15 September 2021, The Tablet

How to truly listen


How to truly listen

‘Think of listening as a waltz’
Photo: Alamy/Roman Samborskyi


When was the last time you really felt listened to? A palliative care physician draws on a lifetime of conversations with patients and their families to describe how to make someone feel not only listened to, but heard

It’s clinic day. I am a very junior doctor in a medical clinic; the consultant in charge is a professor, a world authority on thyroid disease.

The young woman in my examination room has been sent by her GP with a typical overactive thyroid history: weight loss, sweating, trembling hands, palpitations, a sense of being unable to feel at ease. She’s called Leonie and is the same age as me; she works in a shoe shop – in fact, my favourite shoe shop – in town. We have discussed her thyroid problem and the tests I will need to arrange; we have discussed peep-toe shoes and heel heights. It’s time for the professor to review her, to check that I haven’t missed anything, and to approve my plan of investigations and care. I’m feeling rather proud of my rapport with this patient. And we all know what pride comes before, don’t we?

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