Some companies "adopt" ideas or policies by sending around a perfunctory e-mail, then forgetting about it. Ochsner really adopted the 10/5 Way. They formally trained more than eleven thousand physicians, nurses, managers, and administrators to smile anytime they were within ten feet and say hello anytime they were within five fee t of another person—patient or fellow employee —and even evaluated them on it as a component of their performance reviews. Of course, a hospital is never going to be as luxurious as the Ritz, but that wasn't the point. The point was to instill a more positive reality among the hospital staff and then franchise that positive mindset and perspective to the patients.

As a researcher, though, it's my job to be skeptical, so I naturally had a lot of questions about how this would work. Would people find the smiling to be inauthentic and forced? Would all this time spent saying hello to everyone distract doctors and nurses from all the other important things they were supposed to be doing? Would negative employee s find a loophole and simply walk eleven fee t away from everyone in the hospital?

At first, many of the doctors and hospital staff were equally skeptical. Some would say, "Aren't these just cosmetic changes? Smiling couldn't possibly affect the underlying performance of a hospital" or "I don't have time to waste on this silly HR initiative. I'm busy saving lives here." There were some stubborn individuals that were too hard to reach at first. But for the next six months, every time one of those resistant, negative doctors walked down the hallway, something was different. People were saying hello or smiling at them. Not just employee s, but patients as well. You've probably noticed how when someone says hello or smiles at you, your automatic reaction is to say hello or smile back. Well that's exactly what those doctors started doing. Eventually, they started adopting the 10/5 Way—even if they weren't fully aware they were doing it.

In short, the behavior became contagious. Kara Greer, vice president of organizational development and training at Ochsner, told me that soon the employee s who originally didn't follow the 10/5 Way became such anomalies that even they began unconsciously to adopt the new positive patterns, simply so they wouldn't stand out for being unkind.

The 10/5 Way completely transformed the shared reality at the hospital. Some of the doctors had originally had a hard time believing that something so seemingly trivial as saying hello or smiling could possibly have any real impact on health outcomes. But what those skeptics had momentarily forgotten was the scientific and direct correlation between patient satisfaction and successful health outcomes on everything ranging from cardiac recovery to orthodontics work.5 We sometimes think that the best doctors are the ones who have the most specialized knowledge or the fanciest degree s, but in fact, study upon study, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that the best doctors are the ones who also know how to connect with their patients. It's not just because they make the patient feel warm and fuzzy; patients who fee l connected to their doctors are more likely to follow the treatment regimen and return for vital checkups.