Doctor Neha: Today I’m with Elizabeth. She’s a nurse practitioner and she has some communication questions that she’d like to ask. As always, I want to applaud anyone who’s willing to do their own learning in a way that they can share those learnings with others. Thank you, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: You’re welcome.
Doctor Neha: What are you thinking about, what question?
Elizabeth: When I see a client, a patient, for the first time, I have a set amount of time in which to get a whole lot of information. In that visit, not only do I want information, but I also want to connect with them so they feel like I heard their story, I understand why they’re there, I get what their problem is and I know why they’re coming to see me.
However, I feel a pressure to get the information. I’ve got this thing going on inside where I kind of want to rush them, but I want it to seem relaxed. So it’s a tension, and I find that I say things that aren’t really authentic. I have these little phrases that I always say, like, “Oh, that’s interesting” or say things in the same way. It’s a habit. It’s not authentic. Then I feel like I have not really connected.
Now, some of these people know this, but a lot of times they don’t because they’re in their own story. But I know it, and then I start to feel like I’m not good enough in my connection. I’m not good enough in creating a different kind of experience. They’ve come to see me because they want a different experience than what they’ve had in the past.
Doctor Neha: Wow, first of all, thank you for your honesty. It’s almost like you’re describing a tug-of-war. There’s the part of you that’s the scientist and the healer who knows that there’s data you need in order to help someone’s physical health. Then there’s the other part of you that is why you went into health care, which is your huge heart. You want to connect with them, but you’re feeling the time pressure of “doing it right” and staying within the time limits—because then you’re going to have somebody else waiting. All of those concerns are coming from a great place.
The misconception I think people have is that communicating clearly and connecting to somebody else requires more time. I actually believe it doesn’t take more time; it just takes our focus and presence. If I’m truly listening to you, what I would have said as I just heard what you just told me is, “Wow, Elizabeth I hear how compassionate and interested in connection you are. I also hear how much you value doing it right and being efficient.” Is that true?
Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s true.
Doctor Neha: Now, the way that I listened to you and the way that I spoke back to you, did that take a lot of time?
Elizabeth: No, it didn’t.
Doctor Neha: Not at all! But what it required was that I not only listen to the words you’re saying, but that I’m also so present and focused in my attention that I heard the emotions that were underneath what you said and heard what you valued. Right?
Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s true.
Doctor Neha: Now, I totally understand how overwhelming it is in a medical practice to try to gather the right information. That’s the part of us that doesn’t want to miss anything and doesn’t want to get it wrong. When that trumps our desire to connect to someone, we lose the connection. Then you feel inauthentic. Can we talk about that for a minute?
Doctor Neha: What does it feel like in your body when you know you’ve just been inauthentic? If someone leaves your office and you think, Ugh, I don’t think I connected to them.
Elizabeth: I feel kind of vacant and empty.
Doctor Neha: And you pointed to your heart/upper chest area.
Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s like a kind of a hole.
Doctor Neha: So even if you get all the data right, you know that the part that’s going to give you meaning in your work is the other important piece.
Elizabeth: Right, absolutely.
Doctor Neha: The inauthentic piece is when you’re making a short-term decision. You’re thinking. I’ve got to get through this, I’ve got to get through this, and you’re in your head. But you’re leaving your heart out. You’re doing rather than being.
In those moments when you feel yourself doing that and you feel that vacancy in your chest, hit the pause button, and “take two.” Say to the patient, “You know what, I was really focused on getting all the data down for you, and I’m not sure I really was able to connect in the way that I want to.”
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s a good idea.
Doctor Neha: Because what is that? The truth! Then you just say, “Hey, can you say that to me again, and let me make sure I heard you.”
Elizabeth: That would be easy.
Doctor Neha: It’s simple. The key to connecting authentically is just to say what’s happening for you.
Elizabeth: I tend not to say what’s really happening for me. I tend to think it’s not my turn to talk. It’s the patient’s turn to talk, and I’m just here to listen. My experience becomes less valuable, but that’s the part that shifts me out of inauthenticity.
Doctor Neha: I love how you owned that just now. Because at some point in your life, you didn’t feel heard. Is that true?
Elizabeth: Yeah, sure.
Doctor Neha: So if you find yourself in that dynamic again and you call it out, it dissolves. It’s kind of like the monster under the bed. There’s a scary big monster under the bed until you get the courage to get out of the bed and turn on the lights—then all you see is dust bunnies.
It’s the same thing. At that moment when you lean into discomfort (which is short-lived), that is the moment that you actually create authentic connection. Because if you’re feeling it, they’re feeling it, too.
Elizabeth: And people do respond. That’s what I love about authenticity and why I can feel when it’s missing—because it feels so good to go into that place. Like you said, even though I have to go over that hump of discomfort, then it goes into a place of [relief].
Doctor Neha: It’s about whether you want short-term discomfort or long-term discomfort. You get to choose. Because if you deal with it in that moment, you build that connection and you feel good as they walk out the door.
If you don’t do it, you find yourself wondering, “Oh, God, I wonder what they thought? I wonder if they felt connected? I wonder if they’re going to come back again?” It’s long-term pain.
So in the authentic-inauthentic game, I always say, “Choose you.” Choose the truth. Is that helpful?
Elizabeth: Yeah, very helpful. Thank you so much.
Doctor Neha: So if you ever find yourself in a situation similar to Elizabeth, where you know you’re showing up in a certain way with competing intentions—you know you’ve got to accomplish something but you’re disconnecting from the person across from you in order to do it—remember that you can do both. If you learn how to do a “take two”—because everything is renegotiable—I want you to try it. Lean into the momentary discomfort and see how it changes the outcome.
Your Awareness Prescription
Take Two Tool
Pause and notice your body’s physical signals (heart racing, tight muscles, stomach turning, etc.) that tell you that you feel inauthentic or have checked out.
Take a “Take Two”. Say something like, “I’m sorry. I was thinking of something else. Can you repeat that again? I’d like to make sure I heard you.”
Focus on and tune in to not just the words someone is saying, but also the underlying emotion and what they value.