Listening is an important skill to have in all relationships, but for adult children of parents who may need assistance the ability to listen can be crucial to successful outcomes for the whole family. Even before a conversation about long-term care needs and wants takes place, there can be subtle hints dropped in other chats. A good listener will be one step ahead when it comes time to make decisions for the whole family.
When people feel heard, it can reduce frustration and anger, therefore making change more possible between all parties. If you want to become a better listener, follow these tips:
- Keep quiet. Sometimes people are listening just to respond rather than truly being present for what is being said. This impulse to take a turn in the conversation can lead to interruption which definitely does not make the other person feel heard. It’s not rude to wait until your opinion is asked for or the other person has said their piece before speaking.
- Stay focused. No, you don’t need to check your smartphone right now. It’s not possible to be in two places at once and that is what you are trying to do when someone is talking to you and reading texts, emails or scrolling through an Instagram feed. The only time someone should be using a device while in a conversation is if there are notes related to the conversation that need to be written down in the moment.
- Look. Of course we hear with our ears, but it matters where our eyes are too when someone is speaking to us. First, this shows the other person that they have your attention so they know you are focused on them, their feelings, what they have to say. However, it’s not a staring contest. This is also an opportunity to observe non-verbal cues such as facial expression.
- Repeat, repeat. Without interrupting the speaker, paraphrase what they have said back to them when possible. This can be tricky because you don’t want to sound like you are mocking anyone. You can say, “What I think I heard you say is…” and this can show that you were listening and also clear up any possible misunderstandings.
- Ask questions. Rather than wait to share your advice, your own story, or some other tidbit, keep asking meaningful questions. These should be open-ended questions, not yes or no questions. This can show that you truly care what this person has to say.
Good listening can be a sign of respect and when elders are feeling vulnerable already, a little respect and kindness go a long way toward finding solutions together.