How can I tell people what I need? (Hint, you cannot be subtle nor can you use telepathy.)

How can I tell people what I need? (Hint, you cannot be subtle nor can you use telepathy.)
| by Pat Collins

Wednesday Wonderings

Written November 17, 2021

It would be much easier if other people just knew what you needed and did it, but no one can read your mind. Only you can fully understand what you are going through. Even if they have helped take care of a loved one of their own, that case may have been completely different from yours.

Communi-friggin’-cation is the key to everything! Other folks communicate and understand things totally different from you. You can easily know what you need inside of your head, but how do you communicate that need so that others will understand?

Are you one that thinks …

If they know me, they should know what I need.

I have told them how tired I am and I need a break.

If they could help me, they would.

I talk about how hard it is, all the time. It has taken over my whole life.

I can just handle it all myself.

Instead, try being more direct about your needs and say...

Hey, I need you to be here on Saturday the 8th from 9 am until 6pm.

I need you to do the laundry, change the sheet and provide dinner on Sunday.

When it comes to verbally sharing needs, there are four major styles of communication. Body language is another style, but that is for another day. We are talking about being verbal and asking for what you need or want.


Passive communicators go with the flow and are sometimes seen as wallflowers. No muss, no fuss. Sometimes they may be unaware of their thoughts or feelings, but more than likely they ignore their own feelings, wants, and even their thoughts. They may seem to be easygoing, but underneath, anxiety rules. They fear disapproval.

Passive communicators bottle things up. They hardly ever fight and usually prioritize conflict avoidance. They stuff and stuff their feelings and wants far away, but you can stuff things for so long until they bubble to the surface. Resentment, here I come!


Aggressive communicators dominate the conversations and state their opinions often overriding others’ opinions. They use direct eye contact, leaning forward, staring at you and moving towards you sometimes. They are very poor listeners and use a harsh tone, even if they don’t mean to be using a harsh tone.

Aggressive communicators are not quiet and yes, they are the ones that yell. They almost never back down. Your feelings will not be considered. Think more of a “win” type personality and not the “win-win” type.


A passive-aggressive communicator will confuse the hell out of you. Why? Because they cannot get all of their thoughts, and meanings outside of their heads in a cohesive manner or in a way that makes sense to others. They may be easily frustrated. They can become quite irritable and resentful. They will often use sarcasm or talk to another person instead of the person that they need to be talking to. They will criticize others. They show oppositional behavior. They will be the one that states, “I will help.” They will help, but they will Complain the Whole Time. These folks are angry and their words do not match their body language. Gritting their teeth, making their hands into a fist all the while either being indifferent or smiling.

Passive-aggressive communicators are angry and they know that they are angry, but will deny that they are angry or that anything is wrong. Sarcastic barbs coming your way or maybe you will get the silent treatment.

They silently seethe, and the other person has no idea what in the world is wrong.


An assertive communicator is confident. They are open to discussions and clarifying whatever may be unclear or confusing without being an ass. They are usually calm and will state what they want or need without imposing their requests on others. This type will look for a consensus, if possible. They usually listen and seem to care about others. You may have healthy and loud discussions but it does not feel like you are having an argument. They will share their thoughts, opinions and how they feel about something. They are open to you doing the same. Not only are they able to listen, they are able to hear.

What communication style do you have? What communication style do others in your life have? Can you see how things get all messed up when everyone is talking and no one is listening or hearing? Work to understand where the other person is coming from; try to put yourself in their shoes. You may not be able to fully know what they’re going through, but try as best you can. We all have our own peculiar ways. We are different people with different experiences and we look at things differently. It isn’t wrong, it is just different. Search for common ground to find what you can agree on. Uncover what is best for the care receiver and what is best for all involved as caregivers using the strengths of both parties. Let your empathy and compassion for others help you in moving towards being an assertive communicator. A good sense of humor helps too.

Here is a list of qualities that can be practiced to become a more effective caregiver. Rate yourself on each skill as from 1-3. Be honest and help yourself to know what you are good at and what you are not so good at… Hopefully, you will find that others have different strengths than you and will be a good helper. Also use what you learn to find places to work for improvement.

1 – Always

2 – Sometimes

3 – Hardly ever or Never

1. Resilience – The ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions; I can negotiate for what I need and navigate systems.

2. Patience – The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

3. Flexibility – Ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances; accept what is happening in the moment.

4. Compassion – The ability to translate empathic feelings into action.

5. Optimism – Expect a favorable or positive outcome.

6. Confidence – be Sure of one’s self and one’s abilities.

7. Organization – Methodical and efficient in arrangement or function.

8. Ability to Laugh – Be able to find and appreciate the humor in the situation.

To identify and acknowledge your personal caregiver strengths, set aside a few minutes for personal reflection. Ask yourself the following questions:

• What gives me energy?

• What am I good at? What do I do best? What do I do well?

• What am I naturally good at? What comes naturally to me?

• What are my best character traits?

• What things do I look forward to doing?

• When faced with challenges or adversity, what strengths do I bring to these challenges?

• What do I handle well?

When you ask for things, be specific. You may need things done at your house instead of at the care receiver’s house. Be as flexible as you can. You must agree to a day and time or it will not get done. Never a “whenever” or a “sometime next week.” Pick a day and time, negotiate for another day and time if necessary. Keep a running list of things that need to be handled. Headings for the list include:

What: action or Task

Where: Care receiver’s house or caregivers house

What day and alternate day

Who will handle this

You will have to be direct —not an ass— and state what your mom, dad, or you need. Ask if they are willing to step-up, pitch-in and help? If they say yes, then pull out the ready-made list and get to work. If it is a task that takes time and they do not have time, then by all means suggest a less time-consuming task or request a specific amount of money (be fair and reasonable) to hire out the task. If that doesn’t work then ask them what they can contribute and leave them be until they begin figuring things out. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, but just be still and quiet. Be open to brainstorming sessions. Try to make your “ask” into statements. For example, instead of saying, “Can you do some things for me?” state that “I need XYZ from the store today.” “I need you to provide dinner on Friday.”

What if you ask and get told “no” to your direct request? You may even get brushed off or told off, where do you go from there? You still need back-up and help. It is going to suck, but you will move forward as if you are an only child. You may need to hire outside help, ideally with the care receiver’s money.

I have seen a family of 4 siblings work it out to care for their aging parents at separate times. They all stepped up and did whatever was needed. They were all professionals and very busy with their careers, but they made their parents the priority. They communicated, worked together, had a list and each of them used their strengths to the fullest, and most importantly, their parents were never alone.

I have also seen a family with 3 siblings leave it all to one sister. No help, no money, just arguing and “trying” to run things. It was horrible. That one sister realized she would have to handle her mom on her own. She did and her mom was well cared for. It did take some of the sisters’ own money to help with outside care, but they managed and she had a good experience with her mom for the time her mom had left. She also told me that she had no regrets and that her conscience was clear.

Maybe you will have to say your piece to those that will not contribute in order to let go of your anger or resentment at them. Do let go of your anger, you don’t have the time or energy for it.

There may come a time when you have to say “No” to caregiving.

You may find that you must set limits on caregiving responsibilities. Remember to always take care of yourself during the caregiving process. You count. You matter. Always add your needs into the mix.

Think about what saying no means to you. Could it mean that you leave the loved one to fend for himself? Maybe it means that you are tired, isolated and depressed and you have to stop; it's possible that “no” means that you need to take a breather and you realize that some things will have to change if you are going to proceed and help as a caregiver. Boundaries is not a dirty word. Emotional limits are reached quickly when either a crisis happens or you have taken no breaks.

Practice your “I” statements to work on your boundaries.

• “I can no longer drive you to all of your medical appointments due to my work schedule and my limited time off. I know this will be a change for you. I suggest we look into other transportation options such as the Busy Bee Medical Transport Service.”

• “I am unable to continue with the responsibility of cleaning the house weekly. I want to spend my time with you on other matters. I know it’s hard to let newcomers help, but I think it is time to hire a homemaker service you would be comfortable with.”

• “I can no longer assist you down the outside stairs. I am worried about your safety and mine. I believe we need to build a ramp for easier access to your home. I have found a carpenter who has reasonable rates for construction.”

In each of the above statements, there is a presentation of what the speaker cannot continue to do, an acknowledgement that the change will have a consequence for the elder and a suggested solution. These kinds of statements do not place blame on the elder for the effort or stress levels of the caregiver. It is understood the elder knows the caregiver is working hard, but that they are willing to do it.

You can do it! You can state what you need. Have that list ready.