Empathy is one of the most unifying emotions of the human species. When we can relate to another person’s feelings, we respond in a more purposeful manner. Empathy is one of the most essential elements of a positive patient experience. But there are things that get in the way of empathy; the biggest barrier being your own narrative or story.
Human nature is to judge quickly. It’s a response that is as old as the human race, and has helped us avoid danger. That quick response however, may also prevent us from engaging fully with others because we’ve created a story or narrative in our minds, about what makes a person bad, or at least someone to avoid. In healthcare settings, I’ve seen the stories emerge as both overt and subtle biases. People who look a certain way are “drug seekers” even before they’ve opened their mouths.
I was recently talking with the director of a large emergency department whose patient satisfaction scores are among the lowest I’ve seen. She described their patients as, “All a bunch of gang-bangers.” Since when do you see infant and toddler gang members? And I doubt if any of the elderly people sitting in the waiting room were injured while tagging gang symbols on the walls of their assisted living facility. Her story had shaped her behavior and, I’m willing to bet, the behaviors she modeled.
If you want to be more empathetic, check the stories you are carrying with you.