3 Things Hospice Taught Me About Communication

Today, effective communication, in my opinion, is a lost art form. Whether it is through interruption, poor listening skills, or just plain rudeness, almost every interpersonal relationship has communication speed bumps and roadblocks. Effective communication is a well-honed skill that we are not born with but, rather, must learn, quite often through blunders and mishaps in adulthood if we were not taught how to effectively communicate, verbally and non-verbally, in childhood.

Effective communication can foster trust, build respect and rapport, and create environments that individuals feel safe within, environments where they feel free to be their unique selves, sharing unique thoughts, without fear of judgment or relationship ending repercussions. Walking on eggshells is never the optimal way to cruise through life, but many of us do knowing that our next attempt at communication can set someone off (We all know someone like this where nothing we say is ever correct.).

During my work in hospice, where I counseled and supported the dying and their loved ones from diagnosis through bereavement, I learned many important lessons about life, love, and loss, but the most unique lessons I took with me were beautiful and subtle ways to enhance interpersonal communication.

Below are the three unique lessons hospice taught me about communicating.

1. Validate – Validation is a both a verbal and non-verbal technique used to create, maintain, and strengthen the therapeutic alliance and the positive regard between client and mental health professional or person and person. It promotes empathetic understanding but also allows the individual being treated to feel less alone and more understood concerning whatever topic is the focus. When emotions are expressed and received with empathy, relief is the end result dotted with feelings of dignity and well-being. Try using active, empathetic listening with your loved ones to convey understanding without the need or desire to “fix” whatever problem arises. The act of validation, of respecting and valuing the other’s emotions, at times, may be all that is required.

2. Silence is Golden – In the counseling professions, we are taught that silence, when its uncomfortable awkwardness is surpassed, can be just as, if not more, important than the words that are spoken between two individuals. In fact, it is in the moments of silence that sentiments are realized, worked through, and set free and comfort is woven into the relationship to create a blanket of benevolence that surrounds the two involved. Take advantage of the moments of silence that alleviate suffering and illuminate relationships and the individuals participating in them.

3. Be a Supportive Presence – Being a supportive presence can involve several forms of intervention but the less understood, and in my opinion, the most critical is that of the individual who sits in quiet confidence with the sufferer, quietly existing as a benefactor of healing but not forcing it upon anyone. Paying attention and attuning to all forms of suffering, psychological, physical , and spiritual, provides us with the opportunity to be the preserver of hope and the vessel through which progress is made and healing is reinforced.

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