Communications Skills

Learning to communicate effectively with your loved one is a key to maintaining a good caregiving relationship.

Trying New Communication Skills

In trying new communication skills, you will probably go through several stages You may:

  • Become aware of new options.
  • Try new behavior that doesn’t always feel right.
  • Work on using new skills.
  • Integrate new skills in daily life.

While the last stage integrates these new skills more naturally into your life, it also combines them with those skills which have been working for you all along. In times of stress, you may naturally revert back to old forms of behavior. However, if you keep practicing new communication skills in your daily life, you will regress under tension less often until these new skills become a part of you. Confronting a problem with someone provides an excellent opportunity to practice new skills.

Communicating About A Problem

Often when someone comes to us with a problem, we offer advice and try to solve their problem. A more helpful approach is to help them solve their own problem. Trust that they have at least part of the answer.

First, help them clarify the problem. Only then is it possible to develop solutions. Once the type of solution has been decided upon, a plan of action can be developed. There are some specific communication strategies to help you better accomplish these tasks. For each task, the steps to effective completion and some representative comments are provided below.

  • You must clarify the problem both for yourself and the person you are assisting. Listen to what is being said, then summarize:
    • “Tell me about...”
    • “In other words, what you think...”
    • “So what is bothering you is...”
  • Expand on what has been said by asking questions.
    • “Can you tell me more about...”
    • “Has anything else happened which makes you think...”
  • Let the person know you accept his or her feelings:
    • “I can understand how you would feel...”
    • “It seems to me that you are feeling...”
  • Help to identify what is really bothering the person:
    • “It all seems to boil down to...”
    • “The thing that seems to bother you most is...”
  • Help the person make a clear statement of the issue, including feelings and wants:
    • “The problem seems to be...”
    • “You feel...”
    • “You want...”
  • Help them to be realistic about limitations:
    • “Can you really do anything about that part...”
  • Help them identify thoughts, feelings, and expectations which are in the way:
    • “What do you think others expect you to do?”
    • “Has someone told you that you should...”
    • “Are you comparing yourself to another person or to an ideal image?”
  • Developing possible solutions should be a joint endeavor. Never impose your own bias on people. Ask for their ideas:
    • “What could you do to make things different?”
    • “What are your alternatives right now?”
  • Offer suggestions based on your experience and ask for their response.
    • “Have you thought about...”
    • “What do you think would happen if...”
    • “If you...what do you think would happen?”

A plan of action is the cornerstone for activities that will follow. It takes careful planning to ensure success.

  • Evaluate the possible solutions.
    • “Looking at these alternatives, which seem to get you closer to what you want?”
    • “Would it be better to keep things the way they are?”
  • Plan the first step.
    • “So the first thing for you to do is...”


Another opportunity for practicing effective communication skills and understanding is during a disagreement with someone.

When we have strong opinions and feelings, it is difficult to really listen to someone who has different and equally strong opinions and feelings. However, this may be one of the most important times to use active listening. We have to trust that listening to someone and trying to see the world from their eyes does not mean that we agree to give up our opinions/feelings. It only means we are willing to give them respect by trying to understand.

In a situation of strong disagreement, it is helpful to take a minute to get clear your opinions and feelings so that later you can clearly communicate them. The next step is putting your opinions on hold in order to listen and understand the other person. Hopefully, this person will, in turn, be willing to listen and understand your perspective. If not, you will at least be able to keep your focus and keep the situation from getting out of control by being clear in your communication.
Special Issues In Communication

Physical problems, such as hearing or vision impairment, or emotional problems, such as anger or depression, can be barriers to communication. For persons with a hearing impairment communication and mutual understanding may be harder to achieve. Everything should be done to assure that the individual can hear you. For example:

  • Be sure the person to whom you are speaking is aware that you are speaking. Get in front of the person. Use gestures to illustrate the verbal message. Speak clearly—enunciate your words. If the person has difficulty understanding you, try rewording your sentences to say the same thing in a different way..

Persons with vision loss are at a significant deficit in communication. Although they can hear what is said, much communication is conveyed through facial expressions and body language. There are many ways to assist persons with this impairment:

  • Approach the person slowly, and announce yourself to avoid frightening the individual. Make sure you or your materials are in the person’s field of vision. Keep the visual field simple and uncluttered to limit distractions from intended material. Use clearly written large letters, bright colors, and strong contrasts such as black lettering on a white background.

A person who is withdrawn or depressed may not wish to communicate. The situation the individual is experiencing may be very painful to them. Whenever you can:

  • Accept the person’s feelings of sadness or fear as real.
  • Talk to the person as often as possible about real things.
  • Give realistic praise about things the person does well.
  • Talk about things the person enjoyed in the past and things to which the person can realistically look forward.
  • Get the person to do activities which will result in success and build self- esteem.

Angry persons pose their own unique challenges. Sometimes this anger is directed and sometimes it is vague. Never try to stop the anger by confronting the person. Remember:

  • Let the person talk without taking the anger personally—what the person says or feels requires no response from you.
  • Allow the person to be angry or upset.
  • Let the person know you care by saying back in your own words what you heard the person say.
  • Allow the person time to feel understood and build a relationship before trying to problem solve or resolve any conflict.

Copyright  University of Missouri. Published by University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia. Reprinted by permission. For more information, visit the University of Missouri’s online Extension Publications Library on Request.

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