Communicating with Compassion

By Jane Verity © Dementia Care International

Compassionate communication is the art of connecting with another person, heart-to-heart. It brings us in touch withour natural empathy, enabling us to overcome labelling language that blocks compassionate interactions.

Compassion is the Key

Success lies in discovering what compassion means, what blocks it, and how to apply it effectively.

Professor Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, defines compassion as:

  • Our  innate desire to enrich another person’s life.
  • The joy we experience when our actions nurture another person.

A good way to start is to think of someone with whom we have a natural bond such as a close friend or family member. This will help us get in touch with your compassionate human qualities.

What Blocks Compassionate Responses?

Compassionate responses can be unconsciously blocked through analysing, judging, and labelling, which isolates us from the vulnerability of other people. This approach tends to put us in a position where we act as if we know better. This alienates us from compassionately stepping into the shoes of the other person and discovering out how they feel.

Training often condones applying a professional distance in everyday care and encouragescarers to be observers of behaviours. This results in a focus on what is ‘wrong’ with the other person. People with dementia tend to be labelled ‘The Dementias’, ‘The Wanderers’, or ‘The Sundowners’. When a person is labelled, they are only defined as the behaviour and its management, leaving no room for a compassionate response.

How Do You Communicate with Compassion?

The following five steps encourage compassionate communication:

1.    Change the negative label to a compassionate description of the other person’s experience. For example, ‘The Dementia’s’ become ‘People living with dementia’.

2.     Listen with your heart and tune into the other person, asking yourself, What can I do right now to make this person’s life more wonderful?’

3.     Seek clarification and reasons for any upsetting or challenging behaviour.

4.     Find out how the other person is feeling at this very moment.

5.     Focus on any non-verbal communication.

It is essential to step into the shoes of the person with dementia to discover their unmet need behind the behaviour. Embrace the essence of compassionate communication by ‘disconnecting’ your mind and engaging with your heart.

Further Reading:

  • The Bus Stop Band-aid – Members article– Jane Verity (Discover the emotions & reasons behind the words, ‘I want to go home’; learn positive ways to fulfill unmet needs & proven strategies to remove the necessity for the bus stop & other band-aid solutions. Also, learn why ‘Best’ is the enemy of greatness.)