A proposal

I have spent the entire year so far in hospital with my child, with a few short breaks. Almost every day I have a moment when I want to shout “but you can’t be like that with people!” But yes, yes they can.

So I wrote a proposal.

I wrote it in German, so the version here is badly Google translated. This is because writing in German is not only a different language, but also writing for a different audience with an entirely different emotional vocabulary (i.e. none.) If I did want to write it again for an English-speaking audience, I would write a new proposal probably with a different conclusion.

So yes, sorry for the imperfect English.

A proposal after 100 days on ward 1 (and now also 2) – Anke Holst

My first months on Station 1 were marked by the need to somehow fit into this big machine without any real help. There was a lot of talk about us (and also me as the patient’s mother), but very little with me. Much was not communicated or misinformed: that my child, for example, is autistic, arrived in the doctors’ room, but not with the nurses.

Then I tried to work humanely in a system that I could not understand, where people worked, I kind of did, but not really, where I was part of their work, but not really, where I did not want to disturb, but wanted to help and could not.

There was a long list of communication mistakes that ended up with me after being communicated to the staff (and probably many more I’ve never heard of). From a rejected lumbar puncture (not rejected, postponed in agreement with the doctor ), rejecting all planned treatments (which would have been the death sentence for my child), and so on. I could never really follow up or solve them, either on a human basis because I was not talked to, or organisationally, because I had not really been taught by anyone how the organisation works. (I asked the university’s press office for a kind of patient advocate to get advice on this and was directed to the complaints management department.) It was a stressful experience.

Nevertheless, a lot went well, because there was real empathy. It can not be easy to work on an oncology ward day in, day out, so instead of the problems I tried to focus on the true moments of empathy.

Empathy is an issue we need to talk about more and support, because it is so much easier to work without it. Not to get involved. This is a dilemma that I also understand as a complete outsider. All the more it touched me when I met people with empathy.

I asked Dr. … in a conversation on how empathy is promoted in this big organisation. It was important to me, although it was not easy to speak about this subject from my undefined position and only informed by my own mostly felt reality on the ward. As far as I understand it, although empathy is treated in medical school, it is more in the sense of “how do I pretend to have compassion” than “how do I deal with my real feelings.” And also in general, the German work environment tends to be emotion-free.

So I have an interest in discussing and supporting empathy here in the team. Innovation in the world of work is something where I have experience, and there is something in this area that I would like to introduce here: Random Coffees. People who do not usually talk to each other spend a break over a hot drink and talk to each other.

This culture of “drinking coffee together”, two people, but outside of a relationship, does not really exist here in the North, but I do not see that as a problem – even if you come from a café culture, you sometimes have to learn to have a good conversation. And I’m from here myself and have learned it too. So it works.

One goal is more have contacts beyond hierarchical levels. This does not mean that this well-functioning machine would have to change its functionality – but there are always situations where a better exchange across the hierarchical boundaries would be productive. Just yesterday, a nurse told me something about our treatment, what had been officially conveyed to her. She was immediately corrected by the doctor. For the nurse, a stressful situation with the result that she will communicate less in the future – which means I get even less information. Such situations can be softened right from the start if there are better, more human contacts across hierarchical boundaries.

Any well-executed project in “Digital Collaboration” (a big part of digitalisation and my field of work before our move and the current series of crises) always contains content that aims to make people in complex, highly hierarchical organisations aware that the Communication of everyone is important. That’s hard, because what we say is closely tied to our rank: when bosses talk, everyone else listens. However, the ability to interact productively, and actively listen on the basis of commonalities and friendly humanity is equally important to everyone.

How would such a project work? Participation is voluntary and can be done, for example, by entering one’s name into a physical object. There are technical solutions, but often new technology takes the focus from the actual goal, the development of human competences.

You meets a person a month for a coffee, so it is not too much of a time sink. What you talk about is up to you, with the big headline: empathy. To yourself and to the other. You can start with the question: What bothers you right now?

And the benefits are many:

  • Opening rigid hierarchies helps the team collaborate.
  • The focus is on active listening and also sharing; both are things that need to be practiced. What you know is often more interesting to others than you think.
  • One practices having conversations that go deeper than ordinary break chat.
  • You have a place to exchange about your feelings, which is not a conversation with a psychologist, and actively listen to others talk about feelings. You develop your emotional vocabulary and deal better with your own feelings.
  • People who often go to and beyond their limits develop their emotional resilience.
  • With this competence you deal differently with patients and relatives.
    With more interpersonal connections, important communication flows better.
  • Like any project that aims to improve interpersonal skills, good guidance is important. In technical teams there is the Agile Coach, who supports people in this development, in creative the new role of the “intimacy coordinator”. The profession of Empathy Coach. But there are very few environments where one would be as appropriate as here.

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