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’re 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’re under the stress of an emergency or trying to balance work, parenting and caring for an ill family member.
Rushing a conversation, making assumptions about the other person, and not being present in 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 the person you’re caring for needs, inside knowledge and experience benefits everyone: a family physician; home support staff; other family members; and concerned neighbours.
Communication skills take time and require practice and patience. Here are a few tips to consider:
- 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 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. Hinting may work with your husband, who knows you well, but it may not get the same results during a doctor’s appointment.
- When my mom was in Grade 5, her teacher wrote in her report card, “Generally speaking, Judy is generally speaking.” Don’t be like my mom and do all the talking! Practice active listening; limit your talking, make eye-contact and acknowledge the others’ concerns and questions. It isn’t necessary to have an answer for every point when it is made.
- Avoid a “someone-has-to-win” attitude. Even with the best intentions, those of us who are naturally competitive may find ourselves competing with aging parents or a health provider rather than working together. Think about a team philosophy with a goal of figuring out what is best for everyone on the team.
- Listen carefully to the other person and ask them to 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?” Be prepared to clarify statements you make, too.
- Have your questions or information to be conveyed ahead of the appointment or conversation. It really helps to keep the conversation focused and on task.
Originally published in INSPIRED Senior Living January 2017 issue.