Small talk, by its very definition, alludes to conversation that is trivial and meaningless; but small talk can reveal volumes of information if you really listen to what is being said.
In our professional lives, it is easy to get swept away with productivity. Everything we do must be accounted for and must be productive in some way. Even when visiting clients, we often have an agenda, or a set of questions we feel must be answered, so that our time is productive. Still, limiting the scope of your conversation with the client can have unintended consequences.
While we think it’s nothing important, information from likes and preferences, to fears and obsessions, can be revealed during a conversation we thought was meaningless small talk. Without small talk, we wouldn’t have solved a very big and very real problem for one of our clients.
We were trying to find placement at an ALF for one of our higher functioning clients. After compiling a list of what we believed were appropriate facilities, we took her to tour several locations. She didn’t like any location, but she was unable to provide specifics as to why. She simply didn’t like them.
After the fourth location, we were out of ideas. Finding a facility that was not only appropriate for her needs, but that she liked as well, was looking slim.
Then, a clue emerged. During the drive to a doctor’s appointment, while making small talk unrelated to the move, the client looked out the window and said, “I don’t like lakes. In Florida that is where sinkholes happen, and I am afraid of them.”
Bells and whistles went off. Each facility we had looked at were lake-side because we found them to be beautiful locations and thought that she would too. Little did we know of her fear of sinkholes.
That day we learned a valuable lesson: it is important to know a client’s fears, for fears can shape preferences. Had we never had the opportunity to talk unscripted with the client, we may never have known that one little fear that kept her from successful placement.
Next time you’re pressed for time and find yourself rushing through a visit with a client, stop. Take a deep breath, and then make time for some unstructured, unguided small talk. You never know what little clue might be revealed that could make a huge difference in how you care for your client.
This blog is shared by Theresa Barton, the expert behind The Guardian Network with more than 25 years of experience in the field of Elder Advocacy, Care Management and Guardianship. Learn more about Theresa’s work and resources for families, caregivers and health, support and legal professionals here.
Connect with The Guardian Network:
Join The Guardian Network Facebook Community here!
Follow The Guardian Network on Pinterest here.