Thursday, February 21, 2013

Two ears and one mouth

I read a commentary article in a recent JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) issue that made me feel pretty good.  It was entitled "Reactive versus empathic listening: what is the difference?  Before I started reading, I was pretty sure that I knew the difference.  After reading, I felt grateful that I have been practicing empathic listening for most of my life.  I found the article both interesting and inspiring, and made me want to make sure that I do not forget just how important listening is.

It seemed funny to me, though, that an article needed to be written about listening as a way of coaching veterinarians who are practicing reactive rather than empathic listening. 

In a nutshell, here is the difference: Reactive listening is listening with the motive of formulating a reply.  Empathic listening is listening with the motive of understanding the concerns of the speaker.  Reactive listening will most often result in a response that is based on the listeners point of view, and usually involves interruptions and interpretations.  Empathic listening, if there is time, will usually be more rewarding, because the goals and problems presented by the speaker will be more fully understood and addressed. 

There were many times when I first started practicing that I felt like there wasn't enough time to really address the concerns presented in an appointment or I even failed completely addressing only what I thought the problem was.  When I opened Gladwyne Animal Hospital and could do things my way, I decided it was important to make my appointment intervals longer than the usual 15 minutes.  It is so important to me that people have enough time to get comfortable and remember everything that they wanted to say.  I am able to just listen without interrupting.  The funny thing is that I learned how to do that over thirty years ago!  I am the youngest of six kids, and my older brother Jeff has always given sage advice.  One of the things that he always used to say to me was that "You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You are supposed to listen twice as much as you talk."  He is usually right. 

Interestingly, while I was thinking about writing this blog post, I was waiting for a Doctor appointment of my own.  I waited for 45 minutes with no interaction when I finally, politely, told the receptionist that I would have to reschedule.  She told me that she was sorry, but the doctor had 40 appointments scheduled for today, and was behind.  Of course he was behind!  How can you possibly see 40 appointments in one day!!!!  None of the patients could possibly be getting the chance to be empathically listened to.  I was glad that I had decided to leave.  I hope that nobody ever feels that way in my office, and it is my goal that they never do. 

I will admit, though, that sometimes after a full day of empathic listening in appointments at work my kids get the short end of the stick.  Sometimes they sound like the teacher from Peanuts, you know "wha wha wha whaaa, whaaa,whaaa...." and I may have said yes to some requests to which I should have said no!

This is me learning to sit quietly on my brother Jeff's lap.  Early lesson in listening skills....

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