A Jewish Home intern shares reflections on the Green House® Project training
by Ryan Shanley
“We all learn how to communicate, but we do not all have self-awareness of our communication,” says Rabbi Jonathan Malamy of the New Jewish Home. Rabbi Malamy is Director of Religious Life in Manhattan and also an educator for the ongoing person-directed care training at the New Jewish Home.
As a student intern at Jewish Home (I’m studying for my Master’s in Gerontology), I participated in the six-day Green House project training. I thought I would just be learning of a care philosophy that places the elder at the center, giving her/him the primary voice in her/his care, but I also left with new insights about myself.
A full eight hours of the training is devoted to communication techniques. When my colleagues and I walked through the classroom doors the morning of day two, we were asked by our educators to pair up with someone we did not know very well. We were then asked to think of a personal story to share with our partners. My partner and I had to tell each other our personal stories two times: the first time we told our stories the listener would purposely try to not listen. I told of the day I went for my interview for graduate school and all the fears that went along with it. As I spoke, I watched my partner ignore my attempts at interaction; and even though I knew it was an exercise, I still felt self-conscious about my story. I sped up to get to the point faster, skipped details, and even tripped over some of my words. When my partner actively listened to my story the second time, using verbal and nonverbal cues to express her interest, I felt significant, added more detail, and even went over my allotted time so I could finish my story.
We shared how it felt to be ignored, and then how it felt to be truly listened to. I realized that the distractions we used to ignore our partners in this exercise were common behaviors I engage in often in a work environment: checking my e-mails, jotting down notes or reminders, getting into a quick exchange of words with a coworker passing by. The work environment can sometimes be so fast-moving that I am multi-tasking to some degree while speaking to someone. While I never deliberately ignore the person I am speaking to and always listen to them, this exercise showed me that by not giving my full attention, details can be lost on both ends of the conversation and the feelings of the speaker can potentially be hurt.
We spent the rest of the day learning about and acting out various barriers to listening that people commonly succumb to while in a conversation. An example of this is advising—jumping in with ideas of how to solve the problem before hearing the whole story. We also learned how to step back while in a verbal exchange with a co-worker, elder, elder family member, or loved one to become aware of our role in a conversation so we can figure out how best to approach the context of the conversation.
Toward the end of the day, I began to think of the long-term care setting and having conversations with elders. When an elder initiates conversation, it means s/he has something that s/he would like to share with you: a life history, a compliment, a request for assistance, or even just the need for social interaction. As professionals in long-term care we all care about the livelihood of elders, but if we don’t give our full attention to the conversations we have with them, even if we are “listening,” we have no idea about the details we could be missing or the self-conscious feelings we could be evoking.
After a full day of training, my classmates and I walked out of the classroom both closer to one another and more aware of our communication styles and the impact of our actions.
Ryan Shanley is a second-year graduate student of gerontology at Miami University of Ohio. He completed his undergraduate degree at the State University of New York at Cortland—a Bachelors in Sociology with a concentration in Gerontology and a minor in Spanish. His relationship with his grandmother, a strong bond with a college professor, and an awareness of global aging that he acquired while studying in Spain is why he has immersed himself in the field of Gerontology.