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I'm a native English speaker, but I'm drawing a blank on how to describe this complicated exchange of situational emotions in words. Maybe someone can help. I'll just illustrate the situation with a narrative scene.

Two doctors examine a patient. "Have you been eating any protein-rich foods lately?" one of them asks.

"No," answers the patient. "No protein at all."

Their suspicion confirmed, the doctors looked at each other, nodding _____ly / nodding with _______.

What emotion am I looking to describe? I can picture the facial expression in my head, where the doctors aren't personally involved in the consequences of what's going on, feel somewhat sad about what the other person is going through, and yet understand that the consequences are justified based on the person's actions, all of which is shared between the two people who both come to this conclusion. In this case, they both know the patient should've been eating more protein so they wouldn't have this affliction, are somewhat apologetic that the patient didn't know this, but have some sympathy in explaining afterward that in order to stay healthy, one must consume protein.

Anyone know what words I'm trying to express?

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    Given the number of sentences it took to describe what you'e after, I think you're unlikely to find a single word to encapsulate it. Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 20:32
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    nodding knowingly could work there. The doctors share the "secret" knowledge of what is wrong.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 20:45
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    From your vignette, the exchange of glances is between doctors, not between doctor(s) and patient. So they wouldn't be showing sympathy when looking at each other. They're thinking, somebody's going to have to tell this dodo to eat some protein. Presumably it's the doctor, not the resident.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 20:47
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    From the last sentence of the long paragraph, I suggest they won't have been nodding in agreement, but shaking their heads in perplexity. "How the heck are we going to explain something he should have been told earlier?" Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 21:36
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    ...nodding in an I-knew-it way.
    – ermanen
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 4:38

3 Answers 3

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I suggest the emotion here is resignation.

resignedly adverb Oxford Learners Dictionaries
in a way that calmly accepts something unpleasant or difficult that you cannot change
‘The poor are always with us,’ she said resignedly.

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  • Their suspicion confirmed, the doctors looked at each other, nodding understandingly.

(SOED) understanding
3 Of a person, etc.: displaying sympathetic awareness or tolerance; of a forgiving nature. (Early 20th century)

(SOED) sympathetic
3a Of, characterized by, or expressive of sympathy or mutuality of feeling. (Late 17th century)

This adverb can be explained by the phrase "diplaying an expression that shows that they feel their awareness to be shared by the other".

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To convey their empathy feeling, the doctors are showing compassion.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
source

For a feeling that the situation was inevitable, consider fatalism.

Fatalism is a feeling that you cannot control events or prevent unpleasant things from happening.
source

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