Listen Better, Lead Better!

Listen Better, Lead Better!

Leaders Need to Listen Better!

With healthcare organizations so fervently focused on improving the patient experience while scouring the bottom line, it’s easy to ignore “softer” leadership skills, such as listening. Many believe this to be a touchy-feely approach to leadership and therefore a waste of time.

On the contrary! A focus on your own listening skills can lead to more effective teamwork, higher productivity, fewer conflicts and errors, enhanced problem-solving, improved retention, and dramatically improved patient satisfaction scores. As authors on leadership development have noted, listening is essential for employee engagement, business sustainability and patient safety! Now that’s powerful!

Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “When you listen, you learn.”  So who should you listen to?  To be a business savvy, patient centered leader, listening effectively to the following three groups is essential: your employees, your service line peers, and of course your customers.

Listening to your staff will benefit you in two ways. One benefit will be the degree of discretionary effort your employees expend in ensuring your unit or department is running well.  Gallup’s unsettling research shows that only one third of workers are “fully engaged”.  Additional findings support that one reason this number is so low is because employees don’t feel they are being heard by their managers.  Employees understand that not every idea will be implemented, but the gratification of “simply being listened to” helps employees to feel valued, improves employee morale, and encourages the flow of new innovative ideas.  Secondly, they will know of problems way before you do.  The earlier you can head off a problem, the easier it could be to fix.

Listen to your service line peers. Often patients will not be honest about the care and compassion they are receiving while in your space.  Fear of having to face the source of their complaint, or simply a dislike of conflict may cause patients to hold back their concerns.  However, as soon as they leave they are usually very open to sharing.  Ask your peers what the patients are saying about your department or unit. Then immediately follow up and improve.

Finally, listening is essential to the relationships with patients. How you do your daily patient rounds is crucial to getting accurate information before they go home and shock you with their patient satisfaction survey responses. Take the time to introduce yourself, tell them what you are doing and why, ask them for their feedback and then just listen.

So how do you become a leader who is a better listener? It simply takes practice. Here are some tips for sharpening your listening skills. 

Develop your curiosity. Seek first to understand the other’s point of view. Start every conversation with the goal of understanding the primary purpose of this communication.  Genuine curiosity is felt by others and helps to open up the flow of conversation so you can get to the true issues.    It also prevents you from wasting time trying to solve problems, when in fact the person you were speaking with simply needed a sounding board. 

Pay attention to how you listen. Are you focused on the person speaking or thinking about the thousand other things you need to do?  What is your body language saying? Are you asking clarifying questions?

Reflect back to ensure you have met their needs AND their expectations. In a Joint Commission Leadership blog from 2013, Dr. Castillo wrote: “I remember feeling that I was just too busy to sit down and have a 5-minute conversation. Those 5 minutes could have saved me the 50 minutes I had to spend to reply to the complaint [of why I did not meet the patient’s expectation].” We are expert at meeting clinical needs, however it is often client expectations that we fall short on. Whenever possible, regardless if it’s an employee, patient or peer, simply ask them if you met their expectations. Better to find out then, than to have to revisit the same exact issue again at a later date. 

Seek feedback. Ask coworkers, employees, and your boss to assess your listening skills. Let them know you are actively working to improve. Be ready and open to the feedback.   Don’t be defensive or you will never get honest feedback again. 

Work with a coach. Coaches can help you discover ways to listen better. You will get honest feedback, constructive criticism and specific steps to improve.  This can be a trusted advisor, an outsider or your Organizational Development expert.

Studies in Emotional Intelligence have found that leaders set the precedent for acceptable behaviors in the workplace (for better or for worse) with their actions, attitudes and energy. To understand and influence a positive flow of emotion and create an environment where employees want to do their best work, improve outcomes and ultimately create a positive patient experience, leaders must listen better.

Kiki Orski MBA,RN

Peak Performance





Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications


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