“For Our Aging In Place Clients, Listening Is Far More Important Than Telling”

To create effective aging in place solutions for our clients, we have to know what they want and how we can help them. We must be responsive to their desires and recommend the most appropriate solutions that will align with their needs, interests, and budget. It doesn’t matter whether we would come to the same conclusions if it were our home rather than the client’s because it is their needs that we are evaluating and working with to create the solution and not our own.

Listening is an important tool in any communication process, and it’s how we learn what our clients need – whether we are hearing directly from them, from a caregiver or family member, from a healthcare professional, or from a social worker or other referring professional. We have to give the request to help them very careful attention so we don’t miss anything that is being communicated to us.

It turns out that we actually can (and should) be listening to our clients in three ways or on three levels. Obviously, we want to hear what they are telling us and use that information to help them. Listening – truly listening – involves much more than just hearing what someone says. It requires an understanding of what they are telling us and perhaps some of the underlying conditions or reasons for them expressing what they are.

If we don’t intently and purposefully listen to what we are being told – whether we ask questions about what they are looking to have done that they answer or they essentially volunteer what they want us to do for them – we will be doing everyone a disservice. They are expecting that we can help them, but if we don’t have an open mind and truly listen to what they are sharing, we will form an opinion about what they need based more on our impressions rather than what they are expressing. This is important to them so we need to respect their wishes as far as they are expressing them. Then we can determine how best to go about implementing those changes. This might be the only time they have ever conducted a major remodeling project that they have help in doing.

If we have a preconceived notion of what they need or we interrupt them when they are sharing their ideas with us to let them know what we can do, what we have done in similar situations, how we would be a good choice for them, or how much they will like what we can do, they may feel that we are more interested in making a sale than in really helping them. A large part of the sale is made in letting them express themselves and having them feel that we really care about their input and their feelings.

This is not our home so it doesn’t matter what we would do if this were our home – it isn’t – or letting them know what we think they should do. They likely haven’t asked us for our opinion about what they should do, and even if they do, we need to throw it right back to them in the form of additional questions to let them arrive at their own conclusion of what improvements will help them the most.

In addition to listening with our ears to what they are telling us, there are two other ways to hear what they are concerned about or learn what their needs might be. We can listen with our eyes. We can see what is going on, how they use their space, their body language, how they express themselves, how intently they hold a particular position, and other visual clues that will help us understand and interpret what they are sharing with us verbally.

The other way that we can listen to what they are telling us, besides what we receive with our ears and eyes, is what we detect emotionally. What are we feeling about what they are sharing with us and about how they are using and relating to their living space that we can use to suggest a plan of action to help them? What types of nonverbal or subliminal messages are we sensing that contribute to our understanding or appreciation of what they might want or need to have done and how we can help them effectively?

When we meet with clients to plan what we can do for them by learning how their home is not providing for their current needs or situation, we need to absorb as much as we can. This is not the time to be in a strong sales mode by telling what we can do for them. That will come later.

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