All of you will have found yourselves in public situations where powerful emotions bubble to the surface, e.g. on the ‘phone to a call centre or waiting for a delayed train. Often even if it doesn’t change the outcome of the situation, if you are dealt with in an open, honest and respectful way, you feel more in control and able to cope.
The same is true for your patients. As a healthcare worker, you will see people at their most vulnerable, physically and emotionally. Most patients don’t come into hospital wanting to be rude and obnoxious, however if they are left feeling that no-one cares about what they are going through, emotions can explode, and you may be the likely target.
Without doubt, communication is the key. And this doesn’t just mean informing individuals as to what is going on, how long they will have to wait etc. Yes, the facts are important, but equally so is the way you talk to your patients.
No matter what circumstance in life, when you feel someone ‘gets you’ it is much easier to strike up a relationship and trust them. This is no different in the healthcare environment. When you relate in an open, honest and empathic way you are more likely to gain the trust and respect of those in your care.
Yet, despite being a commonly used term, it is important to understand exactly what empathy is. It’s often described as ‘being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes’ and try to get a sense of how they may be thinking or feeling. It doesn’t matter if you have been in a similar situation, you must be able to put aside your thoughts and opinions and really try to see things from the other person’s perspective.
As such, being empathetic means thinking beyond your own view of the world and recognising that people are likely to rationalise and act differently to how you would.
Empathy is one of the fundamental building blocks of communication. In a healthcare environment it allows for connections and trust to be formed quickly, offering benefits to both you and your patients.
Even though you may get on well with your patients, its important to remember that you are still in a position of responsibility. So, you must find the balance between communicating in an empathic way and maintaining your professional boundaries.
Here are some tips:
Whilst it may, at times, be ok to voice your own thoughts, this must only be done if it the aim is to help your patient. Phrases such as ‘that must have felt awful for you’, ‘I’m very sorry that you felt like that’ and ‘I would feel the same in that situation’ can help to express empathy and may be appreciated by your patients. However, it’s not appropriate to talk at length about similar situations that you have been in.
Empathy versus detached concern
Remember that every patient is different so it’s important to recognise when detached concern is needed over empathy. Though many patients will prefer empathetic understanding, there is a chance that some people will respond negatively to this type of communication, e.g. by becoming defensive.
In these situations, patients may better to direct questions in normal tones of voice as opposed to the softer communication usually associated with empathetic speech. You can still be kind and show concern.
Constantly being empathetic may seem difficult to caregivers, especially people who are new to the job or are in training. However, it is important to remember that empathy is a skill and will take time to develop. So, don’t be hard on yourself!
At the Skills Platform, we offer a wide range of healthcare training. These courses can be provided through eLearning, face to face or consultancy platforms and bespoke training arrangements, allowing us to help any and every client.
Empathy training is a key component within a number of our courses, including Effective Communication, Certificate in ’10 Soft Skills you Need’, and Certificate in Increasing Self-Awareness, as well as essential for Dementia Training.
To discuss how our courses could help you and your team, please contact us at contact us
This post was last modified on 13 October 2023
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