How many times have you been in a situation where you said or thought, “If this person would just listen to what I’m saying…”?  My husband spent countless hours on the phone this week trying to sort out issues with our new cable and internet service provider.  He was so frustrated with the customer service individuals who were obviously scripted and simply repeating the same phrases over and over instead of truly listening to what he needed.  This experience really made me think about how well healthcare providers, especially nurses and physicians, listen to our customers.

In the realm of healthcare, not actively listening and effectively communicating with customers could literally mean life or death.  Some of the best advice I received as a new nurse and words of wisdom I pass along to this day is always listen to the patient and their loved ones.   How many times have you heard things like, “Mom just isn’t right today,” or “This pain is concerning and no one can tell us what is causing it,” or the worst “I feel like I’m going to die”?  How many times have you tried to be reassuring but thought to yourself that the patient or family member just has a lot of anxiety?  How many times have they been correct?  I have experienced  many situations like these and have found that most of the time the customer is right.

Over the years, I have handled many service issues where the crux of the problem was simply that no one  took the time to truly listen from the beginning.  What this in turn causes is a great deal of time wasted, very frustrated customers and quite honestly, labeling of patients and families as high anxiety or needy.

The reality is simple.  Patients and their families know themselves and their loved ones best.  They are also very informed with quick access to health information online.  Yes, as nurses we are highly educated practitioners taught to rely on our assessment skills.  However, part of a comprehensive assessment includes taking a medical history and asking questions about an individual’s current state.  Why ask these questions only to make judgments and care plan decisions based on what you believe is right for the patient?  A plan of care needs to be collaborative in nature and the only way to accomplish this is through active, effective listening.

You can learn 10  simple steps to master effective listening here from this article from Forbes.  In summary these are:

  1. Good eye contact
  2. attentiveness
  3. Have an open mind
  4. Try to picture what the other person is saying
  5. Do not interrupt
  6. Wait for the other to ask questions
  7. Ask questions to better understand
  8. Try to feel what the other is feeling
  9. Provide feedback
  10. Pay attention to non-verbal cues

What nurses need to understand is that the more effectively we listen to our customers, the better the outcomes will be.  Listening well from the beginning will save time and energy because you will not be repeating things that have already been done or trying unnecessary interventions that will not work.  Listening will also build trust and confidence.  Trust brings compliance.  In a healthcare setting there is very little time to create a relationship with your customers.  Effective listening is the most vital first step in helping your patients and their families be successful.

Please enjoy the following video which depicts an actual experience between a patient and nurse, showing the importance of active listening.  Please, as you go about your day doing what you do best, be present, be thoughtful, be true to those for whom you chose this career.