In recognition of Grief Awareness Day August 30, here are five tips for how to listen when someone you know is grieving.
Listening from the heart requires self-awareness. Intend to listen more authentically. What follows are considerations for becoming an authentic listener.
- Listen without judgment. Judgment is reacting based on our own experience. As you listen simply receive without judging what is said. This opens a space for deep trust.
- Commit to patience. We live in a rushed world and tend to move on to the next thing rather than attending to what is in front of us. Authentic communication can’t be rushed. Be patient with yourself and the other person.
- Listen first, then respond. We tend to mentally form our response while the person is still talking. Focus first on what the person is conveying then reply.
- Listen to the silence as well as the words. Sitting in silence with another is one of the most potent forms of communication. Silence allows our hearts to connect.
- Let touch speak for you. Sometimes a compassionate touch says “I care and I’m here for you” better than words.
In closing, I offer a quote from Rachel Naomi Remen. “Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes on the people around us.” And if our paths should cross, I’ll do my best to listen to you!
Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.
Empathetic listening is defined as a method via which you can prevent or manage disruptive or challenging behaviors. Caregivers can benefit from practicing empathetic listening, especially with people living with dementia. The result will be improved communications and reduced stress for both care partners.
- Be present, and attend the conversation at hand. If you’re multi-tasking, or preparing your response instead of listening to the speaker, then you will only experience the conversation at a superficial level. You’ll miss cues as to what the other person is feeling, and your cognitive empathy will feel forced or faked. Attend the moment.
- Don’t be judgmental. If a person has taken the time to share their personal experiences with you, honor that vulnerability by being open to their perspective.
- Pay attention to the speaker, their facial expressions, and their body language. Your understanding of these cues is instinctual; you simply have to allow yourself to be open to them. If they’re happy, sad, afraid, or upset, take note of that emotion, and respond to it. Your response to their emotional state is even more important than your response to the words they use, because the majority of communication is non-verbal in nature.
- Be quiet and patient. Don’t jump into any break and begin speaking, because not every statement needs an immediate response. This is never truer than in a tense situation that involves the speaker venting over some hurt. You’ll often find that if you simply allow the silence to linger after a break in the tirade, they’ll break the silence themselves and offer a solution.
- Make sure you actually understand the issue at hand. Ask questions, attempt to clarify their meaning, and restate the message you perceive them to be communicating.
As we enter this holiday season of family gatherings and changed schedules, it’s important that families and friends practice these tools. Remember that someone living with dementia thinks, feels and acts differently, especially under stress. As caregivers it is ultimately our job to change how we think, feel and act!
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those that serve them.