I recently realized how often I am advising, offering opinions, gossiping by joining into a conversation about another person or situation, or chattering in my own brain about someone or something. All of these activities, I realize distract me from my own life and my own personal and business goals. Simply put, when I am engaged in someone else's drama, I am squandering the few precious minutes I have in any given day to tend to my own business.
This tendency to counsel and advise, of course is an occupational hazard, as I spend much of my working day doing just that. Patients, after all, are looking to me for help, and often that help involves teaching, training, and instructing. But, as I am trying to embrace the intent of this new mantra, I wonder if even with patients, I need to listen more and talk less. Now, this would be quite a change for me. Silently listening as someone tells me their problems makes me feels uncomfortable. " I should be responding", I think, offering solutions, re-assuring that I can help. But, perhaps, I need to just be listening.
What a patient understands about their particular problem, the impact their communication impairment is having on them or their family, and what they hope to gain from treatment, may all be revealed, if I listen. Using probing words, like: "say more about that," "tell me more," "what did you mean when you said,"...and so on, may help to uncover the patient's own strengths and weaknesses that will impact success in therapy.
One of the frequent dynamics I often observe when an individual has a communication impairment, is that others will begin to speak on their behalf. Usually this is a spouse, adult child, or well intentioned caregiver. While at first glance, this might appear to ease the communication frustration of the individual, in reality, it begins to obscure the reason the person has sought out therapy, and limits their opportunity to take ownership of their problem and solutions. So, at times, even the most well intentioned spouse or caregiver must also learn to mind their own business, and allow the individual to fully engage actively in their own treatment.
In learning to be a better listener, I have identified 5 action steps:
1. Not to interrupt
2. Not to finish another person's thought
3. Not to personalize a situation to me
4. Not to participate in gossip
5. Not to offer unsolicited advise
If you are a professional, spouse, friend, or caregiver who also talks more than you listen, perhaps you would like to join me on this challenge.