How Should You Display Empathy (In Healthcare)?

Posted on:3,Jul'18

Posted by: CancerHelpline

Tags: Display Empathy


In the last two posts we discussed the foundations of empathy and its importance in healthcare. However, as we had mentioned earlier, empathy is essentially a skillset or a set of tools.

Active Listening is an important method of displaying empathy.
Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson, describe Active Listening as:

"Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people. Despite the popular notion that listening is a passive approach, clinical and research evidence clearly shows that sensitive listening is a most effective agent for individual personality change and group development. Listening brings about changes in peoples attitudes toward themselves and others; it also brings about changes in their basic values and personal philosophy. People who have been listened to in this new and special way become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian."

There are both verbal and non verbal skills which are an important part of Active Listening.

Non-Verbal Skills

1. Smile – Your expression while you converse with another person is an important non-verbal skill of active listening

2. Eye Contact – Eye contact, nods and acknowledgements convey to the other person that you understand what they are saying, and are important skills to convey active listening.

3. Posture – Your shoulders, and your posture at large convey some meanings to the individual sitting in front of you. Often, it is important to try to close the physical gap between them and you, by leaning forward.

4. Mirroring – Automatic reflection or mirroring the expressions in the other person is a sign of active listening.

5. No distractions – It is important to put your mobile on silent while trying to speak to someone. Absolute attention is a must.

Verbal Skills

1. Paraphrasing – Actively listening to what another person is saying and relaying it back to them, confirms what they are saying, and expresses understanding.

2. Reflection – It is important to reflect on what the other person must be going through, using what they conveyed helps in conveying one’s understanding. For instance, if someone has spoken for a long time about their condition, and a simple statement that says, “That must have been overwhelming for you”, is an example of reflection. It demonstrates understanding.

3. Clarifying – Sometimes, you might allude to something and try to understand what the other person is going through.

Let’s take the example of a person who says to you, “For 20 years, I took complete care of my husband, and now, when I am going through chemotherapy, he is not being supportive at all.” When you ask the question, “Are you feeling betrayed”, you are clarifying whether the person is going through that emotion.

You should not assume that you know exactly what the person is going through. You have to give the individual the power to come out with what they are feeling.

4. Summarizing – Finally, summarizing all that was talked about with the individual, gives an all-round perspective. Essentially, you pick out the main points that the speaker said, and relay it to them in a logical manner. Something as simple as, “You said, you were feeling very overwhelmed by all the information. And you would like to understand more about these. Have I understood what you said?”, could be a simple way of summarizing a conversation.

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