13 ways to improve your caregiver communication skills
Caregiving requires open patient and caregiver communication, but it’s not always easy.
Caregiving involves much more than just the physical tasks of looking after another person; it will most likely also include providing emotional support. This can sometimes be quite complicated for both you and the person in your care.
Often, people who are ill feel angry, sad, afraid or lonely — many of the same feelings you may have yourself as the caregiver. Common unexpressed concerns of people in need of care can include:
- Changes to their physical body, appearance or mental abilities
- Worries about the loss of the roles they fulfilled in life
- Thoughts about what the future holds for themselves
- Concerns about being a burden to their loved ones
When you are helping someone deal with and communicate these concerns and feelings it helps to display respect and gentleness. Be a patient listener and allow them to express their feelings.
One of the best forms of emotional support you can provide is to just be there to listen. Although you may be unable to fix the problem, listening can help the person in your care feel heard and their concerns validated. Emotions are likely to change over time, and can range in their level of severity.
Enquiring how the person you are caring for is feeling at different times may result in different reactions depending on things like general mood, quality of sleep, or pain management. Listening to how the person in your care describes how they are currently feeling will enable you to better predict what they will be able to manage at any given time.
Here are 13 caregiver communication tips to help you interact more effectively with the person in your care:
- Encourage the person in your care to tell you more about his or her feelings. Ask open-ended follow-up questions to the things they say and avoid questions that result in a short yes/no answer. Share your own thoughts and ideas to get the conversation started. Don’t be discouraged if the person in your care isn’t as enthusiastic to talk as you are.
- Pay attention to nonverbal communication, such as body language and lack of eye contact, for clues as to how the person may be feeling. In time, you will become familiar with the particular nonverbal cues the person in your care displays.
- Sharing your own fears and emotions can help break the ice if the person seems reluctant to tell you what he or she is feeling. You may be surprised at their reactions to what you share.
- Avoid phrases that tend to shut the conversation down or seem dismissive to what the person in your care is feeling. For example, phrases like “Don’t worry about that”, “You’ll be just fine” or “What do the doctors know anyway?” can make someone feel as if their concerns aren’t important to you.
- Listen more and talk less. Give the person in your care a chance to talk uninterrupted.
- Repeat back what the person has said to make sure that you understand. Ask for clarification if you aren’t sure what they mean.
- Offer reassurance that you will try to help to have the person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs taken care of. Let the person in your care know how you plan on helping resolve their issues.
- Help the person focus on what he or she is still able to do. Help them find ways around tasks that they find challenging. Remain positive, and look for small ways to make tasks enjoyable.
- Make eye contact when you are talking. Smile and engage in active listening to show you are interested in what they have to say.
- Avoid deep conversations when you are rushed for time. Set aside time to discuss important issues or topics that the person you are caring for is interested in discussing.
- Express yourself physically, as well as verbally – a touch on the hand, stroking of the hair or a kiss on the cheek can make a difference. A gentle touch can often be reassuring.
- Encourage them to express themselves through writing or through hand movements and other body language. When people who are ill have trouble speaking, they may understand far more than they can say.
- Reach out for help if you find you need assistance with your feelings, or those of the person you care for. Help can come from another family member, a social worker, nurse, doctor, chaplain or spiritual advisor. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you and the person you are caring for better understand one another.
While being a compassionate listener is most important, information can go a long way to helping people with their fears. Providing the person in your care with information about their condition can help ease uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Some people will want to know everything all at once while others will want information to come in stages.
This is normal — we all have preferences about how and what information we receive. Ask the person what information they would like to know and try to provide it accordingly as their caregiver. Deliver the information in a clear and factual manner. Check in with the person you are caring for to make sure they understand what you are telling them. Let them ask questions and voice concerns.