Monday, June 4, 2012

How do we connect in a meaningful way?

Imagine all those conversations that Queen Elizabeth II will be having over these few days of Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  As the pharmacists I worked with in Riga this week were wondering: how does one connect in a meaningful way when time is limited and you have a queue of people waiting to talk to you? 

The difference between the two I would suspect,  is that the people lining up in the pharmacies are there, often because of deeply personal and sensitive matters; they want the ‘leader’ (in this instance, the pharmacist) to initiate the conversation about their health problem and help them solve it.

Like many of us, pharmacists do not get extensive training on building empathic relationships or how to communicate. When they do, the results are transformational in terms of patient satisfaction, treatment results and compliance1. 

We know it ourselves. When we communicate effectively in our personal and professional lives, we are more connected, fulfilled and successful.

Whilst I do not believe there is a magic formula, I offer 5 tips for enhancing the likelihood of making a real connection (even with people you don’t know) and getting to the crux of the matter when time is limited and stakes are high:

  Centre yourself and bring your full attention to the person in front of you  (undivided attention – we all thrive on it. As opposed to continuous partial attention which Ludwig and Kabat-Zinn2 identify as adversely affecting the health care system overall and I would suggest wider society)

  Try to ‘get in the other person’s shoes' and see the situation from their perspective

  Ask open questions and disclose/inform appropriately (balance ask-tell)

  Listen deeply (drawing on one study3, giving people 90 seconds uninterrupted talking time at the start of ‘an interview’ is fundamental to build trust)

  Be optimistic (goes without saying don’t you think?)

Admittedly also useful for networking events and speed-dating.


    1. Lonie, J.M. (2006),  From counting and pouring to caring: The empathic developmental process of community pharmacists, Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, 2(4), 439-457
    2. Ludwig, D.S and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008) Mindfulness in Medicine, JAMA, 300(11),1350-1352.
    3. Langewitz, W., Denz, M., Keller.A., Kiss, A.,Rüttimann, S. and Wössmer, B. (2002) “Spontaneous talking time at start of consultation in outpatient clinic: cohort study”, British Medical Journal, 325, 682-683.

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