by Lisa Renn APD

I was speaking to a client recently and he was telling me about a medical emergency he had gone through. He was instructed to go to the emergency department by the nurse on call and the first thing he was told by the attending doctor was, ‘we’ll be looking for a tumour.’ This guy was on his own in the hospital, at night, as his wife had to be at home with the kids. He had to go through the night knowing that the next morning might bring the worst news of his life; he convinced himself that he had cancer and this was the end of his life. Mercifully, the next day the first specialist he saw reassured him that cancer was only one of many things they would be testing for and that he should not be worrying unnecessarily at that point.  

When we deal with people who are out of their comfort zone because of a knowledge deficit that is we have the knowledge they require, it’s important to remember empathy and to be considerate in which position we choose to take.

We’ve all experienced this knowledge gap at some time in our lives where the person we have come to see knows more about the situation than we do. It could have been a health appointment, a parent-teacher interview, buying a computer or some other technical device where your knowledge is not great (like mine). No one likes to be ripped off or to be kept in the dark and being in this situation definitely made you vulnerable. What did the person you met do about this knowledge gap? How did they handle the situation- did they make you feel comfortable? Did you trust them as a result of the experience or did you leave thinking, ‘I’m not coming here again’?

As the person with the knowledge you need to ask yourself about the information you give.  What purpose does it serve? Is it to provide or demonstrate? One is about the other person and one is about you.

You can either:

     Provide reassurance

     Provide learning opportunity

     Demonstrate knowledge

     Demonstrate superiority or power

Fifteen years ago when I started practising dietetics I felt most people knew what healthy eating was. My role was less of educator and more of a facilitator to assist them with changing the behaviours they wanted to change. But now I think people have no idea what to eat as there is too much conflicting information out there.

I was therefore disappointed to see dietitian’s contradicting each other in the media recently. As a profession we will have slightly different interpretations and opinions but it serves no purpose to air this in the public arena. In my opinion all this does is decrease the credibility of dietitians and confuse the public further. “See, even dietitians can’t agree with each other.”

When you are providing information I believe it’s vital to think about why you are giving it. 

When you come to a conversation with the attitude, this is about them; you will be present and attentive to the other person’s needs. Awareness of the knowledge gap is the first step. It may be tempting to put your own unique spin on the topic, in a consultation it’s easier and quicker to just go through the motions, it certainly takes longer to listen to their issues, ensure understanding and make them feel more comfortable but if you do this the outcome will be stronger client relationships where you become the trusted advisor and in the public arena (media) we as a profession become known as customer focussed and cohesive- the trusted advisors. 

Author’s note: I believe rigorous debate and discussion over any topic increases the knowledge base however having these conversations in the media does not serve the public or our profession well.