How to be a good listener?

Being a good listener is critical to being a good doctor because patients will tell you what’s wrong if you just let them speak. Physicians often rush to interrupt patients but if they’d just listen to what their patients reveal, they may find the answer they’re looking for. After all, good communication isn’t just for being friendly with patients. It’s also a vital skill for doctors to listen to their patients and understand their concerns.

Here are some tips to improve the way you listen to your patients.

  1. Don’t interrupt. There are occasions where a patient simply wants someone to tell his or her feelings. By rushing to reply, it can make them feel as if their concerns are being dismissed or not taken seriously.
  2. Use good eye contact. Actually looking at a person in the eye is one of the simplest, most powerful ways you can connect. Taking time to look at your patient for at least 5 – 7 seconds at at a time, especially when they are talking, will demonstrate full attentiveness and engagement.
  3. Turn towards the person, but not too much. Facing your body towards someone is a sign of attention and interest. However there is an angle to use, about 45 – 90 degrees is best. It allows the patient you are speaking to have personal space while also giving them attention.
  4. Listen for the emotional tone. Underneath everything a patient says is an emotional tonality. For some people it is fear, or frustration, for others it is a sense of relief that somebody is actually able to help them. Whatever emotion they have, make sure to be aware of those.
  5. Pause before replying. Taking 5-10 seconds to pause after someone has finished speaking shows them you are absorbing what they are saying.
  6. Rephrase the main points. Taking a minute at the end of an interaction and rephrasing what someone has said will give a big indicator that you have listened to them. People feel valued and validated when their words are shared back to them.
  7. Ask their view of what you have suggested. One of the most counterintuitive ways to grow engagement is to ask patients what they think. By engaging them more in their own health solutions, and gaining agreement before moving on to action, you will show the person that their opinion is very important.