There is a lot of talk about empathy yet like many aspects of listening it is not about doing, rather it is about being, being empathic. When we are empathic, people notice, and it makes a difference.
On the Relationship Journey, we have paid attention and actively listened to the person in front of us, asked them questions to ensure our understanding, given them the time and space to think, and to bring forth their feelings and their latest thinking.
In our response to all of this, we can show we understand them further, by playing back some of what they have said to us, using their words and sometimes paraphrasing them, and to share some of the feelings we are feeling they might be feeling. When this is done well, you are likely to get a positive response. They could say, “That’s right”, or “Yes, you have got it”. Alternatively, they could sit upright, lean in more, and become animated and excited about what they are sharing.
This is the beginning of being in rapport with them. When you are empathic and in rapport, the level of trust will rise again. There is an ease about the conversation, it starts to flow, and it is calmer, less about sides, and more about collaboration and being together. It means greater understanding and appreciation for each other.
One word of warning, if your intention is not well-meaning, they will feel it and will be less inclined to open up and share more.
As an example of empathy, my daughter is a Children’s Nurse in A&E and is at times called upon to be with distressed parents after the death of their child. She has been a Nurse for around six years now and she usually gets tearful in these situations. She will often hug and comfort the parents and be okay showing that she is feeling it too.
One may argue that Nurses should be able to ‘deal with’ these situations without getting emotional. Maybe to ‘harden up’ to it all. I am sure some Nurses and Doctors do harden up, but I am not convinced this is best for the individuals concerned. I am not suggesting that it is acceptable for Nurses to break down in front of the parents, far from it, rather to simply show that they are feeling what the parents are feeling, as this can be so cathartic for them to see and feel.
Quite often my daughter is part of an amazing team working together to save a child’s life. They are using all of their medical skills to revive them, and I am sure they say many internal prayers to will this child back to life as well. When they are unable to save this life, they will feel it too. After all, they are human like the rest of us.
I believe by showing another our humanity and being vulnerable, not only gives them permission to be vulnerable too, but it also brings us all closer together.
Having been empathic with them, and they feel she understands them, it is much easier for my daughter to be compassionate and support them through the period afterward, such as answering any questions they may have, obtaining hand and footprints and a few locks of hair, if this is the parent’s wishes. In addition, her quietly being there and fully present for the parents at this time, can be reassuring and consoling.
At times she may have to return to the Paediatric department where she can be faced with less than helpful comments, shall we say, from those parents who have been waiting for a long time to see the Doctor or to receive treatment for their child. Because she understands where they are coming from, she can calmly, caringly, and empathically respond to them. What she finds particularly interesting is that the very same parents are the first to come back with an embarrassed apology, sometimes a gift of doughnuts for the Nurses or they will write something positive about the Nurses on feedback forms.
Be empathic, and when you are, you build rapport.