Dealing with the 'S' in Communication
Jacqueline Vance, RNC, CDONA/LTC
I know, I know, you're looking at the title and thinking I lost my mind. Where is the ‘S' in word communication? Oh, but I say yes, it is there and I see it. You see, we all receive communication with certain sensitivities.
Let me give you an example. At one time, I had lost a good bit of weight. I had been thin most of my life, then due some health issue, I put weight on. So, yes, I was very sensitive about it. But, when I finally got the weight off, people would say, “Oh I can tell you lost weight, I see it in your face.”
All I could think of was, “My face?” How freakishly big was my head? Not, ‘Oh, look how tiny your waist is! But just my face? Was I a bobblehead doll or something?”
But, see, someone probably noticed my cheekbones and was trying to compliment me and all I could do was filter the message through my sensitivities and misinterpret the meaning: Freakishly BIG head!
Nonetheless, as managers, we need to understand that everyone has sensitivities, and we need to deal with that. Everyone has come from “someplace.” Everyone hears something with his or her own filter.
So it is very important that if you say something innocuous and that person reacts, well, quite not the way as you expect, it might help to stop and think if we hit that “S”.
For example, as nurse managers/leaders, we certainly don‘t expect perfect grammar or sentence structure from our nurses. Let's face it: It's just not emphasized in school as much as it was in the past. And with this electronic documentation we are all using, where we can accidentally delete part of or all of a sentence and not notice it, reading nursing documentation can be an adventure!
But what if we are having a meeting, and in our heads we are thinking about missing words or that missing whole sentences and we ask our nurses to please review their documentation because we need it to be understandable to all who are reading it. But in many of our facilities, English may not be the first language for a good part of our staff and there of course are sensitivities around that.
After all, if I went to a Spanish-speaking country and tried to document in that language, I have a feeling the staff would be rolling on the floors at what I thought I was writing. I mean, you should hear how I mix things up just speaking it!
My Spanish speaking followers will get a kick out of this one!:
“Por ejemplo, Quería preguntar a un paciente, ¿Cuántos años tienes usted. Sin embargo, en relaidad, Yo pregunté: ¿Cuántos anos tienes? El paciente respondió, ¿cómo? ¿Cuántos tiene usted? Dije cincuenta. El paciente se desmayó.”
[I went to ask a patient, “How many years are you?” However, in reality I asked, “How many anuses do you have?” The patient responded, “What? How many do you have?” I answered, “Fifty.” The patient passed out!]
It turns out that little squiggly line over años makes a big difference!
So if you just asked a staff member to clarify her documentation and she gets visually upset, maybe she doesn't know what's in your head and her filter is, “They're expecting me to structure my sentences as if I have lived in this country all my life and that is impossible.” See? There is an “S” in that communication.
Or what if you put out a memo about the dress code to all staff, but one staff member in particular gets ticked off and starts a verbal “behind your back” provocation? (You know, that snowball that turns into a boulder, starting with one staff member and then traveling fast through the rumor mill train).
You're like, “Gee whiz, what is this all about? I was just referring to the dress code where everyone has to wear the solid color scrub that is standard and it needs to be clean and pressed when you come to work.”
But maybe this person's sensitivities have to do with their past and your innocuous comment triggered something.
So if someone gets upset at a request you make or something you say, and you're like, “Wait, what? Why?” Maybe you should ask them what they think they heard you say. (Oh, and do this in private as you will be touching on that sensitive button.)
Don't blow it off because YOU know you meant no harm. We all have sensitivities; we all come with our own personal baggage. We work with people, and that means those sensitivities make us and our staff both the special caregivers we are, with a past that brings the “S” in communication when we least expect it.
That's why my advice is to expect it, respect it and “communicate” it.
Just keeping it real,
he Real Nurse Jackie is written by Jacqueline Vance, RNC, CDONA/LTC, an APEX Award of Excellence winner for Blog Writing. Vance is a real life long-term care nurse. A nationally respected nurse educator and past national LTC Nurse Administrator of the Year, she also is an accomplished stand-up comedienne. She has not starred in her own national television series — yet. The opinions supplied here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer or her professional affiliates.