The next time I teach a group of healthcare professionals, I think I’m going to sprinkle glitter on them. You know how hard it is to limit its reach — glitter ends up everywhere!

This exercise would not be a lesson in germ transmission (although it sure could be). The purpose would be a visible reminder that our impact as providers spreads far and wide.

I’d hone in on communication, that what we say matters. To ourselves, our colleagues and in our personal lives.

It’s been said, every time we speak, “We’re either building people up or tearing people down.”

What ripples do we wish to create in the world? Because we do. Whether we’re conscious of it or not. Whether we mean to or not.

By listening, being clear and acting with kindness, we can contribute compassion, one connection at a time. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

Listen first

Remember learning that an accurate diagnosis could be attained 80% of the time solely from a thorough history and physical examination? And to save the diagnostic tests for the other 20%?

Two decades ago, the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system begin examining physician-patient communications using videotaping. Many important findings and implications came from this work; perhaps, most notable is that it only took three more minutes per visit for physician-patient outcomes to radically improve.

Only three more minutes! By shifting the focus to eliciting the patient’s story, listening and explaining, both the physician and patient felt much more satisfied and realized better results.

I watched a smidgen of a TV show not long ago where a hospitalized elderly heart transplant patient said to his nurse, “I’m not going to make it this round — it feels different this time to me.” The nurse immediately responded, “Don’t talk like that. I’m here and I will make sure you do.”

What a missed moment! She had the perfect opening right then and there to listen and explore end-of-life issues. Later, just as a transplant match was found, he coded and died.

Be clear

Setting an intention prior to speaking can clarify the message we’re trying to deliver. Consider the “take away” beforehand.

When talking, be mindful of timing, verbiage and nonverbal behaviors. Keep it concise and to the point.

Successful communication is not just what is said but what is actually heard. All of us have filters, blinders and projections that skew our interpretations.

After you’ve said your say, it’s helpful to check-in with the receiver. Using Nonviolent Communication principles, ask, “Would you be willing to tell me what you just heard me say?” to make sure that you’re both on track.

Be kind

Too often, all that glitters is not gold.

While it’s important for “you to be you” and “they to be they” as the popular phrase purports, good communication is really about connection and unity. Speak without haranguing or judgment.

No one’s feelings are less important than another’s. We all have the same basic needs and they’re not that many.

We’ve got to get off our yoga mats and take Sunday sermons out into the streets. Practicing empathy is what we are being called to do.

I’ll never forget the kindness a janitor showed me one weekend while I was working at hospice. I was in the empty office, finishing some charting, when I received a very distressing call and burst into tears.

Thinking I was alone, I didn’t hold back feeling the full force of the news. I sobbed.

Some moments later, this man, who I had never met before, came over to me and asked if I was OK. If there was anything he could do. What a blessed soul!

Listen, be clear and act kind. What we say matters.