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The iApotheca Blog

Active Listening: Part 1

Active listening can transform your relationships, both in the pharmacy and out. It can make you an irresistible presence, both in your personal and professional life. 

And it will help you to build strong, in-depth focus skills that transfer to everything you do.

Who knew changing the way you listen could be so powerful? Most of us think of listening as something we do in passing during our busy day. 

But active listening is anything but passive. 

Active listening is a mental discipline that gives our minds a constant workout. An active listening habit helps us to stay mindful and engaged in every conversation. When working with patients, that means two things: 

1) Making your patients feel heard.

 

Illness, whether chronic or acute, can make us feel helpless. If you’ve been dealing with patients for a while, you’re likely aware of this. Injuries and situations where we’re in pain can also leave us feeling vulnerable. 

Both can make patients feel frustrated and depressed. 

On top of that, people view pharmacists as experts in their healthcare. A place where they can go for answers. So, there’s nothing worse than speaking to a busy pharmacist and feeling unheard.

Active listening helps you to create a deeper connection with your patients. Which translates to them feeling heard. And when you’re ailing or feeling under the weather, that can make all the difference.

2) Gaining deeper insight into your patients.

 

Becoming an active listener will help you gather more information. Which means gaining more insight into your patients.  

Add to that the fact that negative feelings can interfere with clear communication. Often, patients may fail to hit the mark with their verbal communication. As a pharmacist, it goes without saying that this can help you make better choices as far as patient care.

How? 

By learning to gather information from all sources, not only their spoken words. By helping you to clarify and gain a real understanding of what your patient is saying. 

Active listening teaches you to ask the right questions to get the clarity you need. 

Often, patients may fail to hit the mark with their verbal communication. They may be ill or in pain, they may be in a rush. Or they could lack the vocabulary and understanding to articulate the underlying issue. 

Active listening teaches you to look for clues. To get a clear understanding of his or her feelings and concerns. By engaging, you build rapport when your patients are at their most vulnerable.

3) Helping you become a better pharmacist.

 

Build a reputation for being an engaged listener and your patients will be loyal for life. Not only will your pharmacy thrive on this loyalty, but you’ll also find your work more satisfying.

What does an engaged pharmacist look like?

They understand the big picture. They see the patient as more than just another person picking up their script. They assimilate patient behaviour in the context of their lives.

For example, thanks to the Internet, patients now have access to all sorts of information. When it comes to healthcare, some of it may be accurate, and some of it may not even be close. 

But patients with questions or concerns about health issues likely looked them up. You can often assume that they’re armed with some information.

So rather than spewing out advice right away, engage in some active listening. Find out what they know about their issue, and any previous treatments they may have tried. 

How and when does their problem flare up, and what does that look like in their lives? Are they taking care of themselves? Are there any red flags as far as a lifestyle that may tie into their health problems?

Take the time to ask some probing, respectful questions to find out how their condition plays out in their lives. Dig into some clues about their issues and make sure your advice fits their situation. 

Don’t give rushed, generic advice.

A patient coming out of a conversation with an engaged pharmacist can’t help but feel heard. And when it comes to patient health, engaging can soothe anxiety and give hope.

The Challenges of Active Listening

 

Despite the value of active listening, so few people get good at it. And those who do tend to stand out from the crowd. 

Why?

Active listening can be challenging, especially when you’re first starting out. It is an outstanding mental discipline, and as such takes time and consistency.

It takes your complete and undivided attention to play full-out in every conversation. Active listening is not only about using your ears to ‘hear’ the message.

It’s about being mindful, staying in the moment, and processing what is being said on more than one level. To be a great listener, you must let go of all your own concerns, immersing yourself in the conversation. 

And of course, most important of all, you must be open-minded and non-judgmental. You don’t need to like the message, but you do need to respect it. 

Sound tough? 

It can be, at the start. The truth is though, that active listening has a wealth of rewards that make it fun and interesting. And those who excel at it often have an above-average capacity for emotional intelligence.

As human beings, we’re social creatures. 

By enhancing communication, you open the door to more meaningful relationships. 

Active Listening and Mental Discipline

 

Active listening is staying aware of your focus during a conversation. Is your focus on the person you’re speaking with? Or are you digging through your own thoughts, ticking items of an internal checklist? Worrying about something you need to get done later that day?

Staying aware requires mental discipline. But once it becomes a habit, it leads to being more focused on other parts of your life.

So how can you get started? 

Keep it simple. 

 

During your next conversation, stay aware of where your attention lies. If it strays from the person you’re speaking with, bring it back. 

And it will stray because that’s how most of us work. Be patient, don’t judge, and above all, set realistic expectations. You’ll improve in no time.

Four steps to active listening are:

  • Keeping your attention on the speaker, aware of any internal dialogue you may be having. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the speaker. 
  • Don’t interrupt, ever. Keep any questions or comments to yourself until the speaker has finished. And yes, that goes for relatable anecdotes too. But be careful here. 

We’ve all been in conversations where the other party is waiting for us to stop speaking so they can respond. You can tell when someone is focusing on what they want to say, rather than what you’re saying. 

  • Set boundaries. You’re busy. Active engagement needn’t take all your time. You still have a mountain of responsibilities waiting for you around the pharmacy. 

Make sure to keep the conversation relevant and on track. Don’t be afraid to be polite yet firm if needed.

As mentioned, when starting out keep things simple. Choose one small thing at a time and go with it. You should begin to see results within a short time frame.

Look for improvements in your patient communication, such as:

  • Increased trust and rapport with patients.
  • A deeper connection and understanding of your patients.
  • An increased ability to relate to your patients’ situations.
  • Enhanced insight into ways of counselling patients.
  • Better interpersonal skills and relationships with both patients and other pharmacy staff.

And of course, as you build the habit, you’ll see more results and enjoy the rewards of your labour. 

Make sure to focus on the small victories, which will make the process even more rewarding. Over time, you’ll come to love this new habit and all that it brings to your life.

Three Tools for Better Listening Skills

 

The following three skills play an important role in active listening.

They are:

  • Mirroring or following skills.

  • Reflecting skills
  • Body Language

Understanding and practicing these skills will help you to master active listening.

Following Skills

 

Following skills refer to small actions that show the other party you are listening to. By subtly using the following skills, you help the speaker feel they can open up to you. 

Some examples of the following skills are:

  • Inviting the other person to open up with questions such as, “What’s on your mind?”
  • Dropping subtle cues during the conversation. For example, nodding your head or making small comments such as, “I see,” or “I understand,” as the person is speaking. This lets the person know that you’re listening and processing what they’re saying.
  • Asking questions now and again to ensure you’re understanding where he or she is coming from. Avoiding assumptions is an important part of an attentive conversation. And questions can help with clarity.
  • Staying attentive and maintaining a reasonable degree of eye contact throughout the conversation.
  • Observing the person’s behaviour and non-verbal cues. Both facial expressions and body language help you understand the speaker’s perspective.
  • Actively trying to figure out what he or she is thinking, feeling, and trying to express.

Reflection Skills

 

Reflection skills help you reflect back to the speaker what he or she has told you. This makes it clear that you’re listening to what is being said. It also demonstrates understanding.

Reflection Skills Include:

  • Paraphrasing what the person is saying using brief, subtle phrases.  You can start with phrases like, ‘So it sounds like you’re saying…’ to make it clear that you’re getting the message. 
  • Clarifying anything that you find unclear or confusing. You can say things like, ‘I’m not sure I understand, can you please clarify…’.  This communicates a willingness to get a true understanding of what is being said.
  • Reflecting the emotions the person is expressing to show a grasp on the person’s concerns. It’s also helpful to use different words than the person has used. This shows that you’re not only hearing, but you’re also processing the message.
  • Summarizing the main points and asking for confirmation that you understand.

By using reflection skills, you communicate your commitment to the conversation. This creates rapport with the person you’re speaking with and builds mutual respect.

Body Language Skills

 

Another important skill for active listening is mirroring someone’s body language. Mirroring creates a connection between you and the speaker through familiarity. 

Using similar body language creates a subconscious connection between you and the speaker.

Mirroring should always be subtle to avoid looking like mockery. It may be best to practice this with someone you know until you’re confident in your ability.

Some subtle techniques for mirroring are:

  • Crossing your arms or feet in the same way they do. Or, shifting your body weight from one side to the other when they shift.
  • Pointing your feet toward the other party, rather than in the opposite direction. Pointing your feet toward someone gives the impression that you’re engaged. Facing your feet away can make them feel as though you’re trying to get away.
  • Keeping your arms uncrossed during the conversation. Crossing your arms over your chest can often make people you’re on the defence. Or, waiting to interject rather than listening.

Body language can help create rapport and connection. Mirroring techniques, when done right, can convey a strong message. Practicing these active listening techniques in combination can change your communication game.

Techniques for Improving Your Listening Skills

So how should you get started with active listening? As suggested, keep it simple and be sure to practice every day. Building any habit takes consistency. 

Be sure to take things slow at the start, exploring and integrating your new habit in a manageable way. 

One suggestion is to start by staying self-aware of body language. How are you approaching and presenting yourself during conversations? 

Work on keeping your posture open and receptive, your arms relaxed at your sides. This displays a willingness to listen to what the other party is saying. 

Take note of the questions you ask. 

Are they shallow and clinical? Or are you trying to understand the patient experience? Do you give the impression you’re trying to get the conversation over with so you can move on to other work? 

Watch your eye contact. Do you appear focused on the other person, or are you looking everywhere but at him/her?

Understanding how you present yourself to your patients is important to making progress. But if you find improving your communication to be a challenge, don’t get discouraged.

Pharmacies are busy places; you’ve got a lot to focus on and learning a new skill takes time and mental energy. Remember, this process is not only about building new communication habits. 

If you’ve been in pharmacy a while, you may have built some habits you need to undo. As you become aware of these habits, you’ll need to find ways to replace them with good communication.

Take it slow, be consistent and enjoy learning.

Want to learn more about how active listening can help you and your pharmacy business? 

Download the Active Listening resource today

About the author

Rachelle Smerhy

COO and Co-Founder

Rachelle is a copywriter with
experience in healthcare and alternative medicine who has worked with hundreds of clients from around the world.

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