Call companions are volunteers who provide support and companionship to our older guests by regular one-to-one phone contact.
A good call companion should be interested in other people, a good listener, trustworthy and reliable.
We hope you find the below information helpful as you move to supporting our older guests by phone contact.
Obstacles to listening
When you’re making calls to the older guests it’s helpful to be aware of any obstacles to listening that might exist for you.
These can be practical obstacles – it might be too noisy where you are, or too hot or cold, it might be as simple as you not being comfortable where you’re sitting. These things can take your focus away from listening to your guest, so before you make the call it’s worth making sure the environment you’re sitting in isn’t distracting or uncomfortable for you.
There can also be other factors that can take your focus away from listening to the guest. It might be that you yourself are having a hard day or are going through a difficult time. This can make it challenging to fully focus on the conversation.
Time can also be a factor. If you’ve allowed 30 minutes for the call and you know you need to be somewhere else after that you will find it hard to focus on what the guest is saying if the call runs a bit longer than that.
So before making a call to a guest, make sure that you’ve allowed plenty of time, and try to make a conscious effort to put aside anything else that’s on your mind for the duration of that conversation so that you can fully focus on what your guest is saying.
When you are finishing the call always remind the guest when you will call next. It will make ending the conversation easier for them.
Communication and listening skills
It’s important in general to remember that these phone calls may be our guests only social interaction of the week. You will most likely be talking to the guest about practical concerns but there should also be time to talk about how they are feeling, or what they may be worried about. Try not to offload your own worries too much during this conversation, allow the guest to focus on how things are for them. Let the guest guide the conversation wherever possible.
Using active listening can be useful to help you fully concentrate on what the older person is saying and, perhaps more importantly, make them feel truly listened to. Active listening acknowledges that listening is not just about being quiet while someone else speaks. It requires that the listener fully concentrates, understands and responds.
Here are the elements of active listening that you might find helpful, and some tips for using them during your conversations:
- Open questions are questions that don’t have a yes or no answer. They can help encourage the older person to open up and respond in a number of ways. Simple things like ‘tell me more about that’ ‘how did you feel about it?’ ‘what happened after that?’ can help open up the conversation.
- Reflecting, using the same words the person has used will also show you are listening and encourage them to keep talking.
- Summarising or paraphrasing will help frame the conversation and give a good overview. It shows you’ve been listening. This is something like ‘so you’re saying you didn’t want to do that?’
- Clarifying what someone has told you by ending a statement with, “Is that right?” allows you to understand better and find out more.
- Short words of encouragement like ‘uh-huh’, ‘yes’, ‘hmm’, ‘go on’ help build rapport and demonstrate that you’re listening. It can be difficult to keep talking if you’re not sure the person is paying attention, so encouraging words like that are extremely helpful to show that you’re still there, and you’re still listening.
- Silence – try not to feel the need to immediately fill silences, as that pause can be helpful for letting the older guest gather their thoughts, and feel that they can take their time, that there’s no rush.
In general remember that a gentle tone of voice, a slower pace for the conversation, and not rushing to fill silences will all help the older guest to feel as though there is no hurry, that you have as much time as they need to talk.
Support and help
If you have any questions about anything to do with this new service, or if anything comes up during your calls with guests that is causing you any concern, please get in touch with your group co-ordinator or your Re-engage support officer.
For further guidance on telephone befriending, Befriending Networks have a series of helpful guides that can be accessed below: