Today's post is about listening, one of my favourite human skills to keep working at. Out in clinical practice, you have access to the best listening teachers in the world: women who are thinking do you hear me? do you care about me? do I matter?
You'll come across a series of personalities and stories every day. I know, I know, it's really busy and I bet you wish you had 10x the time to spend with each woman. But there are plenty of time and energy effective ways of improving your listening. If you're a student you'll likely have more time and attention to spend with each client and you can start to provide this powerful part of care.
And if you're anything like me, this ability will start to impact your personal relationships as well as your professional life.
Active listening is about being there for someone without offering your own views.
As well as being quiet by not saying anything, you also have to quiet your brain, so no multitasking by planning your next essay or evening out while a client is talking. This is hard, it takes time and effort to build your ability, just like strengthening a muscle at the gym.
Usually, when someone has finished a sentence, if you can hang on for another few seconds and brave the 'awkward silence' something insightful or important will come out of their mouth. They'll add 'by the way, I'm not taking my iron tablets because they make me feel sick' or 'my mother in law isn't happy about this baby'.
Wham! Highly useful information you may not have found out about, the work of a few seconds' patience.
Eye contact is a big part of listening.
Most people appreciate some eye contact as we're social creatures. If you feel you're venturing off the path of reassuring eye contact to 'scary starey' then try the triangle: flick your gaze between their left eye, right eye, then nose, then repeat.
It's what we do naturally when we're comfortable with someone and you'll make women feel at ease as well as making them feel listened to.
Paraphrasing = powerful.
If we're speaking healthcareprofessionalease you can call this 'active verbalising'. This can be tricky for midwives and students because if a woman is expressing something like 'I feel like I'm a terrible mother', repeating it back to her can at first seem like a silly thing to do as it looks like you're agreeing!
However, 'sitting without offering possible solutions' is one of the biggest services you can offer women in your care. By repeating back 'ok, it sounds like you feel you're not doing a good job' and then waiting for a response, you validate her feelings and let her know she's been understood.
Any human being is more likely to listen to constructive solutions and find the energy to try them when they feel they are being taken seriously.
Listening also helps tame your own nervousness. Whether you're an old hand or a brand new student, being a bit nervous about communicating with women going through what will probably be their most meaningful life event, is totally normal.
However if you put all your attention on the woman this nervousness will melt away. The woman in your care is interested in her baby, herself, her partner and her family first. You're an afterthought. Nervousness isn't necessary 🙂
So what has this meant for me personally?
I was at a big social event this weekend (my sister's engagement party), and there were over 100 people there. I know a younger version of me would have been underconfident and perhaps even a bit bored by the end of the night. I knew I was interested in people but small talk was dull.
I'm convinced midwifery has made me a better listener because all of the skills in this post helped me to enjoy the company of friends and family and enjoy them for who they are.
As the evening progressed on the campsite and we lit bonfires I found active listening, in particular, helped me to get the conversation onto what people were most excited about in their lives and their struggles and losses. If you don't cut them off, people will tell you their life story.
Of course, I did find myself blabbing about some things, the novel I'm writing and MidwifeDiaries.com and the Secret Community are all things I love to talk about!
You never arrive at the destination of being a 'perfect' listener. It's a journey you keep progressing through over your whole life.
But I realised all those communication skills have helped me with the relationships in my life, and therefore what a privileged job midwifery has been.
A quick recommendation before I end this post. I've been reading the book 'Communication Skills for Nursing Practice' - I know it's not specific to midwifery but I thought it was great. Real nuts and bolts stuff for improving communication, which as we know is a key part of improving satisfaction and mortality rates in midwifery care.
One of the examples of conflict resolution is even about how to get noisy housemates to shut up when you're working nights and revising for an exam - brilliant awareness of student midwife life there, thanks authors!
Now I'd love to hear about your own listening experiences:
Has midwifery made you a better listener? What has this meant in your personal life?
Do you have a tip to improve your listening that you can share?