Article Date: 10/1/2012

lessons learned
lessons learned

Two Ears and One Mouth

How can you communicate better? Just listen.

Jack Runninger, 0.D.

A six-year-old boy had developed a bad habit of swearing, and his parents were trying to break him of it. “I've told Mrs. Jones,” said his mother as he got ready to walk to a friend's birthday party, “that the first swear word you say, she is to send you straight home!”

Fifteen minutes later, he was home. “I warned you what would happen if you swore at the party,” she scolded. “Go up to your room and stay there until your father comes home to spank you.”

“But, Mom,” he pleaded.

“Not another word!” his mother interrupted. “Go to your room!”

“What do you have to say for yourself, young man,” asked his father when he got home.

“I've been trying to tell Mom, but she won't listen,” he tearfully responded. “The g___ d___ party ain't until tomorrow.”

I'm a crook?

Being a good listener is the most important part of communicating with patients and others. I learned this early in practice.

Eighty-year-old Len Ticular told me his reason for coming to me was that he couldn't see to read as well as he used to. I discovered he had incipient cataracts, and had distance VA of 20/80 with each eye. By reducing his distance prescription by one diopter, I was able to improve him to 20/30. Young and innocent as I was, I basked in the delight of knowing how appreciative he would be. Until a few days later, when I received a letter from him that read:

“I can't read any better with my new glasses than I could with my old ones. You sold me a pair of glasses I didn't need! You are a dishonest crook!” Plus even more vituperations.

I hadn't listened. He was interested in better reading vision which I didn't supply, rather than the improved distance VA I gave him.

It isn't easy

Being a good listener isn't easy. We think faster than we speak. The average speaking rate is about 125 words a minute. The listening rate is 400 to 600 words a minute. Thus to really listen you must continually force your mind to slow down and listen.

In addition, if your mind races ahead you tend to anticipate what the speaker is going to say next, and get the wrong message. My friend Jacques Stoerr, former CEO and Chairman of the Board of Essilor of America, sent me a few paraprosdokians — figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected. For example:

► “Where there's a will, I want to be in it.”

► “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is in not putting it in a fruit salad.”

► “It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you place the blame.”

The wrong message

Showing that if you listen “ahead,” you're often going to get the wrong message. Other illustrative paraprosdokians include:

► “In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify:’ I put ‘DOCTOR.’”

► “You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.”

► “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.”

► “Have arrived in Venice,” Robert Benchley, a master at the unexpected finish, once wired a friend. “Streets are full of water. Please advise.” OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: October 2012, page(s): 18