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. It is an acquired skill that can be learned and maintained with frequent practice. It does require patience.
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. 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.
Below are some tips to help enhance your communication:
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.
Focus on responding rather than reacting. When you reactto what someone else has said it is usually based on past experiences and clouded by old emotions. When you respondyou are listening to what is currentlybeing said and can interact in an appropriate way. Ask yourself: “Does the strength of my reaction and emotions fit with this current situation?” and “How would I like to respond?”
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.
Being clear, concise and direct is important. Not coming right out and asking for what you need, hinting or hoping others read your mind does not make good use of anybody’s time.
You may find yourself in situations where you have no previous experience or the knowledge or skills needed. You may feel like you are solely responsible for figuring out what needs to be done or what the person you are caring for needs. Trying to read the care recipient’s mind, making assumptions and second-guessing can be exhausting. When their health allows, ask them directly what they need from you and how you can best help them. Work as a team.
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.
- Advocating for a Family Member – Depending on the health and ability of the person you are caring for, it is likely that at some point you will be advocating for that person. A very comprehensive article on being a advocate.
- How to Advocate for You and Your Family Member – Advocacy from the a clinical counsellor’s vantage point.
- When the Person You Care for Resists Help – It can be difficult as a family caregiver to meet all the needs of the person you are caring for and it may become necessary to bring in others to help “share the care”. Suggested ways to move from resistance to acceptance.
Most of the listed webinars are pre-recorded and have a handout you can download. Click on the links to listen to the webinars and download a pdf of the presentation and handouts.
Coach Caregiver: Communicating in Difficult Discussions
Listen to the webinar here
Where to Draw the Line: Boundary Setting for Caregivers
Listen to the webinar here
The Art of Assertiveness
Listen to the webinar here.