Journal Scan: Empathic listening: How listening the right way enhances patient care


A commentary on the integral role of effective listening and the lack of training in this area for veterinary professionals.

Why they did it

Listening to our clients is important to comprehending each pet owner's needs and to understanding and evaluating a patient's illness. In a commentary about the art of communication in veterinary medicine, the authors discuss the integral role of effective listening and the lack of training in this area for veterinary professionals.

What they did

The authors explain that reactive listening involves listening with intent to reply, and, in responding to or interpreting the client's concerns, a personal point of view may be given. Empathic listening, on the other hand, involves listening with a desire to understand and acknowledge the client's feelings regardless of personal view. The authors note that this form of listening involves paying attention to nonverbal cues and "asking open-ended questions designed to clarify our understanding of the clients' concerns and listening attentively to their responses." Nonverbal cues include facial expression, body language, and personal appearance. Empathic listening also uses summary statements so clients understand that their concerns have been heard.

The authors note that some would argue that this form of listening is not cost-effective as it takes more time to conduct the initial clinical interview, but they point out that it is more efficient than having to correct misunderstandings later and risk the loss of the client’s confidence.

The authors provide a list of common barriers to effective listening that should be avoided:

  • Language: overuse of medical jargon

  • Interruptions: diversions such as checking cell phones

  • Physical barriers: the presence of a desk or exam table between the veterinarian and the client

  • Emotional barriers: showing discomfort with clients' show of emotion; acting defensively

  • Body language: folded arms, fidgeting, shuffling papers, etc.

  • Time: not allowing enough time for the clinical interview

  • Mental barriers: distracted with other problems; inability to focus on the client.

Take-home message

In conclusion, the authors note: "When we empathically listen to our clients, they in turn are more likely to listen to our interpretations of the causes of their concerns and ultimately to comply with our recommendations or options to solve them."

Osborne CA, Ulrich LK, Nwaokorie EE. Reactive versus empathic listening: what is the difference? J Am Vet Med Assoc 2013;242(4):460-462.

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