Communication is an active discipline, though it's not always regarded as all that much of a challenge. Yet when communication isn’t done deliberately enough, unfortunate results can occur. Witness the options for creating a hospital checklist, one that might be used for signaling whether a patient might have Ebola.
Two associate professors of communication at the University of Texas at Austin, Matthew S. McGlone and Keri K. Stephens, illustrate on the Huffpost Healthy Living blog the difference that creating an “active choice” checklist (rather than a merely notational one) might make. It might well prompt a more careful assessment of danger.
“Checklists for evaluating possible Ebola patients and clinical precautions,” the post notes, “would benefit from being changed to an "active choice" format. Like most checklists, the current form for Ebola directs caregivers to check a box when a condition is present (□ Does patient have fever, subjective or > 101.5°F?) and make no response when it is not. However, equating a negative judgment (no fever) with inaction (not checking a box) discounts the mental effort the judge uses to reach it.
“A more optimal checklist format,” the professors note, “would require people to make an active choice between two options rather than just "opting in" for one. This two-option format balances the consideration people give to positive and negative assessments. In this case, having caregivers actively choose between "yes" and "no" for each Ebola-consistent symptom could enhance the calibration of their judgments.”
That’s what we mean by calling communication an active discipline that needs to be fully respected in its own right, not practiced simply as an ancillary task among other concerns. Good, forthcoming communication is basic to just about anything. And it doesn’t necessarily come naturally.