I received a wonderful bit of feedback from a colleague at work this week:
”Steve, you did an incredible job facilitating the Millennial panel. You have a knack for being able to ask difficult questions and getting people to open up. Your presence had a calming effect on the group and you exemplified active listening when you rephrased our responses to gain clarification. I hope you take the opportunity to do more facilitation because you’re great at it.”
Since I don’t share much of my work in the diabetes community with the people I work with, there’s no way for this person to know that I actually have recent experience facilitating. But this feedback helped underscore the importance of conversation, and the equal, if not exceeding, importance of listening.
A lot has been written about the importance of communicating with your medical team, how to share goals and concerns with them, and conversely, how we would like to be talked to by our medical team. In fact, we talked about this a lot last Thursday during the DSMA Live event in San Diego, which was live via Periscope with the #DSMA Twitter chat going on simultaneously during the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference. This was the first time so many CDEs were involved in conversation with People With Diabetes at the same time, in the same space. We talked about a lot, and I think we all learned a lot too.
I think there are specific themes that translate to our communications with doctors, Certified Diabetes Educators, and other healthcare professionals we see on a constant basis. It’s important to get our points across, and it’s important to listen to and lean on the knowledge and support of caring, dynamic healthcare professionals.
Patients, let’s not forget– the conversation works both ways: just because I live with diabetes doesn’t mean I have the market cornered on sorrow. Maybe my endo has a family member that’s causing a great deal of stress in their lives. Maybe a CDE just got yelled at by another patient. Maybe an ophthalmologist is dealing with the chronic pain that afflicts people living with arthritis. As much as we try to shake things off (being human and all), all of these and more can affect conversations.
And in some cases, our HCPs need to up their game when it comes to reacting to patients. Sometimes we need advice. Sometimes we need changes to our therapies that we’ve been unable to figure out because we’re so close to our diabetes management. Sometimes we need to convey our fears without being judged that we’re not “in control” of our diabetes. Whatever the case is, the fact is, we need something or we wouldn’t be there.
So what can we do? How do we make the conversations between healthcare professionals and patients better, more meaningful, more impactful? Much of it comes down to knowledge, respect, and empathy. And remember, these ideas go both ways.
We need to bring our knowledge to the table, not be afraid to display it when necessary, and not be afraid to admit when we don’t know something. I mention that last part because in the past, I have been more likely than others to gloss over something I don’t know. Admitting that you don’t know something can be difficult because it can make you feel vulnerable. Getting over the feeling of vulnerability can actually be quite freeing. One less thing to worry about. Getting over it can be helped along through respect from the other side of the conversation.
Respect is one of the things that is hardest to get right. On the surface, you wouldn’t think this is true, but respect can often be something we can easily hold back on (for “evidence of worthiness”, for example), and it’s something that we can lose and lose track of quickly without really recognizing that we’ve done so.
But respect for the other person in your conversation really allows for someone to be vulnerable. It allows some space, some comfortable air, for a patient to state that they don’t know what a dual wave bolus is, or that their diabetes burnout is really scaring them. It gives a doctor the room to say that they don’t know anything about inhalable insulin, but they will check it out to see how you can safely fit it into your diabetes management.
Empathy is something that, as I’ve stated before, People With Diabetes possess in abundance. But, and I hate to say this, but sometimes it seems like our empathy only extends to the others in our community. We have empathy in abundance. I think we have enough to spread around to our HCPs too, if we’re not doing so already.
Healthcare professionals can show empathy simply by considering us as human beings first, and as patients second. Though it’s a huge part of our lives, we are more than our diabetes. Those aren’t words that haven’t been written before. But maybe someone hasn’t read them before? Maybe there’s someone who has forgotten them? I don’t know. I do know that becoming empathetically invested in someone else’s life and goals and hopes and aspirations does not cost one single dime. And usually, the rewards are more than worth the effort.
I guess what I’m saying is, you can be a great facilitator too. When you apply the principles of knowledge, respect, and empathy to your online and offline conversations with others, whoever those others are, your conversations mean so much more, allowing room for honesty and growth for the people affected by those conversations. And doing so leaves little room left for judgement. Remember:
I support you… no conditions.