I spent the first part of January working on a presentation for a local hospital. I was invited by a department manager to speak to her team of dedicated caregiving professionals who specialize in pediatrics.
The manager is, deservedly, very proud of her team. However, recent satisfaction surveys suggested some families felt the staff wasn’t as sensitive or empathetic as they had hoped. While the manager knows that is not how her team feels, she thought an in-service on empathy might be beneficial.
I was humbled to be standing in a room with these people. They support children and families at a terrifying point on life’s journey. Each and every day, they bear witness to, and have a hand in, miraculous recoveries. So much so, that it can actually become routine and their role in these miracles rote.
I shared anecdotes from my professional life in healthcare administration and from my personal life, including days as a patient and countless more as patient advocate.
My goal was to encourage them to step outside of themselves for a moment and consider how they are perceived by those they are serving.
Take, for example, the time I was having a diagnostic test on my back, and two of the medical staff involved in the procedure talked the entire time trying to convince the third guy why he should be on Facebook. Finally, through tears I snarled, “Listen, I get that you do this everyday, but it isn’t everyday that I have a huge dye-filled needle shoved into my spine, so if you could at least pretend that this is your singular focus right now, I would be really (expletive) grateful.”
I made the point that perception is something medical professionals constantly have to manage, especially if the stress felt by patients or families leaves them easily open to misinterpretation.
I am pretty sure the staff liked my speech. They stopped looking at their phones and reacted in ways I knew they were listening, which was success enough for me.
But then the weirdest thing happened…every conversation I had that day had me going back to the same theme. I found myself offering advice, or a cautionary point of view, that encouraged people to not lose sight of the big picture by allowing their responsibilities to become merely rote performance.
First, it was a phone call with people who were about to conduct a real estate closing with a very nervous buyer.
Did they remember what is “just another day at the office” for real estate professionals involves the single largest financial transaction most individuals will make in their lifetime?
Second, it was a conversation with an attorney I ran into at a bagel shop who said, “Do you know how many cases like that crossed my desk this month?”
Ok, but, she hasn’t lost sight of the fact that each case in her daily pipeline centers around a person and family whose entire future hangs in the balance, right?
Third, it was a mass I attended said by I priest I’ve never met before. To say he was efficient was an understatement. He zoomed through mass so quickly that it was hard to keep up.
Catholics believe the Consecration is the most solemn part of the mass where God actually becomes present though the Eucharist. I’m all for brevity, but it seems like something that miraculous should take a little longer than the wait at Starbucks every morning.
Wow. It all seemed so clear to me. I had a message to share with people. They must slow down, take stock of their gifts and focus more clearly on those with whom those gifts are shared.
And that’s when it happened…
The pillar of judgment upon which I stood came toppling down.
Ok, it wasn’t a pillar so much as a curb I slipped off, landing on my holier-than-thou derrière as I was running out of my Dad’s nursing home to grab carry-out for dinner with my daughter.
I needed this message more than anyone. All the relationships in my life were being diminished to things I check off on a “to do” list. I was losing sight of the beauty held in every moment of opportunity by reducing them to tasks.
I realized I need to stop giving advice and start taking it, so I went home and pulled these words right out of my speech and thought about all the relationships in my life.
What non-verbal messages do I send when stretched for time, distracted or exasperated from answering the same question for what seems like the jillionth time?
How do I perceive myself in this relationship? Because that is going to have the most significant impact on how others perceive me. Am I acting as a tireless advocate? A compassionate teacher? An empathetic companion on an exhausting journey?
How do I manage distractions? Being fully present in the moment is critical to strengthening my relationships.
Am I an active listener? It’s a key component in every relationship we share—as spouse, parent, sibling or friend. And active listening is just that…listening. Legitimizing someone’s concerns and fears by simply listening, fully and completely, without judgment or counterpoint.
I need to work on all of these…as mother, daughter, sister and friend.
Today’s “to do” list might look the same as yesterday’s, but I will approach it with a fresh set of eyes because who knows what might be added to tomorrow’s…or, for that matter, taken away.