Sometimes you need to communicate a crucial point. To instruct individuals or a team to do something important. To encourage a trainee or team member to change a negative behaviour. It may be vitally important to a patient’s health or the success of your organisation. Fortunately medical training has prepared us well.
We know what to do. Present them with the facts. Support the message with data, graphs, risk ratios, tables and diagrams. This will help. Describe the options and the outcomes. Allow questions. Agree a course of action. Check understanding. Arrange to review progress.
People will then do what is best for themselves, society, or in the case of staff, the practice. Lose weight, complete the QOF prompts. They’ll be responsive to a logical case well made and do the right thing. Won’t they?
All too often, I find that, they don’t.
You will all recognise this story.
Tom is a smoker and we want to convince him to stop. We tell Tom that smoking kills 96,000 people a year in the UK, will shorten your life by an average of 10 years and that 80% of lung cancers are caused by smoking. The list of impacts and risks goes on. The logical case for stopping smoking is overwhelming. But, Tom had a friend… Bill. He smoked for 50 years and was fine. Until he stopped smoking. Since he stopped he had never coughed so much. He developed “heart trouble”, deteriorated and died. Bill always said that it was when he stopped smoking that his health started to go down hill.
“No doctor, I don’t want to stop smoking. It’s not worth the risk.”
Patients like Tom often show us the power of anecdotes and stories, and that they can be more compelling than the clearest of figures and facts.
It seems that many medics are missing a trick when communicating, motivating and leading. The use of stories and narrative are a great tool, and many professionals with technical and scientific backgrounds can under appreciate their impact.