Listening is key to effective communication. It an active, learned process involving verbal and nonverbal behaviours and is a two-way activity. Hargie et al (2004) identify 6 different types of listening: discriminative, evaluative, appreciative, comprehensive, dialogic and empathic. In healthcare we use active listening skills and empathic listening to hear what the person is telling us (the words), any underlying messages (feelings and emotions) and reflect back the main issues and concerns so the person is reassured that they have been heard.
Active listening is the process of using positive visible verbal and nonverbal cues to signal our attention to what the other person is saying. Skills include, nodding, leaning and eye contact.
Empathic listening involves temporarily setting aside our own needs to focus on the other person and avoiding the temptation to tell our own story or give advice. We encourage elaboration of the person’s story through active listening, use of questions and demonstrating empathy. Skills include paraphrasing, summarising and mirroring the verbal and nonverbal communication of the person we are listening to.