Monday, 20 February 2012

Listening is the best medicine

I asked someone for help today, and they simply said no. Thankfully, this had nothing to do with patient care, or hospital at all, but rather involved something I am trying to sort out at home on a tight schedule. Nevertheless, I made it plain how my success in this small matter, which is important to me, relied on them taking ten minutes out of their day to do something for me. I wasn’t in a position to pay them for this extra effort, but had rather hoped that my straightforward appeal to their better nature would be enough. It wasn’t.

Now I have no doubt that my failure to secure the help I needed was a combination of my approach and the attitude of the other person I deal with. I suspect that if I had come across better, then there was a chance that I could have succeeded.

But having failed in this matter, I spent some time thinking about what it means to ask for help, and for that plea to be rejected. This is something that I have experienced from the other side many times as a doctor, and I haven’t always responded; I haven’t always been able to.

But what is important is that however empowered, or disempowered you are, that the person seeking your help knows that they have been heard. In the emotive, scary and overwhelming environment of a hospital, the need to know that the people looking after you or your relative must be very great indeed.

Our patients and their relatives often have ideas about the service we provide and how they are provided which differ from what actually happens. I have spoken before about the challenge of communicating issues that run counter to people’s wishes and expectations and how hard this can be, but I do not think that I have ever reflected fully on the importance of ensuring that however disappointed someone is what what you are able to do for them that they realise that you have listened.

Usually the best way to achieve this is to do what is being asked. But as we already know, this is not always possible. So what is the next best option?

I suspect that there is no magic formula, but it does require making concessions where you can, moving your stand point as much as you are able to, and being genuinely, and earnestly empathetic with the person you are dealing with. There is no one way to achieve this, and being successful involves you being yourself, being honest and listening careful. Only by responding to the real needs of the person seeking help can we hope to assure them that we are listening, and that we have heard.

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