Preaching the virtues of listening is a double-edged sword. It is one of the most important skills on can possess and translatable across language and culture. At the same time, listening is a virtual unicorn in our fast-paced, multi-tasking society. Let’s get practical with 3 steps to improving your listening now.
- Quiet Your Environment
This should be pretty straight forward, but I can’t tell you how often I’ve personally observed important customer conversations happening in the middle of a busy office. Of course, these conversations happened with the best of intentions – organic and spontaneous in nature, the customer asks a question and the clinician responds in the moment leaving the conversation at the surface level without digging deeper. Confession: I’ve been the clinician in this scenario
Exercise: As a matter of practice, take the time to routinely (weekly or every other week) to check in with your customers in a quiet space free from other noise and interruption.
- Quiet Your Mind
Controlling environmental noise is one thing, quieting the noise in your own mind is an entirely different beast. The sheer number of demands in a day – other customers, documentation, needs of staff/colleagues, needs of your home – is often overwhelming and always growing. While society has extolled the virtues of multi-tasking, our relationships, including clinical & customer relationships have deteriorated. I’m not claiming causation, but the correlation cannot be denied.
Exercise: Practice your listening skills. #1) Aim for 2-3 minutes of complete silence listening to every breath you take. #2) In the coffee shop (or any public space), close your eyes and try to identify by sound, how many different conversations are happening around you. You’re working to parse sound & channels.
- Make Your Goal: “That’s Right.”
You are excited to help and serve your customer. That is a good thing. In that excitement, though, we often subconsciously try to anticipate customer questions and answer them. We do this at the expense of asking questions and seeking clarity.
Exercise: When your customer is done relaying their story, start with the words, “Let me make sure I’m hearing you correctly.” Briefly summarize what you heard. Wait. You’re waiting for the customer to independently say, “That’s right.” Be careful not to add the leading question, “Is that right?” to the end of your summary. This creates the potential for agreement rather than affirmation. The tiny psychological step that takes place with your customer independently assesses and confirms your summary turns into a giant leap of empowerment ending with that customer being heard, possibly for the first time in a healthcare setting.
Practice these three simple exercises and be sure to let me know how it goes for you. Keep in touch through the comments below, our facebook page (www.facebook.com/thevoiceofthepatient) or through Twitter (@DReedPT or @ZachRStearns).