We often think of listening as a passive exercise, yet true listening requires that we engage in what the other person is saying in a way that acknowledges him or her, and shows that we’ve understood.

For caregivers of aging parents, it’s not always easy to hear what a family member is saying, especially when that person repeats himself or herself. Being a good listener may make the family member feel that they’re being heard, and could make them more at ease and less anxious.

“Effective communication is one of the keys to building resilience and maintaining balance in your life,” says clinical psychologist Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.

A technique used in conflict resolution called “active listening” uses the steps of understanding, retaining and responding to listen better, as it focuses on the listener making a conscious effort to not only hear the words but to also understand the message. Picking up on non-verbal cues is important especially when the person you’re caring for may not communicate very much through words, or might not always tell you what’s on their mind.

The following are three ways to practice good listening:

  1. Pay attention
  • When you listen to someone, make sure you look directly at that person.
  • Don’t text, watch TV or draw your attention to other things around the room.
  • Body language is an important part of communication. Show through your body language that you’re listening, and also listen to the person’s body language.
  • As an example, if the person is slumping in her chair, ask her if she needs to move or go for a walk. She might not know that she needs to, but her body language may be telling you that she’s uncomfortable.
  1. Show you’re a good listener
  • Nod your head to show you’ve heard the person.
  • Smile and show other emotions.
  • Say encouraging things such as “O.K.” and “Yes.”
  1. Repeat what they say
  • Sometimes we think we hear someone, when in actual fact we’ve interpreted what they’ve said based on our own beliefs and ideas. For this reason, try to paraphrase by using terms such as “What I’m hearing is,” and “Sounds like you’re saying.” This gives the person a chance to correct you if needed and to feel heard.
  • As you’re listening to the person, try summarizing their comments in a general way so that they know you’ve heard them.
  • If you haven’t understood something they’ve said then clarify certain points such as, “What do you mean when you say that…?” and “Do you mean that…?”

Using these simple tips and techniques will help to increase your communication with people, and will go a long way to others in your life feeling like you’ve heard them.

photo credit: chipgriffin via photopin cc


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