When most people think of good communication skills, their minds go immediately to how they speak. While speaking is definitely an important part of communication, we can’t overlook the value of good listening. In healthcare, listening is vital to both good clinical outcomes and a good patient experience. The problem is that both providers and patients can enter into a conversation with their own personal agendas. Having a set agenda creates the potential to impede good listening. Here’s an example:
Bill walks into his appointment with a list of questions he wants answered. Dr. Jones walks into the exam room with test results he wants to discuss. Dr. Jones wants Bill to understand the clinical implications. Bill ticks off his list of questions (concerns) but instead of answering Bill’s questions, Dr. Jones begins addressing lab results that have nothing to do with Bill’s concerns. Bill waits his turn and goes back to his list of questions that have nothing to do with lab results. And on it goes with neither of them really listening nor feeling heard. Chances are good that both will leave the encounter feeling frustrated. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In the above scenario, both parties were prepared for the encounter, which is good. They both knew what they wanted to accomplish during the visit. The problem is that if neither one listened to the other, neither would achieve their objectives. Rewind to the same people with the same agendas, but with active listening added to the equation. It would go something like this:
Bill goes through his list of concerns while Dr. Jones makes direct eye contact, nods and leans in. When Bill is finished, Dr. Jones says something like, “Thank you Bill for being so organized for this appointment. All of those are great questions and I’ll do my best to answer each of them before you leave. Which one is most important to you? Let’s start with that one, then I’d like to share some important lab results with you. How does that sound?”