Communication for healthcare professionals

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Dr. Ann Donnelly MB MRCGP DRCOG DFP DYT Dippallmed

Doctor Ann is a family doctor with over 25 years experience in medicine. Her work currently is in the field of palliative medicine in both Hospice and Hospital environments. She is a yoga teacher & she has studied with the British Medical Acupuncture Society & the London Homeopathic Society. Further to this she has been studying and teaching with the Modern Mystery School of Metaphysics for over 10 years and runs a busy holistic practice where she offers sessions and courses for healing, personal development, increased awareness and enlightenment. www.anndonnelly.co.uk

When I started to write this article on communication I was struck by the fact that I had to go way down an image search engine before finding an image of two people having a face to face conversation.
Of recent years, so much of our communication has a device between us and the person with whom we are communicating.
This alters the dynamic and makes way for a great deal of misinterpretation. If we have an active imagination and we are feeling more than a little fragile we can interpret the smallest of phrases as a personal slight and this shuts us down before we have an opportunity to negotiate.
For mutually satisfying communication to happen, each individual aught to have an opportunity
1) to contribute,
2) to feel heard,
3) to feel valued

One of the ways to keep effective communication open is to recognise your personal communication style…

1) Informer
Do you like to give information? This is a comfort zone that many of us fall into especially when we are familiar with the topic discussed. As you can imagine this makes for very one-sided communication. It is important to monitor who is doing the majority of the speaking and to encourage comments & feedback regularly.

2) Ignorer
This is something that occurs either consciously or unconsciously. If someone we are talking to says something that makes us feel uncomfortable it is easier to ignore than explore.
This is often experienced in the realm of admission of emotions. Eg, I’m sad, or I’m really angry. If we do ignore this admission of emotion it will only shut the person down more, building on resentment and leading to less openness in future. If possible take the exact phrase the person has used and say… ‘you are sad? Can you tell me more about that?’

3) Fixer
Naturally we want to help. If we can fix it or we have a solution we want to make sure the person knows about it irrespective of whether that is what they need or not. Fixers like to jump into ‘doing’ mode without hearing the full story. Unless it is an emergency of course… when someone admits to a problem make sure you ask how it makes them feel and really create space to listen… Allow the person to ventilate fully before asking if there is any way you can help.

4) Facilitator
Some one who engages with another individual in such a way as to facilitate the telling their story and the emotional impact of that story on their life. A facilitator encourages active participation in the development of a plan moving forward so the encounter is ‘patient centred’. There are facilitation skills, that help this process, and these can be learned.
If you are a health care professional or someone who deals with situations of high expressed emotion regularly it is important that you learn these skills to prevent burn out, to aid job satisfaction & to create effective, mutually satisfying communication.

In the UK we have a number of communication courses and as a facilitator in the Suzie Wilkinson Advanced Communication Skills course for health care professionals who work in cancer and palliative care services, I highly recommend developing your communication skills. Poor communication leads to a high number of complaints and a highly stressful work environment. Of course these skills will help you in far reaching areas of your life.
Take an active interest in your own communication style and become personally aware of how effective you are in maintaining a two-way exchange.
Personally, I wish you joy, in every communication situation you encounter, and, in the wonder of truly getting to know another human being, in this ever advancing world!

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