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Words that Work

Words that Work

Hospital foodservice director identifies terms staff should—and absolutely shouldn’t—use in the course of a busy day (hint: don’t say ‘busy,’ say ‘productive.’)

Language is a powerful thing. Especially in the workplace, as Cathy Babbs, MS, RD, DHCFA is well aware. In her role as director of food and nutrition services at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System in Mattoon, IL, Babbs has been the driver in developing  ‘Words that Work,’ an evolving spreadsheet that changes the tone of everyday conversations between her staff and the department's patients and customers.

To develop the list, Babbs has reached out both within the hospital and to operators across the country via her peer network in the Association for Healthcare Foodservice.

Why is it better to say “We have an opportunity to improve,” rather than “We have a problem?” Or “safety tray” instead of “isolation or protective tray?”

“The word ‘isolation’ makes people feel as if they’re being excluded—isolated. Safety tray just means it’s for your safety. It sets a more positive tone,” Babbs says. “It’s important to talk about which words don’t work. Custodial Services doesn’t like to be called ‘Housekeeping.’”

Many of the terms come from the context of serving patients in a room service setting.  Dirty trays become “completed trays.” Instead of “Good,” things are “Excellent.” Rather than telling a patient, “I’ll be right back,” staff should say, “I will be back in five minutes.”

Think how a customer may react to hearing, “No free refills.” “Soda refills are $1” sounds a lot better.

Good customer service also starts with saying, “We get to” instead of “We have to.” It’s not “We’re really busy today,” it’s “We’re really productive today.” The context provided by everday workplace phrases can change the attitude of employees and the impressions they leave, Babbs says.

An administrator that Babbs worked with used to harp on people who said, “No problem.” Babbs herself was guilty of using that phrase, and has worked to change her habit and say, “My pleasure.”

“Once you become aware that you’re overusing a certain phrase, it’s amazing how much you catch yourself doing it,” she says. “I have my supervisors let me know. Give people permission to correct you, and everyone can improve.”

Some of the terms relate to how managers communicate with staff.

“This is important because (as a manager) it gets you closer to your goals,” Babbs says. “If you’re trying to achieve something in terms of project management, using the right words will get you more support. Again, it’s about positive vs. negative.”

Instead of saying “You should…” a manager could say, “I invite you to…” When a mistake is made, it’s “Help me understand…” not “Why did you…?”

Words to Use Words Not to Use
Self Select Menu        Nonselect paper menu for behavioral health
Behavioral Health 3W
Chef Select Menu Menu for patients unable to make their own selections
Food & Nutrition Services Dietary
We have an opportunity to improve this process    We have a problem
Pick Tick    Printer ticket for food production
Courtesy Tray    Food for families of critical/hospice patients
Over Bed Table    Bedside Table
Room Service Food Service
After Hours Boxes Black Boxes
Safety Tray

Isolation or Protective Tray

Medication Alert Card Stop Sign Card
Patient Room Board Permanent board in patient room with care partner #
Completed Trays   

Dirty or Soiled Trays

My pleasure No problem
Excellent    Good
I’ll be back in five minutes I’ll be right back           
We are really productive today We are really busy today
Deli Printer Cold Food Printer
We get to… We have to…
Released to pursue other opportunities            Terminated
Soda refills are $1           

No free refills

Help me understand            Why did you
Accept            Tolerate
I invite you to           

You should

And            But


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