Don't just hear; listen to what patient says
By Sandra Lee Breisch
Do you hear, but not listen to your patients? If so, your failure to listen and communicate clearly and effectively might result in your being "off-target" on your diagnosis.
So believes Madelyn Burley-Allen, PhD, an expert in the area of listening and interpersonal communication who has conducted thousands of seminars, authored several books on the topic and is the founder of Dynamics of Human Behavior in Wimberley, Texas.
"Listening is a highly selective and subjective process," explains Burley-Allen. "Effective listening involves being attentive and aware, and the application of listening techniques such as summarizing or repeating what has been said. For effective listening, physicians need to know the difference between focussed and unfocussed listening. Improving communication skills with an emphasis on listening is critical for physicians to effectively diagnose patients problems. Otherwise, physicians might be off-target in their diagnosis."
Burley-Allen points to research that shows that the listening efficiency of most people is about 35 percent and it is less when the listener is under stress or is distracted.
She points out that "no two people have exactly the same meaning for a word or expression" because they "filter them through varied beliefs, knowledge, cultural upbringing, education and experience. Meanings are not in wordsmeanings are in people."
It is "critical" for physicians "to examine" their own listening patterns and "become aware" of the barriers and filters that prevent them from listening properly, she stresses.
"However, since most of us have never had formal listening training in our school systems and rarely in our medical practice environment, it is not unusual for physicians to ineffectively communicate with their patients," points out Jeffrey Tobe, CSP, a consultant for Business Strategies in Pittsburgh, Pa. He conducts creativity workshops for various companies and groups, including the BONES Society.
To help you become an effective listener and communicator, Tobe offers seven communication techniques: