How did the family get to the point that they’re SO angry?

I was chatting with Carol, a friend of mine in the US who is also a retired physician. She was sharing a story where she had to deal with a patients’ spouse who was having a meltdown about a frustrating interaction with another health provider.

As she was reflecting on the level of tension and anger, she asked a question that struck me as a great opportunity for reflection and recovery.

“How did the spouse get to that point of being so angry?”

If you work in seniors’ care, I’m pretty certain you can think of a time where you thought a family’s reaction was disproportionate to the situation that occurred.

If you’re a family with a loved one in seniors’ care, you can likely remember a situation where you thought the staff weren’t giving you the information you needed, in a timeframe you expected, and/or didn’t feel like your questions or concerns were heard or addressed.

When I think of my own experiences of being a family member, and got to that point that I was SO angry (aka having a Jalapeño moment) it boiled down to this: not feeling seen, heard or understood.

And quite frankly, staff can also feel this way – that the care they’re providing isn’t being appreciated, or that the family is impatient with THEIR learning curve about their loved one.

When families get to the point that they’re SO angry, it’s not helpful for them, the resident or the staff.

And trust me, I get it! I definitely had my moments that I now cringe thinking about. I also appreciate those co-workers who talked me down and helped me formulate a more productive communication and resolution plan.

Here’s one way you can start building trust and connection in this critical relationship.

Be Curious.

Our natural tendency when we’re feeling threatened and defensive is to get reactive and judgmental – about the situation, the people, and we try to judge and label their motives and intentions.

Be Curious, NOT Judgmental.

A question you can ask yourself as a staff member is this:

I wonder what’s going on that the family has had such a strong reaction to the situation?

I’m curious about what may be going on for them right now that’s caused this kind of reaction.

Then you can approach the family with curiosity (which is a much more gentle energy than judgment) which the family WILL sense.

If you’re a family member and feeling overwhelmed and upset about a situation you can ask yourself:

What’s the real issue here that I’m feeling so angry about?

How can I unpack what I’m feeling and how I’m reacting in a way that I can bring those issues to the staff member/manager so that I am seen and heard?

I’m not saying these are magic wand questions, as each situation has its detail and complexity.

But I do think it’s a good start to rebuilding this critical relationship between staff and families.


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