Beating Around the Bush May Not Be a Good Communication Strategy – (a Lesson from the Current Vaccination “Discussion”)

beat around /about the bush — to avoid coming to the point; delay in approaching a subject directly

A better approach is to help healthcare providers communicate more effectively. There are too many providers who are too accommodating in their language about alternative schedules or selective vaccination. When my son was born, we went to a pediatric practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the first thing they said to us was: ‘We’re willing to work with you on vaccines.’ I interpreted that as meaning, ‘We’re open to negotiating vaccines with you.’ We said, ‘No, no, we want everything.’ But the danger is that if that’s your opening offer as a doctor, parents may take it.
Debunking vaccine junk science won’t change people’s minds. Here’s what will.
… Studies have found that providers who use presumptive language, saying, ‘It’s time for some shots,’ are much more likely to have successful vaccine compliance than providers who use participatory language like, ‘What do you think about shots?’ It’s of course important to respect patient autonomy but I think, at the same time, the language providers use gives patients a cue about the strength of the medical evidence.
If you roll into the emergency room on a stretcher with a gun shot wound, no one says, ‘How do you feel about getting bullets out of you?’ They say, ‘We need to get this out of you now.’ There is a move in medicine toward participatory approaches in contexts in which the benefits are less clear. But this is an area where the science is very clear and the language we use should reflect that.
• Debunking vaccine junk science won’t change people’s minds. Here’s what will.


We are so accustomed to “beating around the bush.” It is such a common practice that when someone “gets to the point” they almost seem too rigid, too abrupt. They’re not being “nice enough.”

I remember reading Outliers, and an illustration about the way American pilots communicate vs. Korean Pilots. Malcolm Gladwell talked about how a Korean younger first officer is so deferential to an older , higher ranking pilot, that when the pilot is making a mistake, the first officer offers a suggestive corrective very, very carefully – very deferentially. Whereas an American first officer will say to the older, higher ranking pilot “you’re about to crash the plane!”

In other words, there are definitely times when it is best to not beat around the bush. Get to the point!

"this isn't a day for um..."
“this isn’t a day for um…”

Do you remember this scene in the movie National Treasure? The folks are gathered at the gala, the Declaration of Independence has just been stolen, and the head FBI officer (Harvey Keitel) is approached by a younger officer. The younger officer says “Um…we got a tip several days ago that someone was going to steal the Declaration of Independence.” And the older officer says, “this isn’t a day for um…”

The medical example above, of how a doctor speaks about vaccinating children, is instructive.

There are times when one should not beat around the bush. Get to the point. I think it would be the smart strategy in most communication encounters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s