God listens to all of us. We should listen to each other.
Most people believe they listen better than they actually do.
Each patient is unique. Do not assume to know the patient’s values, needs, concerns, and attitudes without careful listening.
Listening involves the whole body. Behaviors that can help patients know our interest in their feelings are called attending behaviors. They include (1) taking a comfortable position that allows us to make easy eye contact; (2) maintaining an alert posture such as leaning slightly forward; (3) maintaining a relaxed demeanor. Avoid standing with arms folded (nonverbal statement suggesting a barrier).
Listening involves all the senses. Observe the patient’s nonverbal clues. Are the patient’s physical behaviors (facial expressions, fidgeting with his hands) congruent with verbal messages? Nonverbal clues are indicative of the patient’s feeling and thinking.
Listening for the tone of voice as well as the content of the patient’s statement.
Resonate with the patient’s communication. Do not be thinking of the next response to the patient while he or she is talking.
Listening is interactive. Communication is completed, and the patient is affirmed when we verbally follow up the patient’s conversation. Respond with restatement of the patient’s statement that seems parallel in meaning. Example:
Patient: "God must be mad at me. I’ve had so many problems with my health, just when I was planning to retire."
Visitor: "After experiencing so much hardship, you’re wondering if God is being fair."
Be alert to the meaning of the patient’s disclosures, rather than the facts. As a rule, do not probe for facts. Allow the patient to reveal what is important by responding to his or her feelings.
Responses the visitor might employ combine a feeling word gleaned from the patient’s message with the context of the feeling. Examples:
"So, you feel frustrated because of this confinement."
"I’m sensing how frustrating this illness has become."
Listening may require more than one visit. Our willingness to listen non-judgmentally over time can free the patient to risk genuine feeling without fear of ridicule or rejection.