I was approached recently to train medical staff how to give patients and family members bad news. I asked why this consortium of trainers thought I was a good choice for this. The answer: because I was an actor. I knew how to be someone else. Did I leave my body and my feelings behind? I probably would have accepted the training job under other circumstances, but I was under several doctors’ care for a serious matter myself coincidentally at the same time, and how those doctors related to me mattered.
In these types of cases, it’s not a matter of action or inaction. It’s not a matter of saying the right words, nor is it a matter of say words a certain way–like acting… Uh-oh. When training acting takes the place of empathy and more…saying something important or serious the politically correct way isn’t always best. There are serious times when it is imperative to understand the definition of acting is not pretending, not being someone else. It’s more than that.
Acting is about truth, honor, trust and integrity. What it is not about is “faking it” or “pretending;” that does no one any good. From an actor’s perspective, doing those things rarely end up in acting accolades; those that make acting about reality and true feelings do get the accolades, and they get them for honesty of portrayal.
So what has this to do with “empathy?” Empathy is truth–the way we like to hear it. Hear any bad news lately. I have, and I know some others who have. The doctors were straightforward and honest to answer fully whatever question I asked. But what about those questions, I was afraid to ask? You see I appreciate honesty; it get’s it over, but then I am left with burning questions that I’m afraid to ask, which may do more harm than good, and cause more pain in the long run.
The doctors need to see the questions I’m concerned about but not asking. Don’t worry, it’s not a mind reading trick, but a matter of perspective. Knowing your audience. Reading your audience. Look up from the clipboard. Another thing to learn besides acting.
I’m not sure if what I thought was right for me at the time was the right way to go; these doctors have the experience of other patients who may have wanted the same “truth” I did, but they would have to dig a little to find the alternative that was right for me. It’s not always what I want, nor is it what your patient wants. It’s what they need for treatment to be best affected.
We know treatment depends on mental state and the ability to tell our bodies to help even more. What if we can. A genuinely concerned and passionate doctor and an trainer to help achieve those aims, it is possible to achieve miracles.
But we have to be careful: trainers and clients alike.
Training is all the rage these days as the economy inches forward. I have always been a bit unusual in that I strike from a different place with the Cave Man. In an odd way, he is my muse. Inasmuch as I love theatre for various reasons to numerous to go through now, I still think it is essential in a job that conveys, not only information, but other traits that come from ourselves.
I am the guy who thinks “acting” is one way to help people get through to others, and believe it or not, in a most genuine fashion. There are different ways to teach “acting” and different definitions in the layman world, which I have argued. Also, acting has been, for the first time in its history, a sort of buzz word for helping others say the right things at the right time. Imagine, actors being politically correct.
Out of work actors can teach acting to non-actors. Be careful you don’t just get an actor, but someone who knows about real life and psychology. Perhaps there should be a certificate out there at least. I still think acting can be the trainer’s tool. It has it’s places, but it can’t be just about teaching acting or teaching others to act. Although it can be entertaining.
I say it myself and I mean it that it is a great way to find you. I still believe in know your audience, know your subject and know yourself.
This may be such a good thing if you can envision a bunch of insincere people giving you bad news. Think of the worst situation that may occur and a doctor is able to deliver that information with aplomb; he or she makes you feel good despite the bad. I came upon a class of Teaching Lawyers to Act and decided with the help of a colleague who actually sold the idea to to some lawyers and was able to give themselves help in talking with a jury, delivering depositions, negotiating contracts. Her methods are different than some of mine; I still think as a team we’d be terrific, but we’ve had trouble coordinating schedules, etc.
Helping people communicate better, however we do, is a good thing, and these groups that can do it are helping those who can’t for the most part. Nothing is better than saying the truth and saying it with caring. Actors are generally pretty good at portraying that, and believing it. Of sometimes they put on what is expected of them, but if they are good at their trade they are able to reach the actor within–the one that counts.
Theatre can be about games that loosen up the inner you–finding the client’s real you; however, there are different ways to do that. And that depends on the client and personalities of others involved. When I say, audience comes first, I mean it. The people who come into contact with you, who depend on you, are not there to be sold by you. They want the real you.
My way of working with non-actors is different. I don’t want them to change who they are and pretend to be someone else–even for a minute. I don’t want them to act. I work with them in such a way as the best of who they are to come out. We let them be who they are with honesty thrown in, and it works pretty well. Remember, the true cowboy never takes off his hat. Who really cares if he’s wearing the politically correct business suit if he makes you believe in him, in his company and his mission, which is you.
Knowing your subject is always best. Don’t try to fake it either, and remember, honesty in checking facts and getting more of the right information goes a long way toward credibility. As for yourself, discover what makes you passionate. You wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t that person–and if you are, think about another approach. Convey that passion to others and they will see you for what you are: a caring and compassionate individual.
All that reality is there, along with the positive character traits. You will share your reality with them, and by doing so, will be genuine and real, and their personality with come through as well. They will deal with you as a person, and you will appreciate the honesty and care that is given. It still is all about communication done well. Let’s get it done right as well.
A short blog burning inside. I received a phone call that made me think about training doctors to act or training acting to doctors. As always that sets me to writing. Along with empathy, let’s consider character, personality and we can help professionals achieve more than they dreamed, saying to a patient or a client, not only what they need to hear, but hear it in a way that sets them on the right mental track that cures them or helps them accept the news they didn’t want to hear at all.
Well, that’s my post to help put trainers who wish to do this sort of training on the right track or consider again if it isn’t you. It’s too important to screw up. People’s lives may be at stake.
Unusual also for me to write a blog on a Saturday, but I like to catch ’em while their hot on my mind. Just my usual disclaimer that these ideas are my own, seldom half baked but always in need of your comments and additions either on my website or here. The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development is out, and I am planning a couple more in the series. My novel, Harry’s Reality, is out and available wherever digital books are sold and is also available all downloads through Smashwords. It’s about what happens when we stop talking to each other on our own and let the machines tell us who we should talk to and what’s best for us. Not a totally cheery idea, although the novel is full of action and thought-provoking ideas.
One last thought just in case you wondering. I’m still happy to train actors, but I have become fascinated with the fact that others who don’t act need us, too. Happy Training.
For more resources about training, see the Training library.