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Just what the doctor ordered

My running buddy’s a doctor. And while pounding the pavements, she’s given me a few tips on how to get to the point. Because sometimes, it can be a question of life or death.

Before we started running together, I thought I had the whole ‘how to deliver difficult messages’ thing nailed: you say sorry; you explain why; you move on to a fix. But while that might work a treat when you’re writing to customers to say their gas bill’s going up or that a mobile banking app is bust; it doesn’t work with really tricky messages. Like telling someone that if they don’t lose weight they’ll have a heart attack before the year’s out. Or that something unusual came up in a routine scan.

That’s the kind of conversation she has with patients, and their families, every single day of the week.

I never tire of asking her how she does it. How she not only explains the complexities of a cocktail of drugs to a vulnerable patient, but also persuades them to care about it. Or how she’ll listen to a chain smoker’s woes with sympathy but will never sugar-coat her fix to their ailments.

Her calls to action are clear. Her explanations are straightforward (she doesn’t even need to say sorry to give them, either). And she only has 10 minutes to gain the patient’s trust.

These days, I give my writing the 10-minute test too. Assuming I’m lucky enough to have my reader’s attention for that long, I ask myself will they:

* find my call to action

* make sense of what I’m saying

* believe me?

I’d never want my doctor to waste time sitting on the fence or dwelling on background details when giving me news. So, I shouldn’t go there with my readers, either.

As part of Learning at Work week, we’re sharing stories about things we’ve learned in unexpected places.


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The Writer

on May 14, 2018

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