Last week I was describing a mutual friend to my son as pathologically optimistic. Overhearing us, my seven-year old grandson asked me what that meant. I started in with glass half full, glass half empty. Oh, Opa, he interrupted me, I know what optimistic means, what does pathologically mean? I was using language my grandson didn’t understand and he questioned me. I attend a weekly conference call of OpenID HEART, that I’ve written about here before, and I understand about a quarter of the discussion – very technical. I am not as ready as my grandson to interrupt and question, even though when I have, my very basic language questions are respected and welcome. Rather I usually take notes and ask the questions on the list offline. I often facilitate meetings. I try to pay attention to the language people use and explain acronyms or jargon. If I see a furrowed brow, I ask the furrower if they have a question. As a direct care nurse, I made sure I created teach back moments when helping people at the center of care prepare to manage without me.
Often I have the sense that people consider literacy as a dumbing down – write to the fifth grade level, eighth grade – whatever. Many colleagues in any gig I’ve worked, say, communication sucks! I, however, am continually amazed that we can communicate at all. My friend, Helen Osborne at www.healthliteracy.com tells me that literacy is about language, age, culture, disability, emotion, and cognition (genetic and evolving). That’s a lot to consider when communicating. My communication usually just falls out of my mouth.
Why do we want to communicate? To give instructions (if you can’t move your bowels, take this pill in the morning, with liquids), direction (take a left where the general store used to be), persuade (this vaccine prevents shingles), celebrate (I just love him), inform (this treatment reduces mortality by 15%), and on and on. If we were more deliberate in our reason for communicating, clearer about our message, and had a better understanding of our audience or colleagues before we began, we’d probably communicate more successfully – – and less often (not a bad thing?).
Ah, here’s to Health Literacy Month.