When hospice patients or family members won’t stop talking

Attentive listening is the primary service we offer hospice patients and their family members. Listening can validate the experiences that they are describing, and help us fully understand the challenges. It is a beautiful gift to our clients and to ourselves because authentic connection is a blessing to everyone.

Listening can be challenging at times

It’s often not easy. There are times outside of the realm of hospice when I get frustrated and want to tell someone, “I get it!” or “Let’s wrap this up.” Or when someone on the phone insists on giving me directions. I ask an address and they respond with, “Which way are you coming from?”

Grrr! Addresses don’t change depending on the direction you’re coming from.

“I’m sure I can find it,” I say.

“Are you sure?” they ask. “Because it’s tricky because you can’t just take a left if you’re coming on the expressway from the north. You’ll need to go a little ways past the sign and then when you see the singing bush, do a U-turn, but be careful because your turn will be soon and…”

Or the sales pitch when I’m already sold. There are a couple of organizations that provide services that I love, but the more I use them, the more time they keep me on the phone telling me about how I should keep using them, giving me instructions on how to contact them, as if I hadn’t referred to them a hundred times in the last three years.

Just keep listening to hospice patients and their family members

Depending on your life goals, you might feel comfortable interrupting sales pitches or gratuitous driving directions. But as hospice social workers, we’re responsible to resist any frustration when it comes to patients or their family members.

Sometimes the people we serve talk at us nonstop because they really need to be heard. When that’s what they need at the moment, we are providing good service by giving their words space in our heads.

Because our goal is to connect with them and serve them, when they talk at us nonstop without letting us depart or hang up, this is an indicator of at least a small success. Speaking to us nonstop means they trust us to respect their concerns. They believe us to be allies in the mission to ameliorate their concerns. We’ve got rapport.

The advanced listening skill is to keep listening. There will be the temptation to cut them off or try to bring conversations to a close, and sometimes schedules and boundaries require us to. But when we have opportunities to just keep listening for a few more minutes, we can remember that this is the heart of our job.

Listen to the client instead of our own thoughts

We may also get distracted by our own thoughts so that we’re still looking at the client but not really present. Some clients will notice this and find it invalidating as if what they’re courageously sharing is boring us.

Meditation and journaling can help us learn to stay present, and so can the awareness that it is a crucial time for our patient or client. Someone’s life is approaching an end, and it’s frightening. Our patients and family members deserve to share their thoughts with an authentically validating and present supporter.


Thank you for being here!

As a writer, I love knowing that people are enjoying my work. If you found this article useful, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Pinterest. And while you’re here, feel free to explore. There are articles about facilitating advanced directives, advocating for patients, and several other hospice social work topics. 

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