Being a good listener is cited in numerous patient feedback surveys as one of the main things that people value in a physician. Here are four simple ways to improve physician listening skills:
Stop, Look, and Really Listen
If you want to do anything right, you have to pay attention and do it correctly the first time. Otherwise, your efforts may be counterproductive. That’s definitely true with listening, which is not a multitasking type of skill. So when it’s time to talk with a patient, stop everything else. Look them in the eye, and concentrate only on that specific listening task.
Be Warm and Cordial
During a busy and stressful day, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that patients aren’t just problems you need to solve but are sensitive people who want to be heard. They are often scared or emotionally raw since they are not feeling well. So use a calming voice. Be warm and cordial. Let them know that you are a friendly face and a helpful ally, not just an experienced physician.
Engage in Active Listening
Never forget that unless you ask and then listen, the patient may not reveal the information you want and need most in order to make your own job easier and more successful. When a patient explains something to you, paraphrase and summarize it back to them. For example you might reply “Is this what I hear you saying? You feel exhausted and have a sore throat?” That kind of active listening ensures that there is no miscommunication.
Use Nonverbal Communication
Be sure to also listen to nonverbal communications from your patients. If a patient appears anxious, for example, that could be the reason for a higher blood pressure reading. But it may be that they are only nervous about being in the doctor’s office, and as soon as they return home their blood pressure may fall. So also try to read between the lines. But don’t guess. If you read something in a patient’s body language then ask more questions to see if your assumptions are correct.