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Communication Mistakes that Can Derail Relationships with Clients

New parents with healthcare worker and baby in hospital.

Communication is key in healthcare. I often discuss ways for your communication to have the greatest impact, but what about ways your communication can affect your clients negatively? Here are the communication mistakes that can easily happen.

Disagreeing

Myths trigger disagreement. (There are so many myths about breastfeeding that I’ve had a weekly podcast for more than 6 years to “debunk the myths and clarify the facts.”)  It’s easy for anyone — parents or professionals — to disagree when the myths arise.   

If you’re a professional, don’t tell the mother she is wrong, or doing something wrong. You’ll undermine her confidence by saying something like, “No, that position doesn’t work when you’re nursing a preterm baby.”

Similarly, if you’re the grandmother, watch your words. Maybe your daughter says, “I’m going to put the baby in the crib. Crying it out works.” Resist the temptation to say, “No, that’s not good for him. Listen to Tracy Cassels and you’ll understand.”

Your point may be based on good science. But when you disagree with the baby’s parents, they might shut down. Totally.

Ordering or giving commands

If someone accused me of issuing orders or giving commands, I would flatly deny those communication mistakes. However, I’m fairly sure I’ve done it. Shame on me. At some point, I’ve probably said something like:

  • “If I were you, I would …”
  • “You just need to …”
  • “That won’t work because …”

Those phrases are a little more subtle than “do this” or “don’t do that”, but indeed, they are tantamount to ordering or commanding.  

Changing the topic

When someone is looking for support, empathy, or some level of acceptance, sometimes we totally miss the boat.

You’ve heard this, I’m sure. Phrases like, “Oh, yes, that may be true, but have you heard about…?”

Sometimes, you may think you’re “on topic” but really, you’re deflecting interest from the family’s situation. Beware of when you start prattling on about your own experience. Something like, “When my baby had this … I can tell you what I did …”

Minimizing

Someone else’s concerns are real. Sometimes, we minimize those feelings.

  • “Well, it could be worse.”
  • “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

If someone has said something like that to you, I’ll bet you remember how you ended up feeling small. Like your feelings weren’t good enough.  

Dismissing

I admit, I’ve done this. I’ve heard myself make communication mistakes like:

  • “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure he’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
  • “Many kids go through that phase, but sooner or later, it all resolves.”
  • “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
  • “Just let it go. It’s not worth it.”
  • “Put on your big-girl panties and move on.”

You might not say those to a client. But watch yourself with your friends and family.   

Presuming

You know the old saying, right? If not, let me review you.

A 2006 documentary of The 100 Greatest TV Quotes and Catchphrases credits a script from the season 3 of the Odd Couple (originally aired February 16, 1973) when the character Felix Unger said:

Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.

Okay, so that’s a little different than “presuming.” But not much! We can’t look inside of someone else’s head.

Fixing

I cringe when I hear myself say, “Oh here, let me …”

Most nurses go into nursing to “help people.” We are rewarded for fixing what’s wrong; the patient offers profuse thanks, we get promoted, and more.    

I swear nurses have this “fix-it” attitude in their DNA. And to be honest, I often don’t want to take time to hear what the client is saying. I just want to fix it and move on. I’ve got a big assignment for that shift, and another patient needs me more. I can hear myself justifying my bad listening skills.

Truth is, “fixing” it is likely to be disempowering, and it often replaces good listening.

Sabotaging

I was once teaching my comprehensive class when I told the group it’s not easy to simply “bestow” confidence onto someone. I had scarcely completed my sentence when a nurse in the back of the room observed, “Yes, Marie, that’s true. But it’s very easy to take confidence away.”

Wow.

We may never know how many efforts have been sabotaged because we said something that took away someone’s confidence.

Self-awareness helps to reduce communication mistakes

Sometimes, we need to listen to ourselves. We mean no harm. We’re simply talking along, doing our job. But those mistakes are happening.

Have you found yourself making these communication mistakes? How did you change your habits? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. Kimberly Cook

    These are great reminders. Plus if you are studying for the exam, there were several questions on communication. I found they were easy as I have done a lot of classes and motivational interviewing with my job. It’s really easy as nurses especially to try and solve the problem instead of listening to the mom. The best phrase is usually “Tell me more about that.”

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Kim, thank you for confirming what I figured would be the case. I don’t have any crystal ball, but over the years, I’ve gotten so I pretty much know what IBLCE is going to hammer on. I figured that communication would be big this year, and in the foreseeable several years. AND, thank you for adding, “Tell me more about that.” Shame on me for forgetting that one, but it works, pretty much every time. To be honest, I try to use this when interviewing people for a job. There are so many questions which employers can’t ask; it’s illegal. But say “Tell me more about that” and you gets tons of information without asking! Always great to hear from you, Kim, please stay in touch!

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