One of my favorite little indulgences is to listen to TED Talks, or pod casts while getting ready for work in the morning. My little $19 blue tooth speaker is a permanent passenger in my carry-on luggage, allowing me to stream virtual mentors any time day or night. Yesterday I listened to one by Amy Cuddy who presented a TED Talk on body language. Her scientific and insightful talk validated what I had learned years ago when coaching nurses and physicians on improving the patient experience.
Part of our training modules for physicians and nurses focuses on body language to communicate engagement and empathy. We talk about the importance of what the body language says to the patient, but it’s just as important to consider how our body language makes us feel.
One of the pieces of advice that Amy Cuddy shares in her talk, is not just to “fake it ‘til you make it.” She advocates that you “fake it ‘til you become it.” This is such sage advice. And yet, many of us hear the words “fake it” as insincere or even dishonest. Not so. Think of it as self-training, rehearsing, or role playing for practice.
This reminds me of a time about 15 years ago when I was coaching nurses on the patient experience. I talked to them about the importance of sitting (even for a moment), making eye contact, and touching their patients. I had also asked them to say, “What else can I do for you? I have time.”
One highly respected nurse pushed back on this. She asked, “How do you expect me to do this when I’m rushing constantly? I don’t have time.” After a little back and forth, I asked her to humor me and just commit to doing what I asked for three weeks. Just three weeks. She agreed.
At the end of the three weeks I circled back with her to see how it was going. She got tears in her eyes as she described what it had given her. “I feel so much more connected to my patients. I’m actually calmer because I’m constantly forcing myself to slow down. And by saying I have time, I’m feeling like I actually do have more time. I’m actually becoming the nurse I want to be.”
This nurse just espoused the beauty of re-training ourselves. It isn’t really fake. It’s learning new habits by forcing a level of consciousness onto our behaviors. I’ve never met a doctor or nurse who says he wants his patient to think of him as rushed or aloof. Yet they all have slipped into habits that reflect just that.
Body language is one of the most important tools you have in creating the patient experience. Fake it ‘til you become it.