What working in men's health taught me about listening

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

First of all, imagine getting paid to go to pubs, community venues, soup kitchens, places of worship and chat to guys about their health. Awesome eh? I loved that job! Quite honestly, it was a job that took me by surprise. I'd just had my first child (literally weeks before) and despite having been a registered nurse for a few years, I really wasn't sure that I was qualified to do the job. I'd never worked in health promotion, so carrying out health checks, providing information and health education was new to me. Before we started, I had no idea that the most important thing I would be doing was listening.

Let me tell you about the first client I saw... Let's call him Colin.

Colin walked into the room, sat down and took a deep breath. He told me his name and then he told me he needed help. I nodded and listened. Just listened until he had told his story. Gave him the space to say what he needed to in that moment. I don't know if we did a health check, because that wasn't what he needed at that time. He needed space to talk, to be heard. I remember so clearly the look of relief on Colin's face when he finished speaking. Just thinking about it makes me well up with tears. It taught me the power of listening.

Over time, I listened to lots of guys speak about their health. Young guys, old guys, guys in the middle - they all wanted to someone to listen. Working in men's health taught me that sometimes you are the person chosen to hear something important, that nobody else has heard before. What a huge privilege it is to be trusted in that way! It also taught me that you don't have to have all the answers. What you do need to do is listen to understand where they're at. Then you can talk, ask questions, make decisions, start planning.

NOTE: I also learnt that sometimes you may get a load of verbal crap hurled at you. But it isn't necessarily aimed at you, you're just there... (wrong place, right time or right place, wrong time)

I'm not saying it's always easy to listen

Because it really isn't is it? I'm an introvert and over the years I have been encouraged to speak up, even if I don't really have anything to say (apparently this is a way of ensuring my voice is heard). Unfortunately, with this approach, I find that my filter sometimes goes a bit wonky and I just jump right in and say what I think needs to be said. (Oops) Believe me, the outcomes usually aren't great! But, in midlife I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea that it's best to speak when I have something to say rather than just to make noise.

I listen on purpose

So, if it sometimes seems like I am listening more than I'm speaking; it's deliberate. It's not that I don't have anything to say, it's just that it isn't the right time for me to speak. I'm constantly listening to (and reading) what is being said - by clients, by experts, researchers, famous folks, fellow tweeters and podcasters (obviously this list isn't hugely exhaustive). Listening is the best way that I can learn about people: What is being said? What isn't being said? Why isn't it being said? What do I need to ask to learn more?

I realise that I carry what I learnt from my men's health work into my everyday life. Now more than ever before I strongly believe that it doesn't matter who we are or where we are; we all need to be listened to. We all need to be heard. So put on your listening ears and listen to those around you, you never know what you might learn.


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