I would like to expand on something Alice wrote in her post earlier this week. In making a distinction between “kindness” and “niceness,” Alice told us, “Sometimes, the kindest answer is no. Sometimes, setting boundaries that will upset a resident or a co-worker in the short-term but will benefit us all in the long-term is an act of kindness.”
I think part of what Alice is saying is that the tendency of LTC staff to appease a demanding resident can set a pattern of unrealistic expectations. There is nothing wrong with appeasement in and of itself, we do it all the time in both our professional and personal relationships. The problem is when we use appeasement as a quick and easy solution rather than address the underlying issue. By doing so we treat the symptom rather than the cause.
In this sense kindness is the willingness to take the time and effort to determine not only what a resident wants but also why he or she is asking. This requires a measure of patience and self-control. In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult not to react to the tone or unreasonableness of a demand. We’ve all said or heard said some version of this: “You’re not the only one that lives here.”
However, the negative tone of a resident can actually help us understand the root of the problem. Anger, impatience and frustration can indicate an underlying anxiety. Instead of reacting to surface emotions, we can focus on allaying that anxiety.
Anxiety comes from not knowing. We can better endure all kinds of mental and physical discomfort as long as we know that it’s not indefinite and that we have some control over it. For example, I can tolerate hours of being outside on a frigid winter day as long as I know I can go inside and get warm anytime I want. Take away that assurance and in ten minutes I won’t be able to stand the cold.
It’s the same with our residents. When it’s time to say “no” and set boundaries we need to engage with them in a way that reassures rather than reproaches. When we actively listen, negotiate and compromise we are communicating to the other party that they bring something to the table and that it matters. In the process, they gain a degree of control over what happens to them. And it doesn’t always have to take a lot of time. Just that opening can be enough to defuse the anxiety.
In some LTC circles, it’s fashionable to speak of this as “resident empowerment.” We should be careful not to think of this as something we bestow on them, because in reality, it rightfully belongs to them already. Our job is to facilitate it and not deny it through haste or a lack of awareness.