Good day, team.
Right before the end of last year, I wrote a challenge titled “The Importance of Emotional Connection.” The piece focused on my experience with the surgeon and other healthcare providers when I had nose surgery right before this past Thanksgiving. This week’s challenge offers a follow-up to that piece as well as an important lesson.
You may recall that my doctor’s lack of attempt to emotionally connect with me made my surgery doubly difficult. And it wasn’t just his inability but also the lack of effort made by the nurses and other health professionals to make any sincere connection with me. When we work with others in any capacity, I think it’s important to make an effort to emotionally connect, even if it’s only to make eye contact or to ask how they’re doing. Without this connection, it’s difficult to establish trust, and without trust, it’s difficult for people to work together. In my view, it’s what my doctor needed to do to be really successful. If he continued to leave the heart out of his interactions with his patients, he wouldn’t become the compassionate healer that most of us desire in our health professionals.
Here’s how I put it in the challenge:
“For Dr. Han to really be successful, he will need to spend some time working on his emotional intelligence. He will need to learn how to connect with his patients so that he has a better understanding of how they are feeling. I don’t recommend that his empathy get in the way of his expertise but taking time to actually see the person he is treating will help him be a better doctor, a more compassionate healer and a more intuitive human being.”
Last week, I went back to see my doctor for my eight-week, follow-up appointment. As I sat in the waiting room, I prepared myself for the same experience I ‘d had at my previous visits to see him. I knew what would happen: I would walk into the examining room and wait for the doctor to come in. He would enter the room, probably shake my hand, not look me in the eye, shine a light up my nose, make some comments about my recovery, give me advice about what to do next and be gone. “It will be exactly the same,” I thought, “and probably even worse since I’m doing fine and he’s pretty much done with me. No emotional connection whatsoever. Oh well. His loss. If he doesn’t care enough to really be attentive to me or to authentically inquire about how I’m doing, too bad for him.” As I walked to the examining room, I thought, “This time I’m ready for his cold, dispassionate approach.”
And then he walked into the room.
“Hi Kathleen,” he said with a huge smile on his face. He looked me right in the eyes, walked over to me and held out his hand. As he shook my hand, his other hand reached over and patted me on the shoulder, “How are you doing? I mean, you look great … still a little swollen, but that nose is healing really well. What do you think?” Frankly, I almost fell off the stool. Was this the same guy? The cold, uncaring surgeon I had experienced was suddenly transformed into a happy, caring, approachable guy who seemed sincerely interested in what my experience had been. How could this be? I had him pegged, and now he was being just the opposite of what I had defined him to be.
Our appointment was as different this time as you could ever imagine. He asked me great questions. He listened to me and never took his eyes away from mine when I spoke. He seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing. At the end of our appointment, I believed him when he said, “I’m so glad you’re breathing better, and this is working for you. I don’t feel successful unless my patients are really happy with their results.”
As I walked out of the doctor’s office that day, I realized I had just learned a great lesson. If we’re so quick to define people by our first experiences with them, we run the risk of not noticing that they are more than that. If we put them in a box and label it “unable to emotionally connect and therefore, deficient,” as I did with my doctor, we might just leave them in that box. Then if they exhibit a different kind of behavior that’s outside of that box, we don’t see it.
By putting my doctor in a box and labeling him, I end up losing the most. My doctor is still what he is. If I only see him the way I initially defined him, then I’m the one who’s actually trapped in a box — a box labeled, “narrow-minded.” If I can’t see that he’s actually more than what my first impressions revealed, then I miss out and my narrow opinions stay intact.
This week, notice the thoughts and feelings you have about others. Are you convinced that they’re a particular way because that’s been your only experience of them? Do you believe that’s the only way they’ll ever be? Are you unable to see that most people have lots of different behaviors and states of mind and heart, depending on their day, their stress level, their own experiences? What would you need to do to be able to look at someone anew?
The irony of the situation with my surgeon was not lost on me. By being so quick to define my doctor as lacking in emotional intelligence, I lacked the ability to see him differently and ran the risk of shutting down my own emotional intelligence in the process.
This week, try seeing your co-workers, friends and family members with an open mind and heart. Try not to keep them in small boxes with big labels convincing you that your opinions and observations are correct. Think about how frustrating it is when you’ve worked hard to change some of your own behaviors and others don’t recognize those changes. How does it make you feel when you know someone judges and then labels you as being only one way when you know you’re capable of being many ways, depending on the situation?
Fortunately, my doctor shocked me with his friendly, warm and emotionally connected behavior last week. That shock woke me up and helped me to respond to him in the moment, rather than only seeing him as I saw him before. As my mother used to say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” I used to think she told me that because it would be unfair to the person I was judging. Now, I know that the person who really loses in that situation is me. By judging the book by its cover, you never open the book to read it — and that’s where the real story begins.
Have a good week!
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