Building a Better Health Service


A little bit of straight talking at the right time  

A mammoth task

Recently I was requested to do a look back at files over a 25 year period.  I knew this was going to be a mammoth task as I had worked in a number of different services and locations over the years, in a number of different jobs and with many different staff.  Added to this I was given a deadline of two weeks to complete the task! Not to mention that it coincided with a very busy time in my ‘day job’ with many projects and meetings scheduled.

I contacted people with whom I had worked to ask for their help searching for the relevant files and also searching their computer databases.  Given the length of time involved some staff had moved on, some files had been archived, and the whereabouts of others were unknown.

With the deadline fast approaching I wasn’t having much success..  I normally take most things in my stride but unknown to me, and very obvious to those who work with me, I was getting very stressed out by the lack of progress.  I was also very conscious of the fact that other staff, who’s help I was seeking in what seemed like mission-impossible, had their own work to do too.

Deadlines looming

Many years ago when I was involved in directing and producing plays and musicals when things weren’t going my way and deadlines weren’t being met I could shout and ‘kick’ tables and chairs which usually got the required action and a successful result. 

This was not an option this time around, although I believe I did raise my voice on more than one occasion in the confines of my office with the door closed.

As things were hotting up and the deadline was looming, the late great actor Alan Devlin came to mind (some may remember that he played the part of Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore).  During one of the performances he walked off the Gaiety stage saying ‘Ah **** this for a game of soldiers’ and went into a nearby pub and while still wearing his mic could be clearly heard by the audience ordering drinks for everyone in the bar! 

I felt a bit like Alan and in my moment of frustration got up and left the office, got on my bike and went to a local coffee shop.  I think I was missing for about three hours. I had left the phone behind and it was not like me to be out of contact.

A note

When I got back to the office, there was a chocolate on my desk and a note asking me if I was alright and was there anything this person could do to help out.  This person did not even work in my team.  I called them and asked them to come over to my office when they were free.  The person came straight away and was very concerned about my behaviour and informed me that I had upset a number of staff and that I needed to apologise to them. 

I am very lucky to have dedicated people working with me and I was embarrassed that I had upset and hurt them by my actions.


Values in Action

This led me to reflect on the 9 behaviours that put our values as an organisation into action.

Behaviours grid


The following struck me; at a personal level I wasn’t aware that my actions were impacting on how other people feel.  I managed to upset and hurt people that I depend on day in and day out. Was I aware of my own stress and how I deal with it?  The simple answer was no.  I was not aware of my stress and the level it had reached.  The way I dealt with it was inappropriate.

During this stressful time did I acknowledge the work of my colleagues?  While I always appreciate and am grateful for the work that my colleagues do with me, I do not always acknowledge that.  In apologising for my behaviour I also acknowledged the work that they had done and continue to do.  I am now more aware of the importance of actually taking time to verbally acknowledge their work and to thank people for their dedication not just presuming they know it’s valued.

As the recipient of a colleagues  ‘extra kind thing’,  I realise that this behaviour can apply to colleagues as much as it can to patients and service users. The note from my colleague asking if  I was OK and offering help meant a lot, as did the thoughtful chocolate.  But more than that, it was the chat with me that led me to realise that my behaviour could have soured relations within the team, and led to poor working relations.  In my case a small unexpected gesture helped to create a sense of caring and compassion.  Very often doing an extra kind thing can be going the extra mile with a little bit of straight talking at the right time.  As for the deadline; it came and went the information got sent. Importantly, I learned a valuable lesson in the process about the importance of living our behaviours.

 Greg Price, Assistant National Director, Quality Improvement Division