The One Sure-Fire Way To Fail As A Communicator

Do you want to research how to be a good communicator?  Good luck, because Google has over 2.5 billion hits!  Do you want to narrow it down to just books?  Prepare to be equally disillusioned because there are about 120 million books on the subject!  How do you sift through this vast field of information and find the one thing you need to be a good communicator?  You don’t, because there is not one thing that will make you a good communicator.  But, there is something that you need in order to effectively communicate.  Without it, you will definitely fail as a communicator.  It’s listening.

No, I’m not talking about sitting quietly while someone else is speaking.  That’s not listening, that is just being polite.  Listening involves being part of the conversation and being present with the speaker.  In short, it’s active.

One of the greatest complaints people have about their relationships is that one or both participants do not listen.  Husbands do not understand their wives because they do not listen.  Kids get into trouble because they do not listen.  Patients complain that their caregivers lack compassion because they’re jerks…and because they do not listen.   If you want to be a better spouse, family member, and especially a better caregiver then you must become an active listener. 

Listening is one of those skills that most people think they do well but rarely do.  Again, it’s not about being silent.  You can be quiet and not listen.  You can daydream, tap away on your phone, or wait for the moment when it is your chance to say what’s on your mind.  But active listening involves more. 

Listening involves active intention.  It involves being silent and being intentional about discovering what has been said.  Listening clarifies, synthesizes, and summarizes information for the listener and speaker.  For caregivers, listening is an essential piece in developing trust and showing compassion with patients.

3 Steps To Active Listening

Active listening involves 3 steps.  These three simple steps can be implemented immediately in caregiving or any setting.  To remember them, follow your G.P.S.

  1. Good Questions.  When a patient is speaking let them know you’re listening by asking good questions.  How long has this been going on?  What do you want to happen?  What do you not want to happen?  Good questions help gather important information.  They deal with the facts and help the caregiver understand what the patient is saying.
  2. Paraphrase.  Paraphrasing is the technique of using key words from the speaker in short pithy phrases that helps synthesize what the speaker is saying.  The benefit of this technique is it builds trust quickly between the patient and the caregiver.  Also, it clarifies not only what the patient said but what the caregiver heard.  Ex:  So you’re saying that…
  3. Summarize.  This technique brings everything together.  Essentially, it is a long paraphrase.  It helps the patient and the caregiver understand the big idea of the story.  Ex:  What I am hearing you say is…

Why Listening is Essential To Healthcare

In healthcare, trust used to be assumed.  Now, because of past abuses, complex medical technology, and the exponential rise in fees, trust has to be earned.  Trust is earned by respecting the patient and offering a space and opportunity to share.  Listening can do that.  Building trust involves conveying the message that the patient is more important than the caregiver.

Helpful Tips To Improve Listening Skills

Although the above steps are easy to implement, they are difficult to master.  Active listening is a skill that takes practice and time to learn.  But there are some tips that can expedite the process.

  • Word Clues – Look for words that patients repeat or emphasize.  There is a reason they use them.  I am reminded of the wonderful scene in the movie Princess Bride between Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) where Vizzini repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” causing Montoya to say, “You keep on using that word.  I do not think that word means what you think it means?”
  • Practice With Friends – Practice active listening with family and friends.  It is a great way to improve the skill, and I promise you it will make you a better spouse and friend.

Passive listening is easy.  Active listening is difficult.  Passive listening is polite.  Active listening is powerful.  Make the move to prevent failing as a communicator and practice active listening.  Your patients will have better outcomes, and you will be a better caregiver. 

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