Are You Listening?
As our parents get older, we often relate to them as if they were our children and we listen to them in that way. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and her conversations would revolve around a few topics: her need for a phone, an eye doctor appointment and another box of tissues. But occasionally she would say something quite profound, and if I weren’t listening to her carefully, I would miss it.
Being a good listener is a real art. Several years ago I took an excellent training course in Elder Mediation offered by Elder Decisions in Boston. Sharon, an attorney from Maryland, who was in the course with me, introduced me to some of the books written by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project. She shared a book with me written by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen entitled, Difficult Conversations, How to Discuss What Matters Most. In this book, the authors describe the key skills to become a good listener. I think we would all benefit from applying these skills to our conversations with our elderly parents.
The authors state that truly listening to another person transforms your relationship with them. They suggest learning to listen “from the inside out.” In other words, listen with curiosity. Ask questions. Paraphrase what your parent says so s/he understands that you understand him/her. Listen for the feelings behind what is being said and acknowledge those when you hear them.
But don’t let your conversation become an exercise in listening correctly. The heart of good listening is listening with authenticity. People will sense what’s going on inside you if you are not genuine. If your intentions are good, the words you use are not that important.
The authors remind us that each of us has an internal voice, the voice inside our head that reports what we are thinking, not what we are saying. This internal voice is constantly evaluating everything that is going on, including our words and actions and what the other person is saying. If we are not aware of this voice, it can create havoc with our attempts to listen to others authentically.
Listen to that internal voice in your head. What is it saying now? (What, me? I don’t have any internal voice.) Don’t turn off the voice, but listen to it carefully. How is it evaluating what the other person is saying? Get to know the kinds of things your internal voice is transmitting to you so they don’t interfere with your conversation.
Stay focused on curiosity in your conversation with your parent. Remember that most people, especially elders, rarely perceive that anyone is actually listening to them. And when they sense that you are authentically paying attention, it will open up their heart.
PERMISSION TO REPRINT:
Financial Advisors may reprint any articles from The Gift of Communication Blog in your own print or electronic newsletter. But please include the following paragraph:
Reprinted from Bob Mauterstock’s The Gift of Communication Blog. Subscribe at http://www.GiftofCommunication.com and receive Bob’s Family Meeting Checklist Guide.