Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Techniques for How You Speak

Communication Skills. A lot of training firms and consultants make a lot of money helping people build their communication skills. Communicating in business has its own quirks, and the business world has social rules that are fairly standard. A person can learn to recognize the rules and use them. Communicating with your parent comes with unwritten and unspoken rules that often shift, with baggage from the past and with unforeseen emotions. The conversational goals when considering parentcare are to learn not only the facts of the situation, but to become aware of fears, desires, and capabilities--your own as well as your parent's.

Therefore, how you speak is just as important as what you say. Try these techniques from the experts.
  • "I" statements instead of "You" statements.
    Instead of saying “You’re getting really forgetful, Dad.”, try “Dad, I’m really worried about your safety. Would you consider cutting back on using the lawn mower?”
    “Mom, I know you’ve had a few minor accidents in the house. I’m afraid you’ll get seriously hurt. How can that be prevented?”
    In the "I" statement, express your concerns, your feelings. Encourage your parent to suggest solutions and make his own decision. Instead of accusation or criticism, make a simple request.

  • Beware of “should”, or “must”. Think of how you feel when someone uses these words with you. Saying “You really should...” or “You must…” will only increase resistance.

  • Use an encouraging tone of voice. Always moderate the tone of your voice. Keep the tone interested, not belligerent or demanding. Don’t ask simply “Why?”, which might be taken as an accusation. Ask instead,“What makes you think that?" or "How did you come to that conclusion?”

  • Ask open-ended questions. An open-ended question encourages more than a "yes" or "no" answer. Unless you want to play "20 Questions" with your parent, you want to encourage her to share with openings like: “How would you do that?” “What do you think?” “Tell me more.” "Give me some of your ideas." These are all good ways to get your parent to talk.

  • Active Listening. Once your parent is talking, really listen to understand him, not necessarily to respond. Too often we're so intent on trying to figure out how to respond, we forget to ask a follow-up question that might shed light on issues we didn't know existed. Listen actively.

  • Offer referral advice. If straight advice from you results in resistance from your parent, switch gears and offer suggestions on where to find more information, what questions to ask, or whom to ask.

  • Stick to the facts of the matter at hand. If you're talking about your parent remembering his medicine, don't bring up the issue of driving. Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t bring up emotional baggage from years ago, don’t add extra drama to the conversation. There's enough emotion floating around.

  • Calm Repetition. As we've said before, conversation is a way to manage your parent's expectations, to set your boundaries. Sometimes, in the face of complaints, pleas or demands from your parent, your best technique is calm repetition.

    It's Monday and you're visiting your mother. She is insisting that you visit tomorrow. You've questioned her, and there's no pressing reason for you to visit. You'll be back on Thursday. So you state calmly, "Mom, I won't be able to come tomorrow, but I'll be back on Thursday."
    "Surely you're not too busy to drop in for a few minutes after work," she says.
    Repeat again calmly, "Mom, I won't be able to come tomorrow, but I'll be back on Thursday." Do not change the words; do not add any emotion behind it. State the fact.
    It usually does not take long for your parent to receive your message. Repeat this cycle as many times as you wish. But when you are ready to leave, give her your usual farewell greeting and leave. And come back on Thursday.

    In this situation, you may sense loneliness on your mother's part, and you may want to arrange for someone else to visit. But once you've made your decision on what your plans are, calm repetition will help you communicate your decision to your parent.

What other techiques have you learned for talking with your parent--or your siblings, or your husband--that helps communication?

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