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How to Have Difficult Caregiving Conversations

Effective communication is key to strengthening our relationships. It is through communication that we share our thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and fears. Being able to effectively communicate your experiences and how you are being affected, both positively and negatively, can allow you to enjoy more rewarding relationships and create more fulfilment in all areas of your life.

Most of us think of communication as talking, which is partly true, but listening is where the magic happens. Of course, someone has to be talking in order for the other to be listening. And to further complicate matters,  a large percentage of our communication is nonverbal. With this in mind, you must listen not only with your ears, but also with your eyes and your intuition. This is done by giving your true, focused, undivided attention — your full concentration, consideration and alertness — when communicating. Every conversation is an opportunity to heal, learn, and grow, but it can just as easily be used to hurt, manipulate, or diminish. For example, a daughter providing care to her diabetic mother may sternly ask something like, “Mom, did you eat this candy?” as she’s holding the candy wrapper in her hand, knowing full well her mother ate it. Instead of asking a question you already know the answer to and generating feelings of shame or defensiveness, try the OPEN communication strategy. This strategy is aimed at giving you a more conscious way to effectively communicate your thoughts, feelings and needs in ways that allow you to clear out negative emotions and avoid the frustrations that are borne out of mindless communication.

In the OPEN communication strategy, the O stands for Observation, the P stands for Perception, the E stands for Emotion, and N stands for Needs. Here’s how it works:

Caregiver: When I find out you’re eating things you’re not supposed to (observation), I think you’re going to get sick and maybe even die (perception), and this makes me feel like you’re abandoning me (emotion). I need to try to understand why you eat things that you know you’re not supposed to (need).

Care Recipient : It’s just hard because I’m alone and bored and there are things I’m not supposed to eat all around me. I have cravings and sometimes I really can’t control them.

Caregiver: Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?

As you can see from this short sample conversation, the OPEN communication strategy opens the door to understanding each other’s observations, perceptions, emotions, and needs. This mindful approach to having difficult conversations helps bring understanding to the issue at hand and creates an opening to discuss potential solutions together.

You may think you don’t have time to learn new communication strategies, but it takes way more time and energy to deal with communication breakdowns than it does to take a few simple steps to improve your communication skills. Learning to communicate from a sincere, honest place is incredibly empowering and healing for everyone involved.

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