Listen by Kathryn Mannix review — doctor’s orders: be all ears
Marianne Power learns the difficult art of having tricky conversations from a wise and experienced doctor
Saturday September 04 2021, 12.01am, The Times
Kathryn Mannix has spent more than 30 years as a doctor working with the dying
I recently joked that the only exercise I get is running away from difficult conversations — except it was the kind of joke that wasn’t really a joke. A fear of conflict, fear of saying the wrong thing and fear of gaping silences make me run for the door as soon as anything sensitive comes up. The back of Kathryn Mannix’s book says: “Most of us have a conversation we’re avoiding.” A conversation? I have a traffic jam of them.
Listen is about “the conversations that matter and how to handle them better — more honestly, more confidently and with less regret”. Mannix offers this guidance as a doctor who has spent more than 30 years working with the dying, having the kinds of conversations that most of us dread.
Her wisdom has been hard won. She opens the book with a memory of being a junior doctor having to tell a woman that her husband had died, a job usually reserved for more senior staff. “I stood towering above her in my white coat with my prissy sentences, terrified but trying to sound brave,” Mannix remembers. She did such a bad job of it, the shocked widow punched her in the face, “injured beyond tolerance by my sudden and unanticipated announcement”.
Dorothy, the staff nurse, came in to rescue the situation. She sat down, took the woman’s hand and stroked her shoulder. She then asked the grieving woman a series of gentle questions: “This is very shocking my love . . . Did you know he had a bad heart? Were you worrying about him?” With these questions the grieving widow unfolded the story for herself; he had been sick for a while, yes she had been worried. The news became unwanted, but not unexpected.
Mannix writes that this masterclass in how to listen shaped her work and this book, which is made up of a series of conversations and Mannix’s commentary on how they went.
Read full review in The Times Saturday Review September 4 here