We’ve known for awhile that doctors who show more empathy have better patient-physician relationships and can actually have fewer medical errors.
And there’s a direct correlation between job performance and empathy. Forbes writer George Anders calls empathy The Number One Job Skill in 2020, naming this the common trait in a wide range of occupations—from teaching to healthcare to customer service.
The truth is that the position we’re in as doctors and leaders requires a higher than average level of empathy. So, if we know that empathy wins friends and influences people, why don’t we just use it?
One thing that stops us is the roadblocks along the way, according to David Swink’s Psychology Today article. Roadblocks like lack of attention, not knowing how to communicate with empathy, and just not “feeling it” all make it tough to show empathy for our patients and others.
So what can we do?
A new study suggests that there’s a way we can gain empathy as we feel it.
Niki Gianakaris reported that when people experienced mild discomfort by rubbing their hands on sandpaper, they became more empathetic.
According to the findings in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, when participants touched the rough surface of sandpaper, they felt more empathetic and were even more inclined to give charitable donations.
Okay, where are we going here? Does this mean we need to keep a stash of sandpaper or an emery board in our lab coat and give it a rough go before we interact with a patient, especially the grumpy patients? That might actually work, but that’s a research project for another day. 🙂
So how CAN we use this in our medical practice?
What if we were to find a way to connect with every patient?
Here are three easy ways to foster connection and improve empathy that I’ve learned through coaching clients over the years:
- Find something in common: a sports team you both love; a hobby; pets.
- Decide that something about them reminds you of a loved one or an old college friend. Do they wear the same perfume as your grandmother? Have a Southern accent like your Uncle Fred? Or have that funny way of grunting at everything you say?
- Invite them to join with you, and make them part of the process. Let your patient know that the two of you are a team when it comes to their surgical outcome or their health goals. You’ll find this will get your patient on board with the plan, and make them feel less guarded or defensive.
What’s one way you’ve found to add empathy in your practice? Please share!