Article Series

The Time Gift

Article submitted by Joy C. Davidson, End of Life Coach, Pastor, Author, Speaker, owner of Joyful Transitions, LLC. Joy can be reached at 720-244-2660.

Creativity and patience vs. frustration and concern? Which set of communication skills are the most productive? With this article, I return to a frequent theme from which my articles of the past year have sprung, the book – How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders by David Solie, M.S., P.A. – and I ask you to examine your communication, especially with the older adults in your life, to be certain that those older adults are the recipients of as much creativity and patience as the children in your life? Why?

As a culture and a society, we view children as exploring and attempting to understand an unfamiliar world so we understand that they are a “work in progress” and afford them the creativity and patience they need from us to negotiate this new world. However, the assumption that is commonly made with older adults is that they are simply continuing to navigate the familiar world of adulthood when the reality is that they are going “where they have not gone before” (couldn’t resist the Star Trek paraphrase). David Solie says it well when he says “they are leaving the familiarity of the task-driven middle-adult years and moving into the reflective and monumental terrain of their older years”, “replacing the drive to do with the drive to weigh and measure”. This reflective inner work is as unfamiliar to them as it will be to us. In beginning this journey, older adults exhibit communication patterns that make it apparent that they too are a “work in progress” and in need of our creativity and patience in communicating with them as are the children in our lives.

This article will discuss those common communication patterns of older adults with a follow-up article next month discussing the right signals to give in order to create even more productive communication with older adults. The five common communication patterns are:

  1. The Lack of Urgency Response (Prompting questions like “Why can’t they make a decision?”)
  2. Nonlinear Conversations (Prompting questions like “Why can’t they stick to the subject?”)
  3. Repetition (Prompting questions like “Why do they always tell the same boring story?”)
  4. Attention to Details (Prompting questions like “Why do they fret so much about the unimportant stuff?”)
  5. Uncoupling (Prompting a bewildered questions such as “Was it something I said?”)

Lack of Urgency Response: The deadlines of the middle-adult agenda prompts a great deal of urgency in younger adults. Older adults have come to realize life is not all about the to-do lists or the decisions that are made, but rather it is about what we accomplished.

Effective Communication Rule: Listen (accept that it is not about us and this is a normal communication pace for the older adult). If necessary, be punctual to facilitate their need for control without being driven. At some point, if our facilitation is effective, the older adults’ agenda will accelerate and our task-driven mentality can be put to good use, but we need to be ready at a moment’s notice for the acceleration rarely gives warning.

Nonlinear Conversations: These conversations (off-topic discussions) are a sorting, discovery, and remediation tool the older adults use “to find purpose, direction, and meaning from what they’ve experienced”.

Effective Communication Rule: These are conversations that require us to negotiate a fine balance between listening and facilitating further nonlinear conversations. As we listen, we need to look for the patterns and themes, especially the “big one” – the topic that is so important to them that it is the difference between the emergence or non-emergence of their legacy.

Repetition: While nonlinear conversations focus on the people and events of value, the repetition helps us define the values.

Effective Communication Rule: When you hear a story being repeated, ask questions to clarify the story’s value, which can help the older adult telling the story to clarify the reasons for the repetition and lead to an epiphany regarding their legacy.

Uncoupling: You done missed the bulls eye. Uncoupling, while it might feel fatal at the time, is an older adult’s way of disconnecting from us when our communication was not what they needed. It requires more persistence on our part; It may require “redialing” now or at a later time in order to facilitate their agenda.

Effective Communication Rule: Offer open-ended questions, looking for the clues that they are ready to reconnect. It also helps to begin with a self-revelation.

This article is called “The Time Gift”. Why? Everything that has just been discussed requires time - it requires a conscious gift of time in order to be part of the facilitation of the emergence of an older adult’s legacy. At this time of year (December), when we are focused on the giving of gifts, is there any better gift that we can give our beloved older adults than the time to help them find their legacy?

More about Joy Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC

Founded in 2011, Joy C. Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC, are a voice of experience working with older adults and their families as they face changes, seek late in life purpose, and search for the resources and confidence to live a powerful life. Our support is available through speaking and educational presentations and curriculum.

© 2013, All Rights Reserved by Joy C, Davidson, Joyful Transitions, LLC

Posted December 2013 on