“Thinned-out interactions made empathy harder to access.” News: Scientific American

Scientific American, article by Jamil Zaki


I’ve been saying this for awhile. Important communications are best had in-person. Meetings 1:1, meetings with groups IN PERSON. What percent of emotional communications occur through BODY LANGUAGE versus TONE OF VOICE versus THE ACTUAL WORDS?

  • Body Language: 50%
  • Tone of Voice: 40%
  • Actual Words: 10%

Sure, you can dispute the evidence, as some have, but I find the ratio to be about right. In my medical practice, and also in our Informatics work with the Electronic Health Record, that if we consider in-person conversations the gold standard, that telephone conversations (where the body language disappears) are a risky way to have an effective conversation and to diagnose the patient (leaving aside the inability to do a physical exam).

Worse yet, having patients use MyChart, or at UCHealth “My Health Connection” online patient portal, drives use to communicate using ACTUAL WORDS, without the benefit of Tone of Voice or of Body Language. And, as you can see from the percentages above, this allows much greater opportunity for misunderstanding. For example, can you imagine how the following statement might be misunderstood?

I’m sorry that your father passed away.

I’m “sorry” that your father passed away.

I’m sorry that YOUR father passed away.

I’M SORRY that your father passed away.

Tone of voice and body language USED TO BE how we communicated such difficult emotion. Now, we are only left with words. And, if we are NOT SKILLED with the wordcraft (as many of us are not, were never trained, some of us can’t even really manage a keyboard effectively), what chance do we have of being understood?

CMIO’s take? I love the quote above, will say it again.

Thinned out interactions make empathy harder to access.

Jamil Zaki

It is so true. What am I going to do about this? What are YOU going to do about this?

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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