communicating well


Clear, heart-level communication is often difficult to achieve. Just this week, I’ve experienced various critical conversations and coached others through strained and difficult discussions. Those experiences reminded me of more lessons I learned while care-giving for my Dad.

These communication tips helped me to connect more deeply with him, but they are very relevant for conversations with others too. Let me know what you think!

Enter his world

Because of his dementia, my dad sees people and animals that aren’t there, he accuses us of stealing his things, and he fixates incessantly about past responsibilities that are irrelevant today. Instinctively, I want to correct him, defensively deny his accusations, or demand that he stop worrying about things – none of which does any good!

It works better when I listen carefully for the context or the history behind his comments, rather than arguing their validity.

  • When I ask him to tell me more about the people or animals he sees, I get to hear stories of a younger brother who died, good friends he enjoyed, or favorite pets he misses a lot.
  • If I empathize with his frustration over “lost” items instead of denying blame, I gain insight into his priorities, his passions, and his past care for me and our family.
  • When I reply to his sense of responsibility with “That must be important to you. How can I help?”, he can relax in my care instead of struggling to convince me that his work is important and valuable.

I recognize that these same principles work – and more easily(!) – with people who don’t have dementia.

Know the triggers

Care-giving is challenging, exhausting work. In my case, it is especially difficult when my dad’s unkind or angry comments trigger a deeply rooted emotion from my childhood experience. Old insecurities, differing values and opinions, or negative interaction patterns quickly reappear from my youth.

It is important for me to seek self-awareness of those triggers and remember that what may be a valid memory does not have to determine my response today. He is different now… and so am I.

Self awareness of my emotional triggers is key for all my conversations. My reactions are often more about me than about what others have said. As I identify the root cause of my reactions, I can respond with objectivity, grace, and humility instead of vengeance or self-defense.

Watch the “how”

My dad cannot always understand my words, but he definitely comprehends my tone. How I say what I say is often most important. He responds so much better to anything I say if I am calm, gentle, and patient with my speech, and if I eliminate distractions as much as possible. Positive nonverbals communicate also; changing my position to make good eye contact, relaxed facial expression, and even the added touch of a hand on his arm or shoulder make a big difference.

There is nothing profound or new here, but it amazes me how hard it is to apply the right “how” in my everyday conversations with my dad – and with others. I have to intentionally focus on giving my full attention and my best presentation with the content. When I do manage to watch the “how”, our communication improves greatly.

Entering their world, knowing my triggers, and watching “how” I communicate deepens my connections with others.

So, are any of these true for you? How do you communicate well with the people in your life?

(You can read my first post about “life lessons learned from dementia” HERE.)

asking powerful questions

questions Do you ask powerful questions?

I have been learning about active listening the last few weeks; now I am learning about how to ask well. Once again, I felt convicted and challenged by all that I can improve, especially if I want to demonstrate respect and allow the other person to come up with their own answers.

I am especially challenged by this key attitude check… Do I believe the best in the person and their ability to solve their own problem(s), or do I just want them to do what I want them to do?

You may already recognize some of these questions already, but if you are like me, there are some new ones in the list and/or some that you can use more often…enjoy the review!


A closed question can only be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. It does not invite further conversation or deeper sharing. An open question, on the other hand, has no right or wrong answer and can be answered in many different ways.

KEY TIP: Almost any closed question can be made open by adding “how,” “what,” “which,” or “who” at the beginning.

Example: “Did you do your action steps this week?” “No.” (Closed)

   “What did you do on your action steps this week?” …… (Open)


Solution-Oriented questions are often well-intentioned, but they are actually just a predetermined answer in the form of a question. (This one was very convicting! I know I am often figuring out how to fix the situation as I listen. 😦 ) A Bigger question allows the other person to take charge of thinking up the solutions.

Example: “How about if you took a class in that?” (Solution-Oriented)

   “What are some ways you could learn more about that?” (Bigger)


Probing questions explore and gather more information. They are neutral and help to keep the person talking.

Key Tips: Avoid “Why did you…?” questions and remember that 80% of “air time” is for the person you are coaching. Just 20% is for the coach.

Examples: “Tell me a little more about that.” 

    “What did you mean when you said__________?”

    “How does that make you feel?”

If you try some of these questions this week, let me know how it goes for you!

What are some questions you would add to this list? (Notice my open, bigger, probing question! 🙂 )

**These are great questions for encouraging the thought process. Next week we will look at questions to use for helping people move toward action steps!

communication styles

The single biggest problem in communication
is the illusion that it has taken place. 

George Bernard Shaw

                                                                                                                                  Communication is essential for all relationships. It is the way we connect with others, the way we explain our needs, wants, values, concerns, fears, and dreams. Poor communication results in misunderstandings, unmet expectations, and conflicts. Healthy communication leads to cooperation, mutual understanding and intimacy.

We learn to communicate at a very young age. We develop different communication styles based on our personality and our experiences, and we develop communication skills that facilitate the style that works best for us.

This week I learned about a Communication Style Model that identifies four different communication styles. The study explains that we develop a primary style that we use most often, and sometimes we employ a secondary style if the primary isn’t working well or we are under stress. The study also describes how we can interact better with others who use a style different from ours.

Can you identify your primary style?

Each style has important inherent strengths, but none is complete by itself. There is much to appreciate in each; we are better when we have all styles working together. When we communicate with a person whose style is different from ours, it is helpful to match their style and pace as much as possible. Those who can adapt and flex to other’s values and preferences will be more successful in communication.

This communication model has helped me understand what others in my family and workplace might need or prefer. I hope I can apply some of what I have learned to our future conversations.

What have you learned from this model? How can you adapt your style to better communicate with someone important to you?


For more information: Communication Style Inventory, Copyright 2003 by Ron Ellis, MBA & Judi Iverson-Gilbert, PhD
You might also like to read: how are your listening skills? or asking powerful questions or questions for a destination.

teamwork magic #2 – working together

Once you have formed your dream team, now the magic begins, right? Not exactly… In the real world, working effectively together always requires commitment and work. Here are a few tips I have learned from the “hard knocks” of experience…

Pray together: Do not neglect the power of prayer to build relationships and provide wisdom for the job. Share personal requests and pray fervently for the issues you face together in the ministry.

Develop as a team: Be committed to learning and growing together. No one on the team already knows everything there is to know about each other, about teamwork, or about the challenges you face on the job.  A healthy team will set aside some time in every meeting to discuss a book they are reading together, listen to a podcast, or visit with a mentor.  If possible, get away once or twice a year for a more in-depth time of development; take the Birkman as a team, process a 360 evaluation, or attend a conference together.

Destroy Silos: Watch out for team members who can not or will not focus on the good of the team. They may feel passionate for or overwhelmed by their own responsibilities; but mature team players learn to “wear more than one hat” and to prioritize the overall well-being of the organization. Help each team member to be successful in their area, but do not allow a team member to give preferential treatment to their staff only.

Improve Communication Skills: Prepare a team pact and team norms… and review and apply them diligently. Discuss together how you will ensure that everyone is heard during meetings.  How will you draw in the introverts and control the extroverts?  Learn new brainstorming and creative thinking tools. Decide together what kind of issues will come to the table for team discussion and which issues can be dealt with by empowered individuals or task forces. Use visuals and share meeting facilitation and presentations so that all can improve their skills.

Practice Biblical Conflict Resolution: Do not allow passive-aggressive behaviors: procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or gossip.  Be super-committed to protecting each other in word and deed.  Do not allow a member to condescend to a decision in the meeting and then sabotage the implementation later. Deal with conflict quickly and directly; use love, tact, and grace. Follow up on agreed upon necessary changes. Never settle for cordial artificial peace with teammates; true respect and unity is so much better.

Implement Decision Making Processes: Different processes are appropriate for different decisions depending on scope and complexity.  Sometimes a team member decides, sometimes the director determines, sometimes the majority rules, sometimes consensus is the best option… If you use consensus, watch out for team members who consistently stall every important decision. When you find that you cannot make progress in important areas, it is probably time to use a different process.

Have fun: Healthy teams enjoy being together – at work and at play. Celebrate accomplishments, goals reached, and personal achievements. Use music, color, food, humor and venue change to keep the “magic” in your times together.

What do you think adds the “magic” to teamwork?