Privileged glimpses 7: What people say

This series of blog posts first appeared a few years ago on a now defunct blog called ‘Care Training’. It was inspired by the training maxim of ‘making the unconscious conscious’. It is intended to take what really ought to be the most basic principles of health and social care and put them down on paper. The series isn’t only an exercise in stating the obvious though whatever the title might suggest. It’s actually intended as a philosophical foundation manual for workers and informal carers to help them get their care ‘on track’ and then to keep it that way.

Just a quick post today. This one is as obvious as it gets.

What people say may not be what people mean

There are many reasons why people in health and social care settings don’t say what they mean and it’s worth taking a little time to think before deciding whether or not to take what they say at face value.

Here are just a few possibilities to consider…

People may be too frightened or insecure to tell the truth. Or they may know that what they have to say will be unpopular. Many would argue that fear of exposure and a basically unpopular message explains why people are often less than honest about their true intentions. The truth may be too problematic (or the other person’s reaction too scary) to admit to honestly.

The service-user who is always satisfied with the care we give them may genuinely be happy with what we do but, realistically speaking, the person who never feels dissatisfied is pretty rare. That’s why inspectors such as those from the CQC sometimes worry when an organisation receives no complaints at all. Are the service-users too intimidated to say what they actually mean.

There is a power imbalance between nurse, carer and service-user and it’s easy for people to be intimidated by that imbalance – even if it’s unintended. If it is intended, if the nurse is a bully for example then it’s even more of a problem.

If nobody in your service ever complains it’s a good idea to ask yourself why. You may want to look beyond their words and understand the fear that prevents them from being honest.

The other possibility I want to consider here is the ‘challenging behaviour’ strategy of taking people at their word even if you don’t think they’re being honest.

Sometimes people will tell you things they don’t mean because they have a hidden agenda. In those cases you may want to consider acting as if they’re being honest with you even though you think they may not. This more or less guarantees that the solution you give them, although appropriate for the problem they stated will be unlikely to match the subtext. Stick to the stated problem until they tell you what they really mean.

This means that over time they learn that it’s better to be clear and to be honest.

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