Starting a meeting with a reflection is a powerfully humanizing move. In this episode, I share a short passage about communication that would be appropriate to open any meeting, and for any audience. It invites us to see connections between words and thoughts, and consider their impact on our relationships and world.
Listen here and read the transcript below, which also includes the text of the reflection.
The idea for this episode came from a recent request from our audience for a reflection to open a meeting in healthcare or public health. You know I’m a reflective practitioner, I love this idea. So I’m going to share one today about communication.
Hi everybody, this is “10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication” from Health Communication Partners. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. If your organization wants to take concrete action on health equity, take my course Foundations of Equitable Communication in Health. It’s been found to make a statistically significant improvement in people’s communication knowledge, confidence, and skills. What’s more, when your organization purchases access to this course, it includes a one hour, live, group meeting for the course participants, with me, after the course. So we can get started applying what you’ve learned–in your specific workplace. Because I’m serious about making progress on equity and so are you. Learn more at healthcommunicationpartners.com.
I personally have experienced the power of a good reflection in the beginning of a meeting. There’s something incredibly humane about it, about someone deciding, “Before we get down to business we’re going to reflect,” right? Because we’re all busy, we’re all distracted, and we’re all trying to be present. So I loved the idea of finding a text that could do work like this, and reading it to you and asking some questions after. I had a lot of fun looking, so you can bet I’m gonna do another one of these.
This one is on communication. Now I’m going to read to you something from a name you’ve heard me reference a number of times on this show: James Paul Gee. And this is from his Preface to the Second Edition of his Introduction to Discourse Analysis Theory and Method. Jim Gee is a linguist. I like him. Not just because he worked closely with Brian Street, who I studied with, but because of how much he likes us. He’s a fan of human beings and of what we do with language.
This passage I’m about to read would be appropriate at any meeting, for any audience. Because Gee invites all of us human beings to think about our ordinary, everyday conversations, what our words mean to other people, and what their words mean to us. After this, you’ll have some food for thought when it comes to connections between words and thoughts – connections that happen so quickly we tend not to notice them, even though they have enormous impact on our relationships, and Gee argues, on our world.
I’ll read you the passage, and then I have a few prompts after for you to choose from. You can think on them, and if time permits at the meeting, you could share with colleagues. Alright now I’m reading this out of an actual book, so you’ll hear the paper. Here we go:
“Human communication, especially across social and cultural divides, is a very difficult matter. We humans are very good at finding meaning. We find it all over the place, even in the stars, with many people still believing in the medieval art of astrology. In fact, we are so good at finding meaning that we very often run off too quickly with interpretations of what other people mean that are based on our own social and cultural worlds, not theirs. Too often we are wrong in ways that are hurtful.
“When we sit back and reflect on what people have said and written—a luxury we have too little in life, but the basis of discourse analysis—we often discover better, deeper, and more humane interpretations. The small child whom the teacher assumed made no sense at sharing time looks a lot smarter after a little reflection…. A person from a different race, class, or culture looks, on reflection, if the reflection is based on any knowledge, to have made both a better point and a better impression on second thought than on first.
“We believe it is a matter of competence to re-read a good book or re-watch a great movie to get more out of it. But we rarely apply the same principle…to our fellow citizens…. Indeed, writing a second time—as in the case of this book—is just a way to be in dialog with ourselves, to think more deeply about what we mean and how others will interpret us. In a world in which people rush off to kill those who don’t agree with them and countries rush off to war, it may be a matter of survival that we learn to base our views and actions on second (and more) hearings and readings of others and second sayings and writings by ourselves.
“Even after we have re-heard or re-read, we may still disagree with people. And they may have had good or bad motives. But we humans, when it comes to using language to make sense, are very good indeed. Whether we are telling the truth or lying, we build intricate, complex, and highly patterned oral and written texts with which to accomplish our goals. We are creatures of language. Evolution has seen to that.
“Thus, we can say that there is an imbalance in human communication: each human being creates complex meanings in language, but each of us is so good at finding meanings that we are often too quick to attribute meanings to others that are rooted more in our own cultures, identities, and fears than they are on a close inspection of what the other person has said or written.
“So a second listening or a second reading is, in many cases, a matter of competence (what we need to do to be competent in our areas of work) and, in many cases, too, a matter of ethics (if we want to be fair)…. The task is this: to think more deeply about the meanings we give people’s words so as to make ourselves better, more humane people and the world a better, more humane place. While we still may disagree with others after reflection, we will, nonetheless, be in a position to be a much better critic, to represent what we believe in a much better way. But we may also sometimes change our own viewpoints to be more positively inclined toward others than we were initially. We will then, too, be better placed to cooperate with them in human endeavors, especially in a fast-changing, global, culturally diverse (and often dangerous) world.”
Thanks to Jim Gee for that. Now I have some questions for you to consider:
- Recall a time when you’ve given someone’s words a ‘second hearing.’ What did you notice on second thought that you missed the first time?
- Has anyone ever given your words a second hearing, that you know of? How did that impact you?
- Is there a situation in recent memory that you’d like to be able to go back to and give someone’s words a second hearing? Or has there ever been a time that you, as Gee said, ran “off too quickly with interpretation of what other people mean” that was based in your own social and cultural worlds, instead of theirs? What did you learn from this?
If you appreciate this approach to communication, you’ll love my course Foundations of Equitable Communication in Health. Learn more at healthcommunicationpartners.com. This has been “10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication” from Health Communication Partners. Audio engineering by Joe Liebel, music by Joe Liebel and Alexis R.