6 Social Skills for Dementia and Beyond
by Diane Slovin,
PAC Organizational Outreach Director
Whether you’re a person living with dementia, a care giver, family care partner, or just happen to be a living, breathing, human being, we’ve all just experienced an unprecedented year and a half of isolation and social distancing, so where has that left our social skills? What are social skills anyway? Here are six examples of useful social skills according to Google.
Effective communication – the process of exchanging ideas, thoughts, knowledge, and information such that the purpose or intention is fulfilled in the best possible manner.
What makes up effective communication? In order for effective communication to occur, lots of stuff needs to be happening. If you’re hoping to be able to be flexible and organized (Sapphire GEMS State) you need to watch, listen, process, and look for some indication that the other person is actually acknowledging you and connecting with you before you go very far with the interaction. If you’re curious about the GEMS State Model you can check it out here.
Conflict resolution – methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of conflict and retribution.
Disagreements and dissatisfaction can arise in any situation. How can/will we address conflict? Sometimes situations bubble up and the stuff that we’re talking about becomes personal. Often emotions get in the way and we can no longer focus on effective communication. Instead, we may focus on being right and getting our way. This really becomes a roadblock to getting things done, but more importantly, it negatively affects the relationship.
Active listening – a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding.
Are you focused on how you look and sound during the conversation and not really actively involved/interested in what is being said? We need to remember that the goal should be a give and take.
Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Everyone who is part of a conversation should have the intention of trying to understand what the person is thinking and feeling during the conversation. It’s best to try to take a read of where the person is cognitively and emotionally because this will definitely impact the way the conversation goes. Only then can we be focused on responding to what they’re saying or asking. As we say at PAC; Seeing it from the other side. The ability to be empathetic not only stays with a person living with dementia, it actually intensifies.
Relationship management – how you maintain an ongoing level of engagement with an audience.
Communication should be about the long haul - the relationship. A person may not remember much about an encounter you had with them, but they will remember how you made them feel. Some things to keep in mind are:
Where is your focus?
Is it on the person or something else?
Respect – a feeling of deep admiration for someone elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
What do you know about the person? The tool that PAC uses to gain knowledge about the person is called the Six Pieces of the Puzzle. Click here for a video about the Six Pieces of the Puzzle.
How can we honestly respect someone when we don’t really know who they are? They might be someone that we’ve known all or most of our life; a parent, sibling, or perhaps a spouse. It’s time to change our focus slightly so that we can let go of some of who they have been and shift to who they are now. Warning – this can be difficult.
Even in the best of times, (think pre-Covid) good communication and social skills don’t necessarily come easily. Covid has made it a challenge for us to properly work on our social skills. Some of us will have forgotten some of these basics, but it’s time to reengage and focus on our relationships (even though some of us introverts have gotten quite accustomed to this new normal). It’s a good opportunity for everyone to check in with themselves and see how they’re doing. Are you ready to reemerge like the cicadas here in Cincinnati this season? How important is it that we take a time out (and possibly a breath) and assess the situation?
To eliminate some of the potential friction and risk to someone’s feelings, we need to consider things that we can all do to make interactions safe places where we don’t feel threatened or singled out.
Another important thing to consider is the environment. Think about how you can provide a friendly, familiar, functional, and forgiving environment for our interactions. Click here for a video on the Four F’s.
No one said that this was easy stuff. Books have been written on the topic. Universities teach courses on this stuff. But, with a few basic reminders we can adapt and create safe, fulfilling, and comfortable interactions, and that’s what we’re all really going for, right?