Communication lessons from Yoda

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

What can long-term care professionals learn from Yoda from “Star Wars”? On the surface, probably not a lot — unless you ask Stacey Starling, Ph.D.

To Starling, an organizational development expert and nationally known speaker, the little green Jedi Master's philosophy can help improve how we communicate in the workplace — and there are few workplaces where that communication matters more than long-term care. Starling presented Sunday at the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care National Conference in Austin.

She surveyed nearly 6,000 skilled nursing facility employees to see what factors impacted their opinions of their jobs and the facility as a whole. The results? Communication and cooperation were the most impactful factors of whether employees felt valued, if they would recommend the facility as a workplace, and if they would recommend the facility to a loved one.

The facilities with the highest scores relating to questions on communication and cooperation also had higher star ratings on Nursing Home Compare, Starling noted.

“The voice of the employee is so critical,” Starling said. “We can get so overwhelmed by emerging regulations that we can forget how important it is to bring the employees into the stakeholder group.”

Starling shared a Venn diagram of ways we can take a human-centered approach to conflict resolution: self-regulating the communication process, fostering relationships with positive regard and working on our self-awareness. And that's where Yoda comes in.

Leadership in conflict resolution starts with self-awareness, and while it's not always an easy feat, Starling encourages the Yoda approach: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Step back and evaluate what your position is in an argument, if it can be argued, and what other “truths” might exist in the conflict. Self-regulate by “listening to understand” employees' perspectives and goodness, and ditch your biases at the door. In Yoda's word? “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Fostering an environment where employees can openly communicate without fear of retribution won't just benefit workers — a communication overhaul can help improve outcomes and facility ratings. Starling acknowledged that this can be a huge undertaking.

“We are turning the Titanic, not the tugboat,” Starling said. “You cannot over-communicate.”

So take Starling — and Yoda's advice — work to unlearn any bad communication habits and start listening with a purpose. Your facility will feel the force of a safe, positive communication environment and thank you your employees will.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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