Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Just shut up and listen" - How to be a mindful listener -A Buddhist perspective

How long do you listen to another person before you start interrupting? How fast do you start formulating your thoughts, thinking about what to say, even before they are done speaking? Do you often interrupt the person to give your own opinion before they are done? Be mindful next time when you listen to somebody. What percentage of the speech do you actually remember? Its not easy is it? It is much easier to be a good speaker, but it's much more difficult to be a good listener. Most of our problems in life, at home and at work happen because of this. We do not listen mindfully to the other person. We may jump to a conclusion very quickly, and we often become judgemental too quickly.

One research study (see below) examined different parameters of emergency medicine residents taking a medical history. The study concluded that only 20% of patients completed their presenting complaint without interruption. In other words 80% of the patents were interrupted during their initial presenting complaint. The average time to interruption was only 12 seconds!

I decided to try train my own "monkey mind" (see previous posting below) in my clinic. First I researched some of the Buddhist teachings on how to be a mindful listener. After reading and understanding some of the Buddhist texts, I tested it out.

I used clinic patients to observe how mindful listening can increase the efficiency of a medical practice. Previously I used to interrupt patients within the first minute of taking the history. This time I changed my approach in taking histories. I gave full attention to the patients history without any interruptions until they were done. The results were amazing. To my surprise it did not take much time for most patients to give a full history, contrary to my previous thinking. A small change like being fully mindful when taking a history made a big difference in my practice. I got a lot out of the history and was able to diagnose illnesses very quickly and accurately. With mindful listening I was also able to in manage office time more efficiently. You may want to try this at home or at your workplace. I believe this simple technique can be very useful in other medical practices as well. Mindful listening works! It is your turn to test this. It is very simple. Just shut up and listen!

In the Buddhist texts I found an very interesting teaching of the Buddha. This was called Sussusa sutta. This sutta explains the process of listening mindfully, as taught by the Buddha. This disclosure was mainly taught by the Buddha to teach his disciples how to listen to Dhamma (his teachings). But I think it can also be applied in other situations in life as well.

There are six steps in the process (see the diagram above)

When listening:

1. Listen with full mindful attention.

2. Try to remember what was told.

3. Investigate for yourself.

4. Discard what is not useful to you.

5. Accept what is useful to you.

6. Apply to your life.

How can it help your family life and work situation? It helped me. Well, don't just accept it. Test it out for yourself!

Sussusa sutta


Anonymous said...

I love this. You are so smart! I hate when I go to the doctor and they talk over me. It's so annoying don't ask a question if your not going to let me answer. I hope all nurses and doctors read this page it will make going to the doctors not so bad.

Anonymous said...

This is a great page. It really has me thinking about reading into Buddhist beliefs.

Anonymous said...

LOVE IT! I like want to start being mindful now. I feel like I don't listen the way I should. Thank you very much for making this site. :)

Anonymous said...

The guy at the top is very ugly