Jenny Isherwood and Alex Till write about the communication challenges between clinicians and managers

We’re all guilty of using jargon.

Used as a form of shorthand for quick and efficient communication, most professions, trades and organisations have their own collection of specialised vocabulary consisting of unfamiliar terms or phrases with abstract meanings to those around them.

As medical professions, more than many, we stand guilty as charged. We are urged to use less medical jargon, and are criticised when we do.

Health literacy

A report from the Royal College of General Practitioners, in 2014, warned that having spent many years immersed in the biology of human health and disease, clinicians may overestimate the health literacy of their patients.

It is time to question whether healthcare management has fallen into the same trap?

The danger with jargon is that you think you are communicating effectively, because you understand what you mean, but often, those around you don’t

Management, like medicine, is a complex area with convoluted terminology but just as clinicians try to demystify this for patients, managers must begin to decode their communication for clinicians.

Jenny Isherwood

Jenny Isherwood

As we try to bridge the divide that often exists between clinicians and management, we must be conscious that, on both sides, we do not suffer what some psychologists and economists have termed the “curse of knowledge”. The idea that when we understand something, we find it hard to think of it from a perspective of someone who doesn’t, or worse still, we use our language as a weapon of intimidation, a demonstration of power, or even as a tool to seek credibility.

Too much jargon can be confusing and can be misinterpreted if both parties are not familiar with its use. It forms a barrier, a one directional conversation where the receiver shuts down or tunes out to avoid feeling foolish because they don’t understand.

The danger with jargon is that you think you are communicating effectively, because you understand what you mean, but often, those around you don’t.

We should not leave each other embarrassed or disengaged, playing a game of bull*%!# bingo because of the language we’ve used. Whilst admittedly, at times it might be entertaining, ultimately, it destroys any chance of building relationships and developing trust between two sides.

We do not need this additional and unnecessary challenge in what is already a fractious relationship in healthcare. At times, stepping from the ward into the board room can feel like a dimensional shift, a paradoxical universe where what really matters to both sides, our patients, is lost in translation.

Whilst the growing push to integrate clinical and managerial training earlier in a healthcare professionals career should, at least in part, help overcome this, we can do more to recognise that these two skills, these two professions, are two sides of the same coin.

Immediate steps

We can take immediate steps to improve our working relationships, enhance our communication and aide our understanding: shadowing, mentoring and collaborative quality improvement are all mechanisms that we could employ.

In healthcare, just as it is in life, relationships are built on good communication, where both sides understand each other and both sides learn to trust one another

By making time for each other, and building trust through face to face interactions, where we can see “the other side”, we will begin to learn each other’s language, and help each other realise that we are part of the same tribe.

Alex Till

Alex Till

To steal from Simon Sinek, we must not walk past each other in the corridor and think “crackpot” – an arrogant clinician or cost cutting manager, but rather do as we do when we are abroad and bond over our mutual connections, our common values and our beliefs.

Despite our diverse professional groups and backgrounds, often with competing priorities and pressures that the other doesn’t understand, we should appreciate that ultimately, we all have the same aim, improving care for our patients.

We need to generate a more collaborative working environment with an improved mutual understanding of each other’s roles where we work together, foster relationships, and stop hiding behind or excluding others through the language that we use.

“Going forward”, let’s not “take this conversation offline” and “deep dive” into the issue at a “granular level”. Let’s keep it clear and simple. Adapt to your audience, check your jargon, help correct those who slip into bad habits, and most importantly, whether they understand it or not, challenge others to call you out on your own use of jargon.

In healthcare, just as it is in life, relationships are built on good communication, where both sides understand each other and both sides learn to trust one another.