Sunday, August 28, 2011

Communications - It’s not a one-way street

Effective communications … wow, we can spend a lot of time on this subject.  It could be simplified to the title, but so much would be lacking and left unsaid.

Many of us having to deal with a disease that has no treatment or cure.  And, initially we often have problems explaining how we feel.  We tend to hold these feelings close to our chest often for fear that we might come across as weak or emotional or in need of help.  Many of us carry this self-made belief that we should ‘man-up’ (suck it up) and just get on with life.  

Unfortunately, holding these thoughts and feelings in is not healthy. 
  • First, we need to be able to unload … de-stress … because holding these feelings inside can be harmful to your health as well as family relationships. 
  • Second, we cannot always see the forest because of the trees.  We become so entangled with ‘what-if’’, ‘why me’ and ‘what are we going to do now’ that we lose sight of the end-game (in other words, how do I maintain loving and healthy relationships as this disease progresses).

Communication Tools

I read an interesting article recently in “The Costco Connection” about “Aging Wisely.”  One section was on “Simple communications tools to remember.”  The points fit well into today’s topic.  Below are the points as well as my translation.
  • Take a walk in the other person’s shoes.  (Yup, it is the old walk in mile in another person’s moccasins)  Try to understand what’s going with all your family members. 
    • Translation:  Ask each family member how they see your condition and what it means to them if you cannot physically do what you used to be able to do.
  • Separate the person from the problem Conflict is a shared problem that you can conquer together without placing blame.
    • Translation:  So often we feel this is all on us and we have let everyone else down.  We find it difficult to share our thoughts and fears.  In other words, it is all about me.  Once we can separate ourselves from the situation and look at it from a family perspective, the ‘how do we continue to grow as a family’ become more evident.
  • Remember optimism.  Celebrate small successes and build on them.
    • Translation:  When we are capable of clearly looking at the situation it is not a ‘now’ problem.  Kennedy’s Disease, for example, is a slow progressive disorder.  Now that we know it is not the end of the world.  We have time to think it through and consider our options.  We have time to plan and time to talk it over with others that care.
  • Break bread together.  Sharing meals together can help reestablish bonds and open communication channels.
    • Translation:  Pick the right time to talk about the subject.  Often, the best time is at the end of a meal, when the family is more relaxed and not multi-tasking.
  • Regularize family meetings, phone calls and emails.  Keep everyone in the loop.
    • Translation:  Don’t just talk about it and forget it.  Many times additional questions and concerns will come up later.  It is your job to keep the communication channels open and to make the entire family feel comfortable talking about any concerns.
  • Try a little humor.  It is not a funny situation, but if you can avoid taking everything so seriously, it will make it easier to discuss.
    • Translation:  Everyone must know it is not the end of the world.  Life will continue on.  Yes, things might change over time, but you are still a loving family … and that will not change.  If the rest of the family can see that you can still joke about things (i.e., your recent fall), it will help ease the tension.


Keeping the channels open

Keep in mind that you were the family leader before the news and you are still the family leader now.  It is your job to keep the communication channels open and to make other family members feel comfortable with asking questions or expressing their concerns.  Occasionally it might even mean saying, “I don’t know.” 

For communications to be effective, it has to be a two-way streetcommunication-family. 
  • When was the last time you had a family meeting to discuss anything including your current health situation? 
  • During the meeting did you hear how the rest of the family was dealing with the news? 
  • Did you make them feel comfortable when they shared their concerns? 
  • Were you open and honest in answering their questions?

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