Constructive criticism: When to speak up

Caring for a family member often involves collaborating with other relatives. Sometimes you will agree. Sometimes you won’t. Debating every item may not be the best use of family time. In some situations, the wisest course is to be quiet and let others do it their way.

That said, there are times when you should speak up, specifically when another person’s safety or deep well-being is at risk.

One simple way to decide when to speak up is to ask yourself the following three questions:

  • Is it true? Watch out for assumptions. Do you know the facts? Did your sister really miss giving mom her meds several nights last week? Or is that only what seems to make sense, based on what you’ve seen (or what you’ve heard from someone else)? Instead of jumping to a conclusion, acknowledge what you don’t know and ask for information. Most important, don’t ask a third party. Go directly to the source.
  • Is it kind? Focus on the problem rather than on the person. Avoid “you” statements (“You . . .”). They tend to make people defensive. Instead, switch your observation to an “I” statement. For example, instead of saying, “You’re not changing mom before taking her out!” say, “I’m concerned about keeping mom dry after what the doctor said about her skin.” Then express empathy and make it a shared goal, if possible: “Changing her is certainly my least favorite task. Still, I’d like us both to commit to changing her every . . .”
  • Is it necessary? Pick your battles. You stand a better chance of being heard if you are only occasionally raising issues. Keep your focus on the real risk of harm. So what if dad had spaghetti three nights in a row? Better that your brother fixed the grab bars in the bathroom than spent time in the kitchen! Let the small stuff go.