Weaponized praise is an unfortunately common tactic used by many leaders and administrators in the healthcare industry to manipulate physicians and even other healthcare professionals into doing more work, often in lieu of a raise, a promotion, or helping us solve our most pressing issues. I also think that there is a more sinister twist to how it is used against physicians.
Weaponized praise is a pervasive tool used in medicine by most leaders and the entire healthcare system. I would describe the technique of weaponizing praise as leveraging a doctor’s ethics and drive for quality and the passion to provide patient care. In fact, I have been victim to this and I see many other victims, where the praise is weaponized to get doctors to make up for the failings of a system.
In my first job, I was given titles and lots of praise. For a while, I responded to it with increasing case volume and continued effort to receive that praise. It was confirming of my worth as a physician and provider of care. Within my second year, I had the second highest RVU's (a measure of productivity) in the department. I responded to the praise by picking up other people's responsibilities.
I received encouragement to delegate more, whether to the residents or to my administrative assistant, but I was not guided in the process of HOW to do that.
I was added to committees. I had ever increasing responsibilities.
This might describe almost every early academic career. It is a common tactic for onboarding others in private practice as well. When it comes to raises or promotions, I was told that it was beyond my boss's control. Promotions had to go through the university process. Appropriate raises were just not possible due to departmental financial constraints or the shrinking dollar in healthcare.
Sounds like a flawed process.
Sounds unsustainable. And it was.
When I finally started adjusting my work schedule to more sustainable levels, the only thing that seemed to change was that the praise went away.
I think that navigating this complex dynamic would have been easier with professional coaching. It is a balance between operating at high performance and the understanding that simply taking on more work does not necessarily equal greater results. Creating efficiency and building strategies to develop a lifestyle-friendly surgical practice that is sustainable would be a more effective process. If I was taught then the 8 PRACTICEs of Highly Successful Surgeons, and if I was provided coaching, I might have stayed in an academic practice. I know I would have been much further along in my career growth. Knowing how to operate and take care of patients is simply not enough.
So what are the shields and opposing weapons to this kind of weaponized praise?
“Accept your boss’s praise. Politely decline extra work, and try to offload what you’ve already taken on.” - Jessica Wildfire
In a recent article on the topic, Jessica Wildfire outlines the following recommendations for combating weaponized praise:
Accept the praise
Don’t whine about doing extra work
Politely decline extra work, and even try to offload what you’ve already taken on
Learn and implement a strategy to say “no”
Highlight your desire to do high quality work
Remind your boss of what you are already doing
Only take on projects that will raise your knowledge or value**
Find out who should actually being doing the work and redirect
Doing extra work should eventually lead to some kind of reward
Each of these tips has potential value. Most are often part of an overall strategy of learning to say “no” and setting priorities.
**Since many physicians want to gain new skills and knowledge, one needs to proceed here with caution. There must be a limit to the work or the timeframe over which it should be completed. Research notes that rest and recovery are necessary in between these periods of challenge. Has your boss accounted for that?
We can certainly challenge ourselves. Research shows we often grow the most when we are challenged just outside our comfort zone. Your boss might not have a clear picture on where that threshold is for you. You might not even know that threshold yourself. Are we being realistic with ourselves that the increased value and reward will be achieved? Could it be done over a more realistic timeframe?
I hope you can incorporate some of these tips into your shield against weaponized praise.
If not, these challenges are a great reason to use a coach.
SurgeonMasters is building a community of surgeons and physicians looking to change the culture in medicine. A coaching mindset and skills are powerful tools to start creating the change we need. Email Team@SurgeonMasters.com to get involved.