Empathy: The soft skill that gets hard results

Empathy has long been embedded in counselling practice and as such not always been given the credit as the powerful attribute it should. Along with the battle to get mental health taken seriously, despite overwhelming evidence, both for individuals psychological well-being, but the economic workforce of having people off ill when it all gets too much, empathy gets put on the back burner too. Yet, this ‘soft skill’ of empathy gets hard results.

Within medical settings, empathy positively impacts on patient satisfaction (meaning less complaints), better patient recall of medical information and less repeat visits to the GP, helping both the financial as well as the emotional aspect of care in the health system. It doesn’t stop there either, teachers see pupils with higher motivation and effort when empathy is used. And  Marshal Rosenburg, found with his work on Non Violent Communication, understanding the ‘needs’ of another is the key to conflict resolution, from personal relationships to war torn communities, with empathy being a key skill in hearing and understanding those needs. In study after study in leadership, empathy comes out as the number one skill to possess.

So this so called soft skill really impacts. But why? Well there are 100’s of studies on why and, a fair few out there discrediting them. However, working with the people I work with, primarily in the NHS but also other organisations, I often see people come in feeling a little defensive and burnt our, as they are often already feeling that they are empathic. But what they realise as they travel on a journey with me, connecting on a human level and dealing with some of the less comfortable emotions, is a comonality. As we together identify what empathy means to them and what it feels like when someone really listens and understands, what they identify as good for someone else, corresponds with what they would want also, often recognising when this has not been present and the positive impact when it has. Identifying, validation, compassion, understanding, time, to be seen and heard, to be valued, they realise it is not just about what is good for others, but what we all seek.

It is no coincidence that patient experience is better when the patient feels validated. That the pupil is more motivated knowing they are valued and understood. That conflict is less exacerbated when we can get to the emotional needs someone has. Staying consciously aware of the need for empathy, in organisations, to offer best practice and look after staff well being,  means putting empathy and emotional awareness higher up on the agenda, both culturally and individually. This is from leadership and throughout organisations, investing in it and in the hard results that can be gained from it.

Courses run by C&C Empathy Training and suitable for anyone working in the public sector.

A Journey Through Complaints Using Empathy

“Hospital Trusts must listen well to complaints” Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsmen, 17th August, 2017

‘Investigation teams must be compromised of staff who have the skills to apply the Duty of Candour compassionately, and the skills to support individuals at a time of complex bereavement’ CQC Learning Accountability and Candour.

Description: A one-day course ideal for those working with families raising an initial concern or following the official complaints procedure. Delegates will develop the confidence to handle such conversations with reasoned empathy, aiding honest investigations and preventing prolonged psychological harm (Duty of Candour). This course promotes staff mental health and well-being as well as patient focused communication. This course can be adapted for non health and social care professionals.

 “I would highly recommend this course to anyone working in the Complaints sector. The information conveyed on the day was invaluable to gaining a deeper understanding of the role of empathy in dealing with complaints. It also helped elicit a desire to connect more fully with those offering feedback on the service, and really understand their story”

Maddie Bettess, Complaints Manager, Barchester Healthcare

A Journey in Leadership Using Empathy

A multitude of skills are required and one of the most important skills is empathy. The 2015 Global Empathy Index identified that the top 10 businesses (among 160), that had effectively empathic leaders and managers generated 50% more net income per employee, than the bottom 10 businesses.

Description: This one-day course examines, in a unique, thought provoking and human way, the important role empathy and emotional awareness plays in inclusive leadership, staff well-being and productivity, and what erodes it. Delegates will develop an understanding of the psychology of emotionally focused thinking and outcomes and learn essential skills to understand and implement effective relationship focused work, underpinned with empathy and emotional development.


“Sometimes it is not the drugs, training, or skills – sometimes all you need is empathy to make a difference!”

A beautiful article published in The Telegraph tells of a paramedic in Queensland, Australia who used empathy to make more difference to a patients life that any drugs could do at that time. Enjoy reading this lovely article:

Screenshot (212)‘A touching photo of paramedics helping fulfil a dying woman’s final wish to see the ocean one last time has touched hearts around the world.

Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) paramedics went “above and beyond” to bring the palliative care patient, who was lying on a stretcher, to the beach.

The photo shows Queensland Advanced Care paramedic Graeme Cooper standing next to the woman, who passed away days later, looking out towards the picturesque Fraser Island from Hervey Bay.

“A crew were transporting a patient to the palliative care unit of the local hospital and the patient expressed that she just wished she could be at the beach again,” explained Hervey Bay officer-in-charge Helen Donaldson.

“Above and beyond, the crew took a small diversion to the awesome beach at Hervey Bay to give the patient this opportunity – tears were shed and the patient felt very happy.

“Sometimes it is not the drugs/training/skills – sometimes all you need is empathy to make a difference!”

Paramedic Danielle Kellan captured the touching moment and it was later shared on the QAS Facebook page where it has been shared more than 10,000 times.

The team told Daily Mail Australia they brought the patient to the beach for the first time two weeks ago as they were transporting her from the palliative care unit back home so she could be with her husband.

Ms Kellan said the photo was taken when they stopped at the beach for a second time on her final journey back to the palliative care unit.

“I said to the patient: ‘What are you thinking?’” she recalled. “And she said: ‘I’m at peace, everything is right’.”

The team’s kind actions have been praised on social media, one wrote: “As someone who recently lost a parent to cancer, this moved me to tears. Quite literally! Your compassion, your empathy – I can’t quite even put into words what amazingly beautiful people you are.”

Jen Boynton wrote: “This is absolutely beautiful! Such an amazing thing to do for that person. How beautiful that would [have] been to have a moment like that.”

Ms Donaldson praised the team’s “great work”, adding: “The service is very proud of you.”

original source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/23/paramedics-fulfil-dying-womans-final-wish-see-ocean-one-last/

For more about Carolyn: Carolyn Cleveland



Short Term Pain Vs Long Term Gain…Extract #1 from my book

Now Several chapters into my book, and already feeling like it is my companion coming back to life after many years of all those original diary entries being written 14 years ago. What kept me sane then, writing, analysing and feeling is being revisited by me as I look back, construct, cry sometimes, and connect it into my impassioned work today as founder of C&C Empathy Training

237339-Tony-Robbins-Quote-Remember-anything-you-want-that-s-valuableI have decided that I am going to write blogs with extracts from this book of mine, and here is the first one. As the title of this blog suggests, it is about how we sometimes have to face pain in order to have any peace further down the line. This extract is discussing this very subject that I battled with after losing a child in hospital and suddenly being in the extraordinary position of feeling full responsibility for a full account being heard by the coroner and the emotions I went through as it took its toll.

Book extract #1:

“So much of me wanted to be someone who could just let all this go and make it easier on myself, after all I didn’t even know if the coroner would even be interested in what I was compiling for him? But the truth was, I couldn’t just let it go. I had no real choice. I knew choosing not to do it would make it easier short term and my logic sometimes told me to do just that. Make it easier on yourself Carolyn. But that same logic as well as strong emotional fear, would say and where exactly do you think you will be at the end of it?

So, here was one of my dilemmas, would that ‘easier’ road lead me to a place of peace? Or, would it in fact take me to a place that would be the hardest destination of all, a soul in torment, defined for all time, for letting the truth die with my child. Conversely, as well as revealing a different version of events, would taking this harder, more soul-destroying road, ultimately lead me to a place that was gentler on my future existence?

By this, I was not thinking about heaven or hell after I died and my eternal soul. I was, at that time, almost past caring about that. What I was concerned with, was my life whilst I was still physically alive in this world. You see, since being 18, I had always been urged forward by my connection to this child and my need to be there for her as much as I was able. That feeling did not disappear when she died. It was just as strong and, whilst writing my version of her illness, as I have described, was soul destroying, caring for her was like oxygen to that very soul that had been so damaged. A life force that I needed. My soul, or my conscience as some may call it, or even just my ability to look at myself in the mirror and like who I saw staring back at me tormented me: Not wanting to look at my other children’s innocent faces that held such love for her and feel crippled with knowing that I didn’t stand up for their ‘big sis’, haunted me. It was that inner self who I feared for regardless of any afterlife. In truth, I wasn’t even sure I was going to survive this life at the time, let alone worry about the next one!

Following this difficult path and not avoiding it, was in fact, the only way I felt I might pain-is-real-hope-life-daily-quotes-sayings-picturesstand a chance of living the rest of my life and my children’s life, without going into total self-destruct mode. And so that was what I did. The decision made and almost out of my hands. All these years later, for all the doubts that I have had in my life, the one doubt that does not exist, is knowing that this course of action and travelling this painful road, led me to a destination that gave me peace. And once peace came, so did laughter, so did joy, and crucially so did hope. And hope is one of the best feelings in the world.”

‘If you keep hope alive, hope will keep you alive’

Cassandra Clare

Different Perspectives

2. Empathy helps open your mind.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft says that empathy does far more than just motivating you to volunteer or donate, (as an example) as it primarily opens your mind up to think more about other people’s perspectives.

This is my next piece on an article about Satya Nadella’s thoughts on empathy, as the CEO of Mircosoft. The first piece:

You Need To Embrace Empathy To Excel At Your Workplace And In Life

describes all of Satya’s 3 main benefits of empathy from a business perspective.

The second piece:

Who are we?

is where I start to look into each of them from my perspective, as someone who works with healthcare professionals (predominantly) to optimise their natural empathic attributes.

Today’s piece is about his Number 2 benefit as seen above: Empathy helps open your mind. 

Why is this, because I certainly advocate the same message in my training sessions.

When we do not empathise, we do not allow other people’s view points, perspectives, truths and therefore experiences to enter our consciousnesses. Sometimes, we struggle as our hard wiring is not set up to do that easily. However 98% of the population are hardwired to empathise, to a greater or lesser degree. We may struggle because we are not encouraged to do this in our workplace, or policy and procedure inhibits this ability. We may be struggling with what is happening in our own world and fear being overwhelmed?

c246840a6387d3708b60d27ea98b89bf (1)However, the more closed off we are to others perspectives, the smaller our world gets. But what is key here, is the emotional awareness aspect. Learning about our own biases and perspectives.

Understanding some of our fears and when we are reacting to those fears in an unhelpful way, enables us to know ourselves better. When we do that…recognise our emotional data and language…we are more able to recognise emotional language and data in others. But sometimes we can get stuck in our own thoughts, emotions and experiences. Empathy, which of course focuses on the perspectives and feelings of others, often through imagination, can enable us to grow personally by challenging our thoughts and views, understanding them better and developing what we need to also. We open our mind to look in a different direction and see a different perspective.

I very much wished to only see my perspective after I lost a child in hospital and wanted to feel very angry with the consultant and see him and his actions in a hateful way. Yet empathy helped me. It challenged me to try and see his perspective, what might it be like to be in his position and how might that feel? This did not equate in me agreeing with him, but I was able to acknowledge him as having a different set of feelings and perspectives, experiences and understanding than me. Empathy opened my mind to see 39ba2dbbeyond the initial picture. The difficulty of this process….and trust me…empathising with the clinician was not an easy task! But that difficult process pushed and challenged my mind and how I viewed things. It enabled me to not only see the perspective of the other person, but to understand my own perspective more clearly also. Win win!

Empathy was something that was not reciprocated to me by the hospital, but that in turn, gave me insight to the harm that can be done when empathy is not used. When emotional awareness both individually and culturally is not recognised as important or promoted. This struggle of both sides, 1) trying to exercise empathy and 2) being denied it, gave me a richer picture of the impact the presence or absence of empathy had on interactions, conflict, understanding and compassion. One that I am very grateful to have.

Email on carolyn@cc-et.co.uk




Who are we?

When Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in 2014 he recognised that….

“Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind, While I admired every member of our team, I felt that we needed to deepen our understanding of one another—to delve into what really makes each of us tick—and to connect our personal philosophies to our jobs.”

He emphasized on knowing each other a little bit more, then only can empathy exist and he stated that ‘Empathy improves teamwork’ as the first in his 3 benefits of empathy in successful business. All three stated in a previous article yesterday You Need To Embrace Empathy To Excel At Your Workplace And In Life in which I covered this interview with Satya and said that I would discuss each point in a little more detail. So, here are my thoughts on this first point.

Who are we?…..

This is always the title of any training day or workshop that I deliver, why? Well simply put, who we are is at the heart of all we do.

When people talk of organisations, they are made of people.

When people talk of families, they are made of people.

When people talk of groups, they are made up of people.

When people talk of teams, they too are made up of people.

People drive the world. They drive ideas and inventions. They drive both love and hate and they drive success and failure. Yet people, what makes you…the reader…you, and me…me, is very often overlooked.

Whether I am working with a hospital complaints teams, care home staff, clinical staff, leadership teams, or non-healthcare professionals, the beginning focus of the day Screenshot (196)is and should be who are we? In essence…getting to know you!

Who is that person sat next to you? Maybe the person you have worked with nearly every day for the past year. Or the person who you may have just met. So, the beginning of the day starts off with pairs of people exchanging a story about themselves that has had an impact on them, or something that has impacted on them in the last 7 days.

Almost without exception, about 70% will share something very personal and often about loss of some kind. Each time showing how much we often have going on in our own lives. They then will hear a story from me, a very personal, emotive narrative about the presence and absence of empathy. A story of loss, despair and hope. And within the first hour, we become a group of people, connected, by knowing something about each other that we didn’t an hour before.

And this in turn starts to build an important human connection between us. As Satya Nadella states, “we needed to deepen our understanding of one another—to delve into what really makes each of us tick”. So as we start to understand each other in the group, as colleagues in the workplace start to understand each other a little more, the opportunity is presented to build relationships and gain more cohesion in our work lives and personal lives. Using our empathy to support us in this.

But sometimes empathy gets a bad press about being bad for our health, and whilst I train in optimising our empathic abilities, I also would agree, yes it can,, if all we do is absorb ourselves in others emotions, without self-awareness and valuing our own well-being sufficiently at the same time. Something intrinsically connected to using empathy intelligently and well. When we look, however at how much damage happens to others in this world, by the lack of empathy, there is no doubt in my mind that it needs to exist.

As with many emotional reactions, understanding it and optimising it intelligently is key. Anyone who has been on a plane will be familiar with the advice over oxygen masks. Resist the temptation to assist and ‘rescue’ others until you have put your own oxygen mask on. It does not state, put your own oxygen mask on then simply ignore anyone else in need. More so, take care of yourself by taking responsibility for yourself, and then anyone less able to manage in this particular situation, support them. Be aware of them. Look, listen, see their perspective, and feel enough to respond.

So using our natural empathic abilities, along with our reasoning, intellect and sense of self is a skill set worth developing. Satya states that without empathy, something key is missing to drive forward a succesful business and work life.

Indeed, to not have room for empathy in work life and personal life, is to simply be putting on your oxygen mask and not looking around you at others. Not being interestes and having  with  an absence of wishing to understand. To me that equates in a more dangerous place to be, for our own well-being, professional and personal relationships and those we interact with. What Satya is proving through his success and is also recognised overwhelmingly in business research, is that empathy and getting to know others, is a key skill to have, develop and demonstrate. Without it, an organisation can be hollow and empty, small minded and detrimental to those working there.

So who are we? And getting to know people, as the first part of any training or workshop I do, is one of the most important and impactful part of the day.

Oh and a little cheesy music in the form of the wonderful Deborah Kerr singing from the King and I, gives us just the right start too! Go on….have a listen….you know you want to and…… get to know someone today!! 🙂

Email me on carolyn@cc-et.co.uk

Twitter: @carolynccet

For more about me and the empathy work I do..click here

News: According To Microsoft CEO, You Need To Embrace Empathy To Excel At Your Workplace And In Life

It has been almost three and a half years since Satya Nadella took the reins at Microsoft and during this period, a lot has changed both inside and outside Microsoft.

Under his leadership, Microsoft stopped trying to go head-to-head with Apple and Android devices. It narrowed down its focus on areas where it could shine, like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

his recent talk with Bloomberg accompanied with the launch of his new business-book-slash-memoir, Hit Refresh, he recounts how, as a new CEO, he came to realize that the company’s recent stumbles weren’t due to failures of intellect, but of cultural cohesion.

In a recent blog post on LinkedIn, he emphasized on the power of empathy quoting, “I hope readers see the book’s main takeaway as the power of taking everyday action driven by empathy.”

to the Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, there are very beautiful lessons which could be learned from practicing empathy at your workplace and in your life as well.

As Nadella writes, “Hitting refresh is required for any person and organization looking to make a sustained impact over a long period of time.” He further added, “Ideas excite me. Empathy grounds and centers me”

1. Empathy improves teamwork.

When he became CEO in 2014 he saw, “Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind, While I admired every member of our team, I felt that we needed to deepen our understanding of one another—to delve into what really makes each of us tick—and to connect our personal philosophies to our jobs.” He emphasized on knowing each other a little bit more, then only can empathy exist.

2. Empathy helps open your mind.

Nadella says empathy does far more than just motivating you to volunteer or donate, as it primarily opens your mind up to think more about other people’s perspectives.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview he said, “The business we are in is to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers, and there’s no way you’re going to do that well without having empathy and curiosity.” He also acknowledged that he didn’t realize just how important empathy was until his son was born with cerebral palsy. It was an experience that led him to better understand why being able to see things from somebody else’s perspective is so important.

3. Empathy helps you admit mistakes and move on.

If you remember he took over Microsoft right after it bought Nokia’s phone business for more than $7 billion. It was an investment plenty of tech analysts have argued was a bad idea. Under Nadella, Microsoft stopped repeating that mistake and shifted its focus in areas like cloud computing and AI.

That one of the perfect example of learning to admit your mistakes even after being counted as one of the leading tech giants. With the help of empathy, they carved their own new path to success.

Bill Gates says:  Gates said, “It was no surprise to me that once Nadella became Microsoft’s CEO, he immediately put his mark on the company. As the title of this book implies, he didn’t completely break with the past when you hit refresh on your browser, some of what’s on the page stays the same.”

CarolynMy thoughts:

I will admit, I did not recognise the name Satya Nadella. I am far from an I.T expert!

I mean, I love my mobile phone….in fact I LOVE my mobile phone and I love the connection it gives me to people I care about and the world beyond my mind. But I did not recognise Satya Nadella’s name, as I do not follow Microsoft. But, this news story came up on my empathy news search, and I found his outlook, both resonated with me personally and professionally.

Working in the emotional aspect of healthcare and with my background of counselling, again, I could not be further from I.T. However I was interested on Satya’s take of empathy in business – a large business. I was not disappointed. Interested however to read that his interest in empathy developed when his son was born with Cerebral Palsy.

This is not a surprise for me as when something like that rocks your world, it makes you aware of the impact of how others treat you and indeed how they know and perceive you. Something I experienced ten fold after losing my child in hospital and recognising both the absence and presence of empathy, as I went through a brutal system to have her voice, and mine heard and the truth represented.

It’s exactly why I do what I do with my empathy training and my Journey Through Complaints Using Empathy, one of my training programmes. Working to help support staff to not only recognise the needs of others, but to understand themselves too and promote their own well-being in the process of promoting the well-being of others, is one of the most amazing jobs in the world.

I am going to write more about each of Satya’s 3 points on empathy this week and explore in a little more detail from the perspective of what I do. For now, his Hit Refresh book sounds like something to go on my reading list and will inspire me as I work on my own, long awaited book. Thank you Satya.

More about me and my work can be seen here

Carolyn Cleveland – Empathy Envoy
Twitter: @carolynccet

News: Rob Behrens (PHSO) speaks on BBC News about hospitals empowering nurses and clinicians to listen carefully to concerns.

Rob Behrens,Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman, speaking on BBC Breakfast News today (17th August, 2017), about complaints said:

“Hospitals need to listen and respond to concerns before that become complaints. Unfortunately practices in the NHS are not consistent in this way”.

Screenshot (186)He went on to say:

“When things go wrong it is incredibly important to listen to those concerned”.

Following the PHSO research on elderly people in hospital and raising concerns, he said:

“Hospitals have to find a way to enable nurses, who do a tremendous job for the NHS, and clinicians to listen carefully to patients so they can act when something is a concern rather than a complaint.”

Finally he said: “I am determined to there will be a change but not confident, on the basis of past record, that progress is going to be quick. It is incumbent upon hospitals, regulators and the Ombudsman to work together to make sure that situation changes quickly”.

Original source (1 hr, 12 minutes in)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0916hl3/breakfast-17082017#

For support to reach these objectives, this thought-provoking and empowering course: A Journey Through Complaints Using Empathy is running on 26th October at Stevenage and 5th December, Milton Keynes. Click on the title for full details of the day.

A selection of comments from the feedback forms:

  • Amazing, Loved it, A fascinating insight. Would highly recommend
  • Very informative and thought-provoking. Very relevant as well
  • I found it a really powerful session, which made me reflect on how processes and systems can block empathy and also how we sometimes think we are listening to someone but we really are not
  • Very powerful message – will always remember
  • I hung onto every word as it was relevant, important and well presented. The points touched upon will help me as I support individuals and families to obtain answers to questions regarding care and treatment of their loved ones.
  • Very different with real impact
  • Thoughtful personal experiences delivered sensitively
  • Very powerful, emotive day. Very well presented and delivered professionally
  • Content was meaningful as it was real
  • Truly one of the best training days I have ever attended that has had a deep impact on me and how I view things
  • The most insightful, engaging and inspirational communications course I have ever attended
  • Very thought-provoking with strong links to my own work. The use of such moving and unique experience was enhanced by uplifting and humorous content