Tips for Communicating Care to Family and Friends

2011 May 24

When we think of care, we typically only think of the care we give to loved ones. But much of our energy, thought, and time is spent in consultation with others. Even though care is almost always carried on the shoulders of one person (probably you), family and friends will want to know what’s going on and feel like they are a part of the process.

This means that primary caregivers also have the burden of convincing or informing others of care challenges, concerns, and impending decisions. Unfortunately, the burdens of care are so great and constant that few caregivers have the energy or know-how to explain, justify, or influence the well-intentioned yet sometimes suspicious audience of family and friends. Here are 3 simple but effective communication tips to keep in mind when communicating care to others:

(1)  Don’t Forget to Remind Others of the WHY—Experts have objectivity on their side when it comes to influencing others. This means professional caregivers like doctors and nurses are believed because of their expertise and professional training. Their distance from us is usually thought of as a persuasive advantage.

However, your subjectivity—your love for the person you care for—isn’t a disadvantage. When communicating with family and friends, begin the discussion with an explicit statement of love and care: “I love Mom so much you know I want the best for her. And because I see her most of the day, I wanted to talk about….”

In the middle of any discussion with family and friends, remind them that your concerns and suggestions come from a place of love: “We both love Mom so much that I know we don’t want her to be alone at night. That’s why I wanted to talk to you about getting some help for the evenings….”

At the end of any discussion with family and friends, remind them of your shared goals. Too often, the content specifics of a discussion camouflage the why of the discussion. Although the specifics of each discussion may change, the why—your love and care for a loved one—will always remain constant. Focusing attention on the why can help keep your audience grounded in what matters most—the well being, comfort, and safety of the person you care for.

(2)  Don’t Forget to Remind Others of the ‘We’—As a primary caregiver, the burden of explanation almost always rests on your shoulders.  Because you are carrying the overwhelming burden of caregiving, it’s no surprise that discussions with family and friends are often perceived as an “I” vs. “they” scenario.

Just don’t forget that, when it comes to explaining, informing, and/or persuading family and friends, your voice will matter more if you help eliminate the “I’” vs. “they” perception that often exists in the minds of family and friends.

If you lead only with the “I”, your voice will more likely be perceived as antagonistic and unfriendly: “I have a problem when it comes to helping Dad understand that…”

If, however, you lead with the “We,” your voice will more likely be perceived as agreeable and friendly:  “We have a problem when it comes to helping Dad understand that…”

Most people want to feel like they are included in the process of discussion, even though they may not be involved at all in the actual care process.  Feeling excluded (i.e. “why does he get to make all the decisions”) is likely to encourage others to disagree just to disagree, making your care duties and responsibilities even more difficult and exhausting.  Of course, the responsibility of care still may rest almost entirely on your shoulders, but encouraging others to feel like they have a voice in matters of care is an important step in facilitating goodwill and support.

(3)  Don’t Forget to Use Stories as ‘Evidence—Professionals like doctors and nurses have statistics on their side. That’s how they help others understand the significance and relevance of what they are talking about.  As caregivers, however, we don’t typically have statistics on our side.  We have stories.

Stories, or narratives, are the perfect language of persuasion and influence for caregivers. Stories focus others’ attention on what’s important. Stories provide detail so others can relate and identify.  And stories help others understand the problems and challenges in vivid and descriptive language.

If you are trying to help explain the fact that a loved one is in serious pain and needs palliative care, use a story to illustrate what it’s like when your loved one is in pain. What do you hear? What does your loved one say? How long does the pain last? How does your loved one look when in the midst of pain? And, just as importantly, what is it like from your perspective, as a caregiver, to hear and see someone you love endure such hardship?

When explaining care to family and friends, keep in mind the following tips for telling compelling care narratives:

  • All stories have a beginning, middle and end
  • Make sure your story fits together and makes sense
  • The story should help others identify and understand in vivid ways what you see, hear, or feel as a primary caregiver.

Remember, care is not only about what we do or give to our loved ones.  Care also requires that we constantly communicate/inform/persuade family and friends who want to feel like they are a part of the process.

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