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Karen Edwards Blogger

Empathetic Listening

Posted by Karen Edwards | February 24, 2016

Welcome to the February 2016 edition of the ÖWLI blog. Hope you have weathered the winter storms and are looking forward to a rapidly approaching spring AND to the many events we are creating for our ÖWLI members! There is still time to sign up for our book club being held March 4. The book is a quick read and we would love to have you join us for our lunchtime discussion! We are also finalizing our speaker list for our first Össur Women's Leadership Conferencebeing held at our Össur Orlando facility Sept. 15-17. This is a FIRST-CLASS event that you do NOT want to miss! Spaces are limited to 50 attendees, so early registration is highly encouraged. Check our calendar at the end of the blog for more details on these and other upcoming events.


Recently, after coming to the realization that my talking skills have probably reached their pinnacle of development, I decided it might be a good idea to now do some work on my listening skills. I found many articles on the internet that referred to the highest level of listening as "radical listening." And, as expected, most of the advice covered the basics of the things we already know we should do, but, in our fast-paced world, most of us probably don't. For example, we should take notes, paraphrase, ask for repetition, etc. All good stuff. Then as I neared the bottom of the Google search results page, I came across an article written by a professional midwife named Audre Lorde entitled, "12 Ways to be a Feminist Healthcare Provider" (listening was one of those ways). As I read her approach to patient care, I realized how relevant her specialty is to ours. Both professions serve people of all ages, from all walks of life, with conditions resulting from many different situations (hers were not always happy ones or with happy endings), needing very intimate, personalized care.  It then occurred to me that the practitioners I've observed with the highest level of patient care are often the best listeners and the most empathetic. Coincidentally, these are traits in which women typically excel.  

Empathetic listening, it turns out, is much more than note-taking and repeating what someone just said. How can we be better listeners and provide higher quality care to our patients? Start with the following four suggestions: 

  1. Truly LISTENING. Empathetic listening means "we must 'not' do many things: not think about the million other tasks on our mind, not interpret on behalf of the speaker before completion of the thought, and not judge what is being said or the person saying it…It requires being present for the person in front of you and placing their words on a higher level than your own thoughts: allowing their process, creating space and time for them to speak and engaging in listening to their experience and needs."[1]
  2. Remove Assumptions.  We all have unconscious biases and not just about gender roles. Empathetic listening requires removing assumptions about a person based on gender, economic status, sexual orientation, education, race, ethnicity, etc. It requires recognizing that we don't know the struggles this person is experiencing outside of our office. When we set aside what we assume we will hear from the patient, then we can truly listen in an empathetic, unbiased manner. As Lorde says, "the only assumption that you should ever make is that you know nothing about someone until they tell you."
  3. Recognize Power.  Patients are often intimidated by practitioners and may be reticent to share vital information that can help us treat them more effectively. Hence, if we can recognize "power" and eliminate its influences, we create an environment of trust that allows our patients to speak openly and allows us to listen fully. Some good ways to eliminate power are to sit equal to or lower than the person you are listening to, ask what questions they have before asking your own, and follow up by asking if all of their questions were answered. 
  4. Speak their language.  Confirming what you have just heard is a great way to improve listening skills. However, if our patient is communicating at a fifth grade level, and we respond back with clinical, masters-level verbiage, then we have lost the sense of empathy we were trying to achieve. This is especially true in O&P where patients may have no idea what treatments are available for their scoliosis or what activity level they can achieve after an amputation. Positive, affirming language that is relatable to your patient creates a safe environment where your patient feels acknowledged and heard, which really is the goal of empathetic listening!

Speaking of listening, we would love to hear what YOU have to say about our initiative! What do you like, not like? What can we do more of, less of? What topics would you like covered in our blog and webinars? We have many ways for you to communicate with us. Drop us an email at, join our Facebook page (search for Ossur Women's Leadership Initiative), or drop us a line on Twitter at @OWLIOssur.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:  Reserve a spot on your schedule for the following exciting upcoming ÖWLI events…

Mar. 4, 2016: ÖWLI Book Club. Our second ÖWLI Book Club is almost here and this quarter we are reading, "How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life," by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston. Described as the "new right stuff" of leadership, raising provocative issues such as whether feminine leadership traits (for women and men) are better suited for our fast-changing, hyper-competitive, and increasingly complex world. You can find the book easily on Amazon (approximately $9). This will be a motivating and interesting read, and we can't wait to talk about it together! FYI, we have scheduled two discussion times to accommodate folks in different time zones.

EASTERN TIME: 12:00 PM EST. Register Here:


PACIFIC TIME: 12:00 PM PST. Register Here:


Sept. 15-17, 2016: Össur Women's Leadership Initiative Conference, Orlando, FL. We are truly excited to offer our first Women's Leadership Conference! Please join us for a FIRST-CLASS education and networking event at Össur's Orlando facility.  This three-day conference will focus on issues relevant to female O&P practitioners as well as leadership development. CEU's will be offered for eligible courses and topics include leadership development, career development led by a panel of female O&P owners, and product development input featuring Össur engineers. Best of all, the event is FREE and includes all meals (including a dinner outing on the Friday)! Register EARLY as spaces are limited to 50 attendees! Click here to register:  


TBA: Webinar Series to Return! Our educational webinar series will return in the spring. We are working on some great topics and speakers and hope to have those scheduled and ready to accounce next month.

Join our Facebook page! The ÖWLI Facebook page offers a forum for you to communicate with other women in the profession. Please use this page freely to ask questions, share informative articles and ideas, and stay up to date on everything ÖWLI. Just search for "Ossur Women's Leadership Initiative." 

Thanks, as always, for being a part of ÖWLI and continue to submit ideas and suggestions as to how we can help you develop as a leader.

Until March,

Karen Edwards

Director, Össur Women's Leadership Initiative

ÖWLI Quote of the Month:  "Remember the difference between a boss and a leader. A boss says 'Go!' a leader says 'Let's Go!'" – E.M. Kelly, author, 1995


Talk to us!! Your feedback is welcomed and encouraged! Please let us know what you think of our initiative, share your ideas, share your victories, or just say "hi" by emailing us at And follow us on Twitter @OWLIOssur and Facebook at Össur Women's Leadership Initiative page.

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