Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Deepening connections: takeaways from David Brooks’ “How to Know a Person” 


Healthcare professionals can enhance their connections with patients and coworkers by truly understanding others. Looking beyond the surface, cultivating empathy, and mastering the art of paying attention can help clinicians build deeper relationships. 

In his latest book, “How to Know a Person,” David Brooks argues that a crucial skill in our lives is woefully underdeveloped: the ability to truly understand and connect with others. The book emphasizes the profound impact of seeing someone “deeply and making them feel seen.” This concept, of accurately knowing another person and ensuring they feel valued, heard, and understood, lies at the heart of healthy relationships, families, organizations, and even society. 


Brooks weaves together insights from psychology, neuroscience, theater, philosophy, and history to create an engaging guide. This tapestry empowers us to become more understanding individuals, a skill particularly valuable for healthcare professionals who navigate complex relationships with patients and colleagues. Here are three key takeaways from the book that can significantly enhance connections: 


1. Look beyond the surface.

First impressions are tempting shortcuts, but Brooks urges us to move past them and superficial judgments. Delve into a patient’s story. What are their passions, motivations, and the experiences that shaped them? Understanding these deeper aspects can unlock a more holistic view of the patient’s health and well-being.  


2. Walk in another’s shoes: cultivate empathy.

Brooks positions empathy as the cornerstone of genuine connection. In healthcare, this translates to seeing the world through the patient’s eyes. What are their fears, anxieties, and hopes? By understanding their perspective, the healthcare professional can build stronger bonds, fostering trust and a more collaborative approach to treatment. 


3. The art of paying attention.

True attentiveness requires dedication and effort. Brooks emphasizes the importance of active listening, a skill that goes beyond simply hearing someone speak. It includes asking thoughtful questions to clarify and understand the nuances of their experience. This goes beyond simply being physically present in the room; it’s about being fully engaged and present in the conversation. 


“How to Know a Person” goes beyond these three points, offering a comprehensive guide to developing the skills and practices necessary for meaningful human connection. It highlights the importance of empathy, attention, and a genuine interest in understanding the complexities of others. In the healthcare field, these skills can transform interactions from transactional encounters to moments of genuine connection, fostering better patient outcomes and creating a meaningful career. 










This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.