Listen up: Six steps to mindful listening

By Helle Gjønnes Møller

“Successful clinicians are successful listeners.” This observation is shared by Dr John Greer Clarke in the article Listening from the Heart: Improving Connections with our Patients where he investigates why hearing care professionals are sometimes perceived by patients to be insensitive, indifferent, and lacking compassion. 

Listen from the heart

According to Clarke, poor listening skills play a major role in this perception: “When we fail to listen from the heart, we hurt our own profession.” Good listening skills, on the other hand, increase comprehension, reduce misunderstandings, and help determine a patient's needs so these may be translated into actions. 

It’s a common misconception that listening skills develop naturally. Like any other discipline, good listening must be studied and consciously practiced. In Interpersonal communication: Everyday encounters, Julia T. Wood describes listening as an active and complex process that involves the following steps:

1. Mindfulness

When we are mindful, we are fully present in the moment. We attempt to keep our minds from wandering, from thinking about what we need to do next. We focus on the person talking and reduce any distractions. We try to understand what the person is communicating without imposing our own ideas, judgments, or feelings. 

2. Hearing

Hearing is a natural and critical part of listening. If you don’t hear the message to begin with, how can you respond to it? Hearing care professionals must be aware that this second step is often problematic for their patients – and they should be mindful of things they can do to make sure the message is understood.

3. Selection 

We can’t remember everything we hear, so we must select what’s important to us and filter out the rest. We can then make sense of the selected bits by organizing them according to familiar schemes and prototypes. If the patient doesn’t know what information is relevant beforehand, they can’t effectively select the important elements and will have difficulty organizing the information in meaningful ways.

4. Interpretation

This step in the listening process involves putting what we hear and observe into perspective. What’s the feeling? What’s the tone? What’s the meaning? Here, the listener makes a genuine effort to understand the other person without inserting their own conviction, without passing judgment, and without trying to correct their feelings. 

5. Responding

When we listen to support others, we must respond effectively by conveying attention and interest. This can be done through posture, eye contact, nodding, reflecting, etc. By contrast, when we multitask during a clinical appointment – e.g., when filling out audiograms or hearing aid forms – we can appear inattentive and convey a lack of interest, which may ultimately have adverse effects on the outcome. 

6. Remembering

The final step in the listening process is remembering what was heard. In helping patients make decisions that are meaningful to them in their daily lives, we must listen carefully to what unique factors affect them and influence their decisions. And we must retain this information to ensure relevant and constructive conversations in the future. When we remember details about patients’ lives, we show them that they matter to us, which increases their confidence and, in the end, can improve outcomes.

‘A key to the bond of trust’

By being conscious of these steps, hearing care professionals can greatly improve their listening skills and provide support and counseling that is person-centered and relevant. As Clarke puts it, “Active listening is a key to successful communication, a key to the development of strong interpersonal relationships, and a key to the bond of trust that must be attained if our adult patients or the parents of our pediatric patients are going to take action on the treatment recommendations we propose.”

For further guidance on how to apply mindful listening in your clinic, explore Module 2 of the Ida University Course.

We also offer a 30-minute online course on Active Listening (closely related to mindful listening) in the Ida Learning Hall. Like all our courses, it’s free and available to all. Find out more here.