Power of Words


Recently a blog post appeared on the American Journal of Nursing’s blog “Off the Charts” by Juliana Paradisi titled “Comforting Our Patients: The Importance of Well-Chosen Words.”  Her message is right on track, and deserves not only reading, but reflecting on the many ways that the words we use – both personally and professionally – profoundly effect every aspect of our lives.

One of the most important messages in Paradisi’s post is the importance of practice – something that also appears my work with Maeona Kramer on the development of aesthetic knowing (see chapter 6 in the 10th Edition).  There we call this “rehearsal” and describe how important it is for nurses to envision and rehearse both the words and movements that form aesthetic nursing practice. One way to do this is the share a story recounting what happened in a particular situation – particularly a situation that did not go so well.  Then imagine different ways the scenario might have played out, discussing alternative story lines and endings and rehearsing them with your peers.

The importance of words also comes into play in “peace and power” processes, particularly the process of critical reflection – a process that emphasizes not only what we say but how we say it. Critical reflection also requires practice – practice that can happen in real time, in every day situations once you mentally prepare to do it!  You use critical reflection to let people around you know that you are having second thoughts, or ideas about a situation, and when something happens that brings forth negative feelings and conflict.  Here is how you present your reflection:

  • I feel … focus on your own feelings without blaming others
  • When (or about) … describe factually what happened when your feelings came to the surface.
  • I want .. describe what you envision happening next, even if it seems impossible to happen.
  • Because … name the value that you share with those around you – your shared hopes, intentions, desires.

Those of us who have practiced this kind of reflection and have used it for even the most simple of challenges (someone leaves a mess around the house, someone is always late, etc.) knows the power of using words in this way!

I welcome other ideas and thoughts – even sharing your ideas here is a way to practice!  In this time when words that harm are used so freely and publicly, I believe that as nurses we can change the world – by simply learning and practicing how to use our words to heal, to comfort, the bring about peace!

5 thoughts on “Power of Words

  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and suggestions, Peggy. These days in retirement I am often at the hospital bedside of a friend or relative where there are multiple caregivers on 12-hour shifts. One seldom sees the nurse or the hospitalist for two days in a row making any kind of therapeutic relationship development difficult. So the person who can integrate compassion with competence is treasured. One becomes aware that dialogue is scripted in many situations. I thought recently of the work of Dr. Joanne Ashley in which she described nursing as housekeeping for the sick. The structure of many health-care systems today challenges us to practice at a level beyond housekeeping. I send encouragement and support to colleagues who are endeavoring to achieve our potential in healing.

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  2. Thank you for this comment, Doris! I actually wish I had included some thoughts about the idea of “scripted” responses … but that can wait for another post! They definitely can only be effective if they are coming from a place of authentic caring and intention to heal. And thank you for calling JoAnn Ashley’s name! What a wonderful time we shared together with her at Wright State!

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  3. I use the Peace & Power, (Peggy) in every mtg I am in, whether a class, staff mtg or with faculty, I just altered the last word to get to the 3 A’s Affirmation, Appreciation or Appraisal. This process is gold!
    I like the assertiveness process but would suggest a shorter version that works every time:
    I understand…
    I need…
    How can we figure this out…or make thus happen. I like the WE.
    Ginny

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