Why Don’t They Listen? Part IV-Some Solutions

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by Beth Boynton and Jim Murphy

(Scroll to bottom of post for links to parts I, II, and III)

More and more “Listening” is becoming a hot topic in leadership circles and patient safety initiatives.   In the news, there is evidence of the problem and inspiration for making it a priority.  In 5/30/2012, Hospital Impact,  Thomas Dahlborg,  talks about “What is the Danger of Not Listening to Front Line Staff and  in an “Improvement Story” found on the IHI website called, “There is No Nursing Shortage Here” at Hackensack University Medical Center, (HUMC), “Listening” is promoted as a key tool for nurse retention!  And Edgar Schein discusses hierarchy in the operating room in this 5 min youtube.


What can be done?  There is actually a technique called effective listening, and many organizations have implemented programs to promote it.  But training is not usually effective if the problems are motivation and practice; those who most need to develop this skill may be the least aware of it and facilitated practice opportunities may be nonexistent.

In organizations there are many techniques and interventions that can promote listening.  Dialogue in particular is a particular powerful example; presencing is ever deeper.  However, such practices require a commitment of time and energy that may be hard to get; often management won’t listen to the case for such things.

Anything that improves the organizational culture tends to improve organizational communication.  If people don’t see why communication is a problem, a campaign to improve performance or any other objective may lead them to see why.  Take the example of a hospital where patient satisfaction is in need of improvement; it is not hard to link that variable to how doctors and nurses listen.

What We Should Do?

We may have limited power to create change in an organization, a school or even our own family, but we can always have an influence for the better by being responsible for ourselves.  In Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, perhaps the most important text on organizations, he identified “personal mastery” as the primary step toward developing a learning organization.  All of us can promote listening, learning and positive change by being better communicators ourselves.

In addition to actually listening, we can make efforts to highlight related needs and successes.  For example, “I need 15 more minutes with Mr. Smith.  He seems to be trusting me more and has many questions about his new meds” or  “I’m glad I took the extra time to sit with Mrs. Jones, she shared her fears about dying and wants to have a Hospice nurse talk with her.”

The golden rule is that if we want others to listen to us, we need to listen to other people. If managers want employees to improve they need to listen to employees; if teachers want students to learn, they need to listen to students; if doctors and nurses want patients to improve, they need to listen to patients.  Those who listen best are will be the best influencers and leaders.

Also, ‘Medical Improv‘ aka Applied Improvisation shows great promise for improving listening (and speaking-up, critical thinking, and inter-professional relationships…all at the same time!)

Peter Block has suggested how we can achieve such mastery of listening.  In our dealings with other people, we are generally most concerned about expressing our own views and getting what we want.  But what if we resolved that in every conversation, we would be at least as interested in what the other needs and thinks?

If you missed parts:

Why Don’t They Listen?  Introduction Part I

What about Organizations and Management? Part II

Some Answers:  Why Don’t They Listen?  Part III

Jimjim murphy Mu
rphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management. Being semi-retired, Jim is willing to provide very reasonably priced consulting, coaching or  project work for organizations aspiring to improvement in organizational culture, effectiveness and employee engagement.

Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium.  His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices.  Having produced newsletters for several organizations  and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as we all consulting and coaching.

www.manage2001.com   jim@manage2001.com

BB closer Headshot 1-13 CherationsBeth Boynton RN, MS is a national speaker, organizational development consultant, and the author of the award-winning book, “Confident Voices:  The Nurses’ Guide to Improving Communication and Creating Positive Workplaces”.  She specializes in communication, collaboration, & emotional intelligence for healthcare professionals and organizations and is trained in the Professor Watson Curriculum for Medical Improv through Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She offers medical improv training for communication, emotional intelligence, culture change, and teambuilding efforts. Her video, “Interruption Awareness:  A Nursing Minute for Patient Safety” and blog, “Confident Voices in Healthcare” have drawn audiences from all over the world.  She is currently writing a core text with F.A. Davis Publishing Co. tentatively titled Successful Nurse Communication:  Safe Care, Positive Workplaces, & Rewarding Careers, practices as a Per Diem RN in a LTCF for folks with dementia, and a student of improv.  Her complete CV is online.

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