Blog – 3 Things you need to know about empathy and complaints

Complaint-rubber-stampSo you have another complex, difficult complaint to deal with? Difficult emotions to handle? Investigation processes and procedures to manage? What possible use does empathy have to do with it………………….not much right ??


Empathy is a commonly used word, but it is an attribute that is all too often misunderstood, mismanaged or underused.

Working on such complex issues that arise in healthcare complaints, the capability to recognise and appreciate another person’s experience from their perspective is an incredibly powerful communication tool.

Psychiatrist Alberta Szalita From Columbia University states that ’empathy is consideration of another person’s feelings and readiness to respond’

So as complaints managers, doctors, nurses, head of departments and board members, how might empathy and emotional development, used effectively, help with complaints? Well ….


Someone bringing a complaint or concern to you, is wishing for you to understand things from their frame of reference – their experience.rG-57-Columns-2

Think about when you have been having conflict with a spouse, sibling, work colleague, department store. Raising a concern or bringing a complaint? Are you representing YOUR experience of the situation…or theirs? Are you wishing for them to at least try and understand YOUR experience, or just dismiss it in favour of their truth? What fuels your frustration. We will all have our own frame of reference.

Using empathy effectively helps open your eyes to the often strong feelings present.

Using empathy helps you to STOP and IMAGINE what someone is feeling. What frame of reference are they coming from? What therefore, might they need!


All too often the case with health and social care complaints, the issue can be very emotive and complex, often involving loss and grief. So….


Validate their experience 

expand-jung01Carl Yung the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology States that ‘Loneliness is not the absence of being surrounded by people, but being with people and not being able to express what is important to you’.

As a bereaved mum who has been through the NHS complaints system, I know first had the prolonged psychological harm that lack of empathy and the suppression of my experience, opposed to validating it and mine and my child’s life does.

Using empathy helps you to powerfully communicate with the person bringing the complaint. This demonstrates that what they say has real value and meaning. It shows that you not only you need to listen for an accurate and meaningful investigative process, but you care about listening.


 YOU are empowered to respond more personally, and protect your well-being too.


Many people feel that being more empathic, will lead to emotional burn out. But medical and neuroscience research shows that, it is not the developing and effectively using empathy with healthcare that leads to this. Moreso not having sufficient understanding and insight into our own emotions, reactions and management of these things. Skills in self awareness leads to personal growth and better overall well being. This in turn enables our empathy for others to be developed rather than depleted, which happens when we are stressed.

Using empathy and emotional development enables professionals to be better able to support and work in partnership with those raising a complaint.

Using empathy and emotional development supports professionals to observe, feel and understand, but not to take the emotion on themselves.

Want to find out more?

For staff training  on ‘Using Empathy to Help Resolve Complaints’ suitable for PALS, Complaints and patient experience teams and front line staff Email me on:   Call on:     07541 98 949

C&C Empathy Training have regional courses on:

See dates and locations here

See testimonials here

See recent feedback here



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