Center for Health Literacy Promotion - Action research for effective use of health info & services
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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Promoting Health Literacy-Powerful Information Giving

“...give it to them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will
appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above
all accurately, so they will be guided by its light.
~Joseph Pulitzer

When he wrote this succinct recipe for clear communication, Joseph
Pulitzer, namesake of the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, was complaining
to a friend of the rigors of getting information-the news- to people
in a way they can use it. We share that challenge and can learn
from Pulitzer’s wisdom. Let us consider closely his sage advice.

Give it to them...

“I have some great info on that, would you like to see it?” Pulitzer
could safely assume people wanted at least some of the information
he put out in his newspaper since they each indicated their interest
by subscribing to the paper or buying it at the newsstand. We can
make no such assumption about information we think parents should
have on breastfeeding or first aid or discipline or sleep safety or any
of the seemingly endless topics related to promoting and maintaining
their health and raising a healthy competent child. We do not need
to ask parents to pay for information, but we need to find out if they
want it and perceive a need for it before we give it to them. To skip
this step is to risk being ignored and setting up resistance. The
resistance comes up naturally when we ‘dump information on them’
because in the dumping we put ourselves in charge of their learning,
we position them as needy and ourselves as their rescuer.

Adults learn to solve a problem they have now. A key to providing
information that parents are ready to act on and so convert it to
knowledge that they can use again, is to offer an opportunity to
request the information. Say a mother tells you, “My son is having
tantrums and driving us all crazy!” A thoughtful empowering response
might be, “I have some great information on how to manage tantrums;
would you like to see it?” The question places the mother in charge
of her own learning. It positions her as an information seeker and
learner. It implies that she knows something and that she might have
other priorities. The question positions you as a respectful, non-judgmental resource, someone to whom it is safe to say, “I don’t know”. The
question encourages her to request more information on other topics
and increases her capacity to advocate for herself and her child.
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