Empathy plays a vital role in all of our interactions, creating trust and respect, making the way for collaboration at work or in life. My experience managing my pet’s health brought some nuances about empathy to life for me.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. – Theodore Roosevelt
If you have visited a new doctor, dentist or other medical professional, you might find yourself in the waiting room wondering:
- Will they respect me or talk down to me?
- Will we have enough time or will they seem hurried?
- Will we have the same values?
After being faced with finding a new vet while my pet was experiencing a serious health issue I realize now my underlying question is, “Am I going to be treated like a human being or just another case in a folder?” Trusting that you will be seen and heard is paramount for a relationship that works, in work or life.
Recently my long-time beloved veterinarian retired. The relationship with your vet can be as important as your relationship with your own personal physician.
I had just seen my former vet six weeks before about some teeth and gum issues with my kitty, Sydney. Now there was a new issue.
I saw another vet in the same practice. He addressed the new issue. Then he examined Syd’s mouth and proclaimed she would need X-rays, a teeth cleaning under anesthesia, and perhaps several teeth pulled.
I was dumbfounded. Only weeks before my vet of 17 years suggested I use special treats designed to eliminate plaque. I asked the new vet what changed so radically in 6 weeks. He said that different vets were going to have different opinions.
I continued asking questions. He seemed unfazed that I was voicing inconsistencies and raising concerns. I didn’t feel like a valued customer.
He started making arrangements as if we were proceeding with the teeth cleaning. I had to remind him I had not agreed to that. We completed the appointment and I left.
All it took was a little sincere empathy.
I asked around among my group of friends who had similar expectations of their vets. I found one and visited within days. She looked at Sydney’s mouth and went on to explain what was happening. Nearly immediately I heard, “Unfortunately, she is probably going to need all of her teeth pulled.”
I found myself able to hear this news from this vet, when I could not hear it from the other. In fact, this news was even worse. The other had mentioned a few extractions, but not all of her teeth. What was going on?
This vet started with the word, “unfortunately.” The vet’s manner and one word, expressed with sincerity, allowed me to hear the recommendation and move forward.
This vet also started sentences with things like, “I’m afraid that…” and “She will still be able to…” showing me she knew what was going on in my mind.
We tell people who we are with every breath we breathe. – Unknown.
Our ability to meet people where they are and understand their concerns affects our ability to influence.
Empathy. It’s tricky. It’s easy to shut down depending on what we face every day. What would it take to cultivate more? Like my new vet, we can move in the right direction starting with one sincere word.
A version of this post originally ran in on the Lead Change Group blog January 10, 2017.
Image credit: Pixabay/EgoAltere