The art of listening


I will be the first to admit that I have had to work very hard to become a better listener in my personal life, and it’s definitely still a work in progress.  I find myself interrupting or interjecting things into a conversation that might not necessarily be helpful or relevant, but they came to my mind during the conversation and I wanted to share.  Sometimes it takes quite a bit of self-control to make sure that I let the other person finish their sentence or their train of thought.  It’s amazing though, when you step back and really focus on listening, how much more you can learn about a person and how much better the conversation can flow.
The reason that I bring this up is that many times I have actually been complimented for being such a great listener – but it’s always related to my listening skills as a physical therapist.  When I am in “PT mode” my levels of compassion, empathy, as well as my listening abilities increase exponentially.  I feel that listening is the number one thing that we are missing in healthcare.  If we listen well enough, a person’s verbal and visual cues can tell you so much more about what their body needs than many tests and measures.  Unfortunately, in today’s healthcare world, most practitioners are limited to a very short amount of time and have so many patients back-to-back that there is no way that they can truly listen to someone and be completely focused on them.  In the last clinic that I worked at before starting my practice, I was seeing upwards of 30 people a day.  I was usually supervising at least 2 other patients doing exercises while I was working with another person directly, which meant that I was in a constant state of multitasking and distraction.  I would be trying to do a gentle release on someone’s neck while yelling exercise cues across the room at another patient who often was not doing the exercise with correct form.  How in the world was I supposed to be treating each individual person with the time that they deserved when my mind was constantly thinking about documentation, insurance restrictions and how I was going to manage my next 6 or so patients.  It did not work for me at all, so I opened my private practice in August of 2017 and it was the best thing that I have ever done for myself and for my patients.  My office is 1 room – it is just me and my patient with no other distractions.  I am able to be all-in with every single person for the full 60 minutes of treatment and it’s amazing how much my results have improved.  It’s not just because the person is getting 60 minutes of uninterrupted treatment, it’s because I am able to listen to them, ask pertinent questions and really allow them to open up to me in a private and safe environment.  When people feel safe and comfortable, it’s amazing how much insight you can gain and how they are able to express what they are feeling and thinking.  The lack of distraction also allows me to be very perceptive when it comes to body language, visual cues and postures, and I am able to incorporate all of these with the verbal information to make a much better hypothesis which leads me to the true source of the problem.

I found some great quotes from that are very inspiring and make me really want to continue becoming a better listener.  #3, 9 and 14 are really perfect for the PT side of me.  #11 is sooooooo true in my personal life and #2 is why I want to change this.

  1. “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” —Doug Larson
  2. “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” —Bryant H. McGill
  3. “If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” —Robert Baden-Powell
  4. “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” —Karl A. Menniger
  5. “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” —Bernard Baruch
  6. “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” —Alan Alda
  7. “Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.” —Jeanette Winterson
  8. “There is as much wisdom in listening as there is in speaking—and that goes for all relationships, not just romantic ones.” —Daniel Dae Kim
  9. “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” —Peter Drucker
  10. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” —Ernest Hemingway
  11. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey
  12. “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.” —Ed Cunningham
  13. “The art of conversation lies in listening.” —Malcom Forbes
  14. “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” —M. Scott Peck
  15. “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” —Diogenes


My goal for this new year is to integrate my “PT mode” self more into my personal life.  This is not to say that my “PT mode” is perfect – I still talk about myself more than I really care to and I’m trying to become more cognizant of that.  I do feel that if we all worked on listening a little more, talking about ourselves a little less and really being present for people, that this world would be a much better place.  I’m sure it will take more than a lifetime for me to perfect this, but even though I may not be able to get to perfect I can definitely work towards it everyday.