Monday, 14 July 2014

Listening


Just recently I joined the rest of the human race and had some fraudulent payments exit my bank account. I cannot deny that it was stressful although the sums of money involved were not too great. The source of the stress was the way my bank dealt with me.

I totalled eight different ‘customer specialists’ (heaven help those people who speak to customer generalists), before finally the matter was successfully resolved. The nub of the problem was that each of them failed to listen adequately to what I was saying.  I tried, I really did try to communicate, but it wasn't until ‘Matt’, that I was understood.  Ah listening, that old fashioned supremely powerful tool in the hands of all doctors.

Listening is difficult and it is very tiring. It may seem strange to the non-doctor, but 3-4 hours of listening to a variety of human stories, especially if listened to well, is exhausting. Active listening consumes considerable energy as one seeks to clarify, summarise, encourage and understand. But the gain is enormous.

The medical insurance companies tell us that when a patient feels listened to and understood the complaints are much reduced, and similarly the likelihood of the patient benefiting from the consultation (even where no firm diagnosis is made or treatment is prescribed) is considerably increased.

‘To give a patient the impression that you could spare him an hour and yet make him satisfied with 5 minutes is an invaluable gift, and of much more use than spending half an hour of which he is made to feel that he is encroaching on your time. I do not know if this sepical kind of unhurried placidity can be acquired purposely, but it is a most enviable faculty to possess.’ Richard Asher in Talking Sense

To do it well requires at least two commitments. A commitment to at least try to understand (the ideas, concerns and the expectations), and also one of unhurriedness.

In the vortex that is the modern NHS what a relief to realise that there are many things that don’t and needn’t change, the art of listening is surely one of them.
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