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Superstar listening




It may not always feel like it, but you’re already a superstar listener. Ward staff are the Mozarts of really tuning into what patients are expressing and needing. The following are simply refresher tips. Even Mozart needed to get his piano tuned regularly.


Q.1 List 3 things you do to show you’re really listening to someone:


  • Showing it with your face – looking interested, concerned, etc. Even if we are not really interested, appropriately changing our body language can affect our feelings and how we appear to others. There’s a great Ted Talk on YouTube illustrating how simply changing our posture can have an immediate, dramatic effect on how confident we feel and how others regard us.
  • Showing it with your body – sometimes nodding your head, leaning towards the person, gently touching them on their arm
  • Leaning against the wall or bed locker to show you’re not in a hurry
  • Putting down the charts/medical/nursing notes you’re carrying to suggest you’re not rushing off
  • Showing it with your voice – by making those small ‘yes, I’m following what you’re saying noises’ like “uh-huh”, “hmm”, etc..
  • Showing it by checking you’ve understood them, e.g. by saying “Can I just check that I’ve completely got what you’re saying. Do you mean….?” This one’s really important – when you’re super-busy it’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick.



Q.2 What sorts of things make it hard to listen to people?

  • Distractions in the room, e.g. other people, noise from TV or radio
  • An uncomfortable place to sit and chat. Or worse, no place to sit
  • Being in the middle of a busy ward with no privacy. In the absence of sound-proofed curtains it’s often worrying that the patient will say something they don’t want others to hear
  • Concern that if you spend time listening to patients, other staff will be very critical of you and think you’re not working
  • Worrying the patient will break down and you might not know how to handle that
  • Distractions in your head, e.g. worrying about your kids, thinking about your next holiday, the cat smelling strange, or general daydreaming
  • Assuming there’s a ‘right’ thing to say but you don’t know what it is
  • Worrying about saying the wrong thing, especially if it might upset or anger the patient
  • Knowing you can’t solve their problem so feeling it’s best to avoid it
  • The pressure of work and time
  • Making assumptions – especially negative ones – about what the patient is like, and not hearing what they say which conflicts with your assumptions
  • Worrying that the patient will ask you if they’ll get better – and you know they may not
  • Rehearsing what you’re going to say rather than listening to what the patient is saying
  • Hearing the patient talk about things that you can’t believe are really happening, e.g. that the TV is instructing them
  • Having a strong personal response to what the patient is saying because of similar difficult or traumatic experiences you’ve had, e.g. a bereavement


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