Listening can actually be harder to do than it sounds. We are living in a society where we are conditioned to the 10-second sound bite. We’re all busy people so it is natural to focus for a brief moment then turn our attention elsewhere or onward to the business at hand.
Grieving people want and need to tell their story, though, as they process this drastic shift in their lives. None of us can, of course, spend hours comforting a grieving spouse or family member, but we can spare a few minutes to help them feel that they have truly been heard.
Here’s a list of tips and guiding principles that Directors’ Choice uses to listen to family members and friends of the deceased. We believe these tips will serve you and your grieving clients well as you create a connection with them during a first call or an arrangement conference.
Be OK with silence. Don’t be in a rush to fill in the empty spaces while people are giving you their story. Just be patient and listen. Although it may feel like a long awkward pause sometimes, it’s really just a few valuable seconds that allows our minds to process important thoughts.
It is often tempting when people are struggling to assimilate new information to rush in to give too much advice too quickly. Allow some space between the giving of advice/information so the family member has a chance to voice their desires and needs. Before moving on to another topic, ask if they have any questions about the last topic.
Focus on the individual
In today’s world, we are constantly being bombarded with stimulation overload. You might have to consciously remind yourself to put down the pen, fold your hands on your lap, use direct eye contact, and relax for a few moments. Remember, nothing is more salient than a sincere connection between people.
Use key words
Let the family member know they are heard by saying, “I hear you,”or “What I hear you saying is …,” or “How hard it may be for a while …” You may even want to ask them, “Do you feel like you have been heard?”
A grieving person may not be aware consciously of your body language, but it is conveyed nonetheless. Sitting with your arms crossed, leaning far back in your chair, or having your desk between you and the family member could convey a message of distance. Your body language may be saying that you are not an interested listener.
Since grieving people are extra sensitive, they often can tell if you are actively engaged in listening to them or if you are just being “nice” in order to get them out the door or on to business. When dealing with grieving families, it is always a good idea to check your frame of mind.
The simple act of listening to a grieving person brings much comfort to that person. No one expects you to solve all their problems in your initial call or planning sessions. Or to become their therapist. You can render your client a service by giving them a list of local resources that are specifically geared toward grieving individuals. Local therapists and support groups, or message boards on the Internet, are all sources of talent, wisdom and perspective that are rooted in the concept of listening.