Clear Communication and The Art of Saying No

It's not only acceptable, but important, to speak out about your feelings and to say no. Clear communication is key. Here are the steps.

Helpful Highlights

  • It is not at all unreasonable or disrespectful to be diplomatic and truthful about saying no!

  • Learn when and how to say no.

  • Practice makes perfect, so take these suggestions and work on saying no.

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As caregivers, we give. We generally do it without complaint. We always put ourselves and our needs second; or third. We rarely say no. We often stretch ourselves so thin that we wonder how we bounce back most days.

What we don’t do is define roles, assign responsibilities, or delegate tasks. We don’t ask for help, we definitely don’t speak out about our feelings, and we don't express ourselves in a way that helps others understand how to relate to us.  Namely because, first, we don’t respect our own feelings.

Needs can (sometimes) be set aside, though feelings typically cannot. Positive feelings of excitement, joy, and happiness are given open range and expressed freely, but negative feelings of fear, frustration, and resentment get suppressed or bottled up. It’s only through giving them range, as well, however, that they resolve. It’s okay to speak out about your feelings.

As a caregiver, you likely have more fragile emotions and greater sensitivity to what you perceive as criticism from others due to continuous pressures and stressors, so it’s difficult not to, first, take others’ comments so personally, and then, refrain from blowing up at the people who say them.

Well, how do I do that?

Often comments come from those who have no caregiving experience themselves, and although they are usually well-intentioned, this often makes them more offensive. Unfortunately, there are very few tips for maintaining your composure, other than taking a couple of deep breaths or counting to 3 (or 5 or 10) before responding, but you must respond calmly and respectfully to whatever is said - for your own sake and sanity.

Next is to communicate clearly. This means using “I” statements (owning your feelings and making them known) rather than “you” statements (blaming or insulting others). For example, saying “I need a hand” rather than “You never help me.”

It also means staying in the present and not revisiting the past. Bringing up past mistakes, old patterns, or hurts - whether yours or theirs - isn’t productive and won’t accomplish what’s needed now. This approach will only serve to set you back.

Giving voice to your feelings is also not the same as complaining. Giving voice to your feelings can flip the script with others, grant you confidence or relief, and even help motivate those around you to action.  Good communication helps others understand your limits and needs. People will inevitably say unhelpful things to you, though you have an opportunity to help them adopt a better approach that is more considerate of your role as a caregiver.

Again, how do I do that?

These recommended steps may seem straightforward and simple, and their directness may make us caring individuals uncomfortable to deliver, though when it comes to clear and effective communication, they work.

  • Make them aware of your heightened emotions and sensitivity. And remember, you don’t have to justify yourself or explain why. Just let them know that, while you don’t mean to, you may overreact from time to time, and ask them to understand and be patient.

  • Ask them to put themselves in your shoes and, accordingly, think before they speak. Let them know that you welcome helpful input but don’t need obvious statements or unproductive comments about your role as a caregiver.

  • Give them a list of things not to say to you. If you feel that speaking in generalities like this won’t help a particular person you have in mind, write down the things they say that irritate you most, give it to them, and politely ask them to refrain from saying them, making it known to them how they make you feel.

  • It’s okay to tell them they bear some responsibility, as well. The people who surround you have a big part in responsible and supportive communication. Keep that in mind and don’t feel that you have to constantly make corrections or be so accommodating. They owe you common courtesy and respect.

  • Ask for what you want. If you need something that the people around you can provide, do not hesitate to ask them for it. Tell them that if they want to be open and intentional about offering support, then they could do a household chore, lawn care, or laundry, provide a meal, make a grocery run, or just lend an empathetic ear. Most importantly, ask them for grace and flexibility when together at work, church, or family gatherings.

Work on saying no

Practice, practice, practice. This doesn’t mean to start saying no to everything. As a caregiver, that would be an impossibility anyway, but you can start to use these methods when you need to say no. These methods can help alleviate your discomfort with saying no, as well as ensure others understand what you say.

  • Give a clear reason for saying no. This doesn’t mean justifying yourself, this means explaining that with your current obligations/workload, you won’t be able to meet expectations by adding something else. Unless the person asking can help offload some of your existing priorities, you can’t take on anything else.

  • Reframe the request. Use this if you really feel compelled to say yes, as this isn’t exactly a no. Explain that you’d be happy to take on something else, though it will have to be on your schedule and not theirs, and that they will get your best effort but not expect perfection.

  • Explain why your no is best for everyone. Explain that by taking on something else, no matter how big or small, your other responsibilities would likely suffer, as you have already prioritized your workload to accomplish the things that are most important and valuable to you, and there may be no one to pick up the slack.

It is not at all unreasonable or disrespectful to be diplomatic and truthful about saying no!


National Council on Aging (NCOA)

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