Picking Up on People’s Needs

Sheela Raja, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and a blogger for the Huffington Post. She is regularly featured on national television networks, including CNN/HLN, ABC and WGN-9 Chicago. She’s a wonderful and extremely knowledgable person, and we were fortunate to meet while speaking to the same audience of more than 4,200 managers earlier this year. Today, I am very happy to be able to have a similar experience in sharing my Red Shoes stage with her. Please enjoy the great perspective of my friend Sheela in her entry below.

Sheela_Raja_AuthorWhat do a physician, a manager, and a teacher have in common? Quite a lot, it turns out.

I’m a clinical psychologist, and I spend a lot of my time working in healthcare settings. I’m passionate about training healthcare professionals on the importance of communication and connection with their patients. Yes, in some ways, you could say I’m training them to give each of their patients a “red shoes” experience—in a system where it’s easy to lose the perspective of your patient. Similarly, I consult for corporations on how employees can better connect with their customers and how managers can better connect with their employees. See a pattern here?

Lately, I’ve enjoyed reading Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. It’s full of great insights about how each of us, in industries as varied as education, healthcare, finance, and manufacturing can use the power of our own personalities to persuade, interact, and truly connect with others. Research across industries suggests that to be really good at what we do, we have to allow ourselves to feel empathy for the other person (our customer, our patient, our employee)—meaning we have to let ourselves understand their emotion. And just as important, we have to take the perspective of the other person, allowing ourselves to see things from their point of view.

Like any other skill, empathy and “perspective taking” require practice, practice, and more practice. But when it’s done well, the results are amazing. Let me give you two examples from two very different industries:

Empathy on an Airboat

Recently, I went to Florida with my family. We decided to take an airboat ride to truly experience the coastline. My 6-year-old daughter was extremely nervous. We aren’t a particularly outdoorsy family and the thought of seeing alligators was both thrilling and terrifying! The boat operator immediately sensed my daughter’s unease. He drove the boat slowly at first, offering her sunglasses and earphones to shield her from the wind and noise. As she grew more comfortable, he stopped and picked up shells and flowers for her.


He kept us out on the boat a half an hour longer than scheduled because once my daughter warmed up to the experience, she loved looking at the alligators, the plants, the birds.... I still keep a shell from that boat ride on my desk. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to know someone well to pick up on their needs and give them amazing customer service.

A Caring Cardiologist

My other example is more serious. A friend of mine recently had to visit a cardiologist. Thankfully, it turned out that it was nothing too serious, but she was very worried about the appointment. When the doctor walked into the office, she broke down into tears—tears of worry and anxiety. She worried about what might happen to her kids if her health was failing her. When she apologized to the doctor, he said, “It’s perfectly ok. This is scary. My wife had some health scares when our kids were young. I get it.” By acknowledging my friend’s emotions, the doctor did a great job of calming her down. Then, they were able to talk about the test results and the treatment plan. It’s incredible how those few words of connection mean so much to someone, particularly when they might be at their most vulnerable.

Empathy and “perspective taking” are nothing short of profound. They can help us win the loyalty of our customers, patients, or students. But more importantly, these skills help us to know we’ve genuinely made someone’s day better—maybe even improved their life in some way. I still smile when I think about healthcare providers who have really connected with their patients. And I still smile when I think about that wonderful airboat ride in Florida. It’s all good, and it’s all really important.