Simple Instructions

I think my favorite exercise we did was less than a minute long. Gwen had us take a sheet of paper and then guided us through a series of steps. The instructions were quick, something like: fold in half, tear off top right corner; fold in half again, tear off top left corner; etc. I didn’t even get past the first instruction before becoming confused by her intent. Top right corner relative to what? The folded side? How was I even supposed to fold it? Back to elementary school, hamburger or hotdog? Wait a sec!

But what a powerful illustration. We got through the few instructions and everyone held up their paper… not a single one looked like another. But we all had the exact same instructions. She certainly could have elaborated on various steps…  tell me how to fold it, tell me how to orient it. Even then, as I hold this small piece of paper, there is room for confusion. Perhaps even more important than better instruction is the allowance of feedback. “Hold on Gwen, do you mean ___ or ___?” Even subpar instructions can be remedied when we can seek clarification.

Communication is key. I could have all the necessary skills: I mean, I did fold some mean paper airplanes in my day. But I could still miss the intent of the one instructing. How our medical teams communicate with one another, with the patient, and with the family has such a clear impact on the quality of care provided. If communication is so important for folding scrap paper, how much more so does it matter in caring for a person?

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