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Podcast Episode 047: How a Chief Listening Officer helps patients recover

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Corine Jansen is a Listening Practitioner in the Netherlands, who strives to make a real difference in the the health care system by listening.

Corine’s method focuses on listening and speaking as a human being, to another human being, disregarding all roles of doctor, patient or nurse. Dealing with the topics and issues usually unaddressed in the health care setting brings healing, by helping people be whole again – more than a set of diagnoses.

Chief Listening Officer since 2010, the focus on listening is being used in six hospitals throughout the Netherlands.

Everyone has a story – practitioners as well as patients, and listening to everyone saves mistakes being made, and money being wasted. Corine shares her own experience with illness and how not being listened to perpetuated her time being unwell.

Corine has an inspirational commitment to listening and to the value of human centered care.

Transcript

Episode 47: Deep Listening with Corine Jansen

Corine Jansen: 

I know how difficult it is to listen to someone. It is very difficult. And it’s because you have to choose to listen. And that means you have to put your ego in the hallway and you have to put your judgments and assumptions aside.

Oscar Trimboli:

Hi, I’m Oscar Trimboli, and this is the podcast series, designed to move you from an unconscious listener to a deep, productive listener.

Do you know you spend 55% of your day listening? Yeah, only 2% of us have had any listening training whatsoever. Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity, along with creating poor relationships, it’s just some of the costs of not listening. Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. So I invite you to visit oscartrimboli.com/facebook to learn about the five levels of listening and how others are making an impact beyond words.

In this episode of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, we travel to Europe. Go to the Netherlands and enter their hospital system to hear from Corine, a chief listening officer, and one of the most accomplished listeners in the world. Corine explains the impact to the patients and their recovery when doctors, nurses, and the entire medical system, listen beyond the diagnosis. I love her pragmatic approach to listening, and how simply she explains the cost of not listening. And its consequences for patients and their family. Let’s listen to Corine.

Corine Jansen: 

I am now working for several hospitals but also in elderly care. When I started at University Medical Hospital, we started an innovation centre, an innovation centre about new technologies in healthcare, apps, websites, robots, things like that. The only goal I had everyday was to make contact, real contact, a real encounter, real dialogue, with patients, physicians, and nurses. We just want question, what do you really need to make our care system better for yourself, and for all the people around you.

I was not only listening to patients, but also to the nurses, also to the physicians, because I believe in human centred healthcare. So not only the patient is central, but everyone in healthcare are centre. Everyone in healthcare needs to be listened to because they have a story, and I have so many stories but I think one of the most beautiful stories is one of my first projects in the hospital. There was a guy lying in hospital with cancer, his name was Yip, and Yip was 22 years old and he had bone cancer. And Yip was complaining that nobody was listening to him and he said I get the best treatments I can get in this country, but nobody is listening.

His professor came to be and said, Corine he is complaining, and we don’t know what to do. I said, well I will listen to him and I will not only listen to him but I will listen to all these young people with cancer in our hospital. In the Netherlands, we have two till 25 hundred young cancer patients every year. And those cancer patients have the age between 18 and 35. We call them young adolescents with cancer.

I went to that department and I went to Yip and I said to Yip, will you go back with me to the day that you thought something is going on with my body. And he did. He said to me, Corine, they’re all taking care of me and I know there is no medicine for me so I will die of this disease, but I have so many other questions. And I said what kind of questions do you have? And he said, well I am studying, how can I finish my study or can I study while I’m ill. But Corine, I also want to have sex with a girl, and I only have one arm left. How do you treat a lady with one arm if you are sexually involved with that lady?

And I said, oh wow. Yip. Those are questions I can’t answer right now from my profession. And he said to me, I don’t want your profession, I want you to talk to me as a human being, because I am a human being. And I spoke to him, and I shared with him my ideas, but most of all, I listened to him, and I listened to Yip, but I also listened to Peter, and I also listened to Pin. They were all young people with cancer and they asked so many questions about life. Questions we don’t answer normally in hospital settings because we are there for medicine and treatment.

But these guys said to me, but we have so much other stuff to show, we have so many stories, and with this group, I stayed for a month. During a month, I listened to I think 30 patients with cancer with this young age. And at the end, I said to them, I tried to tell you what I heard this last month, and will you share with me, if I listen well enough. And I shared my story of what I heard from them and they said, no Corine, this is the story. You listen quite well, but what will happen right now?

And I said, well, we are going back to the professor and we are going to the board, and let’s hear what they have to say about the results of being with you for a month and only listening to your stories. It was a Sunday, I remember very clearly, and I sent their stories to the Board, and I sent their stories to the professor. And I know the chair of the Board sent me an email and said, Corine, how much money do you need to organise this for these young people? And I said, well, 25,000 euro. He said, I give it to you and to the patients and the physicians and the nurses. You have to do this together. And Corine, he said, never stop listening anymore. This will be your job in our hospital. You just have to be listening. Chief listening officer.

So I returned to the patients and said I got the money, we will create your own community, your online community and I will be your community manager. So we did. And now it’s 2018. We started it 2010, the community is full alive and not only in this hospital, but I believe already in six other hospitals in the Netherlands.

Oscar Trimboli:

In terms of an impact for the patients, what do you think they’d say was different before and after you listened for them?

Corine Jansen: 

Well, I was older than them. I didn’t have cancer. I had not their age. But I tried to show curiosity, I ask a lot of questions and try to see them not as only a patient, but as a human being. And I know that one of the girls who is very healthy right now and enjoying life said to me, Corine, this whole project of listening and making materials and opportunities for us as having cancer was not only a light bubble but a light bulb in my life. And I asked her, what do you mean? And she said, you made it possible by listening, and not only me but the whole hospital, because I just did a small part and I did the listening part, but we created a lot of stuff with these guys. They felt being respected, but they also felt some kind of healing because they were involved as a human being and not only as a patient. But they were teenage, they had a brother, or they had a sister, they had parents. Being ill doesn’t mean you only become a patient, you still are a human being. But you have to deal with illness challenges, and I think listening and that’s what they told me, was making them human again.

Oscar Trimboli:

How would you summarise the cost of not listening in the hospital system?

Corine Jansen: 

I can’t even imagine how much it costs. By not listening, we can have problems in the diagnose, we can problems that people have insecure by using medicine. People get the wrong medicine because the diagnosis not correct. I truly, truly believe that if we spent more time in listening, and I know time is an issue in healthcare, we can save so much because being listened to, heard, and dignified with respect for their story, makes us feel better. Sometimes it’s all we need. For me, listening is a key skill in healthcare.

Maybe I can give another example, my personal example. I had some health issues for several years and I was going to the hospital. First I got to neurologist, and then I got to an internal physician. I saw several different physicians because I had several different complaints, but none of them had the time to listen to my whole story. And then, I spoke at a conference about listening in healthcare, and there was a physician from Belgium. And he said to me, Corine, I want to invite you to come to our hospital, because I think we can really help you. And I said, that’s very nice, but I have seen a lot of doctors and well, it seems impossible to help me. And he said, yes, well we will have the time to listen to your story.

So I went to this hospital, and that physician took an hour and he asked me questions from the day I was born to the day of today. And he said, okay, I’ve listened to your story, and I’m pretty sure that we have to find it in an autoimmune disease, but I’m not sure. I will send you to another doctor and I will ask this doctor to listen to your story again, do you agree? And I said yes.

I visited that doctor and he said Corine, please, tell me your story about health and illness. And I told him the story for another hour. And he said Corine, we will now start do research, and I said, what kind of research are you doing? And he said, I assume you have rheumatic arthritis. And I said, what? He says yeah. Did any physician told you? And I said no. And he says that why you have so many different complaints, but we had to heard the whole story. So after two hours, and a research, I knew what my illness problem was. It was just two hours, and some research, and I had spent four years in the Netherlands visiting other doctors.

Oscar Trimboli:

Such a common story, unfortunately.

Corine Jansen: 

Yeah, but if you ask me about money and healthcare, we need to change the system because the system doesn’t allow physicians to really start a dialogue to learn the story of their patients because it will cost too much. But I got so many different medications from different physicians, and they all were wrong for my disease.

I used the wrong medicine and I visited too much physicians for the wrong reasons. It’s not only me, it’s really very common and I think … Well much of the work of the palliative care health is about listening and acknowledge the story of those who are dying. Why can’t we put this kind of energy in listening and preventing people to become ill? It will save tonnes of money, tonnes of money. And I’m sure patients will be more satisfied, and physicians will like their work more than they ever done before.

Oscar Trimboli:

What do you struggle the most with when it comes to listening?

Corine Jansen: 

I believe in listening, I am my own instrument. And being your own instrument means that every time I choose to listen to another person, I take myself in their dialogue, and that means I take my stories, my values, my memories, the time and my energy, in listening. And that is always challenging. Because if I interrupt myself because of a memory or because of time, I lose the encounter with the other person. For me, it’s creating space before I enter any conversation, is very important because then I have time for my ego, but the moment I step into the room to meet another person to listen to them, it’s not about me anymore, it’s only about the other person. And therefore, I have to clear my mind and accept all the things I take with me in that conversation.

Oscar Trimboli:

I sense in the environments you work with, silence comes up a lot. What tips would you give those that are listening right now about how to be comfortable and use silence in listening rather than trying to fill it up?

Corine Jansen: 

For me, listening is practise, practise, practise. And that means listening to yourself, listen in silence to what your body is telling you, what your mind is telling you. And when you listen to another person, in my case, to patient stories, listen to patient stories is key to understanding the journey and also the suffering and when I really connect and choose to listen to that person, silence is the space where we can really meet each other. For me, it is very important to have eye contact, because when people what do share more, their eyes are moving and they are looking up or looking down or looking to the rights or left side. And I just follow their eyes. And following their eyes means for me, I’m still with you.

Silence, if you want to make it possible for yourself to be silent, it’s very important to choose to listen. If you don’t choose to listen, and just hearing a story, it will be much more difficult to have the silence than if you choose to listen and stay with the other person.

Oscar Trimboli:

How do you stop yourself from coming in too early and letting silence be fully expressed? What do you notice that helps you pause long enough to let the silence work?

Corine Jansen: 

Well in your book, Oscar, you speak about creating space and you have ten steps, very clear steps. And you can do it in a few minutes, but you can also go through these few steps in seconds. If you choose to listen to another person, you have to sit really comfortable, so the other person, the teller, can look you in the eyes, and you can look the teller in the eyes. You have to be grounded, so you have to put your feet on the ground, so you feel safe and strong, and you have to allow yourself to be silent for a few seconds to notice in what kind of room you are sitting, how you are feeling the energy, how you’re feeling in time. By practise, practise, practise, you learn a lot about yourself.

For me, listening is recognising yourself and it means for me that I spend a lot of time in silence, when I’m alone and when I am with my husband for example. Practise, practise, practise and try not to be afraid of silence because silence, for me is a real example of an encounter.

Oscar Trimboli:

Extending silence sometimes is helping to explore what the teller hasn’t said already. What tips would you provide for those who want to explore what isn’t said so far? How do you help the teller get that unsaid further out?

Corine Jansen: 

One of the most important things is making a connection. Most of the you the training says you have to ask open questions. And of course, that’s true, but it’s so important that the other person feel connected with you and if they feel connected, and you accept the silence, they will share so much more than when you have a questionnaire, you want to have the answers. So you need to be curious about the story that the person wants to share with you. Not curious about things you want to know because you have some questions, or you are searching for answers, and therefore, you really need to recognise yourself when you enter a conversation, how do I enter this conversation?

And be honest with yourself. When I enter a supermarket, and my neighbour is saying to me, “Hi, Corine, I want to share something with you?”. I know I always look at my watch, because I don’t like it. I don’t like the supermarkets, and I don’t like it people want me to listen to them at a moment I am doing my shopping. I always so, I’m so sorry, but I am not able to listen to you right now, I will send you an SMS or an email when I will have time to listen to you. On first hand, people say well that it is really crazy Corine, because they just want to share something with you, yeah, but if people really want me to listen to them, I need some space in my head when I’m doing some shopping, I don’t have the space in my head.

So, I feel it more respectful to that other person, and if that other person starts to share with me their story, I’m not able in between the lines. I’m only able listening between lines when I sit down and when I sit down with another person and I see the whole person and I see their body, I see the breath they are taking, I see their eyes movement. Well sometimes with patients, I just take their hands and say thank you or how special it is that you trust me and share this story with me.

So I’m always searching for connection and when the other person is feeling that connection by a hand or an eye movement or just saying I understand, I’m so sorry for you. They share more, because they feel hurt, I think. The only person who can tell that they are hurt is the teller, but you can notice. But you need to be there, completely be there and maybe you have to be vulnerable yourself and say it’s okay, I’m here for you. You can share. Yeah, I think that’s important.

Oscar Trimboli:

As we come to a close, is there anything you think we haven’t covered that would be helpful for the audience?

Corine Jansen: 

I know how difficult it is to listen to someone. It is very difficult. And it’s because you have to choose to listen. And that means you have to put your ego in the hallway and you have to put your judgments and assumptions aside. But if you really choose to do that, it will change your life forever.

Oscar Trimboli:

One word, extraordinary. To be in the presence of somebody that skilled at listening was amazing. I loved how she talked about using herself as a complete listening instrument. Corine helped me to understand how to clear my mind completely and to be present in that moment when listening is needed the most. I loved the way she used practical and effective silence to hear so much more than what’s spoken.

What I walk away from this interview thinking about is the choice to be present in the moment. To put away the phone. To make sure your eyes are completely connected with that person that you’re speaking to, and how to use silence as a space where we can all meet each other closer together. Humans are amazing. I’m so lucky to be connected with Corine, and lucky to be connected with you. Thanks for listening to the award winning Apple Podcast, Deep Listening. Thanks for joining the quest to joining 100 million deep listeners in the world. Thanks for listening.

 

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