Are you hearing or listening?

By Mark Shannon

All too often we get so wrapped up in our own personal lives that we fail to put other’s thoughts and feelings first.  In our clinic I counsel the therapists to really listen to their clients when they have their initial consultation. 

Take a minute or two and count from 1-100 and total up the number of times you encounter the number 9.   Before reading further, what is your answer?

Therapist:  “Hi there, my name is Mark, so what brings you into the clinic today?”

 Client:  “Well you see, I sit at the computer all day and I’m not use to that.  My low back is really bothering me.  This is a new job position for me and I am spending a lot of my day in front of a computer using the mouse.  Up here between my spine and shoulder blade I have this stabbing pain – maybe it’s from using the mouse too much – I really don’t know.”

Therapist:  “Ok – that’s great.  I would like for you to get undressed to your comfort level.  Then get under the sheets lying face up.  I’ll knock on the door before I come back in.”

In this brief chat, what did the therapist understand from the client’s comments?  It doesn’t take the great detective Sherlock Holmes to deduce the obvious.  Based on the therapist’s final comment, they didn’t actually hear what the client was saying. 

Most every time we encounter a client, we should listen with understanding and focus on the client and not ourselves, they will tell us what they are needing and therefore expecting from this massage.   Because we are looking forward to the next client or perhaps the last client of the day, we often breeze through the massages seeing them merely as steps to an end or worse yet, just another dollar sign.

Do you ever find yourself calling people you have been introduced to by generic nicknames?  “Hey babe”, “hey there brother”, “What’s up bud”?  If you use such salutations, my guess is that you were not focused and listening when you met them the first time, maybe your mind was on something else and not the person standing right in front of you.

I met former state representative Steve Largent some years ago when he was running for office.  I had invited him to my office where I worked with several insurance agents.  I wanted him to come give us a talk about the platform on which he was campaigning.  I spent 10 minutes with Mr. Largent before this meeting.  He spent about 30 minutes talking with everyone and politely thanked me for inviting him to our offices and then left.  Mr. Largent won the election.  A few years later, I was changing planes at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and passed by Mr. Largent in the airport terminal, with a smile on his face he said to me; “Mark Shannon, how good to see you again.”  Not only did he know me by my first name but also my last – all from that brief meeting 2 years prior.  That moment has made an enormous impression on me.  This professional football hall of fame player and politician knows my name.  This man surely knows how to pay attention to details.

What are you focused on when you first meet your client?  Can you make them feel like the most important part of your life during the time they are with you?  I would venture and say that if you do, if you can make someone feel as if they are that important to you, then you might just make a very good client out of them.  You would get my vote!

By the way, what was your answer to the question about the nines?  There are twenty times you encounter the number nine between one and a hundred.  Write it out and check me – it’s in the “paying attention to the details” where you will find them – that’s also where you’re going to find some of your best clients.

List for me the details you think should be discovered by a therapist in an initial interview.  Check back often and see if someone adds something you missed!

35 thoughts on “Are you hearing or listening?”

  1. Right on Mark. A little effort on being fully present in the moment listening to what is being said pays amazing dividends!

  2. That’s a great thought but knowing my memory, without a constant reminder, I would forget a persons name in a matter of months. I was one of the most popular girls in high school and EVERYBODY knew who I was, but I honestly only remember maybe five people by their name from high school.

  3. The best approach is to recognize the need of the client in the moment. The only resolution for a successful outcome is communication.That only is conquered when the client has the attention and response relevant to their issue at that present time by the therapist.

  4. My therapist happens to be a “chatter”, but surprisingly, it helps me relax, because she just focuses on me as a client. Sometimes depending on how the client reacts to you, you can read what they might want. This is helpful reminders Mark, God gave us two ears and one mouth for that reason. In doing clinical I learned alot, they don’t give a hoot what you have to say unless you are speaking of them. But I try to treat them all the same. I had a veterenarian, a dentist, etc. I treated them just as kind as the last. If you don’t listen , you can find yourself in trouble. Especially when they are face down, and you are working on their problem foot, only the wrong one.

  5. Great food for thought. I realized with the how many 9’s in 1-100 that I need to focus more on the details. Yes, I had to write it down and see where the other 9 were but I realized after getting to 29 that I was leaving out a very important factors, the 90’s. Thanks Mark! I will pay closer to details and absorb and better yet summarize the conversation so that I know we are on the right page, together!

  6. It’s true that people generally have a tendency to be so focused on their own thoughts that they tune the other person out. There’s a line from the movie Fight Club that always stuck out to me concerning this subject. One of the characters tells another character ‘They really listen instead of just waiting for their chance to talk.” I always try to think in those terms when I’m having contact with someone. I want them to have a similar attitude about me. I want them to feel like what they said to me was actually comprehended; instead of feeling like I was just waiting for my chance to state my opinion. Thanks for the great reminder about good social interaction, Mark.

  7. I had to write it all out to count all the 9’s. which was actually kind of fun. I never realized that i missed so much. from now on i am gunna try to pay more attention to detail.

  8. I thought that you made a really good point, Mark. Too often, we get so busy with everything else that we forget how to focus on one thing at a time for just the moment. I know that I do. I usually notice all of the little details at the time, but if you were to ask me about them five minutes later, I will have completely forgotten, because my mind is already on the next 50 things. I need to learn how to slow down and focus. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. My fiancee and I both really got into this article. He works with clients all day and is terrible with names. Myself I can remember a face but names I tend to mess up. 🙂 I had to do the 9’s twice because I got tongue tied int he 90s. We are going to mark this article so we can refer back to it. I find it a little unnerving when I go into a doctors office that I have been to several times and they in front of my read my name off the chart. I thinking knowing my future massage clients by name and face not just by, “so that is my next appointment” is wonderful and makes them feel more comfortable as well.

  10. This is so true. I find myself in that situation of not remembering someone’s name mere minutes after meeting them and I hate myself for it. I try to listen, but it’s difficult with ADHD. Just something to work on. I also get upset when I’ve met someone several times and they don’t remember me or my name. I think this is something that is completely obvious, so much so, we tend to overlook it. Thanks Mark, for sharing. 🙂

  11. I loved this article. I know that i could work on that a little better. It’s hard for me though to remember someones name even when i am paying attention. I can always place a face not necessarily their name though.

  12. I catch myself only half listening more often then I would like. This reminds me to pay attention the way I should.

  13. I loved this article because it gives us all as MT the ability to listen more to the client and not listen to what we want to hear so we can get them out quicker and forget them. I make sure listen to everyone around me because you never know when they may need you help in a emergency and you know something that others don’t know.

  14. This is so true. We do forget the details a lot of times. They teach, or at least try to teach you this in the military. When I would forecast weather in the Air Force, just missing a small detail in a chart or map would make a significant impact to the accuracy in the final product for flight operations. I like to repeat back what the client has told me in order to understand what is needed.

  15. Getting any type of Body Work done is a personal experience. I mean their trusting you with parts of their body that may of never been touched before!! By paying close attention to the clients needs, and what they tell you, you will send the message during your work that you heard them. People want to be heard. 🙂

  16. Tis true, we miss out on the simple things because we are too busy, focused on what else we need to get done today. It is amazing how good it makes you feel when someone remembers and calls you by name, why wouldn’t I want to make someone else feel just as good?! thanks Mark!

  17. A great read. I love the beginning.. Looking back upon or in retrospect it’s meaningful and from the heart. I can appreciate the interview with Mr. Largent. It was comforting and adjustable to my studies. Thank you so much.

  18. This is very good information. We all can use this in every day life and in our careers. Thanks.

  19. This is one more lesson on how to be the very best at what we do, thank you for your time and knowledge. I will for sure want them to answer all the questions on my intake form. Inquire more on the issues that are causing the client pains or discomfort. The history of the clients work and other activities are also a key in the treatment of the client. The more you are communicating with the client the better massage treatment you are going to be able to give, for a happy and continued client. And for sure listen and hear the client when they are giving us the information or clues we need to get them on the right track to back to total wellness, for our part in their wellness anyway.

  20. This was a great article. I needed the reminder because I am always worried about getting clients on the table and getting as much time to work on them as possible, rather than really phoning into thier issues and how they are even feeling. I usually assume they are stressed and would like relaxation for sure, but it isn’t always the case.

  21. I have short term memory loss so its really hard to remember peoples name I write it down and I keep the paper close by that there name is on. I also try to make connections with people I all ready know with the same name. I missed one nine that was better then I thought I would do

  22. I love asking question and finding out as much as I can about a person. I did the 9 thing and I did it again. think I was right I read your answer and was wrong. I guess I need to pay more attention to what is around me.

  23. This read was some food for thought! I will work on really listening people instead of just hearing them.

  24. Pay attention to even the smallest details.. That is the key to providing the best overall care for the patient. It also will help build a good relationship with the client as well. Great information, thanks for sharing.

  25. The MT should find out what brought the client to their table. Pain and discomfort or the need to be pampered and relaxed? Also need to know what the client expects. Does he want more back work or all over? That way you can tailor your massage according to their needs and expectaions

  26. I like this blog. It nakes me stop and think, I would want them to really pay attention to me so need to do a better job with this! Thanks for the remonder!

  27. It is very important to listen to your client, because if you let it go in one ear and out the other, there is no point in even trying to make anyone feel any better.