When we meet someone that we want to help age in place in their home we may observe some things that we think might be an issue or we may learn some things in the telephone interview with them, but we must really be prepared to listen to them open up about their needs and desires in order to serve them well.
In fact, listening is one of the keys – perhaps the most important one – of the skills we can employ in learning about the needs of our clients. Visual impressions and what we observe are important also, but what our clients tell us will guide our observations and help us verify or confirm what they share with us.
Along with listening to what our clients share with us voluntarily is its counterpoint – asking questions. One of the tools that will help us gain a perspective on what the clients are experiencing and how their home may or may not be meeting their needs as well as what they think might need to be done is the ability to ask them questions. A sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness is vital to have. It can be sharpened and strengthened, but this is a natural skill that we should recognize and use.
If we really work at it and pay attention, our clients will tell us much of what we need to know to create the solution they need and make the sale without ever asking for it specifically. We ask them to open up to us, which they most likely are going to be willing to do since they are experiencing some frustration or limitations with their home. Then, we allow them to talk, asking clarifying questions as necessary.
Listening requires participation. It’s not like “listening” to music while we are driving or cleaning out the garage. We may even sing along to songs that we recognize, but mostly the music is on in the background. We don’t specifically focus on it. Music is entertainment so we don’t listen to discover anything – just to hear and enjoy it. There is no quiz about what we heard so we don’t have to be actively involved.
We don’t have that luxury with our clients. We can’t behave that way with them. We can’t hear what they say, understand it, remember it, question it, probe, and use it to help determine what they need if we are distracted or approach this vital task in a casual way. We have to act like there is going to be a test on what was discussed so that we remain focused and engaged with them.
If we are thinking of what we still need to ask them about, or what we need to do for our next appointment when we finish meeting with them, or about something we wished we had said or done differently earlier in the day, or about what we are going to be doing when we finish meeting with them, or a song we heard earlier that keeps replaying in our head, or anything else but what the clients are sharing with us, we are going to miss the verbal information that we need to capture from them and come away without truly understanding them.
We can’t afford to just passively hear what they are saying like we are catching up on old times or know that they are saying something because we hear their words but without intently latching onto every word they are saying. We should be taking notes so that we can remember and refer to what they said later but also so that we have to focus on what they are saying in order to capture it in our notes. When they say something that doesn’t seem to make sense to us or seems to contradict an earlier statement or opinion they made, we need to explore it to find out why that might be true.
We need to approach our telephone pre-appointment with them and then our actual in-home meeting with them as if we were going to have to account for everything that happened and recreate everything our clients said for someone who wasn’t at the meeting. If we pay that kind of attention to our clients and give them this type or respects, (1) they are going to like us, (2) they are going to find us interesting, (3) they are going to think we are easy to talk to, (4) they are going to feel like we took a serious interest in them, and (5) we will be getting the information we need to help them have a more suitable and enjoyable home as they continue to live in it and age in place.
We can’t fake listening. We have to be serious about it and really do it for it to matter.