Empathy in Health Coaching
With all these positive effects of empathy for both patient and clinician, it might be surprising that some research demonstrates that clinicians believe they show more empathy than patients say they do. There are several possible reasons for this: task-oriented work assignments, rushing from task to task, patient workloads, emotional carry-over from personal life, lack of perception, and personal disposition.
While most frameworks of empathy focus on what is said, Reiss and Kraft-Todd (1) took their research a step further to focus on the differences in empathy that is demonstrated in actions and non-verbal cues. Not surprising, they found a clinician’s increased use of technology often results in missed non-verbal cues in a patient-provider encounter; stating that nonverbal cues are not only processed faster, but also have a greater impact on the patient than verbal ones.
Reiss and Kraft-Todd developed the tool they call E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. Let’s take a brief look at what take-aways can be gleaned from this tool for practice as a health coach.
(E) Eye Contact: Helps to build collaborative efforts
(M) Muscles of Facial Expression: Can be used to reveal underlying emotions
(P) Posture: Sitting at patient’s eye level conveys mutual respect and openness, whereas standing over the patient with crossed arms does just the opposite.
(A) Affect: Making a mental note of the patient’s affect helps to achieve understanding.
(T) Tone of voice: Malpractice litigation is found to be correlated with “dominant” tones of voice, whereas tones conveying warmth have been correlated with no history of litigation.
(H) Hearing the whole patient: Active listening to the patient’s concerns enhances
understanding; limiting one’s focus exclusively on the patient’s physiological condition.
(Y) Your response: Be attentive to your own reactions to your environment, the patient,
the patient’s family, other staff, and other situations around you. Be self-reflective
before engaging others. This can have a tremendous impact on a more positive
patient/provider encounter and relationship.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)
(1)Reiss, H. and Kraft-Tood, G. (August, 2014). E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.: A tool to enhance nonverbal communication between clinicians and their patients. Academic Medicine, (89(8). pp.1108-1112.