As someone that works in the field of behaviour change I understand the importance of listening to my clients. And when I say listening, I mean really listening to my clients, not simply nodding in agreeance and then asking about how their football team played on the weekend. Because as Exercise Physiologists, Personal Trainers or Health Coaches if we don’t have the capacity to listen to our clients then we simply don’t have the capacity to help them change. The ability to listen has an enormous effect on our job effectiveness and our relationships with others and there is no more important relationship that we will have than that of the relationship we have with our clients. And I am writing this piece for other health professionals that have not really thought about listening or even those that have but are not sure of what it all means.
What is listening? The first component of listening that I will discuss is Active Listening. The evidence indicates that we only take in and remember roughly 25% of what we hear. This means that when we are consulting with our clients that there is only a 25% chance that we will actually listen to the most critical of information that is delivered! How are we going to help our clients if there is such a strong chance that we aren’t even going to hear the most important information?
The most important method to improve your listening skills is to start practicing Active Listening. This simply involves a conscious effort to listen to the words that our clients are speaking, and most important, start to understand the message that is being sent. But in order to do this we need to pay attention to our clients very carefully. We cannot become distracted, form counter arguments, offer our opinion or even offer constructive criticism. We simply need to listen and let the client speak, without distraction. We can’t lose focus on our client and must stay mentally engaged. If you find it difficult to stay engaged and focused, try repeating the words that the client speaks in your head. This should help you to stay engaged and reinforces the message.
Very importantly, to enhance your listening skills, you need to let your client know that you are still listening. This is critical to active listening and to appreciate the importance of this consider a time when you have been talking to someone and were unsure of whether or not the person that you are talking to was listening. If you have ever thought that the person opposite to you was not listen it certainly affects the way that you deliver your message. And when are with a client we need to know it all – the message cannot be watered down or filtered if we are going to be able to help them effectively.
Acknowledgement can be very simple – a nod, smile or small utterance such as ‘uh-huh’ are all you need to let the client know that you are still engaged. This does not mean that you are agreeing with the client – at this point whether you agree or not is completely irrelevant – it simply shows that you are mentally present.
To summarise, there are generally 4 key techniques involved in Active Listening.
1. Pay attention – give your client your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Look at your client directly, put aside your thoughts, don’t offer an opinion or interject, avoid distractions and watch for body language.
2. Show that you are listening – use your own body language to convey your attention. You can do this by nodding occasionally, smile and use other expressions, make sure your posture is inviting and encourage your client to keep speaking.
3. Defer judgement – don’t interrupt your client. It will only dull the message and possibly prevent the true message from being imparted.
4. Respond appropriately – active listening is a method of respecting and understanding our clients. You are simply gathering information at this stage and this information needs to be unfiltered.
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself that your goal to hear everything that your client is saying. Set aside all of your thoughts and preconceptions. And most importantly, start practicing! Next week, in part 2, I will discuss reflective listening, a progression and important aspect of the interviewing process.
Yours in Health!