'…we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.'
I used this quote from Toni Morrison in a recent Webinar on recording strengths-based conversations. The phrase, from Morrison's Nobel prize winner speech in 1973, sums up the importance of language as a tool either of oppression or of liberation.
In social care we 'do language' all the time. We talk, we write, hopefully we listen. And we strive to do this ethically – with the purpose of empowerment and in ways that are empowering.
The recent Research in Practice for Adults Recording strengths-based conversations: Webinar explored how we record strengths-based conversations with individuals. A conversation should be an exchange. A record should capture both voices and be clear about each. What is the person’s experience and expert view of their own situation and future? What evidence and insight do we bring, and what is our professional opinion of what should happen?
We need to be clear in our conversations and recording about the legal purpose and the expectations on us. And we should be basing what we do on evidence of what matters to people in these exchanges – what should we talk about, what should we capture?
Ethics, law and evidence all point to the centrality of capturing strengths – the insight people have, their coping strategies, their resilience, their networks, their aspirations and decisions about taking risks to achieve what they want. This doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about worries, struggles and difficulties. People face personal challenges, and also significant structural and cultural barriers. We need to acknowledge these, identify their impact, and include strategies and support for overcoming these in our plans. However, our conversations and our writing should be grounded in the strengths-based principle that everyone has the potential to be in charge of their own life.
In the Webinar, I look at the challenges and supportive factors around recording strengths-based conversations, and I offer practical pointers from the evidence. Some of the important messages are:
- Think about power and how your words will be received.
- Acknowledge different viewpoints.
- Explain your observations, analysis and judgements.
- Capture conversations as you have them in the way that works for you.
- Check the important points with the person.
- Review what you have written immediately after the conversation to check it makes sense and to highlight what you think matters most.
As our time and thinking space is constrained, we need to create moments where we can revisit our notes of conversations and reflect on what they mean before committing ourselves to a ‘final’ record.
One of the interesting debates that came out of the Webinar is how we can best have conversations with people who communicate in different ways. There is much more to consider around this – how we understand the person’s experience, capture their wishes and hopes, co-create a plan and make sense of this to them.
Morrison emphasised that ‘word-work’ makes meaning. When we use words in social care, let’s make meanings that enhance people’s lives.