The Art of Listening: Achieving Successful Communication

By: Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWC

As Aging Life Care Specialists(r), we are called upon to provide an assortment of services. The needs are as varied as the families we are helping.  We continuously strive to be experts in our knowledge of homecare, entitlements, senior residences, elder law attorneys, and providing skilled and supportive counseling. But we are only effective if, throughout our dialogue with families, we listen. Effective listening combined with effective communication sets the foundation for successive and successful outcomes.

The art of listening, sometimes referred to as “active listening” requires two essential tasks. First, that we as care managers, listen, making a mindful effort to hear the words that seniors and their family are saying. Second, we must concentrate on what is being said establishing a virtual stop sign that leaves no room for our own assumptions and prejudices. We cannot assume or anticipate conclusions. With these two tasks as starting points, our listening is enhanced by four other components.

We listen mindfully, putting aside any distracting (as opposed to professional beliefs) thoughts. We listen without having an inner dialogue that will have an automatic response to a situation that is verbally evolving.

We listen without interrupting, knowing it may disrupt a client’s train of thought, especially if the person is cognitively compromised. A semi-smile (think Mona Lisa) or an encouraging “uh-huh,” let’s the person know we are with them, we are listening.

We ask for clarification at the appropriate time. Siblings may finish telling of their conflicting feelings about what they each think is best for mom, and we reply: “So let me make sure I understand.” It is that clarification that allows for modification and affirmation.

Finally, after all information has been shared, the Aging Life Care Professional(r) summarizes what has been said and listens for what has not been said, the latter perhaps a clue to the issue at hand.

Our listening skills remain strong as we adapt to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 virus. Historically, families have sought the guidance of an Aging Life Care Specialist as they pondered whether a parent would be better served in assisted living or remain at home with help. Now, families are asking our guidance as they question if a parent should return home or remain in their senior residence. Whoever would have thought?  Through this crisis, we will stand strong with our families, listening deeply and fully, a north star during uncertain times.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM is the founder of Directions in Aging, an Aging Life Care practice based in Westchester County, New York. She did her post master’s training at the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging where she later served as a faculty member. Founded in 1988, Directions in Aging brings over two decades of experience working with older adults and their families.

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