Form, note, table, flow-chart, summary completion. In this type of question, you will be given a Form. A room that is too dark can make us sleepy, just as a room that is too warm or cool can raise awareness of our physical discomfort to a point that it is distracting. Some seating arrangements facilitate listening, while others separate people.
There is little doubt of the importance of patient experience and satisfaction in the medical profession these days. There continues to be a fundamental shift from the traditional approach to medicine centered around doctor directed care to the emphasis on patient satisfaction and experience. (I have written about the difference between patient experience and satisfaction here.)
With this change in emphasis comes a number of other changes. One of these is the increased transparency of patient reviews on social media and search engines. Whether the shift to patient experience is a boon or bust, it is the reality and must be addressed.
Part of addressing the changing emphasis is the preeminence of your communication skills as a healthcare provider. Communication has always been at the center of good healthcare, but it is doubly important now.
Downfalls of Bad Communication Skills
Not only is communication key to a patient centered approach to medicine, but the lack of it can have serious consequences. In fact, the vast majority of malpractice risk is centered around poor communication. Research shows that:
- 71% of malpracitve cases were brought as a result of patient relationship problems;
- The most litigious patients had the perception that their provider was uncaring; and
- 25% of patients with malpractice suits reported poor delivery of medical information.
Malpractice, and the mishaps or accidents around it, is perhaps the worst-case scenario to poor communication. But it isn’t the only downside. Poor patient satisfaction and experience is the other.
With the ever-increasing transparency of everyday life brought to us by social media, the impact of poor communication skills can be instantaneous. Patients can rant and rave about a provider the second they walk out the door through a Google review. This review, once posted, is then seen by your current and prospective patients.
You can tell when someone has had a bad patient experience centered around poor communication just from reading the review. Not only will a patient mention that they didn’t feel like they were being listened to, but the very fact of the negative review shows that the patient just needed someone to vent to. And, unfortunately for your practice, that venting is now available for everyone to read.
Benefits of Good Communication Skills
With the downsides sufficiently covered, the upsides are pretty straightforward. With good communication and active listening skills you will not only be able to make a better diagnosis of the patient’s issues, but you will also build a stronger relationship with your patients.
Stronger relationships mean you will increase positive patient experiences and satisfaction. This leads your patients to be more likely to refer your practice to their friends and family.
The upsides are as big as the downsides. By practicing good communication skills, you will have better patient outcomes and your patients will become promoters for your practice. That should be the goal for each patient interaction at every level of contact your practice has with a patient.
When it comes to good communication in the medical field, and any professional service for that matter, active listening is key.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is the highest and most effective form of listening. It is more than hearing, which is just sound hitting your ears and your brain registering noise. Hearing requires no feedback or intentionality to understand what the speaker is actually saying.
There are, according to Phil Hunsaker and Tony Alessandra in The New Art of Managing People, four types of listeners. They are:
- Marginal listener;
- Evaluative listener; and
- Active listener.
As a medical provider, you should strive to be an active listener in each and every one of your interactions with patients. Active listening is the practice of seeking to understand the underlying meaning of what the speaker, your patient, is attempting to communicate. Some patients, I’m sure you are aware, are better at communicating at others. But that shouldn’t reduce your willingness to engage in active listening.
How to be an Active Listener
In order to be an effective active listener, you need to pay attention to, and beware of your own, body movements and posture as well as your patient’s. Most of communication is nonverbal.
Most people have heard of the 55/38/7 percentage. It has been around since the 1960’s and still has support in research today. These percentages relate to the amount of communication that is related through different channels. It means that:
- 55% of communication is body language;
- 38% of communication is in the tone of voice; and
- 7% of communication is in the actual words spoken.
Being an active listener means you are paying attention to each of the three aspects of communication while telegraphing your own interest in what the patient is saying. This generally means eye contact and developing facial expressions showing your interest and providing some, but not a lot, of verbal encouragement showing that you are, in fact, listening and understanding the speaker.
Furthermore, Forbes contributor Dianne Schilling gives 10 steps to be an active listener. These are:
- Face the speaker and maintain eye contact;
- Be attentive, but relaxed;
- Keep an open mind;
- Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying;
- Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your solutions;
- Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions;
- Ask questions only to ensure understanding;
- Try to feel what the speaker is feeling;
- Give the speaker regular feedback; and
- Pay attention to what isn’t said – to nonverbal cues.
What speakers are looking for, and this applies heavily in a medical context, is empathy. If you approach each interaction with the intention of being an active listener and also bring a healthy dose of empathy, you will certainly increase your communication skills.
By developing active listening skills, you can avoid the most common reasons given for a malpractice suit, avoid negative patient satisfaction, increase positive patient experience, and help turn your patients into promoters for your practice.
More from RenegadeWorks
You couldn’t have ordered better weather for this holiday weekend – at least in my neck of the woods. This morning I enjoyed my morning latte outside where I was surrounded by the lush end-of-spring greenness and blooming summer flowers. There was a slight morning breeze that carried with it the scent of the newly grown lavender. It was serene. Peaceful. I closed my eyes, tilted my face to the sun, and sat in solitude.
Have you ever noticed what you hear when you listen, really listen?
I could hear the sounds of the highway traffic, birds singing, a dog barking in the distance, planes flying above, one neighbor watering her plants, another neighbor yelling to her children, and the sound of a skateboard rolling down the sidewalk.
By reading this, you’d think it was a noise-filled morning but just mere moments before I was thinking how the morning was so quiet. And, it was. Our behavior is such that we tend to block out things in life or completely ignore our surroundings until we pay purposeful attention.
That’s the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the act of taking in sound by the ear. Listening, however, is what you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from individual words and sentences or all of the individual events that are making sounds.
The Difference between Hearing and Listening is Attention
Listening Has Different Purposes Activities
In a NY Times op-ed, auditory neuroscientist Seth S. Horowitz, said that the difference between hearing and listening is attention. Listening is an active behavior that requires focus.
Listen.org has compiled some statistics about listening:
- Most of us are distracted or preoccupied about 75% of the time when we should be listening.
- We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think at 1000-3000 words per minute.
- Immediately after we listen to someone, we only recall about 50% of what they said.
- Long-term, we only remember 20% of what we hear.
- For 7 out of every 10 minutes, we are in communication with people at work.
- In a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% of our time talking, 16% reading and 9% writing.
- Less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques
Let’s Bottom Line It
We’re horrible listeners and listening is basis for effective communication. Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Dialogue is often viewed like a tennis match. It’s the back and forth. Your “opponent” hits the ball to you and your job is to hit it back. You want to score the point; you want to win. But, to listen effectively, listen to receive the meaning without worrying about “scoring a point.” Once you understand, then you can respond. Being quiet gives you the opportunity to hear the words, the tone, and the meaning behind the words. It gives you the chance to observe the speaker’s body language. Never underestimate non-verbal cues.
Listening Has Benefits
Effective listening helps to resolve conflicts, build trust, inspire people, and strengthen teams. That’s especially important to leadership.
Benefit 1: You’ll Gather Critical Facts before Making Decisions
Spend most of your conversations listening and you’ll absorb the information as it is given to you. If you collect all of the facts instead of jumping to assumptions, you’re able to make a well-informed decision. When you stop worrying about what you’re going to say and focus on what’s being said, you will put more thought into what you want to communicate.
Benefit 2: You Can Uncover Underlying Issues
Intuitive listeners are looking for the story behind the message, and the opportunity beyond the issue. Listening is about discovery, and discovery doesn’t only impact the present, but it can also influence the future.
When someone is speaking to you, it’s easy to zone out and just focus on bits and pieces of what they’re saying. Listen carefully to what they are saying, how they are saying it, and what seems to be left out. There may be an underlying issue of which you weren’t even aware. Hear them out completely.
Benefit 3: Active Listeners Have More Successful Interpersonal Relationships
Listening with active attention supports the speaker and helps build their confidence. People feel valued when they are listened to and this promotes feelings of trust and respect. In return, greater cooperation ensues. Active listeners have greater powers of persuasion because they encourage mutual feelings of respect. Active listening helps to glean additional information from the speaker and good listeners are able to initiate resolutions to misunderstandings more easily.
Benefit 4: You Avoid “Trifling” Conversation
If you decide to listen more, and speak less than you normally would, you only say what needs to be said. Your opinions make a greater impact and your points are succinct. Benjamin Franklin said, “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; Avoid trifling Conversation.”
Benefit 5: You’ll Recognize the Contributions of Others
When you listen more, you see how others contribute. You’ll see how people contribute energy, ideas, actions or results. Few things go as far in building good will as recognizing others and you’ll end up learning a thing or two that you didn’t know.
We can all spout off endless rhetoric but listening? Great listeners are not so common. Try it this week. Listen more than you speak and see what happens. That's my goal for the week!