Focus on what the other person is saying. It’s not about you. Stop, take time, and listen. It is not the time to answer with stories about you. When the elderly or ill person you are caring for is done, ask if there is more they wish to tell and if there is something they wish you to do.
People need to have their facts, fears, or feelings heard. Stop your inner monologue or your eagerness to share the story from your life and be sure the person you are assisting has really done all the talking they wish. Then see if they just want to have silence next, rather than listening to your stories. Check first, before responding with your thoughts or answers.
If you are preoccupied with your own thoughts, inner conflicts, judgments or simply other matters, you just can’t listen well. Have you experienced a conversation where you wanted to make a point and the listener jumped in with their experience before hearing the end of your sentence? Was this a pleasant experience? Did they really answer or understand what you were trying to say? Someone who is ill or perhaps elderly in need of care or companionship may not want to add the burdens from your life to the ones they already feel. Come to them free and open to listen.
It is just unfair to jump to conclusions before you hear the story. The end of the story may convey the meaning intended. It may not be what you imagined. With judgment, you may advise someone in a way that does not solve their problem but makes the situation worse because you hurt their feelings. You could ask if they wish to talk about ideas afterwards or if sharing their story is sufficient for their needs today.
There is often more said between the lines than in the exact words spoken. In dread of exposing his or her fears, an ill person may avoid saying what you do not want to hear. Can you hear it between their words? While they may present a strong face of confidence, an ill person may be trembling inside, can you feel it?
Some more helpful tips can be gleaned from “Solace, How Caregivers and Others Can Relate, Listen, and Respond Effectively to a Chronically Ill Person”,by Walter St. John.
Helpful ideas for yourself when trying to really hear someone else:
When you provide the gift of companionship to someone ill or elderly and needing in home care, follow these simple ideas to help make the gift of time you are giving be truly priceless and genuinely healing of the person’s spirit.
Jaleh Neshat is the owner of “Homecare Assistance Raleigh NC” which provides in home care for families in the Raleigh area. Their “Balanced Care Method TM” caregivers provide emotional, social, nutritional, and physical care.