Improve Communication skills with Chronic Pain

  • Many people ask questions about how to communicate with a doctor such as: "How do I tell my doctor ____?" or "How should I ask my doctor about _____?" Communication skills provide the basis for an effective doctor-patient relationship. In fact, communication is the foundation for all relationships. Tone of voice, a spoken word, a facial expression, body posture, and gestures; these are all ways to relay information from one individual to another. From infancy to the final days of life, the ability to express one's own thoughts, ideas, opinions, and questions is the basis for social networking. These days, social networking might be very impersonal with e-mail and text messaging. So, the art of face-to-face communicating is getting lost in a technological whirlwind. Without positive, personal communication, important relationships with loved ones, professionals, and peers may be in jeopardy.

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    In order to review the skills of positive communication, one must first listen to the words being used. Certain words may trigger a negative or unwanted response. For example, expressing an opinion with "you" statements might make the receiver of the message defensive. "You are ___" and "You should __" are clearly sending a judgmental message that can cause the listener bristle. Combining "you" with "should" is especially a communication killer. Instead, the communicator would have a better chance at a positive interaction with "I" statements. The opening statements that begin with "I feel __" and "I want __" have a better chance at opening a good dialog.


    In the act of listening to statements, one must be attentive and imagine the world from another's perspective. Watching the body language and facial cues can help put more meaning behind the words. Listening to the tone of voice is another pathway to understanding the message in its purest, most honest form. Once a message is received, responses must be thoughtful with carefully chosen words because the wrong words can quickly shut down the line of communication. Sometimes a piece of criticism is best calmly received and responded to with a simple, "You may be right" or "Let me get back to you about that". These communication tactics of diffusion and delay can keep a situation from escalating.


    And escalation is exactly what will happen when two individuals are trying to communicate from a position of insecurity or superiority. Dr. Thomas Harris, in his book, "I'm OK-You're OK", described a position of insecurity like being from the perspective of "I'm not OK, you're OK" life position. Additionally, the position of superiority is described as a "I'm OK, you're not OK" mindset. Communication can hardly get off the ground when insecurity and/or superiority provide the cornerstones of vocabulary. When communication starts from an "I'm OK, You're OK" point of view, then a positive interaction will likely take place. Positive communication comes from a positive, secure source.


    But it is hard to be positive and secure when in pain; that is why communication can breakdown so easily among friends, family, healthcare workers, and patients. Everyone who deals with painful conditions could use some education about communication skills. By thinking about word choice, by being a good listener, and by improving a mindset, the art of communication can flourish even in the harshest environments and in this technological world. Despite pain, tragedy, and hardship, today's world could use a better foundation of positive communication.


Published On: May 24, 2010