Listening Is To Caregiving As Breathing Is To Living

Posted on May 19, 2015
Ben Merens

We all have the chance to make the world a different, and better, place – each and every day. While this difference might not be cataclysmic, throughout your life it is significant.

The choices you make on a daily basis determine the impact you can have.

When dealing with a caregiving role, your willingness to “hear” the other person’s needs, wants and stories is critical. When we give our listening attention to another, we allow him/her to feel validated. We allow him/her to feel worthy and know that his/her existence counts for something.

We have the chance to do this daily with every conversation we engage in.

This message was at the heart of my session with about 100 attendees at this year’s Wisconsin Network Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias May 18th in the Dells.

One woman in my session wanted to know about how to control the listening time so that she can get to the other items on her work list.

While I advocate that we listen to others as often as possible (and make sure we ask people to hear us as well), this doesn’t mean you have to give up all of your time to another’s stories.

You have the right to set the time parameters. If you only have 10 minutes, tell the person that. And, remind them at the nine-minute mark that they need to wrap up their story.

Good listening is not a passive act where you are taken advantage of because the storyteller wants an audience for an unlimited time. Good listening involves helping the storyteller focus his/her message.

Another woman in my session asked for some advice regarding interrupting a storyteller. I reminded her that interrupting with intention (for the purpose of clarification) is far from being considered rude. It shows respect.

If you interrupt and show that you really haven’t been listening at all, then that is where the rudeness is found. But it is the lack of attention that is rude. A good interruption helps you better understand the speaker and helps the speaker improve his/her storytelling.

Caregivers need to have great patience for their patients. This is especially true when the patient is elderly and challenged by dementia-related issues. When we are caregiving, we have the opportunity to be a patient patient-caregiver.

And, we can change another person’s world.

Listening — More Profitable Than Selling

Posted on May 14, 2015
Ben Merens

The key to growing your business in the next 12 months is not about your marketing campaign. It isn’t about how well you craft your sales pitch. It isn’t even about the periodic price discounts you offer.

The key to growing your business is listening to the stories of your customers. The real business that needs to take place today for long-term sustainability is about relational selling and not transactional selling.

You have a choice. And so does each employee who calls you boss. You can sell or you can listen. The initial sale might be there either way. But the repeat business is all about “the listen.”

We live in a world where we are bombarded by ads, texts, tweets, and emails (most of which we don’t want). We are starving for attention — real human interaction.

Your business might be the only place a customer feels heard all day or even all week.

How does this work?

To start with train your people to ask potential customers, “How are you?” and really mean it. Train your people to let the call go to voicemail when the customer is standing right in front of them. Train your people to keep their eyes on that customer and off the screen.

Train your staff to listen and make that customer feel as if they are the only customer your business has. Make them feel special.

Relational business is about the family, the Packers’ game, the latest issue with the car. It is about life. We can do business with anyone. We want to do business with people who care about us and not just our money.

Relational business involves the sharing of stories. We all love stories. We all have them to share. It is the grown up version of “show and tell” from our earliest school days.

What many of us don’t have is an audience.

You can be that audience for each and every customer that comes your way. In fact, with potential customers, hearing their stories might just be the key to getting their business…the first time and for a long time.

With repeat customers, you can be that audience for the ongoing story that is their life. You can ask how the medical test went or how the kid is doing with the new baby or new house. You can let that customer know that you heard them the last time you spoke and that you’ll be listening the next time too.

Relational business is more fulfilling for all of us.

We have a choice each time we speak with a customer about our business. We can treat the conversation like nothing more than a transaction or we can treat it like an interaction.

What will you choose today?

Ben Merens is a Listening Consultant and Content Marketing Director for Business XLerator in Milwaukee. He can be reached at

Treating People With Dignity By Showing Them Respect

Posted on May 13, 2015
Ben Merens

Treat people with dignity by showing them respect is motto of the firm I work for – Vistelar – but it is far more than that.

Earlier this week, my wife and I sat stranded in New York’s La Guardia Airport after laying her father to rest over the weekend.

As our plane joined the long list of “delayed until further notice” due to weather and runway congestion, I started up a conversation with Lisa.

Lisa has triple cancer.

Her doctors told her 14 weeks ago that she only had 12 weeks to live.

She began the conversation by explaining she had just spent a week in New York with one of her two daughters. She also said she and her husband planned a Caribbean cruise in two weeks. And, she has another weeklong trip planned with another daughter in Chicago.

I asked her why all the celebrations and she answered that she’ll be gone before the end of the year.

“Oh, I cry in the shower and when I’m alone in the car. But my family doesn’t have to see it. I have a bucket list and I’m working my way through it,” she told me with a smile. “ You know, you’re only the second stranger that I’ve shared my story with.”

There wasn’t much to say with my words – so I let my eyes do the talking. They said that I was listening and willing to hear more.

By the way, I’m no more skilled or able to hear a story like this than you are – in fact like most of us, my initial reaction would probably be that I wouldn’t want to hear such a story. But here Lisa was sharing an extremely intimate part of her life – that it was ending. And she was facing it with the courage of a thousand lions.

I felt respected because she was willing to share such a story with me. I wanted her to feel respected for not only her willingness to share it but for the battle she is facing so bravely.

She went to the bathroom and came back with some fruit. “I wanted one of those New York pretzels but the line was just too long.”

This seemed so wrong to me. Her last chance at something as simple as a pretzel but her strength was waning after a week of partying in NYC so this item remained on the bucket list.

When it became clear we weren’t going anywhere for a while, I took the long walk to the only men’s room in the terminal. On my way back, I saw the pretzel line and quickly joined it. I spent about 15 minutes in it when my wife called to ask me to get back to the gate. There still were two people in front of me. The line moved quickly and I had my prizes in hand. (One for Lisa and one for my wife.) She was grateful both for the pretzel and the fact that my wife and I were patiently hearing her story.

And then she broke down.

The announcement came over the loudspeaker that our flight had been cancelled for reasons that were hard to understand. But it was clear that we were now stranded.

Lisa started to shake and cry. My wife and I stood there for a moment and knew we needed to do more than offer her a pretzel and a reassuring hug.

We walked Lisa over to the customer service counter and my wife did the most amazing thing.

She announced to all of the angry, impatient passengers — desperately trying to get booked on the only other flight our airline offered that day from NY to Milwaukee — that Lisa has cancer and needs to be home for treatment the following morning.

She asked everyone in line if they would step back and allow this woman to get booked right away.

And like the story of the Red Sea, the people parted and Lisa got the next ticket and found out the true meaning of being treated with dignity by being shown respect.

“Empathic Listening: Key to Personal Connections.”

Posted on May 13, 2015
Ben Merens

The key to managing any form of conflict is communication. And, when it comes to caring for the elderly – especially those with any degree of dementia – this key is hard to attain.

But the caregiving “angels” whose life work revolves around elder caregiving are gathering next week in the Wisconsin Dells for the 29th Annual Wisconsin Network Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias.

I am privileged to be presenting a workshop entitled, “Empathic Listening: Key to Personal Connections.”

I will spell out some details of my presentation next week but it will revolve around the idea that we can make a major difference by the simple act of sitting still and listening to another – no matter how communicationally-challenged they may be.

A great listener’s biggest challenge often is simply sitting still and sitting quietly with another.

Stay tuned – more to come about this conference and my message there next week.


The Difference Each of Us Can Make

Posted on May 9, 2015
Ben Merens

Being alive means making a difference. I meet a lot of people who tell me they are no one special. They don’t really count for much. I beg to differ.

We all have a chance to change the world. In fact, our being here makes the world a slightly different place…no matter what we do and who we are. This isn’t some scientifically-based research finding or a religious dogma of some sort. It is just a fact.

The world spins a little differently because you are here. You can lend another a smile or a hand. You can start an organization to help those less fortunate than yourself. You can ask someone else for help and give their lives purpose by allowing them to help you. You can make a difference in many different ways in the world today. I just think it is a truth worth exploring and reminding ourselves about.

Whatever we do makes a difference. And this is the case every day. I’m a big believer in living in the present. We can ponder the events of yesterday and dream of the happenings of tomorrow but all we really have in life is the moment in front of us. We can do a lot with this moment. Being aware of it is the best way to start.

I recently read a facebook posting from a palliative care nurse…pointing out the five most common views expressed by those who are dying.

One…I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me — and ironically, when we live a life true to ourselves…this becomes the life others expect from us.

Two…I wish I didn’t work so hard – while there is nothing wrong with hard work…play is just as important…maybe more so.

Three…I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings – what shame to have them and not share them.

Four…I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends – this is something we can all do something about before it is too late…try contacting ONE lost friend today.

And, Five….I wish that I had let myself be happier – this is the biggest crime of all….to live a life where we deny ourselves the chance to feel good. It comes down to appreciating the small things sometimes and allowing that appreciation to grow.

These five truths come from people with nothing to lose…and I think we should pay careful attention.

We all know our lives will end. Most of us have no idea when. And, we continually fall into the trap of taking time … taking tomorrow for granted.

The way to avoid this living pitfall is to appreciate today…appreciate right now…and even if times are tough, find a reason to be grateful. It might come from a simple smile from a stranger…then again, your smile to a stranger might be that difference maker. 

Ben Merens is a Motivational Speaker, Content Marketing Manager and former radio talk show host.
You can contact him and share your thoughts about this post at