Blog: How the sadness of a gorilla’s death, can help us understand the need for empathy instead of blame

With a training company focussed on health and social care, it may seem strange and surprising that today’s blog is focussed on a gorilla…Stay with me though, as whilst the story is about  a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla named Harambe, that lived in Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in the USA, the focus of this story is one of how we perceive situations that have a tragic element to them and search for someone to blame, rather than, as this reporter Mel Robbins (CNN) suggests in her article, and what forms the core basis of the training we offer….. we empathise instead.

For those unfamiliar with the story, a 3-year-old boy who climbed through a barrier at the Zoo and tumbled into the gorilla enclosure below. The gorilla, Harambe, dragged him (with some violence according to some of those who witnesses) through  the enclosure and he also appeared to take a protective guard stance over him. At one point, Harambe stood the boy up and pulled up his pants.

As stated by Mel in her article:

“This scene must have been shocking to witness as it unfolded. And it became even more terrible when the zoo officials made the only decision they could: to fatally shoot their beloved Harambe to protect the boy, who miraculously was unharmed.
boy falls into gorilla habitat pkg nr_00010114

In this 21st-century age of viral connectedness, all of us are processing a muted version of that same shock and fear. And now we are doing what we always do: Starting to point our fingers in judgment.
We start with the parents: Arrest them! Charge them! They are to blame! The mother, more than the father, of course! ‘What kind of parent allows herself to get momentarily distracted at the zoo, anyway?’ Come on! Because 3-year-olds always listen and they never dart away from their parents. So … the parents are responsible! They must be charged with some kind of crime — or at least publicly vilified for their stupidity!
While we’re at it, let’s blame the crowd, too. They were so busy filming the whole thing and screaming louder and louder — making a racket that witnesses say agitated Harambe. If they had just shut up, maybe things could have been different. So let’s round up the crowd, because everyone knows when a 3-year-old falls into a zoo enclosure, you should know exactly what to do: Stay calm and be quiet. Isn’t it obvious?
And then the zoo itself, of course, is to blame. They created the attraction in the first place, they have animals in captivity that belong in the wild, they have an enclosure a child can slip through, and they made the decision to shoot the gorilla instead of trying to tranquilize it”‘
The CNN reporter goes on to say that:
“The whole episode is sad — a child is safe, but another living being has died. What’s even more tragic is our insatiable need to find fault in everything that happens in life. In that regard, we are all at fault here.
What if instead of lawyering up and assigning blame like we always do, we take a step back in this instance and try a little empathy? The parents didn’t throw the kid into the enclosure, the crowd didn’t mean to agitate Harambe and the zoo didn’t want to have to kill him.”
So why is empathy important?
Carrie Menkle Meadow, who is a professor of law at UC Irvine School of Law from Georgetown University Law Center states that “empathy is necessary not only for emotional literacy at a personal level, but to be able to understand, feel, engage and act when in situations of conflict with others”. Empathy is something that not only forms the basis of our training for health and social care professionals in handling difficult conversations and situations, reducing conflict and looking after their own well-being, but was instrumental for me  when the obvious and expected thing for me to feel and do after the death of a child in hospital, was blame and become consumed with anger and even hate.
It wasn’t easy to not go down this almost expected and automatic route of blame, especially as I had felt and still do, that every chance to have saved this child was not taken. It wasn’t easy to not react with more anger at the hospitals dismissive and apathetic responses to me. But luckily for me, what I had, was years of counselling training and practice and self awareness, which propelled me down the route of, yes challenging those involved, but also looking beyond their behaviours (individually and organisationally) seeing the whole picture and empathising with them, empathising with those who almost felt like my enemy. But it transformed my thinking, slowly at first, but it took my mind away from blame and pure anger, to knowledge, (that I would not have gained without empathy) understanding and even wisdom.
I had to ask myself some very tough questions of myself and my perceived part in the events. I had to ask – and here’s the thing…answer honestly about what I was really trying to achieve.Then I had to analyse through the use of empathy, to get the optimum outcome out of such a devastating life event. Empathising was not the easy route, but the one that gave me the most measured, compassionate, informed outcome.
I expect, the somewhat traumatised parents of this little boy are now pulling apart every minute detail of their actions that day. The Zoo staff, who no doubt loved this majestic animal, that has lost his life, are asking lots of questions of themselves too. If I was one of the visitors, I would be asking whether I could have added to the panic. But we are all emotional beings and we will never be perfect. But one of our most powerful resources we have to manage and help with these imperfections, mistakes and sometimes accidents is to empathise with another.To feel what it might be like and then we stand a chance of responding in the best way possible. As this reporter puts it: “Try empathy — not blame”.
In gorilla's death, critics blame mother, Cincinnati Zoo

News: Affective Empathy in action: Dementia ‘pub’ and café open in Lancashire trust

A mock pub complete with beer pumps and a dartboard has been created by Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust to help patients with dementia feel at home and boost their wellbeing reports The Nursing Times

With my work being concerned with  training in the effective use of empathy and it’s role on psychological wellbeing, what a lovely story to report on a great example of ‘affective empathy. Empathy is more complicated than most people realise, in how we understand some one else and how we respond to them. How we protect ourselves and what erodes empathy and causes us as a species, hard wired to be empathic, to suppress this useful communication resource. The responsive part of empathy, known as ‘affective empathy’ is beautifully demonstrated in this story of a Lancashire Trust that has resonated and responded in actions to support the well-being of dementia patients.3010525_EastLancs_pub

As reported by The Nursing Times, the facility – named Iggy’s Bar – has been designed to look as much like a real pub as possible to create a familiar environment for dementia sufferers.

3010524_EastLancs_dementia_pubAt the same time, the trust also launched a traditional-style mock cafe – Maureen’s Cafe – with a counter, cake stands and outdoor seating.

Hospital staff hope the pub and cafe – both named after former patients – will help prompt conversation, keep people engaged and stimulate memories.

“The wards have worked closely with patients and carers to create a comforting and familiar environment for patients and their visitor to meet, socialise and talk,” said Sheila Kasaven, senior matron at The Harbour.

“We’re really excited by them and so are our service users. We hope they will play a positive role in helping reduce the stress of being in hospital,” she said.

The pub and cafe will be used for reminiscence therapy, which helps people with dementia make connections between the past and present and encourages communication and social skills.

Finally said the Nursing Times: The pub is sited in an enclosed garden area linked to the male ward, while the cafe is in an enclosed garden linked to the female ward. Both can accommodate about half a dozen people at a time.

So by looking into the world of dementia patients, imagining and here is the key…….responding well, this Trust has created something that will mean something in real human terms. A little normality maybe, in a world of constant loss for these people.

Congratulations to all involved with this endeavour and for a great example of the power of empathy. Of course, despite being female, having growing up in a pub, I may have to visit Iggy’s bar rather than Maureen’s cafe if I ever end up at this Lancashire Trust in years to come!! 

Original source: The Nursing Times

Relevant Courses on the use of empathy

Regional training days and locations click here

For testimonials click here

In House training click here

Using Empathy Effectively to Aid Communication

IDEAL FOR: The course is ideal for induction training, student nurses, nurses, matrons, clinical staff, advocacy staff, receptionists and all front-line health and social care professionals.

Using Empathy to Help Resolve Complaints

IDEAL FOR: PALS, Complaints Managers, and all healthcare and social care professionals aiming to improve how they approach sensitive conversations and not compromise investigations


Using Empathy to Handle Difficult Conversations in End of Life Care

IDEAL FOR: Clinicians, Nurses, Student Nurses and all healthcare staff working in End of life Care.



Using Mindfulness & Emotional Development to promote Staff Well-Being

IDEAL FOR: All health and social care staff, teachers, local government staff, managers or anyone likely to experience work related stress.


Using Empathy and Emotional Development Conference Subjects

IDEAL FOR: Complaints conferences, Nursing conferences, Nurse training, Information Governance conferences. Patient Safety/Experience conferences, Advocacy training.

News: Looking after nursing staff is the key to reducing turnover

Empathy, self awareness and emotionally focussed thinking from leaders and managers vitally important to strong mental health and reduced anxiety of workforce.

Looking after nursing staff is the key to reducing turnover, rather than pay, according to a nurse expert on healthcare regulation.

The Nursing Times 19 May 2016


“Evidence suggested that good line management was the most important factor in staff retention” said Ellen Armistead, deputy chief inspector of hospitals at the Care Quality Commission and the Nursing Times Directors Congress.


She went on to say: “There’s so much evidence that the reason you have high turnover isn’t that your neighbouring trust is paying a band higher, it’s whether people like being managed and feel safe in that team….You will keep staff if you look after staff, if you listen to staff,” she said. “All of your recruitment plan credibility has to be underpinned by what does line management look like, what is the leadership of that area and would I want to go and be part of that team.”

She acknowledged that nurse to patient ratios were “one part of the picture” in its assessments on whether staffing was safe, but suggested the CQC attached more importance to the “credibility” of plans for recruitment and retention, and the escalation of concerns.

“It’s how people feel empowered to escalate concerns when there are staffing issues – whether people are encouraged to report staffing as incidents,” she said.

“How do you actually produce a credible set of outcomes that mean something,” she asked. “A lot of data is gathered at ward level but in actual fact how often do you get a holistic picture of how well a patient was cared for – in some areas that’s really easy to do and in other areas it’s harder.”

Ms Armistead identified two areas where nurses could especially “contribute” as dealing with complaints and patient flow through hospitals.

“Most teams deal with complaints very well and we’re able to see complaints are discussed and used as examples of learning and have an impact on service change and delivery,” she said. “But sometimes that’s not always the case.”

“The thing that surprised me… was the difference within services within trusts, the difference from ward to ward, sometimes within the same directorate, and even between teams of nurses in the same ward,” she said.

Ms Armistead said that, generally, intensive care and critical care had “come out of our inspections quite positively”, it being unusual for them to be rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement”.

She suggested the reason was that mandated staffing level guidance and long-standing national standards were in place for critical care, and noted it was a “similar picture” for services for children and young people.

However, she said it was a “mixed picture” for end of life care and also maternity and gynaecology services. “Most units had taken on board the findings of [Dr Bill] Kirkup and done something about that, but we do see quite a lot of variety around safety,” she said.

She added that, despite other failings, trusts were nearly always rated as “good” for being caring. But she questioned whether there was room for improvement.

“The thing for me, as a nurse by background, is caring being ‘good’ is maybe not good enough and we should all really be striving for ‘outstanding’,” she said. “I think we need to start ramping it up a bit now.”

Ellen ArmisteadEllen Armistead

“Where we do see ‘outstanding’ on caring it is generally speaking where the whole multidisciplinary team has the same set of values,” she said. “It’s not just seen as the nurses’ job….One of the things I’m looking to do is to look at how we define caring and how we assess caring,” she told delegates, noting that she intended to review how the CQC rated trusts on being caring.

Original source:

Relevant courses:

1 Communication thumbnail

Using Empathy Effectively to Aid Communication

See dates and location here

INHOUSE training packages available: Contact



2 Complaints thumbnail

Using Empathy to Help Resolve Complaints

See dates and location here

INHOUSE training packages available: Contact

3 EofL thumbnailUsing Empathy to Handle Difficult Conversations in End of Life Care

See dates and location here

INHOUSE training packages available: Contact



4 Mindfulness thumbnailUsing Mindfulness & Emotional Development to promote Staff Well-Being

See dates and location here

INHOUSE training packages available: Contact

Blog: My 4 C’s: Conferences, Connections, Comedy and Care

“Their is nothing more exciting that meeting new people, hearing their stories and being inspired”


Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I, along with business partner Vanessa, attended the Nursing Times Directors Congress. It was the first time that we, C&C Empathy Training, had attended a conference in an exhibiting capacity. Normally my conference experiences are from presenting, which I love, so this was a new experience for us…and one, that exceeded our expectations.

We had become involved through the fabulous editor Jenni Middleton, who had attended one of taster training days on Using Empathy to Help Resolve Complaints that we had put on in March. We had spoken to her fabulous team and  decided this was the event for us. And on reflecting the next day of this big Nursing event, I have, not the 6C’s, but the 4C’s to describe my experience.

jenni.JPG#1 Conference: It was truly a great 2 days and Jenni, was an inspiring and funny chairperson.It included  excellent delegates, great other exhibitors and sponsors, amazing Nursing Times staff, professionalism, great content, a live video link to Jane Cummings launching the Leading Change  and even a football team somewhere in the hotel, (although unrelated to the actual congress and way to elusive for my liking and many of the females present I dare say). Vanessa and I spoke to some great Nurse Directors, we saw a wealth of experience and heard of the problems they face. We saw some we knew and some we didn’t and we interacted with the congress fully. After us both doing a gruelling Moonwalk the Saturday before, not only did it give us the chance to talk to people about our empathy training we do, it was the mental stimulation we needed to keep our minds off our poor aching legs!!

bigstock-Little-boy-playing-with-can-ph-38818474#2 Connections: I have mentioned the the delegate connections, but the other exhibitor connection also was inspiring. We didn’t get chance to speak to all of them in detail, but we spoke at length, sharing stories about our work and what drives our passion for it with Cayder who specialise in white boards to improve patient safety and with Kaplan who support Trusts with language challenges when English is not health professionals first language. The connection though that I describe was not so much a business connection, but one of connecting with each another on a human level; taking the time to know each other. Our work, which was very different, but all focussed on communication from some perspective, patient safety/experience and staff well-being did connected us, but was enhanced with connecting on a human level.

laughter-Pablo-Neruda.jpg#3 Comedy: My favourite pastime!! 🙂 What can I say, I am deep, reflective and sometimes very serious having had so much loss and grief in my life, but…. I am also a complete, self confessed nutter. I am the one who is known (and loved) by my friends as the ‘entertainment’, sometimes a little too often, as most of the jokes are at my expense!! Laughter however is my defence mechanism. Losing a child, as I have, is soul destroying. Living way beyond them is a destructive force sometimes. Being happy, laughing, being silly, smiling and seeing others at their best is quite simply, a life force to me. When it is absent for too long, I question why I have tried so hard to live. It is like my drug. When laughter is concentrated by many it is just lovely. Jenni’s humour as she chaired the event and that of her staff, was simply captivating to me. Delegates and exhibitors/sponsors too, who were engaging and sharing their personality with us, adding to this. The joy of sharing your personality and laughter with someone and not being judged (because they get you), but appreciated for it, is one of the greatest joys of life.

empathy.jpg#4 Care: And finally the last ‘C’ and one of the most important and is part of the nursing 6C’s – Care. During these days, I felt care for others and received it from others. I heard and saw some fascinating and touching personal stories, (which are not my right to share publicly), but I was privileged to experience. I shared my story, my losses and challenges and received care back ten fold.One exhibitor from Kwickscreen hugged me, unafraid to show me his compassion for the information I had just shared.  I know for sure that human stories are the most captivating and humbling stories that can ever be told ,things that mean something real to someone. Something that evokes empathy and in another. Something that demonstrates how strong people are, even when they don’t feel it and something that gives us the genuine ability to demonstrate you care. How you respond is one of the most powerful communications there is.

So my blog today about MY 4 C’s, is in way of thanking all those who have enhanced my life over the last 2 days – THANK YOU. To all those I shared the conference with, those who I connected with, those who were comical and caring and allowed me to be comical and caring back – THANK YOU.  In between all the hugely valuable and educative information, thank you for providing me and Vanessa with the opportunity to come back feeling like we had experienced this………

.people laughin


Blog: Moonwalk 2016: Empathy and high heels

moonwalkNever did I think I could walk 26 miles, but walk 26 miles I did (with my friend and business partner, Vanessa…through the streets of London….with our decorated bra’s showing…and with thousands of other women (and some men) to raise money and awareness for breast cancer.

It was a little bit of a personal challenge. But it was so much more than that. It was, for me, saying to anyone out there who has gone through cancer (any kind), or going through it now, you are not alone.

I have gone through an awful lot of loss and sadness in my life, but I have been so very lucky (so far) in so much as I have been very physically well. Watching my 15 year old daughter die from a painful illness and her biological mother die of cancer 11 years before, I have some idea. However I can still only imagine the challenges, pain and fear that you go though with cancer and its treatment. But maybe that is what I (we) should be doing….imagining.

We all are aware of the obvious affects of cancer, but are we aware of the the day to day things that someone with cancer goes though, probably not! And why is this? Well cancer is personal to everyone and needs empathy, understanding and support. Support for what that individual person deals with and needs, not what we think they deal with or need.

I won’t pretend this walk was easy, it wasn’t. I was in pain for a big part of it, as I am sure many were. But, what I and Vanessa kept telling ourselves, is this is nothing in comparison to what we imagine it might feel like to have breast cancer, and on top of that, the pain would be short lived. We used our empathy to do this. As did so many who achieved the challenge too.

medalSo this medal that I am of course very proud of, really is a reminder to me to keep empathising. To keep believing in the power of it and when we respond to our empathy, what can be achieved.To all those people who over the years have received one of these medals and raised millions of pounds in the process. shoes

As for me the day following Moonwalk 2016 I am proud to have shared such an event. I am glad to be good at empathy and I am VERY glad I am a woman so that I can legitimately wear high heels and I don’t have to try and put my poor left heel to the ground. Because…… it hurts!!!!!  WELL DONE TO ALL FELLOW MOONWALKERS , wherever you are, especially the 87 year old woman and 92 year old man!!!


News: Need for earlier end of life care discussions with non-cancer patients

Health and care staff are often failing to discuss end of life care needs “early enough” with patients with chronic progressive illnesses other than cancer, according to a major report by the CQC says The Nursing Times.

The Care Quality Commission noted that for conditions, such as advanced heart disease, respiratory disease and dementia, it could be difficult to know whether a patient was in the last year of life.

As a result, patients were not always being given appropriate care or the opportunity to make plans and choices with relatives about how and where they would prefer to be cared for and die, said the CQC.


It concluded that more needed to be done to provide truly personalised end of life care for all and to improve communication between healthcare staff and those who are dying, so that individual needs were always identified and addressed.

The CQC advised that early conversations should happen between staff and patients to help them make choices about their care at the appropriate time, and that there should be better coordination of services for those with multiple conditions or complex needs.

However, the CQC did highlight some examples of good and outstanding practice – such as where training projects had been set up to develop the skills of care home staff, and where local services had been developed to meet the end of life care needs of specific groups.

Overall, the CQC said that patients from certain groups in society were experiencing poorer quality care at the end of their lives than others, because providers and commissioners did not always understand or fully consider their specific needs.

The CQC called for action to ensure all patients had the same access to high quality, personalised care at the end of their lives, regardless of their diagnosis, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or social circumstances.

Professor Steve Field said:

“What is important is that everyone receives care based on their individual needs, delivered with compassion and sensitivity by staff with the right skills, and that there is regular and effective communication between staff and the dying person and their family,”


Original source:

Relevant training course


Using Empathy to Handle Difficult Conversations in End of Life Care

Description: This one-day course is designed specifically for who are likely to be delivering bad news or dealing with difficult and sensitive conversations and situations. The aim is to understand and develop key skills including empathy and strategies essential to improve empathic responses; these skills are based on proven protocols used to deliver bad news. Finally, a tool kit style check list will be provided to help Clinicians develop these skills.




Blog: Getting smart with Leadership: Time to celebrate honesty

“Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential for success in life honestya16– all areas of life. The really good news is that anyone can develop both honesty and integrity.” Zig Ziglar

What do you imagine in your mind when you think of what qualities are needed to be a leader? Well I can tell what I have always imagined. Someone who has the skill to be always objective and not clouded by emotion; that can be detached. Someone who does not use empathy as a key element of business, or at least does not demonstrate using ‘affective empathy’, (the kind that allows someone to respond appropriately when they have understood another world). Someone who is so committed and sure of the work they do, they are unfaltering in their execution of it, staying detached from consequences to others. Someone who is very confident and not analysing their decisions and emotions. In a tough, unemotional business world, you have to be like this to compete.  Oh boy, was I in trouble if I am to run my own own business, as these are attributes that I felt that I did not possess in any dominant form.

I am someone who has been governed by empathy, self-development and often what felt like the naïvety of  honesty for as long as I remember. This included being brutally honest with myself and often struggling to tolerate lack of honesty from others. But since embarking on my own training business and since understanding more acutely my purpose, my vision, how it is to be developed and how to make it successful and fulfilling, I have realised I was wrong in the image I had of a leader. What I had in my mind may have been a boss, but not a leader. I have started to realise that they are quite different. I had very preconceived belief systems, no doubt to do with my gender, age, upbringing and life experiences thus far.

On my journey, the great news for me has been that being a leader and indeed a smart leader possesses qualities and attitudes of honesty, empathy, motivation, kindness, honesty, vision, empowerment of self and of others and creativity. In fact James Kouzes and Barry Posner, who wrote The Leadership Challenge, state that being honest is a fundamental component of the 5 behaviours that are necessary for a good leader.

Working so much around the Duty of Candour which is focused on honesty, transparency and openness being a now statutory requirement within healthcare, this interests me greatly. With using honest, emotional reactions within the training our company delivers, we endeavour to emulate what we train – empathy and honesty. I find the fact the honesty is classed as a good attribute of a smart, strong leader, very motivating and reassuring.

In a survey (The Leadership Practices Inventory) carried out by Kousez and Posner over 20 years and asking over 75,000 people the seven top things people would admire and willingly to follow. Honesty came out top of the list. From this The Leadership challenge was created.

I know now that I have no yearning to be a boss, I wish to be a leader. Starting with being a smart leader of myself and celebrating my ‘naive’ honesty that is not so naive after all!

Kousez and Posner’s Model of Leadership 5 key practices:

Model the Way
Leaders establish principles concerning the way people should be treated and the way goals should be pursued.

Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference.They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Challenge the Process
Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization

Enable Others to Act
Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams…they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity

Encourage the Heart
Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. I They make people feel like heroes.

Original Source:

Read more about about me and my business partner Vanessa and the work we do here.