Having a difficult conversation with family is never easy, but using empathetic communication strategies can help. A session at the 2021 virtual conference for the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners offered guidance.
Although the hope is that trips to a pediatric health care provider will only be for well-child visits and good outcomes, the reality is that there will be times when a practitioner has to deliver difficult news. That’s when empathetic communication can make all the difference. The session, “Empathic Communication 101: How to Approach Difficult Conversations in Any Setting” was presented by Amy Hatton, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, CHPPN, at the 2021 virtual conference for the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners to address just those situations.
Hatton first discussed why empathic communication was important in providing care. She noted that many families and patients receive difficult news, which often provokes an emotional response. When delivering bad news, a health care provider might offer an onslaught of information, ignoring the emotional response the patient might be having, making it difficult for them to process what the health care provider is saying. It’s better, said Hatton, to give the patients some time to digest what was said, and acknowledge the array of feelings they might be going through. Hatton then briefly discussed 2 of the major models of communication: transmission, where one party is sending information to the other with little feedback from the recipient, and transactional, where all parties are both sending and receiving information during the interaction. The transactional model of communication is the one that will allow a clinician to provide empathetic care.
Then Hatton discussed what empathy is versus what it isn’t, citing understanding another person’s viewpoint and being nonjudgmental as hallmarks of empathy, while presenting silver linings or using the phrase “at least” are not empathy. She then described some acronyms that can be used as tools to provide empathetic care, such as the ones below.
When called on to discuss bad news with a patient or family, Hatton recommended thinking back to a time when you yourself were given bad news and ask yourself what was helpful, what wasn’t, how did you feel, and who was with you. In this instance, Hatton suggested remembering the acronym, SPIKES.
Hatton also offered some do’s and don'ts for giving bad news: