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Written by Jacob Terranova

 

In an era of more personalized funerals, learning how to effectively talk to families can go a long way in helping to plan a unique service.

 

But it can be hard to get a grieving family to open up — and it’s even more difficult if you aren’t familiar with the deceased or there were no prior discussions of funeral plans. Taking the time to hone your communication skills can help with that and also can help build relationships with those in your community who aren’t at-need.

 

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Preparation

It’s important to do a little research before meeting with the family. After the initial appointment is set up and the standard questions are out of the way (how did their loved one pass, who is in charge of arrangements, etc.), see what else you can learn about the deceased and the family.

  • Are they looking for a traditional service, highly personalized, or something in between?
  • What was their relationship with the community? Were they long-time community members, maybe familiar faces at your local church? Or are they coming in from out of town or state?
  • How many people will you be meeting with? And what is their relationship to the deceased?

Getting some background info can help you tailor specific questions when you meet with the family later. Make sure to take notes of any important information.

 

Comfort and Communication

One of the easiest ways to get someone to open up is to make sure they are comfortable. Think outside the box when it comes to meeting with the family.

  • Would they be more comfortable at their own home?
  • What about another venue? Maybe a coffee shop or a diner that the deceased frequented?

And of course there’s nothing wrong with meeting at the funeral home — some families actually will prefer it. Here are some tips on making sure your lobby is as inviting as possible.

 

Active Listening

While listening seems like an obvious thing to do, it’s harder than most think. Studies have found that the average listener will only remember 25% of what was said in a conversation, which means we spend very little time actively listening.

 

Instead, we react to what we hear and begin planning our responses. This can lead to interrupting families and imposing our own solutions and ideas. Let them speak — sit back and listen.

 

To improve active listening skills:

  • Get yourself fully invested in the moment. Clear the room of any distractions and paperwork and keep your cellphone or computer out of the way or turned off.
  • Try to paint a picture in your mind with what the family is telling you as they talk.
  • Wait for a pause to address any questions or ask the family to clarify anything.
  • Use open-ended questions as a way to encourage the family to delve deeper and reveal details.
  • Try summarizing the family’s words back as your own. It will ensure you’re all on the same page and it’s a simple way to help remember the conversation later on.

Click here for another great resource when it comes tips on listening. Learning to actively listen will help you remember the tiniest details. And it’s sometimes the littlest things that make a memorial service mean the most to your families.

 

Talking the “Right” Way

When talking with grieving families, how you talk to them is very important. It can get them to open up more about their wishes for the funeral, making your job easier when it comes to personalization.

 

In fact, only 7% of the words you speak are important. It’s the tone of your voice and the nonverbal body and facial language that have the most impact when speaking with people.

 

Working on nonverbal communication can be tricky because it is usually subconscious. But nonverbal messages are important because they express how we feel. No funeral director wants to accidentally give off the wrong message.

 

Nonverbal messages include a range of things: Touch, tone of voice, personal space, eye contact, gestures, body movement, and posture. The best way to take charge of your nonverbal actions? Practice. Learning to master your nonverbal actions will help you communicate with families more effectively.

 

No two families grieve the same. Some might open up easily, others might be harder to get through to. Being an effective communicator can help you effortlessly deal with any type of family you encounter. The more a family opens up to you, the easier your job is when planning a personalized service for their loved one.