Family Members Don’t Listen To Me
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Have you ever felt that “family members don’t listen to me?” When it comes to a family caring for a parent, cooperation between all family members is critical. This makes communication critical. Likewise, communication is critical when a senior organizes their own family to help with their end-of-life care. Why does communication fail? What are the issues? How do you address the issues?
Communication Is The Biggest Challenge Among Family Members
Carmen and I spent a decade studying aging. Communication was the biggest challenge encountered among family members. It explained why some family members don’t listen to others. In other words, when families address aging issues, communication deteriorates. We’ve written extensively on family communication. You can find that Section here. We have lots have tips and techniques. In this article, we cover some of the basics related to family members not listening to me.
Common Reasons Family Members Don’t Listen
Confirmation Bias – Family’s Biggest Communication Challenge
Psychologists discovered some fundamental perception realities in the lab. One was confirmation bias. A fun way to understand this bias is to think of your favorite music performer. Let’s say you selected Johnny Cash. If I start talking to you about how I love Johnny Cash and that I had a chance to meet him you’re likely to pay attention. In addition, you’re likely to ask me my opinions about the man in black.
I’m singing to the choir. And when we seek out similar choirs we’re confirming our existing biases. In fact, choirs are another way of understanding confirmation bias. If I’m a devout Catholic, Protestant, or Jew, I’m most certainly attending a Church or Temple of my denomination. Christians don’t regularly attend Temple, and Jews don’t regularly attend Church. Confirmation bias is seeking out opinions that “confirm” our own opinions.
Politics Share Problems Of Family Communication
You’ve probably asked the political question, “How can they see things that way?” Democrats if you’re a Republican. Republicans if you’re a Democrat. At the answer’s root is usually confirmation bias. Both sides likely spend most of their news watching, watching shows that confirm what they already believe. When you do watch the “other sides” nightly cable news, you probably cringe or yell at the pundits. If you mostly watch one or the other, the other side’s point of view seems very foreign.
Alternatively, if you regularly watch both FOX and MSNBC you know exactly how the other side can see the world the way they do. Ny watching both sides shows and paying attention, you’ve learned the other side’s point of view. You’ve broken down your confirmation bias.
Example Of Family Confirmation Bias
In family environments, confirmation bias can be everywhere. Maybe as a kid you spent a lot of time in trouble. You got in so much trouble because of your unwillingness, to tell the truth. You weren’t taken seriously by lying, or at least appearing to everyone that you lied all the time. Now as an adult, it doesn’t matter that you tell the truth; your opinion is always seen as contradicting your family’s cognitions (perceptions).
Confirmation bias is a bis family communication issue, but cognitive dissonance is a close second. We’ll keep the “performer” metaphor from above going. You love Johnny Cash. You’re a purist and anyone signing Johnny Cash songs chaps your skin. You also don’t like hip-hop, so the very thought of a hip-hop remix of a Johnny Cash song really chaps your skin. “I hate hip-hop,” you say.
I say I like Johnny Cash too, but I like his remixes and then share with you Gangstaz Easy E’s hip-hop remix of Folsom Prison Blues. I persist and tell you both artists shared similar backgrounds, both are authentic, and both share a love for real stories. Then I tell you that Johnny Cash’s son loves the remix rendition. I even say that real Johnny Cash fans appreciate the homage if nothing else. With this additional information I play the hip-hop remix for you and you like it.
Now your initial opinion conflicts with your new opinion. This is cognitive dissonance.
Four Ways To Minimize Dissonance
The theory holds that when people are confronted with this dissonance, they reduce it by modifying their opinions in one of four ways.
In family environments, cognitive dissonance can be everywhere. Carmen and I heard all the time a variation of “Mom [or Dad] is not strong, but they have all their wits about them.” Almost no one of advanced old age has all their wits about them. The same is true of seniors on strong mind-altering medications. The same is true of seniors that are depressed or distressed. The same is true of seniors that don’t manage their medications, finances or household.
If you say things that the family members hear as dissonant, they aren’t likely to hear. Maybe you believe Mom is in trouble, but the rest of the family doesn’t.
The Car Conversation
Almost every family goes through the car example. It work like this:
Mom has gotten into an accident. It may be more than one. Mom’s son Sam, their child says maybe it’s time to take their parent’s car away. The child investigates the situation and discovers that their parent has been in three accidents. Additionally, they discover lots of dents in the car, and holes in the garage wall. Clearly, the parent is struggling.
Sam sits down with his siblings to share his discovery. Some agree others say he’s crazy. One sibling says, “Mom’s been driving for fifty years. She’s fine. I have dents in my car, and holes in my garage, Do you want to take my car away. Mom just needs to drive less at night. Mom’s neighbor is practically blind and she’s driving. Mom’s in much better condition than her.”
And so it goes. Usually, until Mom has every serious accident that injures her or another person. The very thought of taking a parent’s car away for some kids it’s too overwhelming to listen to any evidence but the most severe.
Narcissists care about themselves. Not others. They are not listeners. You can talk all you want and the narcissist won’t hear you. Unless they perceive you as a threat to how they think of themselves, they rarely care that much.
For this reason, solutions revolve around positioning your opinion in a way that increases the odds of a narcissist paying attention. We address that in the solutions section below.
If someone is angry with you they aren’t likely to listen. Anger shuts down a person’s ability to take in new information. Anger is also detrimental because it affects how your brain processes information in a way that makes you less logical. If you’re less logical, you’re less likely to accept someone’s suggestions even when they’re right. Anger also creates a strong response in the other person. They may get defensive, hurt, or scared. In all cases, these emotions don’t facilitate effective communication.
Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…
This Bible reference reminds us that it’s wrong to condemn others when we are bad actors. If you are perceived as someone throwing stones, the person you’re trying to communicate with might not listen. For example, if you’re a spendthrift and recently bought a fancy new car you couldn’t afford, telling others to be frugal will likely fall on deaf ears. If you never go to the doctor and you try and tell your Dad that he needs to go the Doctor, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears.
Distrust usually comes in degrees or stages. You may doubt someone’s sincerity and, over time, become suspicious. Once you’re suspicious of someone your interactions with them are likely to produce anxiety.
You may get nervous, have an increased heartbeat, and even a feeling of revulsion. At this level of distrust, you’re also likely to become fearful of engaging in any real way with the person. You may be afraid of your emotional well-being. Finally, you’re likely to put up walls and go into a self-protection mode. Wherever you may be on the distrust spectrum, communicating with someone you distrust is really difficult.
Solutions To Communication Challenges
Confirmation Bias Solutions
Cognitive Dissonance Solutions
We’ll use the car example to explore solutions.
Solutions Fior Narcissists
Narcissists are infatuated with themselves and what others think about them. Tap into these concerns. Position whatever you want to say in the context of making them better, more attractive, and more adored by others.
Solutions For Anger
If the person you’re trying to communicate with is angry at you, find a third party to facilitate the communication.
Solutions For Stonethrowers
Turn the concern on yourself. Mom, I really have problems with money. Can you help be more frugal?
Good Communication Techniques When Family Members Don’t Listen To Me
Are you a good listener? Can you exhibit patience? Are your questions clear? What about your answers? Or are you bossy, impatient, and not interested in what others say. People are natural mirrors. We often unconsciously mimic the behavior of others. If you are a bad communicator, is it possible you’re getting back your own behavior?
Communication skills can take years to develop. But if you’re dealing with one or a few issues you can sometimes get through communication barriers by following these simple steps.
Identify a clear message (or goal)
Start the conversation in the form of a question like, “Jack, Mom has fallen a lot at home. Without Dad alive, she has a lot more responsibility in the home, that she may not be able to get it all done. Do you think there may be a better option for Mom? And if she’s OK, when will we know when she’s not?”
Listen to Jack’s response. Is Jack aware of the issue? Does he care about the issue? Did he pick up on if not now, when?
Repeat (to verify)
What You Heard Jack, what I heard you say is you also think Mom is having issues. And that her staying home without help may be unsafe?
Iterate the message (or goal)
To get additional information Jack, what would you consider investigating for Mom. Caregiving services, or talking to Mom about moving to an assisted living facility?
Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 as you move toward resolution.
Additional Resources On Communicating
Resources to use when you want to know why family members don’t listen to me.
Communication skills that work with seniors here.
Great report on communicating with older adults here.
How doctors communicate better with older patients here.