I truly believe, that empathy is one of the most vital traits in a healthcare professional. As dietitians, we want to be helpful to people who come to us. Having a large arsenal of suggestions and ideas in mind, we are often eager to share them with a clients, to help solve their issues. However, in those moments when a client shares her struggles, it’s not just about our knowledge we may try to use to support her, but our ability to emphasize.
Why empathy it’s so important in our communication with those around us, including clients, colleagues, friends and family?
Last week I had a highly challenging exam, which left me with a feeling of a failure, even though I still don’t know the results. Having to re-take this exam will complicate quite a lot of matters in my life, so being worried about how I did seems pretty reasonable to me.
When I shared my concerns with my close ones, I was feeling a need to vent and longing for validation. However, as many caring friends and family members do, they tried to reassure me, that I most likely did well on the exam and should stay positive.
Did it help me to feel any better? No, it didn’t. Trying to ignore our worries may provide a temporary relief, adding to our emotional baggage of invalidated feelings, which would certainly resurface later, perhaps in a disguised and more complicated form.
What I needed the most was to hear words of understanding and acceptance of me feeling that way. Saying something, like “I hear you, it sucks to think you may not pass despite being so invested in preparing for it and trying to do your best” is much more powerful, than saying “everything is gonna be alright”.
Empathy it’s not about shifting someone’s attention towards positive thinking or attempting to cheer him up. It is about putting your own agenda away for a while and being there for that person in his pain, regardless of how irrelevant the reasons behind the pain may seem to you. Understanding and acceptance are what helps to process our emotions, enabling to look beyond our fears and worries and move on.
Learning to be empathetic with others may take time and practice, but it certainly a significant skill to work on developing and cultivating.