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What “American Pickers” Teaches Us About Talking to Seniors

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 31 January 2012

My husband loves “American Pickers,” and it’s a show I don’t mind watching with him. His love of craftsmanship, antiques, history, and the thrill of discovering great finds are among the reasons he enjoys keeping up with it; while I share those interests, what I enjoy most are the people that Mike and Frank (the “pickers”) meet along the way.

Most of them are seniors, fascinating men and women from all walks of life with decades upon decades of life experience and the storied collections to prove it.

If you’ve never seen or heard of the show, check out this short clip, where Mike and Frank meet Morris, a collector in Iowa:

I’ve probably seen the show more than a dozen times, but upon viewing a recent episode, I was struck by something new: Mike and Frank really know how to talk to seniors.

Of course, it is a television show and probably edited extensively — and certainly Mike and Frank are, at the end of the day, businessmen looking for killer deals on amazing antiques. But I get the feeling that these guys wouldn’t talk any less respectfully or show any less genuine of an interest in the seniors, their stuff, and the stories behind the stuff if the cameras weren’t rolling.

So why does that matter?

For one thing, the men don’t overcompensate for assumed losses (cognitive, hearing, etc.) when they are conversing with older people on the show; they don’t shout or speak as if they’re talking to a child. Their appreciation of history and respect for another’s belongings means they listen well, expressing sincere curiosity about the background of the object they desire. Even when they are pushing for a deal, they do so in a way that doesn’t devalue the senior or the object, and if the owner ultimately says no, they are respectfully submissive.

There is really nothing extraordinary about the way Mike and Frank talk to seniors, because when you boil it down, they talk to them just as they would if they were 25, 45 or 65; they don’t shift their communication style for an 80 and up crowd (although that kind of clear, unhindered, free-of-stereotypes communication and attentiveness is rare). When they meet a new collector, they don’t see a senior. Instead, they see a person with a rich history, cool stuff, and a whole lot more to offer.

Take some tips from Mike and Frank next time you talk to a senior, and especially if you’re having a discussion about a care transition. Don’t treat your parent, spouse, sibling, grandparent, other relative or friend any differently due to age, and respect the individual’s right to make the final decision (and the reasoning behind it, even if you disagree).

- Michelle Seitzer

There are 2 Comments about this post

  1. Jay Lo says,

    Great article! I myself enjoy some of the stories that the older folks share with the Pickers and how they come to have items. I think this adds more value to the show and I’m always interested in stories I hear from older people. I’ve been watching the show now a few months and I’ve been playing catch up to the past episodes.

     

    on 27 March 2012 / 11:35 AM

     
  2. Glad you liked the post! It’s a great show and definitely handles that aspect (the stories the older folks share about how they come to have certain items) very well. Thanks for your comment!

     

    on 27 March 2012 / 12:40 PM

     
 

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