What Makes an Exceptional Listener?
Exceptional listeners understand two things: the different types and stages of listening. Types of listening involve your motivation for listening. Stages of listening are all about how we receive and process the message.
Types of Listening
1.) Empathetic Listening
Empathetic listening focuses on seeking to understand the speaker. While the other person is speaking, you engage in trying to understand where they’re coming from.
It’s not only about words.
Empathetic listening is about connecting with how he or she experiences an issue.
For example, say you’ve got a patient on a new medication who is telling you it’s making her fatigued. This is wreaking havoc in her busy life.
Now think about your listening.
Are you nodding your head as she’s speaking, waiting to tell her that this is normal? That you hear this from every other patient taking this medication? And that there’s no cause for concern?
Or are you making the mental shift into her experience? Do you understand what it means to her that she’s no longer able to get out of bed in the morning? That dragging her five-year-old to school has become almost impossible?
As she talks about her life piling up around her, are you able to look past her words and picture her experience? Can you imagine the laundry piling up? Her performance at work slipping? How she may be having difficulty dealing with her young children?
Can you imagine the anxiety this must be causing?
Empathetic listening helps you identify with the speaker. It gives you a deep understanding of the world behind their words. Once you can identify in this way, your response becomes more relevant and thoughtful.
It’s a powerful tool for building strong connections.
2.) Informative Listening
Informative listening, as the name would suggest, is about listening to gather information. We often use informative listening in educational settings. It’s best used anywhere we need to absorb information to make informed decisions.
Informative listening is vital when you’re seeking to know how to counsel a patient.
For example, our patient who is feeling fatigued due to her new medication needs empathy. That much is clear.
But you also need to gather information, so you know whether there are any issues with the new med. Is she taking the medication as instructed? Are there any small adjustments she could make to see if the fatigue improves with time?
Could there be an underlying factor contributing to this reaction? A supplement she’s taking or an underlying condition her doctor doesn’t know about?
While you’re gathering information, remember that presentation is also important.
If you’re engaged in empathetic listening, chances are your tone will be warm and interested. Be sure to continue with the same tone as you remain alert to any information you need. Remember to watch for body language and other cues.
3.) Critical Listening
Critical listening skills have a more flexible definition than other types of listening. Critical listening means processing the information as you’re taking it in, then using your judgement to determine the next steps.
We tend to think of using our critical listening skills when we’re listening to an expert speak. Or when we’re learning and applying a new skill.
Critical listening is about evaluating information.
Let’s get back to our patient who is suffering from fatigue from her new medication. Critical listening skills allow for a thorough evaluation of the information she’s presenting.
Once you’ve taken in that information, these skills help you decide on any further action. For example, should the patient be in touch with her doctor? Does anything in what she’s telling you, suggest an urgent problem?
Or is it safe to reassure her that she can give the medication a little more time and then contact her doctor if needed? Critical listening is about making decisions or choices.
It involves taking in and evaluating information through all different types of listening.
4.) Appreciative Listening
Appreciative listening refers to listening for entertainment or listening to something we enjoy. When we listen to music we love, or a great audiobook, we’re engaging in appreciative listening.
But we can also engage in appreciative listening during conversations. When we engage with someone we enjoy talking to, we listen with appreciation. And when we appreciate talking to someone, they pick up on that appreciation.
And often they return the sentiment, which builds connection.
Effective listening is not a passive activity. It’s not about sitting back and allowing others to talk at you. Or focusing on the next thing you can say as you shrug off what they’re saying as being typical or commonplace.
Effective listening means staying mindful during a conversation. It means processing what they’re telling you and asking deep questions.
Make it known that you’re not only hearing what they’re saying; you’re also considering the message. Understanding the different types of listening will help you become an exceptional listener.
Stages of Listening
Conversations differ in many ways. In how they begin and the form they take. In the order things come up, and in and where the different types of listening come into each one.
For example, you may start a conversation to gather information and become intrigued. You may then find yourself switching over to empathetic listening.
Yet regardless of how a conversation goes, we take in information in stages. And if we’re listening well, we use those stages to learn more about both the message and the speaker.
Some of the stages of listening are:
Hearing the Message:
This stage is about receiving the message and gathering information from it.
At this point, we’ve received the initial message, and we can begin to clarify anything we didn’t understand.
Deeper Meaning/Integration Stage:
In this stage, we’re combining further listening with the information we’re gathered. We’re now ready to integrate the message into the big picture as we understand it.
During this stage, we decide our level of interest and whether we align with the message.
Recalling the Message:
Recalling the message means that we have processed what the speaker is saying. We then store any information for future use.
It’s during this phase that we can most make the speaker feel heard and understood. We can confirm that we’ve clarified the message as needed and committed it to memory.
Knowing the different stages allows you to focus on your listening skills in each stage. Are you integrating your body language during each stage? Asking appropriate questions?
Which stages can you improve on?
Active Listening in the Pharmacy
As a pharmacist, you’ve got a lot to keep up on; but the bottom line will always be patient care. Improving your listening skills helps you engage with patients in a conscious way.
Active listening skills can set you apart from the crowd. They can help patients feel comfortable with you as their go-to for any healthcare issues.
To recap, you can do this by:
- Taking time to understand the big picture when it comes to your patients’ health.
- Allowing for deeper reflection on what your patient is trying t communicate.
- Making it clear that regardless of how busy you are, you’re taking notice of the patient.
- Asking relevant, probing questions, and seeking to hear and understand the answers.
Think about it.
When was the last time someone made you feel as though you were the biggest priority to them at that moment? As though you didn’t need to fight to make yourself understood or to feel heard.
Chances are if you know someone that makes you feel that way every time you interact, that person stands out to you.
Your patients will feel the same way once you begin to develop your active listening skills.
Which means better relationships with your patients. More patient referrals. A reputation for being intelligent, patient and understanding.
On top of that, you may become a role model for those around you, from coworkers to your patients themselves. The possibilities for furthering your career and creating harmonious relationships are endless.
Be sure to start small, choosing one type of active listening or one stage of listening to improve each week. Practice this activity until it becomes a habit. And once you feel it’s ingrained in your behaviour, choose another active listening habit to work on.
With time and patience, you’ll see big improvements in your relationships. Not only with patients but with coworkers, family, and friends as well. Active listening promotes solid relationships.
But it also helps your brain process information with razor-sharp focus.
With regular, mindful practice, active listening can change your life.
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