Empathy is key to meaningful dialogue, expert says


Published: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 4:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 4:52 p.m.

Most of us are familiar with the saying, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." If you're a doctor, abiding by that cliche can be the difference between a lawsuit or not.

Facts

Four keys to healthy communication

Here are four standard elements of healthy, non-verbal behavior, according to Dr. David Wolf's lecture:

1. Sit squarely
2. Open body position
3. Lean forward slightly
4. Make comfortable eye contact

Facts

Want to know more?

For more information about courses at the Satvatove Institute: www.satvatove.com/ or contact Dr. Wolf directly at davidbwolf@satvatove.com

According to Dr. David Wolf, a social worker and the founder of the Alachua-based Satvatove Institute dedicated to spiritually based transformative communication for self-realization, studies have shown that doctors who express more empathy toward patients have less litigation.

"The empathetic response is the most effective response to create meaningful dialogue," Wolf told an audience at the Health Professions Nursing Pharmacy (HPNP) building on the University of Florida campus Thursday night.

Furthermore, oncologists with good communication skills have more accurate patient diagnoses and better outcomes, studies have shown, Wolf said. But good non-verbal communication skills are, of course, critical for anyone — not just doctors.

For the general population, only 7 percent of what we communicate is with the words we say, and more than half of what we say is non-verbal, Wolf said.

To put these statistics to the test, Wolf had the audience Thursday night engage in partnered exercises in which one person displayed poor listening skills, such as checking their mobile phone, yawning or looking away as the other person talked.

"What are we doing to each other out there? What sorts of resentments and low self-esteem are we building?" Wolf said.

In the second exercise, the listener was engaged with the speaker, and the partner speaking felt more validated. They had created what Wolf calls "an interpersonal space," in which the two people felt open enough with each other to genuinely share.

And this is the essence of empathy, Wolf added, not to be confused with sympathy or agreeing with another person — but simply opening yourself up to understanding where the other person is coming from.

"Genuine dialogue means I don't express what I think until you're convinced I've understood 100 percent of what you've said," Wolf said. "In most charged situations, all we want is to be understood."

And that dynamic allows for a certain amount of growth for both people, which is where the spiritual part of empathy comes in.

"Growth means I have the courage to get out of my comfort zone," Wolf said.

Dharm Khalsa of Gainesville said the skills he learned at Wolf's workshops — which Wolf conducts throughout the world and among various professional groups — helped save Khalsa's third marriage.

"Prior to taking the course, I was creating another failed marriage," Khalsa, 49, said.

Khalsa's wife and teenage daughter from his second marriage were competing for his attention, and he got stretched thinly trying to please them both.

After Khalsa took a couple of workshops at the Satvatove Institute (the name combines the Sanskrit and Hebrew words for goodness), Khalsa recognized a repeating pattern of behavior with roots in his childhood, in which he tried to please everyone.

In workshops focused on communication in relationships and with himself, he learned how to assert himself and start saying no.

"It was a lot like learning to ride a bike or play a guitar: It wasn't natural at first," Khalsa said. "It took a lot of patience with myself."

But once Khalsa started to tell people no, "the world didn't fall apart," he said. "It wasn't that traumatic."

On the contrary, people seemed more respectful of him. When Khalsa's daughter asked him if she could do "unschooling," a holistic philosophy of education that doesn't involve a traditional school curriculum — and he said no — she rebelled in words only briefly, but her body language told him she was more relaxed, Khalsa said.

Now, his wife and daughter get along great with each other and with him.

"It's so radically different than it was before," Khalsa said.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top