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listening caring competency

Listening as a caring competency

By: Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS,FAAN

Effective listening can make you a better nurse.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be fully present when listening to someone or trying to observe his or her behavior? A student asked me that question, saying that listening and observing during an emergency is really tough, especially with all the activity and pressure to perform correctly hitting at once. Quite an insight!

Effective listening can make you a better nurse.This discussion arose during a simulation related to basic life support (BLS) training. Team A was the action team responding to a medical emergency, and Team B was observing for situational awareness, clinical leadership, and teamwork. This scenario demonstrated that mastering the science of the BLS technique is only one aspect of delivering care. Learning the teamwork skills to accompany it can actually be harder than the resuscitation skills.

Being fully present requires you to set aside your personal priorities to hear not only what the person (or in this case, the team) is saying but also what isn’t being said; in other words, the “backstory” or hidden message. The backstory is important because spoken words can be brief or terse, so observing tone of voice and body language can give you a much better impression of the total picture. And it can illustrate whether good teamwork is in place.

Throughout my nursing career, I’ve seen time and time again that some of the best nurses and nursing leaders are highly effective listeners. Effective listening builds rapport and contributes to the quality of a relationship. Just what are some of the most effective ways to listen?

Going beyond quiet

Nurses who listen are able to create trustworthy relationships. They’re able to have their patients’ and the family’s best interests at heart, and those of their team members, too. They do that by going beyond just being quiet or giving someone their full attention. They observe body language, facial expressions, mood, and behavior.

Going beyond competency

Listening may not be a competency that appears in your job description, but it’s essential to caring. Our connected world has actually disconnected our communication skills, especially listening. Smart phones, video games, and computers can grab our attention more ef- fectively than another human. Learning to listen and observe takes time and practice—and often a good mentor, too, who can give you feedback.

In a flipped classroom, where the students become the teachers, the students in the BLS simulation discussed their ideas about how to become more effective listeners and enhance clinical skills at the same time:

  • Show you care. View the patient and your team as having unique capabilities you can identify and respect. In the BLS simulation, showing care and concern for family members witnessing resuscitation can go a long way to building trust and compassion.
  • Pay attention to what matters. Listen to the words and views expressed and try to understand what matters most to the other person.
  • Be calm, not frenetic. You can better show empathy when you’re composed and can hold eye contact. Hurried encounters rob us of time and attention and can end up costing us in the long run when we have to repeat a task we rushed through.
  • Be mindful. Going beyond the obvious verbal and nonverbal communication cues means observing the environment and what’s happening all around the situation.

I’m confident this group of students will remember that their future success may depend on how well they listen and communicate with others. They experienced the reality that being people-oriented builds interpersonal skills, which are just as important as clinical skills. I witnessed the next generation of healers become competent and more confident about the caring process during a BLS simulation that became a listening incubator. A group of students joining forces and pooling knowledge to learn collectively is a powerful example of “all teach, all learn” in action

Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS,FAAN



  • This it the most important aspect of nursing in my experience. If you can build a rapport and trust with your patient you are able to more effectively care for them. They are more comfortable telling you about how they are feeling both physically and emotionally. Sometimes this communication allows you to address issues before they become emergencies.

  • Taking time to really listen to the patient is very important and is the true way to build rapport with a patient. It will usually get through to the worst of alert and oriented patients.

  • Being an active listener is essential to good high-quality healthcare. Good eye contact and using the three nods are good listening skills to let the patient and the patient’s family members know that you are actively listening to them and that you care. An authentic listener gives good quality care to their patients.
    Being an active listener shows the patient that the nurse cares.

  • I totally agree

  • Listening and hearing so very different by listening I am able to see the whole picture making it a much better work environment

  • Sophia Jordan
    October 9, 2020 4:12 pm

    I find that you build a stronger rapport and trust with both the patients and the families when you make time to sit and actively listen to them. I know as nurses we are always pressed for time but I make it a habit that at some point during my shift to find at least 15 minutes to sit and talk with patient/ and or family. It is during this time of actively listening to them that can help you perhaps understand what led to the patient being in the hospital at this time. It can help explain certain behaviors the patients exhibit. It can also make discharge planning easier. It gives you the chance to visualize the patient as a whole human living being and not just an acutely ill person who requires hospitalization.

  • I have been a nurse for several years and i find it important to take time out to sit and listen to patients, It is so easy to interrupt and finish their statements. It is very important to patients to be heard. I tend to find out most information when time is taken out for the patient . It is easier said than done. It takes a conscious effort

  • Terri Heningburg-Douglas
    September 24, 2020 9:57 pm

    Reading this article reinforces my behavior and practical listening skills needed to promote a conducive work environment.

  • My original nursing training was at a hospital based diploma school. My personal opinion is that the importance of making a personal connection with our patients and/or their families was engrained into the entire nursing program, starting with the very first clinical experience. The importance of those connections does not appear to be a concept taught based on my observations of new nurses. Do not get me wrong, there are nurses who do understand the importance, however they seem few and far between.

  • claudia humphrey
    June 12, 2020 3:56 pm

    great read.

  • Jacqueline T Vinacco, BSN, RN
    June 6, 2020 6:19 am

    Listening is an acquired skill of great importance in the Nursing profession. I can relate to the example presented during BLS simulation. As health care professionals we sometimes get caught up in the tasks at hand and not our surrounding environment. When I have been involved in a patient resuscitation with a family member present I made it high priority to be sure that someone on our team was attending to their concerns, fears, and feelings. People do not forget when someone goes that tiny extra step to truly listen to them.

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