Take Time to Listen

Doctor listening to patient with concentration, sitting at deskMy friend, Kris Carlgren, recently handed me a copy of a 2007 article from U.S. News & World Report entitled, “The 18-Second Doctor.”  It is a well-written piece in the form of an interview between journalist, Nancy Shute, and Dr. Jerome Groopman, M.D., a noted researcher on cancer and AIDS at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School; he’s also the author of the book, How Doctors Think.  According to Ms. Shute, Dr. Groopman’s book “explains how faulty thinking by doctors can lead to tragically wrong diagnoses and what patients can do to better the odds of getting the right care.”

One of the primary points Dr. Groopman makes is that, because we are all programmed to look for patterns, algorithms and previously proven “recipes” to address challenges and problem solve, we think we know what’s going on even when we sometimes don’t.  Rather than really think through situations, we categorize the scenarios into compartments based on previous experience and, as a result, can wind up going down the wrong path to resolution.  Furthermore, Dr. Groopman describes a personal situation during which he went to four doctors to address a pain in his hand – all of whom gave him a different diagnosis!  He said that the only diagnosis (and, by the way, the one who got it right) he paid any attention to came from the final doctor who bothered to listen – really listen – to what was going on and, instead of rushing to judgment (i.e. diagnosis), thought through what the combination of symptoms coupled with x-rays and MRI readings illustrated.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen in the medical field.  Looking in the mirror, if I am really honest about the way I, myself, participate in conversations, like many people, I listen for a few seconds and then jump in with stories of my own and then, of all things, offer advice based on my own experience set!  Sure, it is important to glean information, ideas and potential components of solutions based on our own background and the backgrounds of those with whom we surround ourselves.  And, by the way, leveraging the knowledge we already have saves a lot of time, right?  However, doesn’t it make more sense to really LISTEN and then THINK through possible solutions based on each specific scenario?  Instead of rushing to judgment, what if we took a pause, listened for longer than we might otherwise do and then weigh in only when invited to do so?

Are you curious enough?  Are you really listening?  Are you asking the right questions?  Thinking through this for myself and knowing that I am more prone to want to jump in rather than gather more information and/or find the deeper meaning, I’m going to give it a try.  I’m going to do more listening and ask more questions – especially more of the right questions.  My guess is that, together with others, I will accomplish a lot more and be able to provide more constructive advice and guidance when asked.  At the very least, the people with whom I interact will really feel listened to and heard.  That, in and of itself, is a gift.

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