As the sun sets on another week, I've just finished doing two days of in-person communication skills training.
We were working with 60 doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff to teach them how to talk with patients and families after the patient has been seriously harmed by medical care.
These are extraordinarily difficult conversations, about life or death topics, often with millions of dollars at stake.
But the key to being successful in these situations is no different than it is when you are trying to comfort a friend or family member who is upset.
I can't boil two days of training into one brief email, but I can give you the most important advice I gave these folks. When someone is upset, name their feelings. Observe them, describe what you see. Do not ever tell them how to feel. Do not try to "make them feel better."
Comforting isn't something you do to a person. It's something you do with a person.
Simply be with them as they suffer. Notice them. Connect. There are many ways to do this, but the simplest way by far is to observe them carefully and name the feeling you think you observe.
The goal of a comforting conversation should be to understand as clearly and completely as you can the other person's emotional state. Invite them to elaborate. Paraphrase what you hear them saying. Don't talk about your own experience.
There's much more to say about this topic, and I'll write more about it and post some videos about it in the near future. In the meantime, try this with your kids, your parents, your friends, your spouse or partner, or your co-workers.
Let me know if it works for you.
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