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.)

I don’t like being sick

pillsI don’t like being sick.

I don’t like feeling weak or low energy or dependent on others. I don’t like to limit who I can see or where I can go or what I can do. I don’t like taking pills, and I avoid doctors and hospitals as much as possible. Most of my life I have been strong and healthy, so when I get sick, I usually try to just ignore it, or work through it, or get over it as fast as I can.

If I can’t do that, I tend to mope and complain, and generally act as a whiny, negative, grumpy patient.

I feel sorry for those who have to live around me or care for me.

(…and worse, I’m not much better caring for others. Let’s just say that mercy and compassion don’t come out very high on my strengths lists!) Ask my family!

However, as I thought about it this weekend, laying in bed, unable to do much else, I realized that over the years being sick has been useful in my life.

Being sick teaches me empathy for others who are ill, sometimes chronically or seriously. I have experienced – maybe just a little – of the pain, limitations, and frustrations that they have. I am less likely to criticize or judge because I can relate to what they are going through.

Being sick reminds me that rest is good occasionally – not lazy, coach potato, bring-me-a-beer-honey, all-the-time-rest, but  regular, reflective, restorative, away-from-the-routine, Sabbath-kind of rest… A few minutes a day, a day per week, a more extended time each month and each year does a person good.

Being sick helps me build healthy, reciprocal, interdependent, it’s-ok-to-ask-for-help kinds of relationships. I tend to be very independent and self-sufficient… And if I wasn’t weak now and then, I would lose out on the important character building elements of vulnerability, honesty, and need for others in my life.

I learn to better care for others by experiencing care from others. Since care isn’t my strong point, I’m not always confident about what to offer or what to do or what to say. As others do thoughtful things for me… run errands, bring food, or send a card, I get tips and ideas of how I can help others. When I am smart, I mentally file away those things to use later!

I have also grown to have a lot of respect and appreciation for those who are care-givers. I’ve been blessed a few times in my life by doctors, nurses, family and friends who did an incredible job when I, or someone I love, needed special care. Their work is so important and their willing, servant attitudes, add a ray of sunshine to a gloomy day.

So, honestly, I still don’t like being sick…. Who does? At least I can I handle it a little better when I can see some good in it… and that turns out better for everyone involved!

How do you handle being sick?