How do we communicate health information? Why are we not always understood right away or even misunderstood when we do try to convey information? How can we change the way we explain to others what they want or need to know? I am fascinated by the task of being able to communicate effectively but I can understand how challenging this task can be at times.
Let’s step back for a moment in being able to understand why communicating health information (or any information really) can be a challenge.
Knowledge and Skills
Think about a topic you know a lot about or a skill you are able to do really well. This could be being able to play a musical instrument, or knowing about how a car engine works. Having the skill to do something is often strongly connected to the knowledge we have of a topic. For example, if I know the history of a food dish, the way I cook the food can improve. But this knowledge is not always required to be able to cook the food.
Now think about how you would explain or teach this knowledge or skill to someone else. Where would you start? How would you teach? We teach in a variety of ways, such as through spoken word or using visual aids. There is an exchange happening in this process of teaching where the giver of information is trying to convey, while the receiver of information is trying to obtain. I think one of the biggest challenges in this exchange is how the giver is the holder of the knowledge and the receiver lacks the knowledge.
Starting with Cooking
When we know something, it makes sense to us because we have the background information. For example, when I cook stir fry, I rarely follow a recipe word for word, because I already have a lot of the skills needed cook. I have had the time to develop my cooking skills since I first learned to cook back in elementary school. And as my skills developed, so did my love for being able to create yummy food using a few ingredients and basic cooking techniques.
So how then do I go about explain to someone who does not know what I know already? In my example, if I were to try and teach someone how to cook the same stir fry, I would need to slow down and break down each step. It can be all too easy to speed ahead and forget how my background knowledge and skills in cooking might not be the same as the person I am trying to teach. This background knowledge and skills makes each step of the cooking process easier than for the person who does not know how to sauté vegetables or cook rice.
Being the Holder of Knowledge
This challenge of conveying information when you are the holder of the knowledge is also present in health communication. Granted, there are a lot more factors as to why communicating information is a challenge. But I think it is necessary to be humble enough to recognize this challenge and to seek to change the way we convey information. Rather than getting frustrated by why someone doesn’t understand what we are trying to explain, I think we need to slow down, take a step back, and try to determine what is the cause of the confusion or misunderstanding.
So what challenges do you face when you try to communicate? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.