Most of us—as many as 90 percent—aren’t effective listeners, a lack that affects our ability to have positive and productive relationships—at home, at work, and wherever we need good communication.
What We Say and What We Hear
As legal nurse consultants, we may think we are listening well. After all, we’ve been trained to communicate well with patients, physicians, and other staff.
As business people, we know how important it is to speak well. Giving a presentation to a group of attorneys is a great marketing opportunity.
But it is not so easy. You’ve heard the number one fear of people is public speaking. Coaches are kept very busy helping people overcome stage fright and to give impressive and informative speeches.
Physicians may have the bias that what they say is more important than what the other staff have to say. We know how well that goes when there is a medical malpractice incident.
Levels of Listening
Full listening means paying attention both to someone’s words and to how they’re speaking. It means shedding the layers of distraction and shortened attention spans.
At a lower level, we may be listening but not fully connecting to nonverbal cues and body language. When we do this, we miss out on a lot of useful information.
The lowest level occurs when we pretend to listen but are paying attention to our internal thoughts and concerns. We are secretly waiting for our chance to speak. Those who are speaking to us often recognize this kind of restless impatience.
The Qualities of Full Listening
Listen and look for cues that the speaker might be nervous, angry, or upset in some other way. A committed listener is familiar with the many messages people unconsciously give through body language. Indications of unease might suggest the need to find out, in a friendly and supportive way, what’s really going on.
Wait until the speaker has finished what he wants to say before responding. (I HATE to be interrupted.)
Pausing to consider what the speaker has said will heighten the sense that you’ve listened carefully.
Then ask questions that further the dialogue. Express support for what the other person is saying. Create an atmosphere of cooperation, which further encourages the other speaker to express him- or herself.
Even if you don’t agree with all the speaker is saying, you can expect your constructive feedback to be seriously considered.
Clear the Roadblocks to Full Listening
Full listening has certain prerequisites. Make sure you have all electronic devices shut off. You want a complete absence of distractions. And no sly looks at the your cell phone.
When you’re scheduling a meeting with someone, whether it’s the employee with a grievance or your teenaged son who’s announced that he wants to quit high school, allow plenty of time. If you say, “We have ten minutes to talk,” you’re virtually assuring a failed communication.
More important, before going into a discussion with someone else, check yourself to understand how you feel about the upcoming conversation.
If you’re nervous, ask yourself why. If you feel combative, remind yourself that arguments don’t generally solve problems. If you find yourself thinking, “I’m going to convince X that I’m right,” recognize that this attitude won’t lead to an effective communication.
You may struggle with some of these issues. Remember that you’re developing a new skill. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get, and your relationships will greatly improve.