Misreading the signs

Yesterday afternoon, I accidentally “high-fived” a parent in the corridor.

The part of my brain that isn’t sinking with embarrassment is screaming at me “how??  How can you possibly do something like that by accident?”

What actually happened? Walking towards each other in a corridor; family very happy to be leaving; me very pleased that they were happy… The hand went up, I went past, my hand went up, HIGH-FIVE (there was no shouting by the way).

Context: I’m a paediatric registrar.  Some things are appropriate in that context that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing when I was working in adult medicine.  Sticking my tongue out on a ward round is perfectly acceptable behaviour, as is playing hide-and-seek during a neurological assessment.  Making the shift to a “high-five” really isn’t that unusual a move.

Re-assessment: As I went past, I saw the look on the parent’s face. Surprise and amusement.  And my brain suddenly said whoooooops

It’s a trivial incident. If they remember next time we meet, I’ll apologise; we’ll laugh about it.

But it got me thinking about how easy it is to misread the signs; how often communication comes down to interpreting subtle movements & gestures; and how easy it is for us to get wrong.

But it’s also reminded me of the checks that can be there when it does go wrong.  Some people will show this in their facial expression (but others won’t); sometimes we’ll have built a relationship over time (but sometimes there isn’t that privilege of getting to know people – even a litre bit).

So, I hope I’m forgiven for my inadvertent lapse into 1980s greetings; but I also hope that next time I misread the signs that I can get some clues that I’ve got it wrong; that I apologise; and that my future lapses are also forgiven.

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