Tune In, Don’t Zone Out

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?

Having a

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.

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?  

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4 Comments on Tune In, Don’t Zone Out

  1. Lucy
    September 15, 2015 at 5:15 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi there
    I don’t know if you had a follow up meeting with your consultant after Hugo died but I’ve been invited to one about my daughter. I am wondering if you have been what sort of things you discussed? Currently I have no idea what to ask other than “what did I do wrong?” And “what exactly did you try and do to save my daughter’s life & why didn’t it work?”
    Any advice would be good – thankyou x

    Reply
    • Leigh
      September 16, 2015 at 6:57 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Lucy, do you mean your obstetric consultant or neonatal one? I had follow up meetings with both. With both, they answered all the questions I and my partner had, and explained things – why things were done, and why they were done in a certain time and certain way. Feel free to write questions down so you don’t forget. It can be pretty draining, so don’t plan to do too much afterwards. xx

      Reply
  2. Honest mum
    September 14, 2015 at 10:41 am (2 years ago)

    Such a powerful, wise post and you are so right, often people, me included do just listen to our interpretation of others’ words, I know I have to listen better, that my family are generally so loud, we always fight to be heard but I don’t want that to spill into my every day life or professional world. I want to be more mindful of that and this has inspired me. You were let down by that consultant because making his statement general not personal was hurtful and his words lacked demonstrable understanding. Front of line care workers and importantly doctors need greater training on communication. I heard so many flippant comments during my own issues in pregnancy and a lot of untruths too that made a lasting impact that reverberate today. I had to hold back tears mentioning that traumatic time during a speech at the weekend that caught me unaware. I know I say it always, but I am so sorry for you both losing Hugo and how you were treated too around that most difficult of times by so called professionals, much love x
    Honest mum recently posted…The Importance of Being More Tolerant and KindMy Profile

    Reply
    • Leigh
      September 14, 2015 at 5:24 pm (2 years ago)

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Vicki. I think we’ve all been guilty of not really listening at some point – there’s so much going on in our lives. I couldn’t agree more that health professionals need better communication training. I’m sorry to hear that you had flippant comments during your pregnancy, too – and they really do have an enduring impact don’t they? It’s something that needs greater appreciation. As you say, those experiences do come back and affect you even a long time afterwards. Thank you for your continued love and support, I really appreciate it. Lots of love to you xx

      Reply

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