Being a good listener can seem like an easy thing to do. Many people believe that the mere act of having ears means that they are doing their job to show that they are listening. They think to themselves, “I am a person who can hear. How could anybody think I am not listening to them?!” But just having ears is not all there is to being a good listener; it takes much more. There are things such as eye contact, nonverbal communication, and gestures that can let a person know that you are listening. In settings such as a hospital or a veterinary clinic is it even more important to understand not only how to communicate that you are listening but how to know when somebody is listening to you. There are also gestures specific to a hospital setting that can let a person know they are being listened to.
The simplest nonverbal gesture any individual can do to show they are listening is to make eye contact. If one person is speaking to another while they are busy it can be difficult to know whether or not the message was listened to or merely heard. Likewise, in a professional setting such as a hospital, it is very important that messages are listened to. If Employee A is telling Employee B what to switch a patient’s dosage to but Employee B is busy with a task, Employee A may not know if they have been heard or not. A simple way to convey that Employee A is being heard would be for Employee B to stop what they are doing and make eye contact with the speaker while information is being relayed. In situations such as these it is also important to know that you are being listened to and that the information you are relaying is being understood. Directions given in a hospital setting are almost always important and it is crucial to know when you must repeat yourself. Understanding the signs of active listening can help save time, as well as lives in settings such as these.
There are many other forms of nonverbal communication that convey listening. This is also known as active listening. Nodding, for instance, can be a sign of listening as well as understanding. This can show that the speaker is heard as well as empathized with, making the simple act of nodding very beneficial especially in hospital settings. For example, if a client is discussing the possibility of euthanasia with a doctor, the topic is likely to be very difficult. It would be best to let the client finish a full thought before giving any professional advice but, to show that the doctor not only is listening to the client’s concerns but also cares about their emotions, they can simply nod, according to the authors of “The Importance of Physician Listening From The Patient’s Perspective: Enhancing Diagnosis, Healing, and the Doctor-Patient Relationship” published in Patient Education and Counseling (372). This shows that they are paying attention and understand the difficult situation the client is in.
Another form of nonverbal education to show listening is to smile. While nodding can show understanding and empathy in times of trouble, smiling can show that you are listening and sharing in the joy of hearing about a good situation. For instance, if a veterinary assistant is hearing from a client’s owner about a lengthy operation, things may sound grim. The story, however, may end with the pet making a full recovery! Neil Hamilton reveals in his report “Effectiveness Requires Listening: How To Assess and Improve Listening Skills” that a smile can show that you have heard the story and are happy for the client and their owner (15). Mirroring, another form of active listening, can also be of service in these situations. Mirroring consists of reflecting the speaker’s facial expressions and emotions. While the speaker tells the sadder parts about his or her pet’s operation, active listening dictates that the listener should also convey sadness and worry. As the story tells about the pet’s recovery, the listener should mirror the speaker’s joy and excitement. The listener does not have to say anything. Mirroring the speaker’s facial expressions and emotions will let them know that the listener is paying attention to the content (17).
There are many ways to be an active listener but few settings provide the possibility of handing out literature as way to show that the speaker is being heard. Places such as hospitals and veterinary clinics provide this opportunity. Patients and clients who are seeking advice about specific ailments can be handed small pamphlets or even print-outs at the caregivers discretion in order to show that they were heard throughout the conversation. The medical literature can be about the main focus of the conversation (i.e. the reason for the appointment) or it can be about something more subtle. If the patient came in for a urinary tract infection but momentarily complains about unexplained nervousness in crowds, a good way for the doctor to show that he or she was listening would be to give the patient information on the symptoms and solutions to social anxiety. This does not have to mean the patient has social anxiety, only that the patient was heard and the doctor is willing to help the patient. It is a seemingly small gesture but it can help build a trusting relationship between the caregiver and the client. If patients feel heard they are more likely to confide more in their caregivers as well as trust their caregiver’s opinions.
As you can see, listening to another person means much more than just having a pair of ears. It means making eye contact so they feel like you are paying attention. It can also mean nodding and visibly showing empathy, so they not only feel heard but also so they feel like they are not so alone. This is truer in difficult situations, or when hard decisions are made such as those made in the settings of a hospital. Smiling and mirroring the speaker’s words also lets them know you are not only listening but sharing in on their joy. Hospitals and veterinary clinics allow caregivers to help and offer written advice as a form of active listening. There are many ways to show you are listening, all of which are very important.
Hamilton, Neil. "Effectiveness Requires Listening: How to Assess and Improve Listening Skills." Report. HeinOnline, 2011.
Jagosh, Justin, et al. "The importance of physician listening from the patients’ perspective: Enhancing diagnosis, healing, and the doctor–patient relationship." Patient Education and Counseling (2011): 369-374. Print.