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Talking About Reflection

We spend a lot of our time talking to patients, families, carers and colleagues. But we spend a lot of time talking about them as well.

The way we talk about people reflects our values and attitudes and it can influence the way we communicate or relate to them.

Read the description below:

Jackie is 22 a years old woman who recently broke up with her long term boyfriend. She has type 1 diabetes and struggles to keep her weight down, she is also a smoker and at weekends she routinely drinks well over the recommended amount of alcohol. Jackie has a two-year-old daughter, Tracey, to whom she is devoted. They live together in social housing. Jackie has not worked since having her daughter; she receives benefits but has difficulties in paying the rent and making ends meet. Jackie's ambition is to complete a college course to enable her to work with children. (adapted from the 10 Essential Shared Capabilities, NES, 2011)

Here are some statements made by health workers to describe Jackie:

Jackie is an obese non-compliant diabetic who does nothing to help herself.

Jackie requires significant support with her lifestyle choices to attain optimum management of her diabetes and weight.

Jackie is the proud mother of a two-year-old daughter and has a supportive family. She aspires to go to college to study child care. She has lived with diabetes since she was 14.


If you were Jackie (or her sibling, parent, child or friend) which of the descriptions would you prefer?


Assuming that you have never met Jackie before what impact would the different statements have on your expectations of her?

In daily practice you probably talk about patients all the time both, formally and informally  e.g. in a handover meetings, reviews, discussion with colleagues. The way we talk about patients and their families and carers can be a reflection of our own values and attitudes, or those of the team. This can spread from one person to another, so it is possible that you can influence your colleagues perceptions or expectations just by the way you talk about a person. Equally, you can be influenced by your colleagues.

Ask a colleague to do this activity with you. Over a few days make a conscious effort to notice the ways people are described or talked about in your team or service. You could write down some of the words, phrases or themes you hear or some of the non verbal things you notice.  Compare notes with your colleague.

  • What were the common or dominant themes (if any)?
  • What influence do you think these might have? (don't get too caught up in thinking that this has to be positive or negative, it's more likely to be subtle and a bit of a mix)
  • How could you share your reflections with your team or other colleagues?