I spent the day in Cambridge last week helping to deliver a workshop on leadership. It was organised by Neil Kang, a shoulder surgeon who works at Addenbrookes Hospital. The workshop, which occurs every 6 months, is aimed at developing leadership skills in surgical, anaesthetic and emergency department trainees. The morning was devoted to coaching and mentoring while the afternoon focused on service improvement.
It was an inspiring day and impressed with the level of commitment and enthusiasm from all those that attended. Really interested to learn how mentoring is being embedded within specialities in the East of England. Currently, formal coaching is only available to Consultants so in order to meet the need of trainees, schemes are being set up for doctors to be trained as mentors. This is being supported by Health Education England through the appointment of a number of Mentorship Fellows (see here for more details).
One of the most illuminating sessions for me was getting the attendees to take part in a simple active listening exercise. I split them into groups of 3 with one person the talker, one a listener and the final person an observer. The talker spoke for 5 mins on a problem they were facing while the listener simply listened without interrupting. The observer watched the interaction and kept time. At the end of the 5 mins, each person fed back their experience of the exercise before swapping roles.
The feedback from the talkers was mainly how refreshing it felt to be able to talk, even for 5 mins, without being interrupted. With our lives being so busy we rarely get the chance to speak for any length of time before being interrupted. This can mean that we sometimes struggle to discuss things that are really important to us, tending to stay with the simple and mundane topics. One individual who was worried about how to solve a particular work issue found that by simply speaking about it allowed him the opportunity to figure things out for himself. He finished the session feeling much more relaxed as he was clear about what he needed to do next.
Many of the listeners struggled to keep quiet and not solve the issue being discussed. This is not surprising given that as doctors we tend to find solutions to patients problems (a diagnosis, a medication, an operation) rather than simply listening. However by giving people space and time it is amazing how much benefit it can derive. For many people, they don’t want a solution but to simply be acknowledged and heard. If a solution is required it is much more powerful if derived by the person themselves rather than told to them by someone else. Therefore developing this ‘coaching skill’ to really listen, can be crucial in both our professional and personal lives.