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Five Ways Nurses can be Better Listeners

Improving listening skills as a nurseDo you find yourself frequently forgetting names or returning to an exam room without the cup of water your patient asked for? When you’re charting, thinking about your next patient or even just trying to remember something you learned back in nursing school, it’s hard to be focused on the people you’re caring for. Here are five simple ways to improve your listening skills:

1. Make eye contact when you ask questions. It can be really tempting to stand in an exam room and type stats and symptoms into the computer while you’re talking to a patient, and there are times when this is necessary or even preferred — especially if you’re performing a checkup and just need to record height, weight and blood pressure. When you’re meeting with a new patient, though, or talking with someone who is reluctant to discuss their health issues, a little eye contact can go a long way. This also allows you to pick up on body language and helps the patient feel more at ease.

2. Don’t laugh off or dismiss your patient’s concerns. Though you probably hear some ridiculous questions, it’s important to show the patient that you’re listening to her. Be sure to answer the questions you can and reassure her, if necessary, that she has nothing to worry about if her concerns are unfounded. Be careful, however, not to seem dismissive; you will lose your patient’s trust, and she will be less willing to share future health concerns with you.

3. Sit at your patient’s bedside instead of standing. Sitting while asking questions conveys that you care about the person, but it also helps you hear what they’re saying and pay closer attention to their facial expressions and tone of voice. Sitting also allows you to quickly check the patient’s vitals or look at a hand or knee he or she says is hurting.

4. Use a mnemonic to remember a patient’s name. It’s always embarrassing to forget a patient’s name when you’re talking to him and have to consult the chart — or, worse, call him the wrong name. Before entering the exam room, look at the patient’s chart and figure out a way to remember his name, whether it’s associating it with someone else you know with that name (i.e., your brother’s name is John) or thinking of an object that starts with the same letter (Adam likes apples). It may even be helpful to say the name aloud a few times to commit it to memory. If you’re unsure how to pronounce the name, ask the patient about it when you enter the room. This shows you care enough to listen and will also help you remember the name.

5. Focus on patient requests until you can finish them. Leaving a patient hanging when you forget to grab her an extra pillow or the pain reliever she needs is never a good idea. And let’s face it: You have great intentions, but you sometimes get sidetracked when you leave the room and another nurse talks to you or someone else needs help. Stop forgetting about patient requests by repeating them in your mind until you complete them. If that doesn’t help, write it on your clipboard and glance at it before you return to the room.

Listening is an important trait for any nurse to have. What tips do you have for improving your listening skills?

About the author

Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a communication professional with experience writing for the healthcare and entertainment industries as well as local government. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.


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