Communication is the foundation of everything we do. It’s how we implement our interventions, how we coordinate tertiary care and how we educate everyone involved. While the spoken word is the gold standard of communication, the unspoken word resonates at a higher volume and frequency. In other words, it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters the most.
This concept is most important when speaking to our patients and their families. Be sure you don’t make these mistakes the next time you are communicating:
- Be where you say you’ll be when you say you’ll be there. Nothing shakes a patient’s confidence in the care you are delivering more than when you tell them “I’ll be right back” and they don’t see or hear from you for hours. Be specific, be honest, and when all else fails, update them as often as possible.
- The way you stand, where you place your hands, how you look at them and your eye contact are just a few queues that can draw the line between your body saying “I’m listening” and your body saying “Are you talking?” Focus on what is being said when it is being said.
Every breath you take
- I was extremely guilty of this. I used to give that “sigh” before and after a sentence. Whether I did it out of exhaustion or disgust, all it says to your patients is “I’m annoyed.” Even worse, I used to give that big sigh whenever the patient was talking to me. Nothing sets someone off more than that. Even if you are annoyed, tired or disgusted, be sure to keep it to yourself.
- Stop tapping your finger, clicking your pen, watching your monitor, writing, typing or charting when having a conversation. Stop distracting your attention from the topic at hand–you’re probably missing something important. If you cannot stop what you are doing, be sure to explain to your patient why or what is requiring your attention.
- If a phone call, page or monitor alarm demands your attention, be sure to excuse yourself. Nothing says “You’re not really important” like walking away mid-sentence without some closure or an attentive attitude.
In the end, the lines of communication are like a hinged door: If you ignore it, sooner or later you’ll get hit by it swinging back at you.