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5 Ways to Use Empathetic Listening in Your Healthcare Career

While we often think of listening as a necessity for healthy personal relationships, it’s just as important in the workplace. In fact, listening is one of the most valuable skills an employee can have. Effective listening helps you collaborate with coworkers, ask better questions, and accept and implement feedback – all of which can lead to a more interesting, fulfilling, successful career.

Recently, experts have started to divide listening into different styles (e.g. active listening, deep listening, critical listening). One style that’s proven particularly effective in work settings is empathetic listening. An empathetic listener seeks to understand the other person’s unique needs, motivations, and perspective. Empathetic listening can help teammates build stronger connections by creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels free to voice their thoughts.

Here are 5 ways to start practicing empathetic listening in your healthcare job or with patients:

1. Stay present

Try to quiet your mind and focus on what the other person is saying. Resist the urge to interrupt or respond until they’ve finished speaking. Staying in the moment will help you avoid spacing out or cutting them off. Instead, you’ll have the clarity to fully take in their message.

2. Look Out for Nonverbal Cues

A major portion of human communication is physical. With that in mind, make sure to pay attention to the speaker’s:

  • Body language (hand motions, posture, eye contact, etc.) 
  • Pitch (raising, lowering, or projecting their voice) 
  • Pacing (a sudden change in speech pace)

All these cues can provide important clues about the nature of their message.

3. Ask Questions

Avoid binary questions that demand a yes or no answer.  Instead, try asking more open-ended questions that invite the speaker to further explain their point. Beginning questions with a “why” or “how” is a good place to start. For example, rather than asking “Do you think this presentation is ready?”, switch to “Why do you think this presentation is working or not working?”

4. Respond with a Repeat

After they’re done speaking, respond by repeating what you’ve heard. This helps ensure you’re getting the other person’s message right. Something as simple as “It sounds like you’re saying…” and following up with “Does that sound right?” will help keep you both on the same page.

5. Include Others

This is a helpful approach in group settings. If you notice someone hogging the mic, try to mediate by redirecting to include others.  Try phrases like: “Thanks for sharing. Does that resonate with anyone else?” or “Great feedback. Does someone else have additional thoughts?”

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