Career advice

Listen properly to win your patients’ trust

Heavy workloads and staff shortages can make it hard to find the time to sit down and talk properly with patients. But those who feel they are being listened to are more likely to take an active role in their own care, says health coach Mandy Day-Calder.

Heavy workloads and staff shortages can make it hard to find the time to sit down and talk properly with patients. But those who feel they are being listened to are more likely to take an active role in their own care, says health coach Mandy Day-Calder

listen
Picture: Alamy

I will never forget my first visit to a chiropractor. Not only was it the first step to regaining strength and movement in my back, it was the most I have ever felt ‘heard’ by a healthcare professional.

As well as gathering clinical information, my chiropractor took the time to find out what mattered to me and what I wanted out of my treatment. One of the questions he asked me was, ‘What are you not doing now that you want to get back to?’ By doing this, he won my trust and I felt hopeful and motivated again.

Working on a busy ward or in the community naturally presents different challenges to working in a private clinic. Resources are scarce and time is of the essence, and coping with conflicting demands means you may be in the habit of doing everything – including talking to patients and relatives – in a rush.

Listening skill

Listening is a skill that requires concentration and focus. As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said: ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.’

Frantically rushing around may get tasks ticked off your to-do list, but this approach isn’t sustainable for your health nor is it satisfying for your patients.

If you reflect on recent situations when you haven’t felt listened to, either at work or in your private life, how did you feel? Most likely you were left feeling frustrated, lost or angry. It is the same for patients who feel rushed or unheard.

Patients who feel listened to are more likely to relax and engage in conversation, which can help them take a more active role in their own healthcare. Although you cannot spend endless time with each patient, you may gain more from slowing down and really listening to what your patients are saying, or not saying.

Changing the dynamics

A few changes to how you approach your interactions can often change the dynamics. Here are some tips:

  • Be inquisitive: use open-ended questions and give patients time to answer. Sometimes they may offer information you weren’t expecting. 
  • Be flexible: the same approach won’t suit everyone. Avoid medical jargon, and use language appropriate to your patient’s age and culture. 
  • Empower your patients: your role is to offer guidance and information, and to provide space for patients to decide what is best for them. 
  • Watch your body language: are your words implying that you are interested but your body is saying you are in a hurry? 
  • Be mindful: you may have lots to do, but try to stay focused on the present and the person you are talking to 
  • Be honest: sometimes you may need to cut a conversation short. If this happens, stay calm and explain why. 
  • Maintain energy levels: the more you look after yourself the more you can be there for others. 

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

 

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