Sharpen Your People Skills and Become a Better Caregiver


"How to win friends and influence people" is a popular topic for people looking to further their careers, but developing good people skills can also help with caregiving, too. Developing good people skills helps you communicate more effectively with medical professionals, care providers, siblings – and especially elderly parents who have their own ideas and opinions about their lives and care.

Your attitude sets the quality and mood of your thoughts, which in turn influence your voice tone, the words you use, your facial expressions and your body language.

Even if you aren't a people person by nature, you can hone some skills when dealing with others that will help you be a better caregiver.

Be Likable

People respond well to people who they like and respect. No one wants to be around a negative or argumentative person, or a person who is phony or condescending. Your attitude determines the quality of your relationships. When you project an attitude that is calm, cheery, interested and helpful, others will respond more positively.

Stay Positive

Maintaining a positive attitude makes understanding easier. People gravitate to positive people because good moods are contagious. Be a "glass half full" kind of person.

Find the Right Time to Address Issues

Recognize when you or others are stressed. When it comes to dealing with difficult situations, proper timing can lead to a better outcome. Don't bring up tough issues when you are angry, stressed or rushed.

Slow Down

Sometimes getting to the heart of an issue takes time. Avoid trying to talk about and do everything at once. Communication at an even pace allows everyone to think through the conversation and how to respond. Some people speak slowly and take time to form their thoughts. Allow the person to express themselves. Be patient, and resist the urge to interrupt.

Watch Behaviors

Listen to what the person is saying and how they are behaving. Do the words and the behavior match? Could the person be talking about something very different than what they really want but does not know how to say it or ask for something? Fear may make someone hesitate to say what is really going on.

Ask for Feedback

No one likes to be preached to. Don't talk "at" someone; talk "with" them. Ask them for their feedback and opinions. This shows that you are willing to hear and explore other points of view. Conversation should always be two-way.

Deal with the Unexpected with Grace

Life is unpredictable. Expect challenges along the way, keep things in perspective, have a sense of humor, and don't take yourself too seriously. Deal with the unexpected with grace and charm, and perhaps others will follow your lead.

Don't Get Roped into Arguing

Some people like to push buttons to get a reaction. And the people closest to you know what buttons to push. Don't get goaded into an argument. If you find yourself getting upset, calmly remove yourself from the situation and try addressing the issue again once everyone cools down.

The number one rule in dealing with others is to listen. Try to understand the other person's experience and opinions. When dealing with an elder, remember that it is still his or her life and care. Focus on meeting unmet needs and not conflict. Practice even some of these skills and you may be surprised by the results.

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I think that the natural tendency for a family member is to want to be close in proximity to the person they are caring for, so our first thought is to move in with them or have them move in with us. My advice to someone who is considering this big change is to give it a trial run for several months with the idea that if things do not work out another placement is called for.
As you mentioned in your post, old family issues come creeping back in without even realizing it. It is just too hard to divorce yourself from being a daughter in order to become the caregiver...that's why professionals handle it better...they have that built in "distance."
I would love to go back to being the daughter who used to go shopping with my Mom all day long or had long talks about anything but bowel movements :o) But I can only deal with the reality of today.
I think counseling is a great idea. You need an impartial voice. The one thing that we all have in common here is that sense of losing our "bearings." So a sounding board is a good idea.
Remember, that choices we make about how caregiving should be are not set in granite. We have to be flexible enough to see that adjustments need to be made for the health of both the caregiver and their charges.
good luck
One thing I have learned is that almost anything can be emotionally moved on from. My mother's favorite was my brother. I cared when I was younger but now? Not at all. Why? Because I am an adult and I don't need my mother to love me most. I am the one person responsible for all my choices, good or bad, from now on. You can't imagine how absolutely freeing it is to untie oneself from the emotional weights of childhood (or even young adulthood). It is so empowering!

Not only that, but it means I can approach all of my family without the negativity of childhood pain and disappointment. My past is over. The future is mine to mold. If I choose to right now give most of myself to caring for my mother then I am responsible for that choice and I need to find whatever aids (e.g., the monthly caregiver support group meeting at the VNA, getting my siblings to help out) - and fight for them if I must - I can.

Today at least, I am invincible.
I am sharing this because it may help someone else. 16 years ago my parents were living in Florida and both of them had health issues. My aunt's told ME I needed to do something to help my parents. I went to see them and somehow convinced them to move back to Indiana so I could help them.
To get them and their possessions back home I asked my aunt's and my only brother to help me and my husband with the expenses and the move. Eventually they did help financially and in the end they accused us of taking more money than was needed from them. Not at all, we spent more than any of them. My Dad had colon cancer so we said stay with us until we see what is going to happen. We had bought a condo now that our children were grown and instead mom and dad moved in with us. The relatives said we used mom and dad's SS checks to buy our condo! CRAZY!! After 2 yrs dad then had alzheimers and we put him in a nursing facility, mom lost her vision to macular now legally blind she needed to live with us. We had vicious verbal attacks from relatives not approving of our decisions. My brother lived in another state and chose to not help with ANYTHING because he wouldn't be here to do ANYTHING. Since we didn't do things their way, my mother's sister chose to leave her sister and me out of her will. Devastating to be disowned! My brother got the money that should have been Mom's. Mom is now 95 1/2 and still lives with us 16 yrs later & last December my brother died from a heart attack, his wife was terminally ill with lung cancer and she died two months later. Mom has been grieving, "I think she is grieving for the loss of what never was!" He was NEVER there for her! He made no arrangements to include his mom or his sister in his will. How do people manage to live such "self centered,selfish, all about me" lives?
She says her son in law (my husband) has been a son to her, not my brother.
It hurts me so to see my Mom hurt. I can live without their 'fortunes' I always have!
It is just sad that they couldn't have made her life more comfortable and peaceful.