Does your care facility have empathetic staff? Are you sure? Just what is empathy anyway?

The word empathy has its origins in psychology when German psychologist Theodore Lipps created the term einfuhlung, which means “in-feeling” to categorize the “emotional appreciation of another’s feelings.”

Empathy also is sometimes described as the ability to understand someone else’s experience from your own individual frame of reference.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to “stand in someone else’s shoes.”

So, how can you help your staff cultivate empathy to your patients/residents?

Perhaps one of the most important first steps is to walk the talk yourself.  Take the time to listen – really listen – to the concerns of both your staff and your patients/residents.

How do you “really listen?” Start by not interrupting people when they speak with you, and whatever you do, do not change the subject. Don’t automatically dismiss their concerns, and go easy on the advice.

Watch how people say what they’re saying. In other words, observe their body language and pay attention to the tone of their voice.   Spoken words actually provide less than 10% of a person’s meaning. The other 90 +% comes from their body language and their tone of voice.

Provide genuine praise. When someone is doing something well, tell them.  In fact, if possible, be sure to tell them when others are present.

The best way to help staff become more empathetic  to your patients/residents is to train them. Unless you have someone skilled in empathy training, it may be wise to hire an outside consultant to a) train your existing staff and b) modify your existing onboarding/training courses to add empathy training for those staff members who come aboard later.

In the training, your staff more than likely will learn how

  • To speak in a way that enhances communication
  • To “match and mirror” patients so that your staff will be able to forge an immediate rapport.
  • Learn how to identify the different types of “communication preferences” and how to then communicate with an individual based on his or her preference.
  • To use body language to create rapport and how to learn how to “read” situations so that staff will be able to guide their communication with patients in a way that benefits both.

Has your facility undergone empathy/communication training in the past year or two? If so, what was the result?

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