By Beatrice Obigbesan, CFF Administrator
In my administrative role, I have engaged in various telephone conversations with people of dissimilar backgrounds. On answering a telephone call, I have come across individuals who were in a livelier mood and simply keen for casual discussions. Others had more of a concerned or anxious disposition. Therefore, they needed a sympathetic listening ear or voice to assure them that their mental health support would be provided swiftly.
Indeed my role generally involves the extraction of relevant information from people; either to provide answers or form the basis of an enquiry for a colleague. However, such act must be achieved in a careful; yet considerate manner. You have to be personable and communicate to people that there is a listening ear at the other end of the line. Also, it is important to demonstrate a willingness to provide direction, clarification, information, reassurance and solutions in a professional and friendly manner.
Effective communication is not merely about clear speech, the finest phraseology or hearing the words of the speaker. Over time, I realised that people are actually in need of what I call “a listening heart”. A listening heart is an inward posture which starts with an intentional attentiveness that transcends the use of words at face value; and progresses into a deep understanding of the speaker’s actual need.
This realisation became solidified about two weeks ago when I received a call from a parent. On that afternoon, the CFF telephone rang and I picked up. Then, I heard an automated electronic voice message saying "This is a telephone call from a Hearing Impaired Caller". Although the message was successfully conveyed, it took me sometime to assimilate what was about to happen. My initial thought was that I was receiving an automated commercial call.
Suddenly, I heard a male voice from the other side of the line. The man introduced himself and went on to explain that he was a voice telephony service operator who assists people with hearing impairments to make calls. He asked me whether I have ever received a similar call from a person with a hearing impairment and I said “No”. As a result, he began to explain the procedure. His role was to read out to me any statement typed by the person (with the hearing impairment) and then type any of my responses or statements back to the same person.
In communicating with the hearing impaired parent, my speech was initially fast and I was asked by the operator to slow down a few times for him to type my message. Eventually, as the discussion progressed, I became more familiar with this mode of communication and began to take more pauses in-between sentences. Additionally, I avoided extensive vocabulary and concentrated on conveying my message as concisely as possible. My aim was to understand and address the parent’s needs by making both the operator’s and the parent’s position easier.
As time progressed, I found it easier to keep in mind a mental picture of the parent as I spoke to the operator. In the end, I politely directed the parent to make a referral by filling in our online form. I did this to minimise the number of potential telephone conversations that she might have potentially had to engage in with.
As I hung up the line, I felt satisfied and excited for being able to provide support to a parent who had a hearing impairment. A listening heart is not deterred by the mode of communication utilised but rises up to the occasion to ensure that the person feels supported.