Joe Bagadonuts

My brother-in-law Larry is a college professor who teaches aspiring nursing students. Having spent most of his career as a floor nurse and then nursing supervisor at a local hospital, he knows a thing or two about a critical part of nursing—understanding your patients.

Larry was telling me about one of the techniques he uses to help his students better understand the concerns of the patient from their perspective, and I thought it had a direct application to many of us in business.

Some time ago, Larry created a character he calls Joe Bagadonuts. Joe’s a simple guy who doesn’t always understand the terms or science behind his medical treatments. It’s easy for him to feel frightened and confused by medical professionals who use big words, theories, and data to describe the procedures or outcomes he can expect. He sometimes feels like an outsider in a foreign country where everyone speaks a different language. Joe may not understand that language, but he does understand compassion.

When he takes on Joe’s persona, Larry asks his students simple questions that he knows their patients will want to ask but might not feel comfortable asking. “How will this procedure affect the physical activities I’ve been enjoying?” “Will I be able to golf again, run again, or continue to drive?” “How will this affect my relationship with my spouse?” “I’ve been fine so far. Why do I need to do something now?”

The work that medical professionals do is not so far removed from what many of us do. We work with people first, stuff second—especially those who are involved in service businesses or in the business of restoring people’s properties and their lives.

The daily demands of business can cause us to go through the motions, rushing and overlooking the human element of our work. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that while this might be the hundredth time we’ve performed a particular service, it might be our customer’s first time buying it or an employee’s first time hearing about it.

The best medicine isn’t always delivered through a syringe or by a pharmacy, but by holding a hand or having a conversation to calm someone’s fears. It’s by showing empathy for the human side, which is what Joe wants.

Sometimes it’s asking the right questions and then caring enough to actually listen to the answers. To meet people where they are instead of where we want them to be. It’s amazing how much grace people will give us when things don’t go well on their job if they feel we have a genuine concern for their wellbeing.

Too many business owners aren’t hardwired for the compassionate side of business, or we lose our instincts for it as our company grows, the demands on our time become greater, and our focus changes. Maybe we can’t draw a line between the KPIs we drive toward and the behaviors that lead to them. They’re there; we just have to know where to look.

We could all use a visit from Joe Bagadonuts from time to time. He reminds us of what’s important and keeps us grounded and tuned into the needs of the people who are most important to us: our customers, employees, friends, and family.

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