When we work in the field of communication – specifically communication around health and behaviour change, it is easy to become overly “observant” of the way traditional systems work. I stress “observant” as “judgementalism” is to be avoided at all costs if we are to be true to our model!
Recently, I had the delightful experience of being part of a conversation (in the healthcare system) where the “expert” met me halfway and joined me in our discussion around a health issue. I came away feeling heard, seen and empowered. “Wow,” I thought “Things are looking up”. I reflected on the experience. What the person in question did was not that complex. I was treated as an individual who had some thoughts, had some unique experience and a story to tell, some ideas about any action to be taken, and (thank God), my health professional had a sense of humour. Essential to relate well to me, I am reluctant to admit. All in all an uplifiting encounter.
And then not longer after I was talking to a friend who had been to see a specialist about a more serious condition (in her eyes). She was obviously feeling very deflated by the encounter and I asked her why. This was her account.
“I was in the room with the specialist and a medical student. Most of the time I felt more like a power point slide than an anxious patient and the main aim of the dialogue was to educate the student. In order to further his knowledge I was told of all the possible terrible things that could happen and how they could be dealt with. It was clinical, without warmth and with little regard or interest for my feelings or ideas.”
This was quite disturbing for me to hear and I asked her what she wanted from that person – because we face a dilemma when we need to get expert information yet still want to feel like we’re in the driver’s seat.
She replied as follows.
“I wanted to be heard. I wanted to tell my story but also to share my feelings about what had happened. I wanted them to be acknowledged, if briefly. I wanted to have trust in the specialist’s knowledge and ability to apply it to my unique situation. I wanted to feel like a person not a statistic. I needed some degree of reassurance but not patronisation – call it respectful caring and concern. I wanted to get the message, “I’ve got your back even if we’re not sure what likes ahead.” I wanted a connection with this important person in my life at a time when I felt my most vulnerable.”
Doesn’t sound like too much to ask. Why don’t they include a course called Connection 101 in specialist’s training?