6. How to Make it Easier for your Client to Talk Openly

Introduction

You make it easier for your client talk openly by listening actively.

Talking openly means your client feels “safe,” (unconcerned about being judged or embarrassed) because of how you respond and truly listen.

Listening actively includes the following skills:

  • Appropriate eye contact

  • Appropriate facial reactions 

  • Appropriate facial expressions

  • Mirroring

These skills are crucial to successful recording sessions and will you help you make your client’s memoir experience even more enjoyable and fulfilling.

You will learn and practice these skills in this module.

When you complete this module, you will be able to:

  • Make eye contact in such a way that your client knows you are paying attention

  • Make facial reactions (smiles, looks of concern, head nodding) that are appropriate responses to your client’s stories

  • Use expressions of understanding (uh huh, sure, oh) in such a way that your client knows you are in synch with them

  • Mirror your client’s body position which is adjusting your body to match the way your client is sitting.

The importance of practice


You must practice – out loud. It is the very best way to use these skills without hesitation or confusion.

Start with a mirror.

Watch how you look and listen to the sound of your voice.

Tape recording your practice can be helpful too.

Or, ask a family member or friend to let you practice with them.


Active Listening Skill Number One: Making Eye Contact

Why Learn This Skill?

Eye contact is one way to show you are listening. 

Think of the word ‘regard.’ In French (regardez) means ‘to look at.’

In English, ‘regard’ means attention to or concern for something or someone. 

As an active listening skill, eye contact is one way you show regard for your client. 

It shows you are paying attention and care about what they are saying.

Good eye contact is different than staring. To stare is to look fixedly at someone with your eyes wide open. That can be intimidating and uncomfortable.

Instead, good eye contact is a gentle looking and letting your eyes show understanding.

Good eye contact is looking at your client while they are talking and NOT looking at your notes or glancing away until they complete a thought or story.


Along with the other active listening skills good eye contact is critical to putting your client at ease and helping them feel important and willing to tell their stories openly.

How?

You show active listening by:

  • looking at your client’s eyes long enough to let them know you are paying attention

  • keeping your focus on your client rather than looking down at notes or looking away for any reason

  • maintaining eye contact with appropriate facial expressions (smiles or sympathetic frowns) and using expressions of understanding (uh huh, oh yes)

  • waiting until they complete a thought or story before looking at your notes or checking the recording app.

Practice

Start with a mirror.

Look at yourself. Imagine you are listening to you! Is your eye contact comfortable? Or are you staring? Adjust your gaze until it looks comfortable. 

Try to remember the feeling in your eyes when you look with a comfortable and interested gaze.

Ask a friend or family member to allow you to practice good eye contact and to give you feedback. 

Ask them to tell you when your eye contact shows you are listening non-judgmentally.

Active Listening Skill Number Two: Appropriate Facial Expressions

Why Learn This Skill?

Your eye contact shows you are paying attention.

Your facial expressions also show you are understanding.

Together (eye contact and appropriate facial expressions) are very powerful ways to make your client feel safe and encourage him or her to talk openly.

Using appropriate facial expressions should ‘come naturally’ when you listen, with interest.

How?


Appropriate facial expressions include:

  • Smiling: when your client tells a happy story or describes a happy event


  • Nodding and looking concerned: when your client discusses a sad or unhappy event


  • Just nodding slightly: when your client is talking openly, and you want to show your intense interest.


Practice

Return to the mirror.

Continue imagining you are listening to you! Maintain comfortable eye contact.

Imagine you are discussing a happy situation. Practice smiling and nodding (just a slight nod, don’t overdo it.

Then, imagine talking about a sad or trouble event. Practice looking concerned and nodding, again just a slight nod is enough.

Ask a friend or family member to allow you to practice facial expressions and to give you feedback. 

Ask them to tell you when your facial expressions are appropriate and show you are listening with understanding.

Active Listening Skill Number Three: Using Expressions of Understanding

Why Learn This Skill

Expressions of understanding are a third component of active listening.

Eye contact and facial expressions are non-verbal. 

Expressions of understanding are part of the verbal components of active listening (helping your client to be more specific is the other part of active listening that you learn in module ___).

Expressions of understanding, combined with appropriate eye contact and facial expressions, help your client feel truly listened to and encouraged to continue telling their stories. 

How?

Expressions of understanding include responding, at appropriate times, with such responses as:

“Uh huh”

“Oh yes”

“Mmmm”

“Sure”

“Wow”

Like this:

Client: “So, moving four times in two years was really rough. It seemed we were never settled.”

Mentor: “Oh, sure.”

Client: “After the first move we stopped unpacking all the boxes because we knew we would just have to pack them up again, and what was the point, you know.”

Mentor: “Oh yes.”

Client: “One time, I just had to get it over with quickly and managed to pack the entire house, all by myself, in one day”

Mentor: “Wow..”

Client: “I was exhausted, but at least I got it over with.”

Mentor: “Understandable, gosh.”


Practice

Ask a friend or family member to allow you to practice and give you feedback.

Ask them to tell you about a recent experience (something about their kids or a vacation or whatever).

Be mindful of your eye contact and facial expressions and use expressions of understanding when it feels appropriate (usually at the completion of a thought).

Don’t overdo it.


Active Listening Skill Number Four: Mirroring

Why Learn This Skill?

Mirroring is copying your client’s way of sitting.

If your client crosses his or her legs, you do the same.

If your client folds his or her arms, you do the same.

Research has shown that mirroring is a subtle way of listening actively and making your client feel comfortable with you.

You must be careful not to mimic your client in an obvious way. Just try to sit as they do as much as possible.

Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Mirroring_(psychology)

How?


Practice:

Ask a friend or family member to allow you to practice and give you feedback. 

Ask them to tell you about a recent experience (something about their kids or a vacation or whatever).

Change your body position to be more like theirs. If they sit up straight, do the same. If they slouch, do the same. If they put their hand on their face, do the same.

Don’t overdo it. Be subtle. 


Active Listening Skill Number Five: Timing

Why Learn this Skill?

Timing is allowing your client to complete a thought or story without interrupting or making them feel rushed.

Timing helps them feel like their stories are important and that you care and will stay with them – at their pace, not yours.

How?

Listen for when your client has completed a thought or description of an event. Make sure they are ready to transition or expand on a topic.

Wait a “beat” before asking a question or suggesting a new topic.

Like this:

Client: So, you know, that’s just the way it was. They were tough years, but funny thing is, I wouldn’t trade them for anything, know what I mean?

Mentor: Yes, indeed. (Pause) OK, shall we move on to talking about your early years at work?”


Client: “Oh my, that was a time to remember. I’m glad I can share this with my family.”

Mentor: “Of course.” (Pause) So, would you like to say more about your family vacations in Europe?”

Client: “Well, yes, I don’t want to forget about our trip to Germany is 1975. That was an amazing adventure…”


Practice

Ask a friend or family member to allow you to practice and give you feedback. 

Ask them to tell you about a recent experience (something about their kids or a vacation or whatever).

Wait until they seem to have finished a thought or completed a story. Use an expression of understanding. Then pause for a beat and ask a question to expand on the topic or to change the topic. 

As before, don’t overdo it.



Final Thoughts

Let’s reinforce why these skills are so important:

  • You are a helper and a coach when you work with a client to record their memoir

  • The best way to be a ML&S memoir mentor is to be an active listener

  • Listening actively makes clients feel safe and comfortable and more willing to talk openly and freely.

  • Practice until you can listen actively without hesitation – until it comes ‘naturally.’

    This is how you will be most successful and get lots of referrals to build your business.

Checking to make sure you completed this training successfully:

Are you able to:

  • Make eye contact in such a way that your client knows you are paying attention?

  • Make facial reactions (smiles, looks of concern, head nodding) that are appropriate responses to your client’s stories?

  • Use expressions of understanding (uh huh, sure, oh) in such a way that your client knows you are in synch with them?

  • Mirror your client’s body position which is adjusting your body to match the way your client is sitting?

If not, no problem, just go back and review until you can do these skills without hesitation or confusion.