No one is fully prepared for the challenges of caregiving for a family member or friend, especially in the area of communication. This essential process allows a cyclical exchange of information through speaking and listening; Effective communication requires clarity from the person who is speaking and openness and attention from the person who is listening. This takes great commitment.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Compassionate communication can be understood through a breathing exercise. Put a hand on your heart; this is the center of compassionate communication. Notice your state of well-being. Imagine that your whole being is entirely cared for. Take a breath in, and imagine this as a listening breath. Allow the breath to be touched by your heart, to be oxygenated, and returned out. As you breathe out, imagine this as a speaking breath. And so is the cycle of breath and communication – incoming breath – touched by heart – and outgoing breath.
Think, Speak, & Listen
Compassionate communication includes:
Awareness – Compassionate communication begins with an awareness of your own well being. When we focus on our well being we create a space for the well being of others around us. We create a space for authentic listening and speaking.
Speaking with Clarity – We all have experience in speaking, but may not have skills in expressing ourselves with clarity. Here are some suggestions:
• Use “I” statements. These statements begin with the word “I’ and clearly express something about your own view, not something about the other person.
• Use observations, not evaluations. An observation is a statement of fact, similar to what might be recorded on a video camera. An evaluation is a statement of fact with an added value.
• Speak authentically. Although it may feel risky, the loving and heart-centered sharing of your feelings may be a beginning to more open communications.
Listening with Openness and Attention – Many communication breakdowns occur because of difficulties in listening. Waiting is not listening. “Waiting to speak” while the other person is talking is not attentive listening. Also, listen rather than interpret.
Active Listening is a technique in which the person listening re-states his or her understanding of what the speaker has said, before introducing their response to what had been said. For example: “What I heard you say is….” followed by “Does that sound about right?
The “Heart” of Listening
At the very heart of compassionate communication is our desire to be collaborative in our communications – to hold a balance between our needs and the needs of the other.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies