• Sarah Green

What I have learnt about empathy from working with GPs.

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

“Doctors run out of it in the afternoon”. “Recruitment should be based on empathy scores”. “Patients live longer when they have an empathetic GP”. Empathy is a hot topic, but how do you know you’re doing it right?

After 22 years of being part of GP Consultations Skills training, I have witnessed the full range of great to poor examples of empathy in action. My work as an NLP practitioner and professional theatre director has given me the opportunity to translate empathy into tangible behaviours, which I share at the end of this article. So what words, behaviour and actions deliver empathy?

GIVING AND RECEIVING EMPATHY.

It’s a natural inclination to label our actions by our intentions or self-perception, by which I mean, we think we are being kind because we believe we have kind intentions, or we think we are being empathetic because we view ourselves to be. But are we?

Empathy is best measured by the receiver and not the giver. If a small child falls over and squeals an adult might rush in and say, "Ow that must have hurt". It is reasonable to view it as empathy, however, the child who wants to be brave will have none of it and deny any pain and be upset that their bravery is not acknowledged. The attempt at empathy is given without information from the perspective of the child's view. Empathy is all about the person's perspective, it is not necessary to ‘feel with’ but to step in, enquire and gather information then stand alongside to truly acknowledge and understand.

Helping someone who is seeking help, ideally turns one person with a problem into a two-person team. The aim in any conversation where you want to be empathetic should be to listen, understand the challenges, understand the person's needs, discover what a good outcome would be for them and establish ways to reach that outcome . This can be merely helping someone get perspective, making a plan, or rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it. Being genuinely understood and acknowledged is just the best feeling ever, regardless of what help or intervention is practical or possible. This is why it is such good medicine.

TIME, MONEY AND FREQUENT ATTENDERS

The current enthusiasm for the power of empathy is rightly fuelled by a range of positive elements including research data, patient feedback to the cultural desire to be part of a kinder more human world.

In consultation settings, the ‘short of time’ mantra that buzzes around the NHS does much to condense and inform the self-regulating of empathic indulgences, which then pushes people to fast track a form of lip service to the whole empathy thing. This approach may appear to save time, but it does the opposite, people come back again and again in an attempt to be understood.

The fear about using too much of it in a professional setting, as it might wear you down or slow you down, is common. In reality, empathy skills, like most things, can be developed, but more importantly, when used properly can save energy and deliver real feel-good benefits for both sides. At AvatarJo we are humbled daily by the humility and curiosity of our clients, with breakthrough learning often bringing tears of joy when light bulb moments hit and a particular patient or whole patient cohorts suddenly lose their heart-sink label.

Here is my practical guide to empathy:

UNDERSTAND THE PERSON FULLY

ENQUIRE - Don’t guess and don’t project. Ask open questions initially. Find out the current situation, what led up to it, the good and bad. Find out what success/better outcome they’d like to happen next. Ask if they would like help with a specific part of their challenge or problem and what that is in more detail (if needed).

LISTEN – Pay exquisite attention, note the detail.

ACKNOWLEDGE – Using the same words, phrases and information that the person speaking uses. Make statements of empathy, acknowledge what you have heard. You know these are true and accurate if the person responds with a ‘yes’.

CREATE A SAFE SPACE - You can use one or all three of the following:

1: Congratulate the person for coping, taking action, seeking help.

2: Show gratitude, thank them for trusting you, telling you, ‘it’s good that you came in' etc.

3: Declare your intention, “I can help you get that sorted if you like?", "I’m here to listen", "I’m happy to explore ways to get this sorted".

MAKE A PLAN AS A TEAM - Before giving an opinion or making any suggestions:

1: Acknowledge the goal, what success would look like e.g. "So ideally if we could get you pain-free and back playing with your grandchildren that would be fantastic for you?”

Again a "yes" or a smile will tell you if you’re on the right track.

2: Ask if they have ideas on how they want to approach it or what would help most.

3: Ask if you can offer some solutions for them to consider?

4: Tell them what you can do to help, or would like to make happen.

4: Draw up a list of actions that involve both of you in some way.

CHECK BACK - With the person. Ask: “How does that feel?” “Will that be a good outcome for you?” “Does that sound like a good plan?” “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?” “How do you feel now?” “Has this been helpful?”

ASK YOURSELF - How do I feel? And reflect what type of approach feels good for you too.

There are many more layers to empathy and plenty of ways to up-skill and refine your empathy skills, get in touch if you would like to discover more.

sarah.lincoln@avatarjo.com

“Doctors run out of it in the afternoon”. “Recruitment should be based on empathy scores”. “Patients live longer when they have an empathetic GP”. Empathy is a hot topic, but how do you know you’re doing it right?

After 22 years of being part of GP Consultations Skills training, I have witnessed the full range of great to poor examples of empathy in action. My work as an NLP practitioner and professional theatre director has given me the opportunity to translate empathy into tangible behaviours, which I share at the end of this article. So what words, behaviour and actions deliver empathy?

GIVING AND RECEIVING EMPATHY.

It’s a natural inclination to label our actions by our intentions or self-perception, by which I mean, we think we are being kind because we believe we have kind intentions, or we think we are being empathetic because we view ourselves to be. But are we?

Empathy is best measured by the receiver and not the giver. If a small child falls over and squeals an adult might rush in and say, "Ow that must have hurt". It is reasonable to view it as empathy, however, the child who wants to be brave will have none of it and deny any pain and be upset that their bravery is not acknowledged. The attempt at empathy is given without information from the perspective of the child's view. Empathy is all about the person's perspective, it is not necessary to ‘feel with’ but to step in, enquire and gather information then stand alongside to truly acknowledge and understand.

Helping someone who is seeking help, ideally turns one person with a problem into a two-person team. The aim in any conversation where you want to be empathetic should be to listen, understand the challenges, understand the person's needs, discover what a good outcome would be for them and establish ways to reach that outcome . This can be merely helping someone get perspective, making a plan, or rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it. Being genuinely understood and acknowledged is just the best feeling ever, regardless of what help or intervention is practical or possible. This is why it is such good medicine.

TIME, MONEY AND FREQUENT ATTENDERS

The current enthusiasm for the power of empathy is rightly fuelled by a range of positive elements including research data, patient feedback to the cultural desire to be part of a kinder more human world.

In consultation settings, the ‘short of time’ mantra that buzzes around the NHS does much to condense and inform the self-regulating of empathic indulgences, which then pushes people to fast track a form of lip service to the whole empathy thing. This approach may appear to save time, but it does the opposite, people come back again and again in an attempt to be understood.

The fear about using too much of it in a professional setting, as it might wear you down or slow you down, is common. In reality, empathy skills, like most things, can be developed, but more importantly, when used properly can save energy and deliver real feel-good benefits for both sides. At AvatarJo we are humbled daily by the humility and curiosity of our clients, with breakthrough learning often bringing tears of joy when light bulb moments hit and a particular patient or whole patient cohorts suddenly lose their heart-sink label.

Here is my practical guide to empathy:

UNDERSTAND THE PERSON FULLY

ENQUIRE - Don’t guess and don’t project. Ask open questions initially. Find out the current situation, what led up to it, the good and bad. Find out what success/better outcome they’d like to happen next. Ask if they would like help with a specific part of their challenge or problem and what that is in more detail (if needed).

LISTEN – Pay exquisite attention, note the detail.

ACKNOWLEDGE – Using the same words, phrases and information that the person speaking uses. Make statements of empathy, acknowledge what you have heard. You know these are true and accurate if the person responds with a ‘yes’.

CREATE A SAFE SPACE - You can use one or all three of the following:

1: Congratulate the person for coping, taking action, seeking help.

2: Show gratitude, thank them for trusting you, telling you, ‘it’s good that you came in' etc.

3: Declare your intention, “I can help you get that sorted if you like?", "I’m here to listen", "I’m happy to explore ways to get this sorted".

MAKE A PLAN AS A TEAM - Before giving an opinion or making any suggestions:

1: Acknowledge the goal, what success would look like e.g. "So ideally if we could get you pain-free and back playing with your grandchildren that would be fantastic for you?”

Again a "yes" or a smile will tell you if you’re on the right track.

2: Ask if they have ideas on how they want to approach it or what would help most.

3: Ask if you can offer some solutions for them to consider?

4: Tell them what you can do to help, or would like to make happen.

4: Draw up a list of actions that involve both of you in some way.

CHECK BACK - With the person. Ask: “How does that feel?” “Will that be a good outcome for you?” “Does that sound like a good plan?” “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?” “How do you feel now?” “Has this been helpful?”

ASK YOURSELF - How do I feel? And reflect what type of approach feels good for you too.

There are many more layers to empathy and plenty of ways to up-skill and refine your empathy skills, get in touch if you would like to discover more.

sarah.lincoln@avatarjo.com

“Doctors run out of it in the afternoon”. “Recruitment should be based on empathy scores”. “Patients live longer when they have an empathetic GP”. Empathy is a hot topic, but how do you know you’re doing it right?

After 22 years of being part of GP Consultations Skills training, I have witnessed the full range of great to poor examples of empathy in action. My work as an NLP practitioner and professional theatre director has given me the opportunity to translate empathy into tangible behaviours, which I share at the end of this article. So what words, behaviour and actions deliver empathy?

GIVING AND RECEIVING EMPATHY.

It’s a natural inclination to label our actions by our intentions or self-perception, by which I mean, we think we are being kind because we believe we have kind intentions, or we think we are being empathetic because we view ourselves to be. But are we?

Empathy is best measured by the receiver and not the giver. If a small child falls over and squeals an adult might rush in and say, "Ow that must have hurt". It is reasonable to view it as empathy, however, the child who wants to be brave will have none of it and deny any pain and be upset that their bravery is not acknowledged. The attempt at empathy is given without information from the perspective of the child's view. Empathy is all about the person's perspective, it is not necessary to ‘feel with’ but to step in, enquire and gather information then stand alongside to truly acknowledge and understand.

Helping someone who is seeking help, ideally turns one person with a problem into a two-person team. The aim in any conversation where you want to be empathetic should be to listen, understand the challenges, understand the person's needs, discover what a good outcome would be for them and establish ways to reach that outcome . This can be merely helping someone get perspective, making a plan, or rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it. Being genuinely understood and acknowledged is just the best feeling ever, regardless of what help or intervention is practical or possible. This is why it is such good medicine.

TIME, MONEY AND FREQUENT ATTENDERS

The current enthusiasm for the power of empathy is rightly fuelled by a range of positive elements including research data, patient feedback to the cultural desire to be part of a kinder more human world.

In consultation settings, the ‘short of time’ mantra that buzzes around the NHS does much to condense and inform the self-regulating of empathic indulgences, which then pushes people to fast track a form of lip service to the whole empathy thing. This approach may appear to save time, but it does the opposite, people come back again and again in an attempt to be understood.

The fear about using too much of it in a professional setting, as it might wear you down or slow you down, is common. In reality, empathy skills, like most things, can be developed, but more importantly, when used properly can save energy and deliver real feel-good benefits for both sides. At AvatarJo we are humbled daily by the humility and curiosity of our clients, with breakthrough learning often bringing tears of joy when light bulb moments hit and a particular patient or whole patient cohorts suddenly lose their heart-sink label.

Here is my practical guide to empathy:

UNDERSTAND THE PERSON FULLY

ENQUIRE - Don’t guess and don’t project. Ask open questions initially. Find out the current situation, what led up to it, the good and bad. Find out what success/better outcome they’d like to happen next. Ask if they would like help with a specific part of their challenge or problem and what that is in more detail (if needed).

LISTEN – Pay exquisite attention, note the detail.

ACKNOWLEDGE – Using the same words, phrases and information that the person speaking uses. Make statements of empathy, acknowledge what you have heard. You know these are true and accurate if the person responds with a ‘yes’.

CREATE A SAFE SPACE - You can use one or all three of the following:

1: Congratulate the person for coping, taking action, seeking help.

2: Show gratitude, thank them for trusting you, telling you, ‘it’s good that you came in' etc.

3: Declare your intention, “I can help you get that sorted if you like?", "I’m here to listen", "I’m happy to explore ways to get this sorted".

MAKE A PLAN AS A TEAM - Before giving an opinion or making any suggestions:

1: Acknowledge the goal, what success would look like e.g. "So ideally if we could get you pain-free and back playing with your grandchildren that would be fantastic for you?”

Again a "yes" or a smile will tell you if you’re on the right track.

2: Ask if they have ideas on how they want to approach it or what would help most.

3: Ask if you can offer some solutions for them to consider?

4: Tell them what you can do to help, or would like to make happen.

4: Draw up a list of actions that involve both of you in some way.

CHECK BACK - With the person. Ask: “How does that feel?” “Will that be a good outcome for you?” “Does that sound like a good plan?” “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?” “How do you feel now?” “Has this been helpful?”

ASK YOURSELF - How do I feel? And reflect what type of approach feels good for you too.

There are many more layers to empathy and plenty of ways to up-skill and refine your empathy skills, get in touch if you would like to discover more.

sarah.lincoln@avatarjo.com





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