Over the last couple weeks, I have been reading an excellent book called, “How to Listen so People Will Talk.” I saw this book at a local grocery store and got it because I wanted to find out how to be a better listener. To be clear, there is a difference between listening and hearing. If you look in the dictionary, hearing is “the faculty of perceiving sounds” while listening is “give one’s attention to a sound.” Basically, hearing is involuntary. We all hear things on a daily basis. However, listening is voluntary. We actively and intentionally focus on what is being put through the air.
Unfortunately, listening is becoming a lost art. It is especially sad to see it dying in health care. We are too busy and too distracted to sit down and actively listen to the patient and their worries, concerns, fears, or triumphs. This can lead to decreased patient satisfaction and potential errors. There are many times when I would have liked to sit down and listen to the patient talk about their problems, but it can be very difficult if you are being pulled in every direction. Therefore, I try and listen as often as I can whenever the chance arises.
Listening is a very powerful weapon. So why don’t we utilize it more often? One reason is because when we talk, we are the center of attention and in a place of power. Nobody likes giving up that power. It takes humility to actively listen and not interrupt. Another reason is we’ve traded listening and face-to-face for talking and face-to-screen. We no longer take into account the person as a whole. People feel more disconnected and alone even though we are more connected online.
So what’s the solution? First off, put down the smart phone, close the laptop and listen. Drink in every word of the person that is speaking. Even if there is a difference of opinion (whether slight or major), it pays to listen to understand. Many people say “hear me out,” however, after looking at the definitions, I think it better to say, “listen me out.”
Another key part is be active and present in listening. Try to keep your mind from wondering so you can better understand. If someone is revealing a problem that they have, resist the urge to come up with a solution. When someone wants the answer to a problem, they will ask for it. I’ve found that most of the time, people just want someone to listen to them. Not trying to toot my own horn, I’ve had friends come to me because they want someone to listen, and I listen intently. It’s very fulfilling to walk away from someone knowing that you helped them just by listening to them. Listening also strengthens relationships and further enhances trust between the two parties.
In nursing school, I was taught about therapeutic listening and conversation. That was a truly eye opening course. Growing up, I was always talking. Then, coming into nursing school, that lecture changed me. I gave up consistently talking, and gave more time to consistently listening. Occasionally, I can become a chatter-box, especially about things I’m passionate about. However, lending an ear to someone hurting, or someone needing to talk is very fulfilling. Do that, and you won’t regret it!
I leave you with a few powerful quotes that will make you think. Have a blessed day!
Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. The collective monologue is everyone talking and no one listening. – Stephen Covey
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. – Bryant H. McGill
When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new. – Dalai Lama
Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold, and expand. – Karl Menninger, American Psychologist