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The importance of 'tiny, apparently meaningless' conversations

case studyWhat follows is a commentary by The Guardian Society Daily blog editor, Patrick Butler (to whom thanks) on The importance of tiny conversations

Sometimes it’s tiny, apparently meaningless conversations and formalities that matter when it comes to forming an opinion about whether a public service is “good” or not. Sometimes it’s not the words but the tone and the manner in which they are delivered that tells you something profound about the nature of your relationship with the service you are using, particularly if it is a ‘care’ service.

So even if it’s a good, efficient service, you might go away nursing ambivalent feelings about your overall experience. A relative of mine, in his 80s, who recently had to spend two days in hospital came away incensed by the way the nurses referred to him by his first name, rather than the “Mister + surname” formula. He was sure they thought they were being breezily cheerful: to him it felt disrespectful and patronising, as though they were treating him as a helpless child.

Here’s a couple of other examples of “tiny conversations” that I’ve come across online recently.

First, a typically thoughtful reflection [on Ethnic Origin ] from social worker blogger Fighting Monsters describing one such “little conversation” during a recent hospital visit. And second, this posting on the excellent Patient Opinion website, from a hospital patient utterly dismayed and confused by the assumptions of a doctor at North Durham University hospital. I’ll reprint it in full:

“I was admitted to hospital with sickness, dizziness and low blood pressure.
I was examined and put on the medical admission ward. I was put on a drip and antibiotics for a few days. I was seen by a few doctors whom I felt none explained to me what could be wrong with me as I was very poorly.
Then a doctor came to me and said, “I have read your file and realised that you are gay and so I have arranged for you to have a HIV test tomorrow.”
I was deeply offended about this as she did not even ask anything about me or my very long-term partner of 22 years and consequent marriage.
Before I had a chance to say anything further to her, she walked away and so I ask three different nurses to ask her to come and see me again but she never did. I think this is outrageous and unfair.
Does anyone know whom I can make a formal complaint to?”

Now, that’s one side of the story, obviously, and the hospital hasn’t yet responded to the post (and that’s the beauty of Patient Opinion and web 2.0, that the hospital can not only be held accountable but can fulfil its duty of accountability, personally and in public, and in more-or-less real time). But you can see why the patient is angry.

By the way, it’s well worth a trawl through the posts on Patient Opinion: it’s not, as some may fear, a whingers’ charter, but full of accounts of good experiences. A not uncommon sentiment is:

“I can’t praise the staff highly enough.”

These are all real-life small conversations, assisted as Patrick Butler says by the latest in web technology.

What can we learn from these conversations, and how can they best become part of the move towards bigger sustainable change?

The sum zero situation

Scientists have know for a long time that the behaviour of matter changes as Absolute Zero is approached; and now we gather macro-economists are saying that the ‘normal’ rules of the market no longer apply as interest rates verge on zero percent.

So is there an equivalent for social action? Do things change substantively, to a significantly different scenario, when people really do not engage?

And, if so, in what ways? and to what effect?

Who's still afraid of the internet?

Is the virtual world still a real barrier to wider communication? Does it exclude too many people?

The UK Government and Google have announced an intention to get everyone in the UK on-line by 2012.

To quote The Guardian:
‘The Simple Guide to the Internet is part of the search engine group’s commitment to Race Online 2012, an initiative started by the UK government’s digital inclusion champion, Martha Lane Fox’.

* How will almost universal on-line access best help general communications? What needs to be done next? Will some people still be excluded in significant ways?

Face-to-face, phone, email, text or what?

QuestionsWhat way of sending information suits what sort of messsage?

Ideally, would you use different methods for sending information than for sharing ideas, even if the dialogue were informal and there were only two of you?

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