This weeks guest blog post comes from a very dear Dementia Carer Voice`s friend and advocate Shaun Maher, Strategic Advisor at Scottish Government, supporting the development of ‘What Matters to You?’ health & social care system. You can follow Shaun on Twitter at @
The thoughts in this blog are inspired by a video story shared by Louise Page and Alan Ainsley about their experiences of the healthcare system. You can listen to their story here and here. The first link is a shorter version, the second provides a deeper insight and is a little longer.
Listening is one of the most important and powerful things we can do. It not only has an effect on the person listening, but can also have a profound impact on the person who is being listened to. The act of listening honours another person’s story or opinion and can make them feel valued, important, cared about. And the listener – what’s in it for them? They gain deeper insight and understanding of the thing the other person is talking about, or indeed the person them self. But not only this, they can also gain new perspectives and understand more about how the world looks and feels through another person eyes. Listening helps us to develop empathy, compassion and understanding.
Yet, listening, really listening, can be very difficult to do well. We are so busy! Our mind is full of all the things we need to do, want to do and have to do! Our mind is often a busy noisy place with lots going on – it can be difficult to find space to think sometimes let alone listen properly to what someone else thinks! Not only this, by the time we reach adulthood our view of the world and our belief systems have become much more fixed which means understanding different or opposing world-views or opinions can be difficult. We have a tendency to filter everything we hear and see through the beliefs we hold, dismissing or downplaying anything that disconfirms – enlarging or emphasising anything that agrees.
Good listening, or perhaps what we might call deep listening should be a core skill for all of us, but especially so for people who work in the caring professions. Our job is all about listening, and listening well. Traditionally, by listening to someone we make our diagnosis of their support, care or treatment needs – this is what we do. But do we really listen deeply to them and truly hear their voice and try to step into their shoes? Or do we filter what we hear through our professional perspective and belief systems? Listening isn’t about us always doing things to or for people – listening can be the end rather than just a means to an end. This deeper more purposeful listening helps to generate empathy – a powerful ally to help us generate high quality compassionate relationships focused on the things that really matter. But being listened to also has many benefits for the person telling their story too. It can help to build self esteem and confidence as well as generating insight and discovering new strengths. Sometimes it is only by telling our story that we realise how well we have coped and the resilience we have within us. So, it’s important to remember listening isn’t always about doing – often it’s just about listening and listening well.
The ‘Levels of listening’ framework from TheoryU
is a helpful tool to help us listen more deeply and also to notice when we aren’t. This framework describes four different levels of listening that can help us to move from a place of superficial listening to a place of deep listening that opens our mind, heart and will, facilitating a much more meaningful, purposeful connection with another person.
Stories are a powerful medium to help us appreciate and understand the impact of good listening, or the harm caused by failing to listen well. Louise and Alan’s story, along with Tommy’s story of his experiences caring for his mum are two such examples and there are many others too. Louise and Alan’s experiences have much to teach us and the story has been given as a gift to help us understand more deeply the impact good listening. It’s a powerful story with a powerful message about the importance listening deeply and connecting with a fellow human being. When the listening was good the care was good, when the listening was superficial and clouded by the professional perspective the quality of the care was poor impacting on psychological wellbeing, quality and quality of life – perhaps even causing harm?
I commend this story to you and ask you to think of it as a gift from the heart of Louise and Alan to your heart. Listen. Listen deeply and focus on what really matters.