We like ideas but not commands
Few people like to be told what to do – children, students, employees, or citizens. If we deem something to be in our best interests, we will want to do it – but not because we must do it. If something makes sense to do, we’ll likely choose to do it. These are willful acts that may or may not have any consequences or downside associated with them.
Sometimes, there is just a trade-off – doing one activity now versus something else. Neither would be harmful, and both might be enjoyable. We simply choose to do one rather than the other.
Younger in life, we likely were told to do things “for our own good” by parents, educators, coaches, law enforcement, or other authority figures in our lives. Generally, we complied. They had the wisdom that comes with age and experience. However, sometimes, we discounted their opinion and did what we thought was best anyway. That may or may not have been the best choice.
Still, we’d like to think that we are looking out for the best interests of our clients – especially when it comes to their personal safety.
What we observe
When we do a home safety assessment – or just when we enter their home and walk through it as we are getting acquainted with our clients and their home before anything is established on what they want from us or how we are going to work together – we may notice some changes we think would help them. Reflexively, we call out for them to fix or remove a loose throw rug or runner or to relocate an extension cord out of a pathway.
As aging in place specialists, we don’t like to see people placing themselves at undue risk in their homes. Therefore, anytime we see something risky, we are going to remark about it. This is where it gets a little tricky in the communication.
How we express our comments
The way we remark about something we observe, and the way the client hears our comments, may differ widely. This is why extreme care is necessary to make sure that our clients are not overreacting to a casual comment or that we refrain from such comments because we know the client is likely to take them to heart.
For example, we might see something and comment on it – being a very low priority in terms of other issues in their home – with the clients fixing on that as something they need to do immediately. Moreover, there is a large contrast in how we express our thoughts. We might note something in passing, such as the hallway seems a little dark or that we should turn on a light. The client might hear this as a formal recommendation that they need more light fixtures, brighter bulbs, or that they should keep their lights on in this area all the time while someone may need to use it.
While we would be quite happy to see them embrace our suggestion, there may be other items with higher priorities that we want to see them do first.
It’s not that our comment about the hallway being dark was idle or insincere.. We meant it or we wouldn’t have said it. However, we weren’t commanding that it be fixed immediately – or even before we returned in a few days. We just wanted them to know that we noticed this and that likely other visitors into their home would experience it as well. They perhaps were even aware of it but had not done anything about making it any better.
A matter of tone
We need to be very careful that our clients don’t overreact to our comments. There is so much for us to see and take in when we walk through our clients’ home. We might note similar things in our home if we had been away for a while and then had come back into it.
We want to clarify any comments we make and make sure the client understands that we are observing and noting conditions that could be fixed or changed, but we are not expressing them (for the most part) as any type of emergency consideration that must be done while we are there to prevent potential injury to anyone.
Telling someone that they could use more light is an observation or an opinion. It is not intended as a command or something that we expect to see changed rather immediately. Therefore, we need to be quite careful that our clients understand how serious a recommendation is and whether we expect that it be done now for their personal safety or just taken care of or considered among their other housekeeping concerns.
Our comments can carry weight, so let’s be careful that the importance or immediacy of what we are suggesting is not misconstrued by our clients.