Saturday, August 13, 2005

Empathy

In a comment to my post of yesterday, “Rather – Katie B.” of I’d Rather Be Sailing wrote some things that started me thinking.

(Aside: Carol says I don’t think nearly enough, and when I DO think it’s of the wrong stuff. So thanks, Katie, for getting my process started!)

Well, you can read her whole comment, but it was pretty well summarized in the last sentence: “Waiting in medical offices is pure torture, so if a clerk, technician, nurse or doctor showed a bit of humanness, or humor, I may feel a bit relieved - or at least distracted.”

Carol once took her mother to a doctor who didn’t want to listen to their thoughts about what the problem might be. He stated, “Who’s the doctor here, you or me?” The implication was, “I’m the trained professional and YOU are just lay people, so I will make the diagnosis!”

Carol’s response was, “Yes, but it’s HER body, not yours, and she knows more about how it normally feels and works than you do. She also knows more about how it reacts to certain medications than you do. If you were smart, you’d at least listen. If you don’t agree, we need to see a different doctor.”

(To his credit, he DID apologize, acknowledge her points, and listen.)

Katie’s comments about the need for ALL of the staff at a doctor’s office to show some empathy for their patients are spot on!

Allow me to make a comparison from my profession. As a Human Resources manager, I deal daily with employee concerns and complaints. Often those complaints seem petty to me. Sometimes I think they are groundless!

But these employees are my “customers.” If THEY didn’t think their complaint was serious or significant, they wouldn’t be bringing it to me. To them, it’s a real distraction from working safely and doing their job correctly.

So a big part of my job, as I see it, is to express empathy for their concerns. Even if I don’t agree with them.

Some of my biggest challenges come when a very serious and concerned employee feels he was unfairly cheated out of a few cents on, say, a health insurance claim. I may be thinking, “Gimme a break. Here’s a quarter. Now you’re ahead. Don’t waste my time with petty stuff.”

(Or, to quote an old song as I often do, “Here’s a quarter. Call someone who cares.”)

But I can’t do that. To that employee, it’s a PRINCIPLE. And in principle, he's right—he WAS shorted those few cents according to our insurance contract. So I make the necessary calls and get him his few cents credit. He feels better, and he’ll tell his buddies that the insurance company tried to screw him, but HR got it straightened out.

I’ve had employees tell me, “I know this isn’t much money, but if they’re doing it to me, they’re probably doing it to everybody!”

OK, you get the idea.

Empathy is important. Empathy says, “I care about your feelings. I understand something of your feelings. We’re all in this together.”

Empathy in a doctors’ or dentists’ office is a VERY good thing, and something nobody should be disciplined or fired for.

Joy, Carol and I are proud of you!

3 comments:

Christina said...

Thank you! In the opinion of the doctor I worked with in Texas and am now working with at my current job, it is more unprofessional (and rude) to leave patients waiting 3-4 hours (plus) to see a doctor without offering any sympathy or explanation, than it is to acknowledge that they have been waiting and say the word "finally" when the doctor actually shows up. Many of our patients at that practice would mistakenly feel that they had been forgotten, overlooked, or otherwise fell thru the cracks. After waiting several hours they would approach the staff and want to know when or if they would be seen. Granted, this was a highly specialized practice and at times we had to do some very extensive and complex diagnostic testing, but whats wrong with giving the patient this explanation and answering their questions when they want to know what's taking so long? The administration claimed that by using the word "finally", I implied to the patient that they had been waiting a long time. Well, no shit, sherlock! They knew how long they had been there - they let me know up front that they had another appointment abd were concerned about timing. I promised to keep them posted and do whatever I could to see that we got them finished in time to make their next appointment. So if treating people like human beings and giving them a little credit to understand a reasonable explanation for a long wait is unprofessional, then I guess I should be fired again because I am not going to change the way I treat patients. I have had countless compliments from patients who appreciate being treated this way as opposed to being blown off in a doctor's office. I act this way because I hate the way the staff in many medical offices treat me when I am the patient!

schnoodlepooh said...

John, you make a good point about empathy, not just in the doctors office. When I have a problem and I tell someone about it, most of the time, I want EMPATHY. I usually do NOT want advice. And only sometimes can something be done about the problem. I have an issue at my work right now and I cant' talk to ANYONE about it because it's WORK and I could get fired. So I talk to my friends outside of work, they give me advice, but I don't want their stinkin' advice. I want EMPATHY or I want the situation to be changed. No advice, please.

Katie B. said...

When I tell somebody something, I mostly want empathy not advice. I want somebody to say, "Yes. That does hurt." or "Wow. That was a bad situation." or whatever. Advice isn't often heard or utilized until the other feelings are sorted.
I was involuntarily transferred at the end of this school year to a new position for 05-06. My boss kept saying that it would be a great move for me, and how important I am to the department, and I'd be the only librarian in the district w/ K-12 experience, what a potential to show leadership, blah, blah. What I needed and wanted him to say is, "I understand your loss and feelings of disappointment. I'll give you some time w/ that before I start my pep talk."
It is so important to validate our own and others' feelings. I think most people just want somebody to hear them say and to show sincere acknowledgement that they are angry, lonely, frustrated, excited, full of joy, ...
I agree with your points that it is hard to always remember to consider others' feelings, especially in jobs where we work with people all day long. Sometimes I too am like, "What now!?" You're right on that it is sooo important in customer service and people jobs to not only have satisfied customers, but also to have folks walk away and talk about their satisfaction. If they return for more service - that's the real prize. Without people coming into my library, there's no need for me or my library books and materials, y'know!
I also believe that we need to learn to control our feelings to some degree. There are many times when I feel like I just can't push through the day. Maybe something is bothering me, or something happened or whatever - but it is my obligation to set my needs aside for a certain amount of time to focus my full attention on my students, my colleagues or the specific task (often tasks) at hand. Feelings are difficult sometimes - oh, I could go on, and on about this topic. It is just one of our struggles as humans, isn't it.