Tom Sharon
Avoid language that will prevent listening


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Communication - How to Get the Staff
to Listen to You

Doctors and nurses may seem to be ignoring your complaints because they are sometimes unable to listen. Conversely, patients often do not hear advice or instructions because they are unable to pay attention. This inattention in the communication between patients and hospital personnel contributes to the many disasters that occur.

Most often, we enter into a conversation interested mostly in ourselves. Then we tend to walk away from the interaction making up a memory of what the other person said that is more consistent with what we wanted to hear than with what he or she intended.

Especially when dealing with matters of your health, you need to take responsibility for the recipient's listening. First, you need to avoid language that will prevent listening. Words that threaten self-esteem or cause embarrassment evoke anger and prevent the other person from giving you a fair hearing. So use neutral words as much as possible.

Second, you need to preface negative comments with words that provide a buffer. It gives the recipient an opportunity to prepare to listen and avoid the reflexive defense of anger and resentment. For example, let us say you want to tell the doctor to wash his hands in front of you. If you say, "I need to see you wash your hands before you touch me," the doctor is likely to hear, "I do not trust you. I think you're going to give me a disease with your filthy hands." You can avoid a problem by saying, "It's not that I don't trust you, but with so many hospital-acquired infections going around, I would have peace of mind by seeing you wash your hands in front of me." With this approach, you anticipated the doctor's likely reaction and removed it by addressing it up front.

Third, avoid placing blame. Questions that begin with "how" or "why" after an incident are attempts to fix blame and will nearly always evoke defensive behavior that contributes nothing to finding a solution. If you find that the other party begins the conversation in a defensive mode, you will need to derail it and move it to a mode that is more conducive to listening. For example, in the story in the chapter on bedsores, when my mother's head nurse started to explain that the bedsore happened on another floor, he thought that I was looking to blame someone. That is why I stopped him by saying that I was interested only in implementing a treatment and prevention plan and was not looking to place blame. In saying that, I was able to refocus the conversation to actions that would accomplish the immediate goal.

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