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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Speaking your mind in a consultation

Saturday, August 26, 2017
It was probably confusing as a child, but now you’re an adult it makes sense. Maybe you got a swift kick under the table. Or a subtle arm-pinch, perhaps just a pointed glare.  You were having dinner at someone else’s home and it seemed your parents didn’t appreciate you voicing your unique, indefensible opinions about politics, religion or immigration. You were taught that to keep social events congenial, it’s considered polite to refrain from controversial topics. Following this custom also meant is was more likely you would be invited back another time.

Avoiding uncomfortable topics works well in social situations; but it’s all too easy to carry this custom into a practitioner’s consultation room. When you do, it can result in you leaving with the frustrating sense that your real concerns haven’t been addressed. Feeling like you wanted to speak up but somehow couldn’t.

As practitioners we call this effect the ‘imbalance of power’. The client (or patient) visits us in our ‘home’, our office. As a result, the visitor can feel constrained from speaking frankly, from disagreeing. For you, that can mean that the ‘elephant in the room’, what you’re really worried about or don’t agree on, isn’t discussed.  After a few of these kinds of consultation with different practitioners you can come to feel that no-one will help you.

I hope this hasn’t happened to you, but it seems that some folk (like women, those with disabilities, and members of minority groups) are more vulnerable to this imbalance of power, and are less likely to get the health services they need. So, if you sense you’re not getting what you came for, here are a couple of tips to help next time you sit down with a practitioner.

One technique is to write down before you go what you want from the consultation. Keep it with you. This is a fast way to communicate what you need when it can seem time to talk is too brief. It will help you stay on topic too. 

Another technique is to take a wingman with you – an assertive person you trust who also knows what you want to achieve from the visit, and is happy to speak up for you if it seems you’re not being heard.

Whichever technique you use, just remember that when it comes to your health care, this is the time to forget the keep-everyone-comfortable custom and speak your mind instead.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Nine clues you have found the right practitioner' 


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