Handling Tough Situations – The Empathetic Solution

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In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Professor Sandra Saucher discussed the impact of layoffs (workforce reductions) and the forces that are unleashed by all those affected as a result. What was most striking, but perhaps not surprising, was how nonchalant people can be about this until such a time as when they are actually on the receiving end themselves. Another interesting point that emerged was not around the merits of whether these should happen or not (sadly it’s inevitable at times), but more around the manner in which it is communicated.

empathyFor many there is no right way to tell somebody they are losing their job; so you just hit them with a “2 by 4” and hope for the best. Research would support that this is how most layoffs are conducted. According to Saucher’s research work, one of the key factors that emerged from interviewing people affected by lay-offs was how they were made to feel as though they had no self-worth. As if losing one’s job was not bad enough, very often self-esteem gets crush as well. Though often not the intent, it is typically the result. The key, she claims to addressing this, is one of understanding and applying empathy. It is critically important relative to this very difficult task that an empathetic message will serve to somewhat soften and maybe even positivity impact the outcome. How often have we heard people saying, “I hated getting the news but at least he said to my face and cared”. This makes a huge difference.

There are lessons to be learned here in our everyday interactions and the resultant tough situations we might find ourselves in. We may not be telling people that they are about to lose their job, but perhaps they have done something wrong, failed a test or performed poorly, and we simply pour gasoline on the fire by being judgmental, critical and uncaring. However by showing some empathy and really putting yourself in their shoes, you might in fact turn a negative into a real positive. As the saying goes, “there are no mistakes, they are only opportunities to learn”. Empathy serves as a very effective bridge builder to ensuring this happens.

Emotional Intelligence & Healthcare

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Much research has been conducted and empirical evidence produced to support the fact that doctors and nurses who exhibit many of the skills associated with Emotional Intelligence (EI) can boost recovery rates and overall patient well being.

In an article by Dr Helen Reiss, she spoke about Empathy in Medicine from a Neurological perspective. Dr Reiss went on to say that “A physician’s attitude and approach affect every aspect of medical care for patients and their families. An empathic bedside manner is no quaint relic of the past. To restore and ensure public trust in the medical profession, new generations of physicians must understand the emotional, physiological, and practical consequences of discarding empathy. One legacy of medical education is overvaluing scientific measurement and undervaluing subjective experiences. The neurobiology of empathy offers hope for those who value the subjective experience of empathy and for those who find comfort in what can be measured.” Read more