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Can we combine clarity and kindness in our communication?

Over the last few years I have developed a teaching module for educational supervisors looking at how we give and receive feedback alongside some regional training for paediatricians on professional skills including reflection and resilience, maintaining wellbeing at work, feedback and leadership. And more locally we have been looking at the civility saves lives campaign. One of the lovely things about running workshops with a colleague is the wisdom you gain from the conversations to enable the ideas to form. Each time we meet to run the workshop and in the conversations in between our thinking moves on that little further. We use to think of these days as the ‘softer skills’ or the ‘fluffy bits’. I think we now all recognise how important they are not only for us as professionals but for the patients and families we look after. Patient safety and quality of patient care is dependent on our communication, performance and behaviour. The discussions we facilitate with trainees and trainers, has also developed as this wider understanding becomes a shared dialogue.

The challenge for me often, is to know where some of the ideas and information come from. I love to read both books and via twitter the blogs and articles I find or are sent to me. More recently I have got better at gathering some of these concepts and trying to visually represent them as a sketch note. I have realised how visual I am when thinking about new concepts, but appreciate some like to read so a blog can be a good compromise.

Radical candor is a great read to get us started. Kim Scott talks about how we can improve our relationships at work, by being clear about what we are saying. Many of us will recognise that at times, we don’t always have, the Goldilocks combination of challenge and support. We probably have a quadrant we slip into when feeling less brave. I at times, am tempted to sugar coat feedback and need to be brave to be clear about my impression. Brené Brown’s work adds to this. She talks about how being ‘clear is kind, unclear is unkind’ when having brave conversations and providing feedback. I find this helpful. It is kinder to talk to someone than about them. It is also much more helpful for you, your colleague and the wider team.

Many of us like to think we are up front and speak our minds. Some are good at the high challenge. We set high expectations for ourselves and often come from a high achieving, perfectionist background. We can at times forget, we also need to provide support when having these conversations. Radical candor becomes challenging when we don’t provide support and we feel triggered by the conversation and unsupported. Obnoxious aggression is the term Scott uses I prefer stab in front. If we receive feedback in a very triggering way we mount a stress response. In sympathetic overdrive our communication is challenged. We reduce our non verbal skills, stop listening as we arm to fight, flight, face or freeze. If we increase the support and kindness in how we approach the conversation we reduce the triggering effect and move into the better place to have the conversation. Stone & Heen explain triggers to feedback in more depth. These can be related to truth, relationships and identity. They get in the way to how we receive feedback and therefore what we learn from it. They are also very relevant in wider conversations.