How to have Difficult Conversations

This week, we discuss what makes some conversations more difficult than others and why they’re so important to have with our patients. We discuss why oncologists should acknowledge and embrace the ‘uncomfortableness’ of having difficult conversations with their patients and share tips for delivering serious or difficult news. We discuss what ‘Red Level Concerns’ are and share tips to help healthcare professionals handle them more effectively and empathetically. We also discuss why it’s critical to validate a patient’s or caregiver’s concerns without passing judgment and the importance of remaining calm while having these difficult conversations with your patients.

No matter how smart or well-trained you are, difficult conversations can be challenging. Our knowledge and training simply don’t prepare us for the real-time, raw emotions our patients experience when we tell them they have cancer. And it’s in those moments that we, as healthcare professionals, often feel uncomfortable and helpless. We become oncologists because we want to help people, but how do you help a patient when you feel helpless when your patient is experiencing waves of emotions after hearing difficult news?

“Emotional heat doesn’t have to burn. Sometimes, people lash out emotionally. The person who remains calm is the one with power.”
– Kyla King

This week on Cancer Covered:

  • Understanding what a ‘Red Level Concern’ is
  • Tips for handling ‘Red Level Concern’ conversations for healthcare workers
  • Acknowledging and embracing the ‘uncomfortableness’ of having difficult conversations
  • The importance of remaining calm during a difficult conversation
  • Identifying when a patient’s frustration and emotional lashing out becomes abusive or inappropriate
  • Validating a patient’s or caregiver’s concerns without judgement
  • How Kyla helps patients resolve ‘Red Level Concerns’
  • Why you should never promise things you cannot personally fulfill or deliver
  • Tips for delivering serious or difficult news to patients
  • Avoiding over-talking and over-explaining
  • Assessing and acknowledging the patient’s emotions
  • The importance of getting the patient’s permission to discuss conversations around life expectancy
  • Ensuring patients understand the information they received during a difficult conversation

Resources Mentioned:

  • Book: Mastering Communication with Seriously Ill Patients by James Tulsky, Anthony Back, and Robert Arnold

Book: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

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