Dr. Robert Sanderson (not his real name) is a friend of mine who teaches medical students how to care for their patients. One of his pet peeves is other physicians who describe their patients in such terms as "the stroke in room 423." Dr. Robert says "No, it is Alice Williams in room 423 who has had a stroke." Do you see the difference?
Alice is more than a disease that she has recently experienced. By being designated as a disease, she is being stripped of her very identity and therefore her dignity. Alice Williams is a person - with all that means. She has a family, a career, and a lifetime of rich experiences. She needs medical help but she also needs respect.
If you are like Alice, you do not want to be stereotyped based on your gender, age, health, family circumstance, or even your religion, political beliefs or the clothes you wear. You are more than any of those and want to be treated as an individual. The special details of your life situation may actually be the most critical factors for you when you need to make an important decision.
Stereotyping cuts off serious thought and interactions. The opposite of stereotyping is active communication which has three parts:
1. Serious disclosures. If you do not disclose what you really need and want and why, then whoever is supposed to help you will not have the information to give you good advice.
2. Active listening. Your helper must listen actively to what you say. They must care enough to ask good probing questions, and they must approach this process with an open mind.
3. Thoughtful analysis. Your helper must use their skills and analysis to give you the right advice.
When you look for help, you probably first consider your helper's competence and ethics. Great, you should. But make sure that good communication is part of the process. You need to get the right answers for you and your particular situation. This is true for medical advice from your physician, and it is equally true for other kinds of advice you need, from finances to family issues.