5 Tips for CNAs Who Want to Be Great Active Listeners

Melissa Mills
September 15, 2022
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Did you know most people only understand about 50% of what they hear? Imagine pouring your heart out to a friend or colleague for 20 minutes to find out they only listened for the first ten minutes of you talking. You might be frustrated and even a little disappointed. You probably wouldn’t want to tell your story again, so the conversation would just end. 

Being a nurse aide requires a lot of listening. But, only hearing half of what your patients or coworkers say could make for a dangerous situation. For example, you could miss critical findings about a patient or policy changes you need to know. Not to mention, your patients won’t trust you if they aren’t sure you’re genuinely listening to them. This is why you’ll need to learn how to be and stay fully engaged in all conversations to be a successful CNA.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening happens when you’re fully engaged and listen to every word the speaker says. You don’t just hear the words; you receive them and then interpret and understand them before responding. However, being an excellent active listener requires attention to more than words. You must notice the speaker’s body language, expressions, and even how they appear when talking. 

Ways to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Hearing is a critical skill in healthcare. You’ll listen for the buzzing sound of call lights, the sounds of the heart beating when taking blood pressure, and your coworkers when they give you shift change reports. But, you’ll need to do better than just hearing. 

Here are five ways to become an expert active listener.

Pay Attention

You can’t truly listen to a conversation if you’re on your phone, daydreaming, or thinking about what you’ll make for dinner. So, the first step in becoming a better listener is simply to pay attention to what’s said. 

Be sure to maintain eye contact by looking directly at the speaker during more than half of the conversation. In addition, keep your body open and relaxed to communicate your interest. You can do this by keeping your arms by your side, smiling, nodding your head at critical times, and leaning toward the speaker to communicate engagement. 

Respond to Keep the Conversation Going

You’ll need to let the other person know you’re paying attention, but using lots of words can interrupt them. So, choose words that don’t take over the conversation. For example, try using small verbal comments like yes, tell me more, or even a simple “uh huh.” These phrases keep the conversation going without interrupting the speaker's flow. 

Use Reflection

An excellent way to let someone know you’re listening is to reflect. You can do this by restating what they said instead of offering advice or opinions they might not want. You can also ask a question after reflecting to ensure you understand. For example, if someone tells you they are unhappy at work, you might say, “I’m hearing you say that you’re not happy with your job, is that right?” This strategy lets them know you’re listening and helps them feel validated and understood. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions 

If you want the person to tell you more, use open-ended questions only. The speaker can’t answer an open-ended question with a yes or no, but must give you more information. Open-ended questions provide clarifying details to ensure you understand.

Be Patient

As humans, we’re always in a hurry. But, when practicing active listening, you’ll need to be patient and allow the speaker to take their time. A few ways to show patience during a conversation include:

  • Not interrupting
  • Allowing periods of silence without trying to fill it with speech
  • Refraining from finishing the person's sentences
  • Avoiding one-upmanship by telling stories from your experiences
  • Listening to understand, not just to respond
  • Avoiding changing the conversation abruptly

Get Ready to Excel at Active Listening

Now that you know these easy ways to become a better listener try them out. You may feel awkward the first few times you use these strategies, but with practice comes experience. Pay close attention to how the other person responds, and then continue to improve each method until you’re successful.  

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