In June several SLPs and I read Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. We read it with the goal of gleaning information that would help us advocate for bottom-up change in the SNF setting. This was a fantastic book, even for us communication specialists. The book is chockfull of great tips and information about communicating in those tough moments – you know when there are butterflies in your belly and that little voice is saying you are likely to fail.
Fear of confrontation
I asked my fellow readers what their communication weakness was before we started reading. Everyone stated something along the lines of being uncomfortable or avoiding confrontation. Confrontation is uncomfortable. So many of us don’t want to disappoint or inconvenience anyone. Confrontation seems like a guaranteed way to upset people, right?
Even I am uncomfortable with confrontation. So many people reached out after the ASHA Leader article was published that featured my advocacy and activism. One person contacted me via email. When we talked on the phone they told me what I’m doing requires a lot of backbone. My response, “Yeah, but also a lot of turning around in circles wondering, what the heck am I doing?” Initiating and engaging in these “crucial conversations” is difficult. Really difficult.
To be completely honest, when I press “publish” on a blog post or “post” on social media posts I sometimes feel like crying happy tears and vomiting from nervousness simultaneously. I care. And I don’t know how what I’m doing is going to be received. It’s risky.
Silence and stories
But there is a risk in keeping a tight lip and swallowing your thoughts. Crucial Conversations describes these risks as the stories we tell ourselves. “Stories provide our rationale for what’s going on. They’re our interpretations of the facts. They help explain what we see and hear. They’re theories we use to explain why, how, and what.”
Chapter six of Crucial Conversations lists three “clever” stories that we tell ourselves.
- Victim stories – This it the story we tell ourselves that removes any self blame. Something is happening to us, and we had nothing to do with it! Victim stories are different from facts. Stories are our interpretations that make us the victim or a martyr.
- Villian stories – These stories take the attention off of us and place it on someone else in a negative way. “For example, we describe a boss who is zealous about quality as a control freak.” These stories automatically assume incompetence and evil motives for others.
- Helpless stories – These stories reduce our power and potential for positively influencing a situation. These are the stories that keep us from doing anything, because these stories say any efforts will fail. Most of the criticism I receive regarding my advocacy is in the form of helpless stories. Emails and calls from people asking, “Why are you putting so much time and energy into this? Nothing will ever change.” I don’t believe that story. “Helpless stories look forward to explain why we can’t do anything to change our situation.”
Stories versus facts
The book provides some tips on how to discern stories from facts, which add to the “pool of meaning” and help us find resolution. Whether you know you are doing it or not, everyone tells stories. They are our interpretations of events. Learning how to discern between stories and facts will remove some of the heightened emotions associated with crucial conversations. Definitely read chapter six, it’s awesome.
Risk and danger
Stories start small, a way to justify experiences and make us feel better. But before we know it, our imaginations have taken over, and that little story has become much larger! Stories can heighten our emotions and ultimately stand in the way of progress.
If you keep your thoughts to yourself rather than adding facts to the “pool of meaning”, you are giving these stories room to grow. Those stories in your head are never going to make things better. In fact, it’ll only make things worse. Engaging in crucial conversations will make things better.
So those of you, like me, who aren’t comfortable with confrontation. Think about what the effects will be if you keep swallowing your thoughts and buttoning your lip. Problems won’t get solved and you’ll make yourself miserable by growing negative stories.
Read Crucial Conversations, because you are each instrumental to affecting change and improving healthcare.
What stories do you tell yourself?
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