A given in learning about the needs of clients we want to serve and engage to help them age in place effectively is listening to them – actually listening and not just hearing them. Hearing someone or something is passive – it is the physical act of allowing sound waves to enter our ears and there is little we can do to stop it entirely without going someplace where there is no sound – while listening is active. We have to get involved.
Listening to someone – really grasping, appreciating, comprehending, and using what they are sharing with us – is a powerful tool for understanding their circumstances, needs, and desires. March, among other noteworthy observances, is “International Listening Month.” However, we don’t need a special reason to concentrate on listening – to our clients, to family members, to friends, and to each other. It is part of the human condition if we are willing to accept and embrace it.
We won’t always like what we hear, and we won’t always hear what we are expecting or what we want to hear, but if we want to understand someone’s position on anything – even if we disagree with them – we must give them our attention and commit to really grasping what they are telling us. Then we can comment, question, agree, disagree, accept, or reject what they are saying, but at least we have heard it all. When we are more concerned with what we are going to say next or a witty comeback, we are blocking what they are saying from our consciousness and missing the full impact of it.
So what exactly is listening? For our purposes in learning about someone’s needs and experiences so we can help them adjust to continuing to live in their homes and suggest improvements – modest or more elaborate – to aid them in aging in place, there are four ways that we can listen to them – two involve using our ears, and two engage our eyes.
First, when we meet someone face-to-face in their home or in their hospital room, or visit with them over the phone before agreeing to meet them in-person, they have things to share with us, and we want to investigate their needs and opinions. We must slow down and open our ears to allow them to spontaneously share with us anything they want us to know. If they don’t have that much to share with inviting it, we will ask and explore what their concerns are. Otherwise, we allow them to tell us what is on their mind, what their concerns are, and where and how they think they need some (like us) to help them.
This is the first step in learning about the client’s needs. It is allowing them to express themselves – voluntarily or by requesting it from them. For those who are less inclined to tell us what they are thinking or what their concerns are, we will have to ask a few general questions to elicit information and get them more comfortable in talking with us about their needs. Those needs can be two-fold – personal ones and those involving the conditions of their home and layout.
Second, we will want to ask specific questions about what is going on that we might be able to address. We might have a checklist, evaluation form, or assessment sheet that we are following to prompt us, or we might just engage them and see we it takes us – or use a combination of methods. Regardless, we need to gather information from them by having them share their opinions, needs, and concerns with us. If there are family members or caregivers involved, we want to hear from them also.
Whether we sit back and listen to what our clients are sharing with us spontaneously or we are allowing them to respond to the questions we are posing, we must be receptive to their answers. Taking notes is a good way to focus on what they are saying and to make sure that we concentrate on their words and emotions – as long as the note-taking doesn’t distract us from our listening or break eye contact for prolonged periods of time.
Third, is to use our eyes for listening – to observe what is going on in front of us. Fourth, is to notice what has occurred before we arrived. In both instances, we can gain a wealth of knowledge beyond what is being shared verbally with us. We can pick up on nonverbal signals, mobility difficulties, sensory concerns, and weaknesses in the home to accommodate their needs.
No matter how we gather information from our clients, listening – through both our ears and our eyes – is vital for forming the impressions necessary to create and suggest solutions for them to age in place more effectively. Once formed, our impressions need to be verified and confirmed also with our clients before proceeding with any work.