Empathic Listening.

This took me about 2 years to learn. I can write about it in a few paragraphs. If you’re male, (sorry, just being honest, some females have problems with this also…I’m told…) reckon on months if not years of a learning curve.

We’re taught to respond from our own agenda, to bring up counter points, to argue, to contest, to jibe, to spar. Empathic listening is a communication skill that first emphasizes…listening. Not natural for most of us.

I have a vivid memory, after the 50th video taped interview, of my instructor sticking his tongue between his teeth and saying, “Just bite your tongue!”

Tongue Twister Valerie via Compfight

So, I guess that’s the first rule. You can’t listen if you’re talking.

Listen to your patient. Just sit there, look at him. In the eyes. Listen. Don’t type. Don’t google. Don’t shuffle papers. For heaven’s sake don’t look at your watch! Just listen. Then, label the feeling that you’re picking up.

Unsure? Not really sure what that feeling is?  I’m still sometimes unsure, after graduating in 1986.

If your patient is upset, then use that word, “upset”.

So you say, “You’re upset that…”

That’s when you just rephrase what he just told you.

Usually, at that point, something registers. Your patient realizes that you, you are actually listening. He’s probably going to be shocked. He may rev up the feeling, to make sure you really get it. Say, “Wow, you are really upset that…” He may clarify the information that you perceived. So, you restate it again, to show him that you’ve got it.

Nagra SNST Recorder Matt Blaze via Compfight

Dead simple. Act like a big satellite receiver, with a tape recorder. Pick up the feeling. State the feeling. Rephrase what you just heard. That easy. Not easy. I know.

But it gets easier with practice! The big issue is just shutting up.

You’ll learn this in your residency, if you’re going for family practice, and hopefully in psychiatry… though sometimes I wonder. You can read about this technique also in business books, most notably written by one of my heroes, Stephen Covey.

See something with his name on it? Read it!