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Effective Communication

“The more loving we can be, the more powerful we become.”

  ~Silvia Hartmann

     Communication as a caregiver will serve to be one of your most important tools.  Your presence, emotions, and attitude in a conversation are just as important as the words you use.  In fact, most communication is nonverbal such as body language and other subtleties.  In conflicted situations or when a medical diagnosis makes communication difficult, talking and listening can be challenging for anyone.  The following ideas are provided to you as a guide towards healthier communication.

Focus on empathy.

Give the person the right to have their own perspectives and feelings.    Listen for their emotions.  For example, “I can imagine you must be feeling very worried.”  Doing your best to put yourself in the other person’s shoes allows them to feel heard and understood.  When someone feels heard, they tend to be less defensive.

Use active listening skills.   

Simple acts of maintaining appropriate eye contact, using open ended questions, and letting go of your own agenda can go a long way toward solving problems.  Active listening is about being genuinely interested in what the other person is saying.  Keep in mind that active listening does not mean you agree with the other person’s perspective.  However, it does mean that you want to show the other person respect by hearing their views and opinions.  Paraphrasing what the person is saying as the conversation progresses is helpful.

Make necessary accommodations.   

Understand the communication needs of the person in your care by talking to physicians, audiologists, and other caregivers.  Knowing limitations and effective ways to overcome barriers can smooth over difficulties.  Be concrete and keep in mind any issues such as memory difficulties in your conversations. 

Avoid taking things personally when possible. 

Aim to seek understanding and mutual benefit.  Preserve a respectful relationship.  Sometimes, people in our care just need to know that their thoughts are understood.   

Allow time outs. 

Power struggles or impasses can occur when people reach a disagreement.  If a power struggle occurs, ask the person for some time to be more thoughtful about the problem.  Seek agreement to talk about the situation at a later time when emotions have simmered down.   Consider your options or a mediator if the impasse continues.

Talk to other caregivers. 

Having a network of other caregivers through support groups, faith communities, or other organizations can give you new insights and ideas.  In addition, feeling less alone in the caregiving process is essential self-care. 

Use problem solving steps. 

Empower the person in your care with choices allowing them to feel a sense of control and autonomy.   Step one is to clearly define a problem.  For example, “Mom, I feel worried about your safety when you drive to your doctor.”  Step two, write down all possible solutions ensuring that the person in your care also gives their opinions.  Step three, agree on trying a solution and a time to evaluate its success.  Step four, follow through with talking about the solution, its success and/or failure.  Employ other options as needed.   

Be specific with your own needs.  

Note that this is often one of the most difficult tasks for a caregiver. Tell supportive people exactly what you need.  Be firm with siblings and other family members with what you will and will not be able to do.  Set boundaries and follow through.  Consider your own self-care as essential to be an effective caregiver.