People need to be heard, their words validated, to know that for the moment, their feelings or thoughts are the focus. Seniors, in particular, are often assuaged, placated, or cajoled out of feelings that are hard for the well-intentioned listener to tolerate. What many of us consider to be traits of a good listener turn out to be some habitual behaviors that in fact, render us quite the opposite.
What would you say if someone asked you whether or not you were a good listener? Consider taking a moment to reflect on your listening skills. Do any of these responses resonate for you?
- Trying to commiserate by sharing similar stories of your own. Isn’t this a way to show that you “understand”? You want to share with your loved one that they are not alone and that you have been in a similar situation. It may be that by sharing you have shifted the conversation to be about you. Many of us do this unconsciously. Instead, try to be mindful, repeating the feelings that are being shared lets the other person know that they have been heard. Who knows what other details they will reveal as the conversation stays centered on them?
- Shifting the mood of the conversation to a happier tone. You may think you are trying to cheer someone up. No one enjoys seeing someone they care about in distress. Because of your discomfort with their sadness, stress, or anger, is it possible that you are not allowing space for them to fully express themselves? Can you simply sit with them and allow them to have their feelings?
- Providing solutions or advice on how to make things better. It is not in your job description as an adult child or caregiver to “fix” things for your parents or clients. Thinking that your own life experience gives you license to give advice is misguided and presumptuous. You are a good listener when you stop seeing yourself in the role of teacher, fixer, or emotional handy person! Can you listen to what is being said and not offer a solution? The fact is, while we are thinking of solutions we could be missing a lot of important information that may be offered. Problem solving and working together will come in later steps of the conversation, preferably when your parent asks for help.
- Correct misunderstandings or misinformation. Remember that your parent is an adult who has had a life rich in personal and emotional experiences. When someone is sharing their troubles, no matter how misinformed you may think they are, by not allowing them their truth, their reality, you are not truly listening. You are putting a stopper in their sharing and telling them that their feelings are not valid. This may be particularly difficult for the adult child. Your feelings and reality can be discussed later, perhaps with a sibling. Listening without correcting is truly a gift.
As you begin to listen differently, without interrupting, judging, fixing, offering solutions, you may be surprised at how much you actually learn about the person sitting in front of you. Sometimes all someone needs is to feel that you are completely present and available for whatever is needed. An added benefit to exploring this perspective on listening is that it may help you in all your relationships!
You can contact Senior Care Authority at (888) 854-3910 to reach a Senior Advisor in your area for a no-cost phone consultation. You can also find a local advisor on our website at www.seniorcareauthority.com.
By: Marcy Baskin, Managing Director Senior Care Authority