I Like To Be Told

Maggie, my youngest, is small. She’s reminded of this regularly, whether by an innocent comment from a friend, or by her unsympathetic (and not tall, I might add) older brother, or when her opponent’s stick is too high for her to intercept the pass, or when she isn’t in the front row, or when last year’s summer clothes still fit fine, or… you get the point. Her height is something she thinks about a lot. And because I love her, I do too. But I’m not terribly concerned about it, and importantly, nor is her pediatrician. At a towering 5’3″, I am the tallest woman in my family; I have my oldest sister by 3 inches. My sister-in-law was the shortest in her class every year until 8th grade, when everyone else stopped growing and she started. But Maggie is concerned, and so her pediatrician suggested we visit an endocrinologist. She explained this specialist doctor would do a scan of Maggie’s hand to determine her bone age, the expectation being that her bones think she’s younger than she is, and therefore that she still has a lot of growing left to do. If there is unexpectedly something else at play, best to know that now as well. Maggie was game, and so we went.

While my kids have never whined too much about going to the doctor, we’re starting to trend in that direction. It’s the shots. I get it; shots seem overly antiquated for 2019. They figured out a way to administer the flu shot via spray – when will they figure out how to provide other medication through something other than a needle? Anyway, I can’t keep the shot requirements straight for each year and so for every doctor trip, my response to the inevitable question “Will we get shots?” is “I don’t know.” While not terribly reassuring, I’ve at least prepared them for the potential. But for this trip to the endocrinologist, my definitive answer was “Nope!” I was only technically right.

We met a nurse, a fourth-year medical student and then the endocrinologist. By the time we got to the latter, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the experience just to get a picture of a hand. It took until midway through the endocrinologist’s oration, of which I understood maybe 50% and Maggie close to 0, for me to realize blood would be taken. So as I said, technically not a shot. But… worse than a shot. I stopped the doctor to tell Maggie this as soon as I realized. The doctor then tried to explain the reasons in 10-year-old English. In one ear and out the other for both of us at that point. I got and appreciated that they wanted to rule out anything at all beyond the most likely small + later-onset-of-puberty genes explanation. But why didn’t our pediatrician warn us about the process? Maggie sat in my lap and cried and begged the nurse to take the needle out as she filled up TEN vials of blood from my daughter’s 56 lb body. A little forewarning would have been helpful.

When I told my mom about our experience, she reminded me of Mr. Rogers’ song “I like to be told.” Human beings crave context. We like to be able to mentally prepare for something hard or scary, or really anything at all. Being out of the loop means feeling out of control and not many of us do well when we feel out of control. (Heck, my mother almost killed my father when he threw her a surprise 50th, and that was supposed to be fun!) Mr. Rogers’ song is therefore just as relevant to adults as it is to kids. And all of us are right to like to be told. Keeping people in the dark may work short-term in certain situations but it never works in the long run (though surprise parties do, in fact, work for me.) As a manager and a leader, I always tell my team as much as I possibly can about everything. It’s how I build trust and motivation. Certainly there are times when the full context isn’t appropriate to provide, be it confidential or otherwise. But I’ll go up to that line because everyone deserves as much information as possible in order to share a learned point of view, suggest a smarter recommendation, make an informed decision. Put simply, better communication leads to better outcomes.

While Maggie may be physically small, don’t underestimate her mental maturity when it comes to big stuff. That said, given her typical reaction to shots, had I been pre-warned about the blood they were taking, it may have been in our collective best interest for me to temper my description of what the appointment entailed, just as it’s sometimes in my team’s best interest to hold back detail for whatever reason. But as her mother, that was my decision to make, not her pediatrician’s. Perhaps the pediatrician didn’t know? Yikes, that would be worse. Regardless, Maggie recognized I wasn’t hiding anything from her; I didn’t know either. No trust lost. It ended up being nothing a nutella-filled crepe and a professional blowout couldn’t fix. And yes, spoiling and bribing are just fine when used sparingly and strategically, for ten-year-olds and adult colleagues alike!

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