The sharing of a very insightful post led to an interesting discussion on Twitter last night. The essence of the post was about listening, and connections, and I particularly liked an analogy comparing listening to making sure a radio is properly tuned in.
We need to tune in, and don’t zone out.
While the art of genuine, active listening applies to all walks of life, the conversation we had on Twitter last night was about conversations in health care.
A key example of my own experience is that on the day Hugo died, after we had been given the news that there was no more hope for our son we sat in a room with two doctors about the options we had. I was sat there sobbing my heart out, not wanting to have anything to do with such awful decisions, and crying that I felt so terribly guilty with the sense I had failed Hugo.
One of the doctors, a consultant said all mothers feel guilty. I’m sure they do, but it felt rather dismissive. That consultant may, sadly, have sat in the same room on many previous occasions having a very similar conversation with other parents, they might have thought they had ‘heard it all’ but for us it was the first (and hopefully) only time.
I am not every mother. I am me. That does not make me more or less special than anyone else. It just means that I, just like every other individual in the world needs a little bit of consideration towards my individual needs.
I have no doubt the doctor did not mean to be unkind, and any hurt was entirely unintentional. But that knowledge does not erase the hurt.
Strangely, health care professionals have very little communication training, and even less about communicating difficult decisions and end of life care. Most try their absolute best to communicate well – but considering that so many complaints about health care derive from communication issues, surely it is time to give it the focus it deserves?
When we have a conversation most of us most of the time do our best to listen, whether out of genuine interest or politeness. No matter how hard we try, your ability to truly listen might be distracted by thoughts of a meeting you have just been to, or the next task on your endless to-do list. You might be thinking you are hungry, or need the loo – or lots of other things.
When I trained to be a coach it made me realise how difficult true listening really is. During our training we did exercises to test things like: Are you really listening to what the other person is saying? Are you listening to their words, not your interpretation of them? Are you truly tuned in to what the other person is saying or do you zone out thinking of any of the other countless things going on in your life that are all competing for your attention?
Of course we all do this. It doesn’t make you a bad person. We’re all imperfect. The point is to stop and pause and ask yourself whether you are really actively listening.
There are a couple of simple things you can do to maintain your focus (tune in), and make sure you are actively listening:
- Reflect back to the other person what you think they have said. It can help avoid assumptions and misunderstandings.
- Summarise in a brief precis what the other person has said, using some of their own words and phrases.
It’s not to police every conversation, take the fun or flow out of it. It is to develop truly meaningful conversation, as opposed to one person speaking then the other person waiting their turn to reply.
Effective communication – communication that is kind, compassionate, empathetic and considerate of the individuals’ needs is vital in healthcare.
Effective communication can lead to better patient experiences and outcomes.
Psychological and emotional needs are interconnected with physiological and physical needs.
So let’s have a better focus on communication.
@leighakendall @johnwalsh88 @flowepower66 @HeartMummy yes. Compassion is free and can be shown in minutes impact lasts much longer
— ✨EmmaJaneSasaru✨ (@ESasaruNHS) September 12, 2015
We humans beings are complex there is so much going on in our brains – our hopes, fears, expectations and experiences can all colour our ability to actively listen, and listen without judgement.
Yet for all those complexities, we share in common a simple need to be understood, valued, included, listened to.
Listening properly costs nothing, but has a huge impact.
The next time you are having a conversation (in whatever environment) ask yourself: am I tuning in, or am I zoning out?