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I am Not a Disease

Posted by | 5:09pm on Thursday, May 21, 2009

talking to diseases instead of the people that have them is a communication killer, a conversation stopper. 

Linda Martens, Content Strategist at Siren Interactive, contributes this post:

During my time as a hospital social worker, I spent my days talking to people with all types of illnesses – chronic and acute, minor and serious, treatable and terminal. I learned that there are many ways people relate to and cope with their diseases. But I can’t recall ever talking to anyone who thought they WERE their disease.

Since it’s the people — not the diseases — we’re creating websites for, it’s important to keep this difference in mind. Addressing the disease, not the person who has it, can lead to all sorts of communication failures.

As an example, let’s look at some of the many different ways people think about their diseases – and the specific communication problem that can result.

  • My disease is my enemy – Many people have an adversarial relationship with their disease. You hear talk of conquering, winning, victory, which is all very appropriate language to describe a serious struggle. However, referring to someone using this coping mechanism as their enemy is not likely to engage them.
  • My disease is my companion – For some people, their disease is a life-long fellow traveler — not necessarily welcome, but inevitable and to be accommodated in all life planning. Being mistaken for one’s companion is annoying, even insulting — we’ve all had the experience. People who cope with their disease in this manner feel the same.
  • My disease is my invisible shadow – Many people think and speak about their illness as little as possible. Like most coping mechanisms, denial and avoidance have some useful benefits. But if you talk to someone who’s using this mechanism as though they are their disease, you’re likely to have a short conversation.

As this quick example demonstrates, talking to diseases instead of the people that have them is a communication killer, a conversation stopper. As content developers, our team is always looking for ways to open and continue conversations. An important first step is remembering that we’re writing for people — all types of people facing all types of problems and reacting in all sorts of ways — but still people.  After all, diseases don’t use our websites.

About Linda Martens

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    08 September 2009 at 3:09pm
    [...] What does this all mean for the people speaking to a rare disease community? It is imperative to recognize that each rare disease community has ...
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