Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was clearly distracted? While you were talking, maybe they answered their phone, typed an email, interrupted you before you were finished or even refused to make eye contact. As you reflect on that conversation, how did that make you feel? Did you feel valued? Did you feel understood?
Listening, according to the dictionary, is “to hear with thoughtful attention.” I would enhance this definition to add that it means intentionally listening to what is being said, while seeking to understand the other person’s values, thoughts, and attitudes.
When we listen to our patients, we often are so rushed we don’t take the time to pay focused attention to what they are trying to tell us. But, guess what… Our patients need us to listen! They are frightened, anxious and often do not understand what is happening around them. By listening carefully and attentively, we gain their trust and are able to go beneath the surface to learn their concerns and fears. Then, we can develop an effective plan of care based on a complete understanding of their mental and physical states.
Reducing fear and anxiety in our patients and families opens the floodgates for healing. When their anxiety is lessened, patients have an increased capacity to hear their diagnoses and treatment plans and make more informed decisions about their care. For conscientious healthcare professionals, treating a patient without first listening to them is like a chef adding ingredients to a pan without knowing what dish they want to make. It’s not a recipe for a positive outcome.
I have six tips for healthcare professionals who want to enhance their listening IQ:
- Watch your nonverbal cues and body language. Make eye contact (unless there is a cultural reason not to), sit down with the patient instead of standing over them and don’t cross your arms.
- Pay attention to patients’ nonverbal cues, as well. Be sure to notice if they appear to be in pain or show any signs of anxiety.
- Do not multitask. If you need to write something down, let the patient know you will be taking notes to assure you accurately reflect what they are saying.
- Wait until the patient is finished speaking to respond. Do not interrupt or speak over the patient.
- Use appropriate touch if the patient seems upset. This conveys empathy to the patient and family members and also builds trust.
- Ask clarifying questions as necessary. This not only ensures you understand the full picture but also lets your patients know you are interested and are listening carefully.
Today, I challenge you to hold up the mirror. Are you a good listener? Do you really hear to understand or are you usually just waiting to respond? Be intentional about improving your listening skills in your work, home and social life, and you will grow and learn more than you can imagine.