4.2.2 Active listening

Actively listening is a specific communication skill which involves giving undivided attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues. It requires intense concentration; the health-care provider should show a deep interest in and respect for patients and should not interrupt them. In health counselling it is very important to listen to patients carefully so that the conversation can be adjusted to their individual needs.

Active listening is more than just hearing someone else’s words; it means paying attention and showing that you have heard and understood what is being said to you. If health-care providers can show that they really are listening, this increases the patient’s trust and confidence in the health-care provider and the patient will feel more comfortable. This will make it easier to form a partnership.

To show that the health-care provider has understood what has been said, it helps to repeat to the patient or summarize what has been said using different words. Paraphrasing or summarizing a patient’s responses or questions may also help to verify information. Some helpful examples of summarizing a conversation are:

“Let me check if I have understood you correctly. You understand what TB is; you also understand about the treatment that has been recommended for you and why this treatment is so important for you. But you are worried about the side-effects of the medicines, especially because you will be taking these medicines for a few months, is that right?”

These skills also show the participation of the health-care provider in the conversation. Another communication skill is called reflection. For example, if a patient is describing his or her concerns, the health-care provider should observe the patient’s emotional reaction and then comment “It looks as if you are very worried about these symptoms.” Acknowledging a patient’s feelings also shows understanding and helps build an effective relationship.

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