Have you ever looked around the halls of the VA, or seen caregivers together in a group? Do you automatically note those that seem to magically command more respect and response? It is a troubling fact that if we don’t know how to present ourselves to others that we won’t receive the same answers, directions, or decisions – but it’s true.
One of the most common questions and concerns from caregivers is this: “I always feel invisible and ignored by the care team, what can I do to change that?” Just as it’s often impossible to change the situation and circumstances, there are choices to make to increase your success percentage. Remember that small changes add up, and you can try them and discard what doesn’t work for you. If your life is made smoother by these small acts, it’s not only possible, it’s probable that you’ll continue to make positive changes. These are skills and results that no one can take away from you.
Work with us for a minute. Some may seem petty, illogical or unnecessary, but they work. If you feel uncomfortable, add or adapt these skills to better suit you and work them in slowly.
First let’s start with doing your research. Know what appears to be available to you, or know the information you need for your family. No presence in the world will help if you are asking for something impossible. Armed with the facts and the questions, look in the mirror. Fact: People are often ignored because they lack Presence. You're tired, frustrated, weary of the strain of trying so hard to be heard, and it can show in your body language.
The simplest way to be seen and heard is to change your posture and to stand tall. (Yes, the old adage of imagine yourself pulled up by a string, shoulders, hips, and heels in line.) Tired people often stoop and give an air of vulnerability. That can sometimes work to your advantage, but standing tall gives you a better physical presence. We are a nation of “slumpers”. People note someone who stands out in a room.
Lift your chin and look people directly in the eye. This “speaks” firmly without saying a word. It says "I know what we need to accomplish today,” and conveys to the other person you are (of course!) anticipating a professional response. It’s much harder to avoid/ignore someone who is direct, standing tall, and commanding attention. You’ve watched it before. Presented in a way different from the pack, certain people seem to get a good response from exactly the same question! You want to be that person.
Know what you are seeking to make it easier for someone to help you. If you don't know the exact words for the document or title of the person you seek, then ask if you're using the correct terminology. Your stand-tall presence quietly and your tone of voice says, "I'm here to find answers and I will still be standing here until you help me, or guide me to someone else who can." Next step if they’re not helpful is to say, in the same calm, no-attitude voice, “Okay, I see this is more complicated than I thought; will you please direct me to your supervisor, or someone who can help me?” Persist. Stopped by a regulation? Ask to see it or where to find it. HIPAA hurdle? Your paperwork says you're entitled to see the records if all is in order.
You've done your research and now follow the chain of command upward. Persist. As you go higher and you’re being reasonable, now people are more likely to help you, because the pressure is building - for them. Is it really so difficult a question that five levels of people don’t know the answer? Persist. We know many a caregiver who asked for directions to the Director’s office and sat waiting until they received an answer to their relatively simple question.
Engage fully with erect posture, direct eye contact, and increased presence - you will find you gain better results. Presence is a leadership skill that has faded for many people in the same way a firm handshake is missed. Enhanced presence and leadership skills are a work in progress and will always help you.
Make the choice to grow; leadership skills never get old. Stand out in the crowd with an improved presence – and receive the answers you need to move forward.
Linda Kreter & the