A painful conversation

May 9, 2016

Not long ago, one of my friends had a hospital appointment with a consultant. She asked me to go with her for a bit of moral support.

Now, this appointment was a big deal. My friend had been in pain for months, and had already had several fruitless appointments and many frustrating phone calls trying to find the cause. So when we got to the appointment she was, understandably, quite stressed.

And one exchange in particular between her and the consultant really didn’t help matters.

Take care with words

My friend mentioned that she wasn’t happy with how she’d been treated so far. She didn’t feel like anyone had really listened to her concerns or understood her situation. The conversation went like this:

Consultant: So what you’re saying is…

Friend: I want you to treat me like a person.

Consultant: …you want individualised treatment.

Friend: Treat me like a person.

Consultant: Right. Individualised treatment.

Friend: Treat me like A PERSON.

It was fascinating – the consultant clearly thought he was saying the exactly same thing as my friend. But he wasn’t. He was talking about the treatment, the thing he could deliver. She was talking about herself, her experience, her life – she wanted the consultant to know that she was no longer sleeping at night. She wanted him to know the devastating impact that the situation was having on her work as a musician. She needed to know that he would react to all these things in a sensitive and sensible way.

The fact that each of them kept repeating their own phrase, as if the other hadn’t heard, showed that the two of them weren’t on the same page at all.

Use words to show your common ground

I’ve already written a bit about the jargony business-speak of medicine – and how one of our cleverest brain surgeons rejects it. And if you want to read more about how better communication in the NHS can save costs, achieve better results and make patients’ experiences better, then this report is a good place to start.

But there’s another thing to think about. I’m positive the consultant had the brains and experience to help my friend. But, for a moment, his language was stopping him from building the thing that is so crucial between two people, especially between doctor and patient: a good working relationship.

By revealing the way we truly see the world, our words either bring people closer to us or push them away. And whether we’re a brand manager or a brain surgeon, that’s something we can’t afford to forget.

 

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