I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Catholic Health Assembly, organized by the Catholic Health Association of the United States, for the first time last week. The underlying thought behind the conference is the concept being promoted by Pope Francis: a culture of encounter.
What is a culture of encounter?
The majority of attendees were hospital leaders, and from the caregivers perspective, it is about creating a patient experience that goes beyond the transactional to one that touches the patient's mind, body, and spirit. It is about having meaningful encounters or interactions with people, and caring for the whole person.
A couple days after the conference, I flew home to visit my family. On our hour-long drive home from the airport, we stopped at a Chick-fil-a off the highway for dinner. As we were finishing our meal, a young man came by to ask if he could refresh our beverages. He was young; I figured in high school, but more polite and engaging than many people I know who are senior to him. As he walked away to pick up a few things for us, my parents and I commented on how polite and professional Chick-fil-a associates are, regardless of the location. My curiousity piqued, I decided to ask this young man how they find people who exhibit these characteristics. He proceeded to share with us that it's all in the training process, and this spirit of hospitality and engagement is taught from day one. The most important, he shared, was the idea of the "core four", which are four basic ways to treat customers: eye contact, smile, posture, and create a connection. This behavior is reinforced in the culture and business practices, such as taking orders outside in the drive thru lane or using phrases like, "it would be my pleasure."
What this young man was doing, in a simple way, was connecting and "encountering" us during our meal. He made fast-food dining a memorable experience for the three of us on our journey home.
The concept of a "culture of encounter" extends beyond religious, healthcare, or even workplace bounds to our daily lives, and it has challenged me to find opportunities to connect with people in a more meaningful way. Rather than rushing from one activity to the next at work or on the weekends, I want to slow down and be present with someone in a personal way, if even for only a couple minutes. I can remember instances where I have been frustrated or worried, and the impact of someone taking the time to engage me for a few minutes made a positive impact on my mood and my day. Hopefully, I have the opportunity to pay it forward and do the same.