By Wendy Johnstone
Family caregivers often struggle with not knowing how to speak up and get their message across to key people involved with the person for whom they are caring. Being assertive with effective communication skills is about knowing what you want to say at the right time to the right person.
We’ve all had those days where we’ve thought to ourselves, “Hmmm… That conversation did not go the way I wanted it to.” Our ability to communicate can easily be derailed when we are under the stress of an emergency or trying to balance work, parenting and caring for an aging parent. Rushing a conversation, making assumptions about the other person or not being present in the dialogue are common culprits in miscommunication and conflict.
Yet, as family caregivers, the role of being a care recipient’s voice and key support person is critical. Having the best understanding of what an aging parent or spouse needs, inside knowledge and experience benefits everyone; a family physician, home support staff, other family members and concerned neighbours.
Being assertive and clear is often required for effective communication as a caregiver. It is an acquired skill that can be learned and maintained with frequent practice. It does require patience.
Being assertive aims at equalizing the balance of power, not in “winning the battle” by putting down the other person or rendering him/her helpless. It also involves expressing your legitimate rights as an individual. You have a right to express your own wants, needs, feelings and ideas.
Think ahead of the conversation about what you need to get (versus what you hope to get) from the discussion.
Ask yourself, “What is my bottom line?” Check in with yourself before starting a conversation. What are your feelings and reactions to the situation and the others involved. Although time-consuming, it can be very helpful to go over probable reactions and mapping out strategies or responses to keep the conversation moving forward while keeping inflammatory reactions to a minimum.
Life would be simpler if we were all mind-readers! Until that happens, being clear, concise and direct is the next best thing.
Practice active listening; limit your talking, maintain eye contact and acknowledge the others’ concerns and questions.
Clarify statements you don’t understand. “I don’t understand what you mean by that. Can you tell me more about what you are thinking?” Also, be prepared to clarify statements you make.
Have your questions or information you’d like to convey ahead of the appointment or conversation. It really helps to keep the conversation focused and on task.
It’s not only about what you say, but how you say it. Remember: other individuals have a right to respond to your assertiveness with their own wants, needs, feelings and ideas.