Effective Communication Tips for Caregivers

By Wendy Johnstone
April 30, 2015

Family caregivers often struggle with not knowing how to speak up and get their message across to key people involved with the person they are caring for. Being assertive with effective communication skills is all 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 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, 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 an aging parent or spouse needs, inside knowledge and experience benefits everyone; a family physician, home support staff, other family members, and concerned neighbours.

Communication skills take time and requires practice and patience. Here are a few tips to consider:

1.  Think ahead of the conversation of what you need to get (versus what you hope to get) from the discussion.

2.  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.

3.  Life would be simpler if we were all mind-readers! Until that happens, being clear, concise and direct is the next best thing. Hinting might work with your husband; it may not get the same results during a doctor’s appointment.

4.  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 each and every point when it is made.

5.  Avoid a “someone has to win” attitude. It’s not a squash game! 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 the goal being to figure out what is best for everyone on the team.

6.  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 also make.

7.  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.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC

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