5 tips to communicate better with others
How well do you communicate? It’s an important question for older adults who choose to age in place.
Even more important is your answer – because the better you communicate the better your quality of life can be.
As we age, our vision, hearing and cognitive processing change. In fact, more than 40% of people over age 65 report hearing problems and 26% have writing problems, according to research published in the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
Older adults don’t see, hear and understand the same as they always did. Unfortunately, that can get in the way of how well they interact with those involved in their health and happiness – such as health care providers, family, caregivers and friends.
And that’s why it’s critical for older adults to work at communicating effectively.
Here are five tips to help you communicate better – and continue to live an active, fulfilling life aging in place:
Listen with intent
Better communication starts with better listening. When you understand – not just hear – what others say, think and feel, you will interact better.
To be a better listener:
- Lean in. Physically lean toward others when they speak (without getting in their personal space) to show you’re listening – and possibly block out other distracting noises.
- Do it with intent. Listen to understand, not to respond. Many people conjure up their response or wait for a point to interrupt when others speak. Instead, understand before you speak and be understood.
- Identify what’s different. People often think they know what someone else is going to stay, and end up hearing what they expect to hear. (That could be a disaster in a meeting with a healthcare provider!) So listen for anything that’s different, and you’ll likely pick up important details faster.
- Encourage the speaker. Stay focused on conversations by not multitasking. Put away other distractions – such as cell phones and tablets. Turn off background noise such as TVs and radios. Instead, listen and encourage the other person to by smiling, nodding your head and giving verbal cues like “Uh-ha.”
Be clear on what you need
This tip is especially important when talking with health care providers and/or caregivers. You want to be crystal clear on what you want or need – whether that’s assistance, an opinion or information.
When you need to be clear – such as when you’re explaining a problem, asking for specific help or sharing important information – be prepared.
- Give details only pertinent to the subject. Too many details muddle the message.
- Explain how it affects you or makes you feel.
- Know the outcome you want – and ask for it.
Ask clarifying questions
You don’t want to misunderstand or miss any important information when you communicate with loved ones, healthcare providers and caregivers. So if you didn’t hear, don’t understand or think something doesn’t make sense, make a point to ask clarifying questions.
- When you said this …, what did you mean?
- If I understand you right, you meant …. Is that right?
- Can you give me an example of what you’ve explained?
- Can you clarify that last point?
- Is there another way you can explain that?
Mix your media
When you communicate with others these days you have plenty of options on how to do it. Your neighbor may like a chat on the porch. Your daughter might love an email. Meanwhile, you’ll only hear from the grandkids if you text them.
So what’s the best way to communicate? The best way is how the person you’re interacting with prefers. Yes, that means you might have to learn – or get better at – some channels, such as social media or texting. But if you want to hear and be heard, you’ll want to be where others are.
Ask friends, family and caregivers how they prefer to communicate – and do it.
Communication works best when you’re genuine about what you want and how you feel. That doesn’t give anyone a license to be brutally honest or curt with others, though!
But when the subject is important to you, get to the point quickly and with sincerity. Then be open to listening to how others feel and what they think.
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