Wouldn’t it be nice if we could magically leave our awkwardness, doubt, or frustration at the door when we have to communicate in a professional capacity?
In the summer of 2016, I was in the audience when Marcella Nunez-Smith, of Yale’s School of Medicine, gave a keynote address to a conference of health communication researchers.
In it, she remarked how health care communication is really a “subset of what’s going on in the larger society,” communication-wise.
I thought it was intriguing to think about health communication in terms of everyday communication.
We all have our communication hangups. None of us wants to look foolish. Or waste time.
When we have something important to say, we want to get that message through, to whoever our audience is.
When it’s someone we care about, or it’s a difficult issue – or both – there can be even greater pressure to get the communication just right. To make it work. And that can be intimidating for anyone.
To be sure, the conversations we have about our health are some of the most consequential conversations we have in life. And there are unique and consequential constraints around health care communication that simply don’t exist in other contexts.
But communication is an interaction between people. People who have different levels of comfort with their communication skills in general. People with awkwardness, doubt, and fear that they don’t check at the door.
Thinking of your communication confidence? Want to brush up on a skill?
If you’re not even sure where to start:
If verbal conflict is really, really not your thing:
If you use metaphors when you’re explaining something:
If you want to make sure you’re walking your talk and meaning what you say:
If you think you’re the only one who gets tongue-tied/flubs/thinks about these communication things:
If the way other people think about things is about to send you ‘round the bend:
If you’re thinking maybe all this communication malarkey is much ado about nothing:
In health care, as in everyday life, verbal communication is never simply a relay of information.
When we speak with another human being, we are strengthening (or weakening) our relationship. We are revealing our perspective. We are making a case for our priorities. And more.
No wonder public speaking is held to be such a common fear.
With all this, and time pressures, and the understandable focus on the mechanics of patient communication, it’s easy to forget about the people ‘doing’ the communicating. People who are hurried, worried, awkward, and flawed.