5 Tips for Effective Listening

listeningListening carefully to patients can be difficult for nurses, especially when workloads are high. For Christian nurses, effective listening demonstrates the compassion, understanding, and care modeled by Jesus. His listening skills serve as a practical model for applying his love today.

“Nurses are faced with conflicting priorities, mounds of documentation, and higher patient loads. Many nurses feel overwhelmed and rush from one activity to the next, focusing on the task at hand rather than the person,” writes Kittie W. Watson, PhD, in her article, “Effective Listening: Five Lessons from the Best,” from Journal of Christian Nursing.

“For Christian nurses who want to show their concern, foster open dialogue, and be heard, learning and applying the skills Jesus used can serve as a valuable guide,” Watson reports. These five lessons help practicing nurses serve as God’s servants on earth.

LESSON 1: Listen to God First

Remember the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus by the Pharisees (John 8:3-7)? In this tense situation, Jesus does not immediately respond, but writes in the dirt. Jesus used silence to listen to God and to what others were saying before responding. Taking the time to hear God’s voice of guidance and direction can mean the difference between wise counsel and meaningless dialogue.

LESSON 2: Display Empathy

Jesus wept after listening to Mary’s deep grief at the death of Lazarus, her brother (John 11:32-35). Listening with empathy is one of the most important gifts a person can give someone else. When someone can express deep emotions, and feel heard, the healing process begins.

LESSON 3: Demonstrate Patience

John records how patiently and calmly Jesus answered questions from his disciples, even when they argued, grumbled, and withdrew (John 6:60-64). When patients are being difficult, it is tempting to stay away. Avoiding these patients only serves to exacerbate their insecurities. In many cases, nurses who take the time to listen discover information that helps care for patients.

LESSON 4: Ask Clarifying Questions

Jesus asks pertinent questions to get his disciples to think, question, and take responsibility for their beliefs and actions. Philip is one example (John 14:9-11). Jesus’ words tease listeners into active thought by getting them to come to their own conclusions. By asking clarifying questions, he causes listeners to hear themselves and their hearts.

LESSON 5: Reinforce and Summarize

In John 12:46-50, Jesus reinforces his purpose by reiterating key points. He knows that a message may not reach a person the first time so repetition is important for retention. By repeating what we have heard, we increase the likelihood that we interpret messages correctly. By paraphrasing both the message content and feelings in words, we can help assure understanding.

As nurses, it is challenging to be present and listen to patients, family members, and coworkers. Yet, without the gift of listening and relating with care, we miss the human element of why most nurses entered healthcare. When we give undivided attention and listen more than we speak, we offer respect, genuine love, and concern.

When nursing professionals demonstrate Christ-centered care through effective listening, they make a difference.


Read the full article, “Effective Listening: Five Lessons from the Best,” from Journal of Christian Nursing, July-September 2017.  JOIN NCF as a professional member and receive JCN as one of your member benefits.

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