This is a short podcast on behalf of the West Sussex Safeguarding Adults Board. I will be talking to you about professional curiosity; what it is, why is it important and how you can develop your skills. I will also provide some tips and guidance on holding difficult conversations where you have concerns.
Firstly, what is professional curiosity and what does this mean in your practice. The term professional curiosity, sometimes called respectful nosiness, is used to describe an in depth interest in the people you are working with by exploring and understanding what is happening or, may be happening rather than making assumptions or accepting things at face value.
Why is professional curiosity important? In West Sussex, we have had a number of reviews undertaken which identify professional curiosity as an area of practice which requires development and improvement. The skills required to be professionally curious are vital in helping to identify abuse and neglect in cases where this may be less obvious; for example in a care home where abuse practices may be hidden from visiting professionals or, where a person is not able to tell you about the abuse they are experiencing, such as in a relationship where there is domestic violence or when a person is being coerced or controlled.
So, how can you develop your skills in professional curiosity? This will require you to look, listen, ask, and clarify.
In practice looking means considering if there is anything about what you see when you meet with the adult, their family and/or carers, including their environment, that makes you feel uneasy or prompts any questions. You should also look for any behaviours which may indicate abuse or neglect, including coercion and control, such as watching how the adult, their family and/or carers, interact with each other and you.
You will need to consider if what you are able to see has contradicted or supported what you are being told. It is important to remember that it is good practice to be respectfully nosey. For example, this could mean asking to look in other areas of the care home when visiting an individual, considering factors such as appearance, the cleanliness of the environment or what food and drinks are available.
In practice, listening means being actively interested and fully engaged in what you are being told and also, considering if you feel that the adult, their family and/or their carers are trying to tell you something but finding it difficult to express themselves or speak openly. You could have concerns about how the adult, their family and/or carers speak with each other or to you. This may suggest the need to make time and space to have a private conversation with an adult who may be at risk of abuse or neglect, or subject to coercion and control.
In practice, asking means using direct questions where you have concerns. Research suggests that those who experience abuse, including coercion and control find it is easier to respond to a direct question rather than offer information independently. This could mean asking; I’ve noticed you have this injury, is there anything going on for you which may have caused this? Who makes decisions about what you can and cannot do? Or, some of the things you have told me today concern me, is somebody hurting you or are you afraid someone might hurt you in the future?
In practice, clarifying means considering and checking out the information you have. This could mean consulting with other professionals on what information they have to find out if they have seen/feel the same as you or have the same or different concerns. You will also need to consider if other professionals are being told the same or different things to you and what action has been taken or may need to be taken by you or someone else.
Finally, I would like to talk you about holding difficult conversations. Managing disagreements, raising concerns, and giving information that may not be well received can be incredibly challenging and difficult. Here are some tips that can support you to do this:
- Plan in advance to ensure time to cover essential points or concerns and to remain focused on the topics you need to discuss.
- Have courage and focus on the needs of the adult at risk.
- Be non-confrontational and non-blaming.
- Stick to the facts and have evidence to back up what you say, ensuring decision making is justifiable and transparent.
- Show empathy, consideration, and compassion.
- Make sure tone, body language and content of speech are consistent.
- Consider the adult’s needs for advocacy support.
We thank you for your time to listen to this podcast today. As this is an area of learning from Reviews undertaken by the West Sussex Safeguarding Adults Board, we appreciate you moving forwards with us to ensure we make a difference for those who we are supporting.
In addition to listening to the podcast today, please visit the Board website to view the accompanying learning briefing which contains links to further information on professional curiosity. On our website you’ll also find useful links to all our published Reviews, safeguarding policies and procedures, information for professionals, and further podcasts.