If speech-language pathologists at the Health Care/Business Institute took home just one lesson from the three days chock-full of advice about practice, leadership and business management, it would have to be that simple message.
Listen: to your clients and patients, to their family members, to potential clients, to colleagues. In session after session, presenters underscored the importance of nonjudgmental, focused listening.
Opening plenary speaker Dave Isay, creator of StoryCorps, didn’t have to tell conference attendees how important listening is—he showed them, playing audio tapes of a handful of StoryCorps’ 60,000-plus recorded conversations between everyday people.
But his message was clear: You discover the wisdom, poetry and grace of people when you listen to their stories. (Tomorrow’s blog post will further explore his presentation, “Connecting Through Stories: StoryCorps and You.”)
In a pre-conference workshop on Internet success for businesses, Ria Godoy of Online Internet Results also focused on listening when you build a website. She cautioned against loading a website with information you want prospective customers to know. Instead, she suggested writing information from the client’s point of view: What do prospective clients want to know? What are the 20 most common questions people have about your practice?
“When you know too much about your service, you can’t know what information users will find useful” unless you ask them and listen to their answers, she says.
Jacqueline Hinckley, of Choose Quality LLC, emphasized the client’s priorities in treatment for aphasia. “What does the person with aphasia want to do?” she asked. Clinicians can help clients gain the ability to carry out the activities most important to them. By listening to what the client wants—ordering food in a restaurant or talking about politics with friends, for example—the SLP can make the most of treatment time.
SLP Paula Leslie of the University of Pittsburgh and nurse Maria DePasquale of Community LIFE echoed the importance of listening to a client’s wishes in their session on ethical decision-making in feeding issues. Even though Leslie says the appropriate question to ask is simple—“How can we make your life better?”—listening to the answer can be hard. “Silence is difficult,” she said. “It can make us uncomfortable.” But care providers have a responsibility to “shut down their internal jabbering” and listen, and even to elicit more questions from patients and their families.
And Juan-Jose Beunza, a physician with the Universidad Europea in Spain, addressed the importance of listening in his plenary session, “Interprofessional Practice: Managing Emotions and Interpersonal Communication.” On successful interprofessional teams, he says, team members demonstrate their regard for one another by listening.
Listening involves giving silence, “not at your comfort level, but at the level of others,” Beunza said. It also includes internal silence, “shutting down your own prejudices,” and asking open questions that don’t involve solutions or carry judgment.
And when you find the value in others through listening, he said, be sure to express it.
Carol Polovoy is managing editor of The ASHA Leader. firstname.lastname@example.org