22nd April 2017

Isn’t this all just a bit “touchy-feely”?

Questions from the sceptics:  1.  Isn’t this all a bit touchy-feely?

This is the first in a series of blog posts, reflecting on some of the comments we hear about Learning from Excellence.  This one is from Emma Plunkett

I talk about Learning from Excellence (LfE) a lot these days. I’ve presented the concept and the practicalities of the initiative at many different local, regional and national meetings and am generally met with a positive response. People can usually see the value in having a system for acknowledging and appreciating the work of colleagues. In addition, more people are becoming aware of the concept of safety-2 and understand the importance of learning from when things go right.

But naturally, as with any new idea, there are sceptics. Some people just don’t get it. Or maybe they can’t. One of the recent questions I have had from people struggling to understand the point of the initiative has been, “Isn’t this all just a bit touchy-feely?” When people have a really different perspective from mine, I try to understand their paradigm. I’ve found it hard this time, perhaps because the question came after a presentation describing all the uses of LfE (that’s another blog in itself). I find it hard to understand why someone wouldn’t agree that excellent work is to be appreciated, valued and investigated, so we can make more of it happen.

I’ve been thinking about how I should answer this if it comes up again and I’ve realised that my problem with the question is twofold. Firstly it’s the negative connotations associated with the phrase “touchy-feely”, which is often used to belittle the importance of emotional connections. It’s strange how a positive initiative can be “touchy-feely” in a somewhat undesirable way, whereas something with negative emotional consequences would never be described like that (or at least I hope it wouldn’t). Why can’t we equally value positive interactions? And not dismiss them as something sentimental that carries less value. It also implies that the praise is unrestrained or overstated. Importantly, this is not the case with LfE. The honest and sincere nature of the reports we see is key to their value; exaggerated or artificial praise becomes patronising and does not work, and LfE is not about this.

My second problem is with the word “just”. There are elements to the initiative which are deliberately and importantly emotional. But there is much more to it. “Just” in this context represents an excuse to dismiss LfE as something trivial and although some reports are about small events, all of them have made a difference to the people involved, and none of them should be rejected as inconsequential. LfE can’t be pigeon-holed into being “just” one thing – it is about reflection, appreciation, improving morale, improving quality, service development and creating a culture of learning.

For me, work is made worthwhile through connecting with others, be they patients, relatives, or colleagues, and making a difference to their lives. LfE involves showing genuine gratitude for the work of others, enabling a positive connection to form. Success at work also relies upon constantly learning, developing and improving and helping others to do the same. Learning from what we have done and using it to inform our future decisions. These are the key principles behind LfE.

So how will I answer the question next time? I think I will try to explore what is meant by “touchy-feely”. If it means insincere or inappropriate, effusive sentimentality , then that is not what LfE is about. But I’m not going to pretend that LfE doesn’t involve expressing positive emotions. It’s one of the keys to its success. And if that’s what being touchy-feely is, then yes it is a bit, and that’s why it works.


Dr Emma Plunkett

Thoughts on “Isn’t this all just a bit “touchy-feely”?

  1. “Touchy feely” has long been missing for many health care professionals. However, is it really touchy feely to support our colleagues, celebrate their success and learn from the positive. Organisations need balance and for many this has been sadly lacking.

    LfE Is investment in the individual and the organisation which will ultimately mean patients are better cared for surely.

  2. I’m lucky enough to work in an organisation which uses LfE as a tool for learning and promoting excellence.
    I have received feedback on my own performance from individuals who took the time to complete the LfE feedback,which helped me reflect on the aspects of my work which they felt mist helpful. Because I’m naturally a “touchy feely” person myself, it made sense, that LfE was the forum that I myself then used to celebrate work from other colleagues that I found inspiring. A genuinely win win situation.

  3. This is great stuff, do not be embarrassed about being “touchy feely”….after all what else are we doing when we examine a patient, perform a procedure, or provide personal care, if not touching them, and then feeling, in all possible ways, what is going on?
    More seriously, you could also quote the excellent book by John Ballatt and Penelope Campling, “Intelligent Kindness”, which reminds us of the importance, and again the undervalued nature, of kindness in healthcare.
    Finally the negative impact of failing to pay attention to the emotional states of our patients, colleagues, and what is evoked in ourselves, is one of our greatest failings. But to build on LfE, maybe the right way to frame that one is “what kind of clinician do you want to be looked after? A great one….who is great at touching and feeling, who is emotionally, as well as technically, highly knowledgeable and skilled”.
    Keep up the great work

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