeo.)
“I don’t have TAPE at the GATE!” Followed by a long rambling paragraph I need not repeat.
Janet is cool as a cucumber. She allows Wendy to thrash around and have her moment. She can tell that Wendy’s amygdala is on high alert.
Janet calmly suggests at least 5 ways she can secure the tag. Slowly. One at a time. They’re creative and doable suggestions. She even states that she’ll take full responsibility if it’s lost or damaged – with the apparent tape shortage and all. Wendy throws the suggestions back at her like they’re on fire.
After frantically opening and closing of drawers and cabinets, Wendy locates tape. Janet tapes. Janet thanks Wendy and boards the plane and her square package is added to the luggage cart.
I find myself standing next to Janet when we land in Cincinnati. We watch as her package is pulled from the plane and makes its way toward her. I tell her that based on that scene at the airport I’d hire her on the spot if she was in my field of work. She laughs and replies, “I chose to believe she must be having a really bad day.”
You may be wondering what this has to do with hiring neonatal therapists. Or hiring anyone.
Janet’s actions told me in a few minutes what I could never learn in a formal interview. She demonstrated the 3 qualities or skills I seek in anyone I’d hire:
#1 Grounding Force
You can’t fight chaos and drama with chaos and drama.
Janet is perceptive. She knew immediately that throwing gasoline on the fire that was Wendy’s energy would not yield any positive results. Janet understood that choosing to be calm and objective works best to accomplish anything in the midst of this type of energy.
If only the collective ‘we’ that make up the 100+ staff of any NICU lived by this simple fact, we could change the world. Swear.
#2 Clarity Over Ego
Janet could’ve done lots of things in this situation. She could’ve been demanding, whiny, irate – all the things that Wendy experiences day after day.
Janet knew there was a simple solution. And she could’ve made the fact that SHE KNEW HOW TO FIX THIS become THE POINT of her interaction.
But Janet knew this wasn’t about her. Or tape. She alone didn’t throw Wendy into a tailspin. She was brilliant enough to set her ego down at her feet and move forward to continue solving the problem.
We never have any egos in the NICU though right?
Setting down your ego doesn’t mean giving up. If you’re advocating for one of your patients you can state your concerns assertively while checking your ego at the door. The infant doesn’t benefit from your ego, he benefits from the decisions that are made on his behalf because of your amazing knowledge and contribution.
When clearly and objectively stated, your input is literally life-changing.
#3 Empathy, Not Doormat-y
Who knows why Wendy showed up mad at the world that day. Maybe she’s like that all the time. Maybe not. The truth is, we don’t know. And we don’t need to know.
Janet was willing to give Wendy the benefit of the doubt. Janet assumed she was having a bad day and that as a momentary passerby in Wendy’s life, she would refrain from judging her. Wow.
Janet, did not however, allow Wendy to walk all over her. She maintained her purpose throughout the conversation. She did not shutter or change posture at Wendy’s bristly exterior. She maintained her stance.
We work in the NICU. We come stocked with empathy. Being empathetic is not the same as being sentimental or mushy. And it doesn’t mean we allow people to run over our personal or professional boundaries.
It means we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment.
We’ve all had bad days. Sometimes horrible days. And we fondly remember the people on those days that allowed us to be where we were without judgment. It simply makes the world (and the NICU) a better place to be.
The subtle beauty of this exchange was that Janet never once gave up the notion that she was going to get that package onto the plane. She was patient, yes. She was composed, yes.
But she never once let Wendy affect her goal to simply get this big square thing on the plane. And she accomplished this goal like it was an art form. Because it is one.
Janet didn’t just stand and complain. She offered options for taping. She offered to get tape. She was willing to go without the protection of tape.
People who become the most valuable members of any team or organization don’t complain and gossip and expect things to change. They bring ideas and options. They have a healthy level of self-awareness.
You are creative and skilled. When you see that something isn’t working well in the unit, of course you want to bring it to light. Go a step further and bring 1 or 2 possible solutions as well. The people right at the bedside are usually the ones who know best how to solve the problems they see.
Be Part of the Solution.