Before we can begin helping our clients with their aging in place needs and concerns, we have to know what their issues are and how they would like us to help them. This requires a conversation – over the phone initially and then in-person.
That conversation cannot be effective in producing information to help us create solutions for them and to have them appreciate our willingness and ability to help them with knowing what questions to ask, helping them feel comfortable sharing the needs and opinions with us, and most of all, listening to what is being shared with us.
Making a sales to a client to come into their home, make anything from a simple modification to a major makeover, and have them welcome us unconditionally is a big deal for many people. We can’t just thrust it upon them. They have to be ready and receptive to our help. This comes from building a relationship, and that stems from understanding them. It all begins with listening.
While we might like to show up at their front door with a scope of services already prepared, based on what we perceive their needs might be from a visual inspection of their property or a cursory discussion with them prior to our appointment, this is not how it works. It takes a series of exploratory, give-and-take sessions before the client is comfortable receiving us into their home to make the modifications that will help them and for us to have a complete understanding of what they expect and how to approach the assignment.
We must engage our clients. We have to be open to hearing what they want to share with us – verbally as well as non-verbally. We have to ask questions that sound less like an interrogation and more like a friendly conversation. Then we can build upon the information we learn.
Effective communication starts with listening, but listening is hard when we want to do it well. It is considerably more than just hearing words, phrases, or sounds. There is a required comprehension, and this only happens when we focus on what is being said and concentrate on it so that we can embrace and understand the message. Then we can use this information in our next question or comment – and subsequent ones.
If there is anything unclear in what the client is attempting to share with us – or anyone else involved in the discussion such as family members or caregivers – or there is the inability for the client to comprehend what we are sharing, there is no communication. We have to keep at it until there is a full recognition on both sides of what is being shared.
Our clients won’t always tell us what we want or would like to hear, but that’s why we have the conversation. We can’t help them effectively if we are only approaching it from what we want or think is best for them without involving their feelings and expectations.
When we consider or think about the concept of listening, we naturally think of our auditory senses to actually receive the spoken message that our clients are presenting – their opinions, their observations, and their answers to our questions. They are going to have questions that they will pose to us as well.
There are two additional aspects of listening that are important to our interactions with our clients, and both will help us to achieve a higher level of understanding than relying just on what is being said.
The first is our interpretation of what is being said – or not said. We listen to the tone of voice, the hesitancy or the firmly held opinion, the reticence to share or the openness. We attempt to spot inconsistencies in what they might be sharing or disagreements in how to move forward as voiced or expressed by different family members. We listen to how confident they might be in expressing what they want or if there is uncertainty. Then we can skillfully explore some of our concerns.
The second is to rely on what we see and to use our eyes for listening. We will look for body language, what we see going on in the space, the general character of the home and layout – even if it is not expressed in words – and how the various family members and concerned individuals (caregivers and family, for instance) are responding to each other with their body language and non-verbal tells.
In short, there are many ways to gather information about what the client is expecting, desiring, and needing for us to provide for them to help them utilize their home environment better than they are when we initially meet them and enter their home, Whether we are asking questions, listening to their responses or what they spontaneously offer and volunteer, or what we perceive that is going on in their space and with their emotions, we use our basic listening ability to gather information to begin creating and suggesting a solution for them.