Is vulnerability inherently unprofessional or the ‘Golden Ticket’​ of connection ?

by Shweta Ramkumar

Vulnerability in communication in order to build closer connections with others is a topic that has generated a lot of interest in the media over the years. One of the key players in this realm has been Brene Brown, who’s work and viewpoint on the issue has been featured in several social media platforms and has even been made into a popular Netflix documentary. One of her evergreen quotes on the topic is “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.” There is no doubt that being open and honest with others about ourselves, our strengths, flaws and life experiences is instrumental in forming deeper meaningful connections with them. However, where do we draw the line between vulnerability and professionalism in the context of healthcare workers interacting in a clinical capacity with patients on a daily basis ?

I’d like you to visualise yourself as a patient or client in a healthcare setting. You are given the option with being consulted by one of three healthcare workers with the same qualifications, experience and credentials. All of them are highly skilled and knowledgeable in their field of work. However, their personalities and communication styles couldn’t be more different. One of them is efficient, on top of their professional game, result and task-driven, ask plenty of quality questions to get to the root of their clients’ or patients’ issues and are quick to deliver effective solutions and strategies in order to resolve them. Their primary tunnel-vision focus is on solving the problems presented by their clients and in the process they don’t seem to acknowledge the person behind these problems and challenges, which somehow gets overlooked or pushed to the side. The second one is equally knowledgeable, efficient and solution-focused but has a tendency to ask several questions that are often unrelated to your health and at times even intrusive. They also share examples of people who used their suggestions and benefited from them, share some of their own life experiences and give advice and recommendations that can sometimes be unsolicited. The third person is efficient, interactive, customise their solutions and recommendations according to their client’s specific needs, takes the time to get to know their clients on a personal level and find common grounds with them as often as possible. Which of these three healthcare workers would you like to deal with as a patient or client ? There are no right or wrong answers here as each person’s preference is different.

Several healthcare workers have recently gained the bad rap of being mere prescription and referral writers who are desperate to get rid of clients during consultations to keep their long queues going. They also tend to be quite mundane and mechanical when diagnosing and labelling their patients with conditions or symptoms and rarely take the time to get to know them as individuals. It’s little wonder that people like myself dread going to see healthcare service providers in person and prefer telehealth alternatives instead. Despite the rise of technology and automation these days, people still prefer human connection and interaction and I often hear this statement from patients, friends and family members who don’t want to constantly deal with machines for bookings and consultations. Having that element of a human voice and interaction will make them feel less of a cog in the machine and that they are valued and important. Going back to vulnerability, it is vital for healthcare practitioners to take the time to connect with their patients. It goes without saying that they have a duty of care, but simple gestures of asking about not just their health but also their family members, hobbies and interests and things that you know interest them can go a long way in delivering a service that is both personalised and has that element of human touch and connection which is significantly missing these days and people really long for. Additionally, healthcare workers should also take the opportunity to open up to their patients about aspects of their lives to find a common ground and connect better. These can not only range from small talk topics but in the context of challenges that patients present them with, they can share what they experienced as patients or similar experiences / challenges they faced and how they overcame them. While there is the dangerous territory of getting too close and involved in patients’ lives to the point where professional boundaries are jeopardised, it is possible to not necessarily go in that direction while still connecting and interacting with patients in a positive and personable manner. Nobody likes being either stonewalled or intruded upon, but finding a healthy middle ground could go a long way in establishing trust and credibility amongst patients and ensure that they are treated and connected with by fellow humans who are cared for.

Hi, I'm Shweta

I coach non-native English speaking healthcare professionals how to advance in their career and build better relationships with their patients and colleagues by expressing themselves more articulately and confidently in the English language.

I work closely with healthcare professionals who work with patients regularly. I help them improve their communication skills when interacting with patients and colleagues, teach them how to show up authentically, assertively and articulately in their field of work in order for them to ultimately gain credibility, validation and respect.

If you work in a clinical role in the healthcare industry and would like to learn more about how to better connect and communicate openly with your clients / patients, book a complimentary 30 minute discovery call with me to see how I can best support you.

Shweta Ramkumar - English Language Confidence Coach

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