I was telling a dear friend who recently visited about our wonderful volunteers…and about our hope that more people will join them, especially in our Chore and Companion programs. She expressed some worry about whether or not she’d be up for the task. “I don’t know if I’d be comfortable visiting with an older adult,” she admitted. “I’m not sure what I’d say.” Now this startled me a bit because she is educated as a mental health professional, and she now teaches (i.e. talks!) for a living! But I do get it…when I was training as a volunteer hospital visitor I had similar concerns.

I needn’t have worried. I soon discovered that people are primarily grateful not for a volunteer’s sparkling banter, but for a volunteer’s caring presence and listening ear. Folks generally have plenty of stories to tell, information to impart, and opinions to share. Plus, I learned that a bit of silence in the midst of a conversation is not always a bad thing. It can allow for some needed breathing room, a moment to allow thoughts and words to rest gently while we pause and reflect.

That being said…it can be kind of nice to have a few conversation prompts “on the back burner” for those times when the silence feels a bit awkward. I recently ran across the document below – a list of “life interview questions” – from the Legacy Project. I don’t think I’d recommend peppering a client with a bunch of these questions all at once, but I thought it might provide some useful ideas.

You might briefly share your own answer to one of these questions and then invite your client to do the same – or just ask the question outright, if it seems appropriate. Perhaps something in the environment – a photo or book if you are in a client’s home, or maybe a passing landmark, house or business if you are in a car – will bring one of these questions to mind and help move the conversation along.

Do you have a favorite “go to” question or comment that helps get a conversation “unstuck?” Feel free to share it in the comments below!