Life In The Hospital

Leadership Means Listening

Whether you are a hospital medical director, an army major, a corporate CEO, or the President of the United States, you never have enough resources to do everything that you really want to do. Consequently, you can’t give everyone everything that they want. But you can listen and sometimes just listening is your most valuable and effective resource.

Children, citizens, and hospital employees often say that they want their voices heard. Effective parents listen. Effective politicians listen. And effective hospital leaders listen.

Here are some specific ways you can improve your listening skills.

  1. The first step in listening is to show up. You will understand what a person is saying better when you hear it in the environment that the person works in. Context is everything when it comes to listening. You can’t hear anyone if you spend your time behind a closed office door. Get out to the hospital wards, the doctor’s lounge, and the procedure areas.
  2. Be empathetic. Understanding and sharing the feelings of the other person will make that person perceive you as valuing that person and what they are experiencing. Ultimately, it will foster the perception that you are supportive of them.
  3. Control your emotions. Listening to criticism is exhausting and it is too easy to get annoyed, defensive, or angry when you feel like you are being criticized. Often, all that person wants is for someone to hear their complaint. Maintaining one’s composure can be difficult but ultimately makes the other person feel like you really listened to them.
  4. Don’t judge. Priests are great at this – they hear about the worst of human behavior and thought during confession and still remain completely dedicated to their parishioners.
  5. Listen to the words that are not spoken. Understanding the English language is easy; understanding body language can be more difficult. Sometime how someone says something is more important than the words that they actually speak.
  6. Don’t interrupt. We all like to hear ourselves talk and we often think that is what our employees and the physicians in the hospital want. A conversation is not a contest of who can get the most words in at the most strategic time. Different people express themselves at different paces and you need to be sure that the physicians have enough time to express their thoughts at their own pace.
  7. Ask a question about what they just told you. It will show that you are taking an interest in their ideas or concerns.
  8. Don’t forget to listen to yourself.

  9. Make eye contact. When you are looking at someone when you are listening to them, it creates more of a perception that you are focused on them and that you consider what they are saying is important. It makes them feel that they are appreciated.
  10. Don’t feel pressured to give advice too soon. A doctor once told me that the M.D. initials after our names stood for “make decisions” and as physicians, we are trained to get as much data as we need to make a diagnosis or therapeutic decision and then do it without belaboring that diagnosis or decision. As a leader, sometimes giving your employee a little more time allows him/her to draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions, which can be far more effective than if you just dictated that decision.
  11. Compliment the other person. By acknowledging that the issue that they are complaining about really is a problem and by telling them that they are doing a great job with the resources that they have, you show that you are truly interested in improving their work environment.
  12. Know their name. We have more than 1,000 physicians in our medical system and I can’t know them all by name but those that work regularly in my hospital, I make a point to know by name and by using their name in conversations, it shows that I value that physician.
  13. You can’t really listen to someone by an email. Same goes for a text message. Yeah, it is quick and convenient to send an email or a text but you can’t pick up on the nuances of how the words are spoken and the nuances of the non-verbal communication. If you take the time to call the person, or better yet, go and speak with them in person, you will not only learn more but you will better show that you value what that person is saying.
  14. Make a note. I know it is old-school, but I keep a clip of 3×5 cards in my pocket. When a physician tells me about an idea that they have or complains about an problem they are encountering, I write it down. Later, as it gets attended to or resolved, I cross it out. When the physician sees me write down a note about what they are telling me, it shows that I consider what they are saying important and to be attended to. Also, it helps keep me from forgetting about those issues when I finally have a  chance to do something about them later on.

Hearing is what you do with your ears. Listening is something that you do with your soul.

February 13, 2018

By James Allen, MD

I am a Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at the Ohio State University and former Medical Director of Ohio State University East Hospital