While on a walk with my son recently, as he was collecting sticks, he casually repeated the phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me..." and it allowed us to have a brief discussion about how words can, and do, hurt people. Parents today are armed with terrific tools to learn about emotional intelligence, and how the power of language can, for example, help preserve a child's self-esteem while the parent still sets up boundaries. How often are we trained as adults to pay attention to the phrases, gestures, or words that we use during adult interactions, or in patient care interactions? Think about a mentor, supervisor, or friend who you admire- who you aim to emulate. What is it about the person's interactions you find inspiring? Is it the command of the situation she has, the compassion she exudes, or the intelligent way she can say things to a patient? Regardless of the trait you are admiring, communication is likely a key factor in the interactions you find pleasing.
A recent MedScape article asks doctors to share words they let fly, only to wish they could take them back. We have all spoken in haste, in frustration, or in jest, only to realize that we have offended a patient, a family member, or a colleague. The most important thing in that situation may be the actions that follow the indiscretion. And as many martial arts traditions teach, the highest form of self-defense is to avoid conflict in the first place, so how can we best position ourselves to avoid using phrases, gestures, or other communications that offend and create barriers between ourselves and the patient? The most critical part of the solution is awareness. We all use phrases that are so commonly part of our everyday life we don't even know we are using them. It could be "cool" or "is that right?" Do you really mean that a patient's response to your intervention is "cool?" And do you really want the person to clarify if what they are saying is true? What if we took the world as literally as some of the children in our lives do? What would our day look like? Looking at some typical, and lazy ways that we talk, is is accurate to say the following?