One of the most important skills any professional can master is listening; it is at least as important as communicating effectively, though listening is not discussed nearly as often as speaking.
One of the first things one can do to be a better listener is practice reflective listening. This is technique in which the professional restates what the patient or client says in a different way, assuring the speaker that he or she was heard as well as offering the speaker a chance to hear and reflect on his own words. This technique is particularly effective in the mental health fields.
Some general principles of listening include the following:
Avoid distractions - this has to do with the conditions of the room (the setting) as much as the actual listening. The listener must stay focused and commit himself completely to the patient at the time. Maintain eye contact, avoid thinking about other things, and do not interrupt.
Manage emotions - keep from reacting to what the speaker says and diffuse any emotions which could get in the way of effective communication.
Be an active listener - avoid asking open-ended questions, be specific, and ask follow-up questions to ensure gathering complete information.
An empathetic listener is a blessing to others and allows the speaker to be heard and validated. It is especially important to practice empathetic listening in the health care field, where many things are intuitive as well as fact-based. Avoiding distractions, managing emotions, and being an active listener are some keys to effective listening.