Creating “Not Unattractive” Data Tables

Years ago I overheard a woman in a department store ask her friend how she looked in a truly beautiful dress she was considering buying — her friend’s answer: “well, it’s not unattractive.”


I literally stopped in my shopping tracks, and ran the phrase through my head trying to figure out what I had just heard. Was she telling her friend that the dress was attractive or unattractive?

At that point it didn’t matter — because anything the woman had seen as beautiful and positive about the dress had been turned into a negative with three strangely strung together little words — “it’s not unattractive.”

Wow man — that dress had gone from beautiful to awful in under 60 seconds — call me crazy but that just may be a record.

Funny thing though, this encounter came rushing back to me just the other day as I was reviewing a table of compliance data on clinical measures that had been developed for a physician group practice.

When I looked at the table my immediate reaction was — they’ve turned the group’s positives into negatives. It was “not unattractive dress deja-vu.”

Here is the original 7 column table:

Original Clinical Measure Compliance Table
Original Clinical Measure Compliance Table

The Percent Compliant column highlighted in RED sends a visually confusing message and causes the reader to think that the group’s positives are negatives.

The highlighting makes it look as though the group has a ton of work to do to even get within striking distance of the compliance rates they have agreed to in their payer contracts. It screams “WARNING, WARNING” — but is that a whole lot of smoke and no fire — is it a negative or a positive result? I can’t tell without doing some mental gymnastics which I have neither the time nor the inclination to do (I want clear and easy).

I decided to redesign the table.

First I posed three questions:

1) Who is the report for?
2) What question(s) do they need answered?
3) What data is required?

I determined that this report was for the financial managers of the group practice who need to monitor the group’s compliance rates on contractual measures.

The data required to create the report is:

1) Measure Name
2) Minimum Contract Compliance Rate
3) Actual Compliance Rate
4) Contract v. Actual Variance

Having answered these three basic questions, I eliminated three columns of unnecessary data and added one new column — the variance between the contractual and actual rates.

Additionally, I sorted the data in the table on the variance rates beginning with Exceeds (+), Meets (0) and ending with Under (-) because I firmly believe that in order to encourage people to improve and change it is important to first acknowledge their accomplishments and to demonstrate what can be achieved whenever possible (more on that in future Newsletters).

Redesigned Clinical Measure Compliance Table
Redesigned Clinical Measure Compliance Table

If you remember to follow a few simple steps when you are creating a table of data you will be in good shape to communicate your message and avoid the pitfall of turning your “positives into negatives.”

Remember to:

1. Determine your audience.
2. Determine the information you need to communicate to them.
3. Determine what data will you use.

And embrace your inner editor because your first attempt is almost never the final version. There is NO shame in editing.

So remember, don’t turn your positives into negatives and never ever shop with a friend that describes a dress as “not unattractive” (because a really great dress is way too hard to find).

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