Listening in Health Coaching



Are You a Good Listener?

What Our Patients are Saying... Part 1


In a recent article published by Forbes (1), Dianne Schilling says it quite well, "In today's high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time."


She continues, "It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and marriages."


We agree! Just like the Internet has conditioned us to skim instead of reading, our fast pace has resulted in less than effective listening in all facets of our lives. So, what does this mean for us as clinicians whose role it is to listen to and guide our patients and their families to maintain health, achieve optimal recovery, or self-manage the health conditions they have?


As we each think about how we listen to while at work, we should consider:


· Have I paid more attention to the computer than the patient?

· Am I so task-oriented that I find myself constantly aware of the clock?

· Does my work life result in a rush from one patient to the next?

· Do I often get only the gist of what my patient and family have said?


The Way We Listen



In a MedScape poll (2), over 80% of clinicians thought they did a great job of listening to their patients indicating they were confident in their listening skills. However, a study found in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (2) implies that clinicians believe they listen better than patients think they do. This study found that clinicians interrupted their patients in 67% of the recorded encounters; listening only for a median of 11 seconds before interrupting the patient; with some clinicians waiting 3 seconds while others waited 234 seconds.


This means as clinicians we can strive to be better listeners, more effective listeners, and active listeners.

It means our "best game" can be enhanced even further by:



1. Recognizing that most listening is evaluative, but can be greatly improved.

2. Realizing that our minds often wander as we listen, and can be better focused.

3. Knowing that effective listening skills can be achieved through practice.



Evaluative Listening:

An immediate response or reaction based on emotion or preconception was introduced by Carl Rogers in the 1950s (3). This is seen as a more negative inference in that the hearer lacks attention. In our fast-paced society today, this is our most probable general listening style.


A Wandering Mind:

A person speaks at an average rate of up to 175 words per minute, while the mind is capable of processing 400-500 words per minute, almost three times as fast. This time allows the mind to wander and to easily lose track of what the speaker is saying.


Effective/Active Listening Skills:

Listening can be greatly improved by meaningful practice after a self-evaluation is completed that reveals the areas of listening to that need improvement. Complete your own self-evaluation in less than 60 seconds!




Next week, Part 2 will discuss specific ways to improve our listening skills as clinicians based on your Self-Evaluation! Stay tuned!


Melinda Huffman, BSN, MSN, CCNS, CHC


The National Society of Health Coaches


(1) Schilling, D. (Nov, 2012). Forbes. Ten steps to effective listening.

(2) From:

(3) From:




Learn More:

Cognitive Reframing

Stress & Anxiety

Recognizing Depression

Self-Evaluation for Health Coaching