ATD Blog

3 Ways Demonstrating Empathy Can Dramatically Change Your Practice or Work

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Physicians, nurses, and others who’ve devoted their careers to healing are often inherently compassionate and caring individuals. But these days, working in healthcare can be overwhelming, and having the time and space to consistently convey empathy may feel like a struggle. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the demonstration of empathy can actually ease many of the struggles you encounter and improve your work. 

Demonstrating Empathy Can Save Time 

Clinicians often cite lack of time as a reason for offering less empathy in their visits. However, empathy can save time. In a study by Wendy Levinson, researchers measured how often clinicians took the opportunity to demonstrate empathy to their patients. They found that clinicians who offered more empathy had shorter visits.

Human beings want to be acknowledged. If our story or feeling isn’t acknowledged, we’re likely to start the story all over again. Demonstrating empathy the first time can stop that cycle and help patients and providers move on together. 

Demonstrating Empathy Can Increase Adherence 

When patients experience empathy from a provider, they are more likely to trust the provider. With this trust comes better listening and greater likelihood to follow recommendations and directions. This increases the likelihood of good outcomes and reduces return visits. 


Demonstrating Empathy Can Improve Your Day 

Most individuals enter healthcare because they want to do good in the world. Constantly encountering upset, angry patients or disgruntled co-workers can really dim the light on that dream. The skillful demonstration of empathy can act to de-escalate the situation. If you think of a heightened emotion as a tightly filled balloon, empathy is the thing that can slowly let the air out. Bit by bit, with each demonstration of empathy, the balloon is deflated and the emotion de-escalated. Knowing how to calm a heightened situation gives you more control and allows you to escape some of your own emotional wear and tear.


The key to empathy is not just feeling it, but knowing how to skillfully communicate it. Many times, our efforts, though well intentioned, can make the situation worse. In my ATD 2017 session, we’ll be looking at the finer points of what makes empathy effective, sharing techniques, and practicing in a way that focuses on integration with your natural style. Please join us for The Practice of Empathy: Flip the Energy When Things Get Hot! on Tuesday, May 23, 4:30-5:30 p.m.

About the Author

Su Niedringhaus is co-founder of JSL Creative Learning, a boutique training company that specializes in creating dynamic and memorable learning experiences through multi-media, group experience and individual coaching. As a communication specialist, facilitator, theatre artist and writer, Su has spent over two decades designing and delivering powerful educational experiences for such diverse organizations as Kaiser Foundation Healthplan, University of Colorado Office of Research Development, Cherry Creek Public Schools, Colorado Permanente Medical Group and CH2M Hill.

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