To say that I have an assertive personality is an understatement. I don’t believe in destiny, but it’s almost as if someone up there knew that I’d need to have a loud voice and the gumption to survive caregiving. There have been many moments where these personality traits have served me – but mostly my husband – very well.
But even if you aren’t naturally assertive, you can become a successful advocate for your person by following these 5 tips when engaging in difficult conversations.
Assertive is different than aggressive. Generally speaking, most of the people on my dearest’s care team genuinely wants to help him live his best life, and to feel as well as he can feel while doing it. Things usually get complicated when insurance is involved and while my wolverine claws are just barely at the surface whenever I speak with them, I try very hard to mind my manners, to say please when asking for something, and to say thank you when my needs have been addressed. I’ve been in a customer service role and nobody likes being verbally abused.
Keep handy important phone numbers. If you want to keep your cool right out of the gate, keep the important phone numbers handy, saved in your phone with descriptive notes. Calling the wrong number twice before getting the number right is annoying. And if someone helpful gives you their direct line, SAVE IT and USE IT. Helpful people usually stay helpful so long as they are treated with respect.
Know who to ask. Is the customer service representative not addressing your needs? Politely ask for the manager. Is the manager not addressing your needs? Politely ask for their supervisor. If none of the people in the call center are able to help you, politely ask to speak with a customer advocate. If that person is also useless – ask to file a formal grievance.
Know what you’re asking for. Have you ever gotten on an important phone call and realized that you didn’t know how to start the conversation – or that you forgot why you were calling in the first place? Before making a phone call about “important stuff” write the questions down that you need answered. And when you get the answers, write them down too. If the answer is complicated, I would repeat the answer back to the person to confirm that what you wrote down is accurate. Be disciplined so that you only have to call once (nobody wants to call insurance twice, not even the insurance people.)
A Quiet Space. Find a quiet place to have these conversations. I have children – and when I’m on the phone, it’s the only time in the world when they a) want to engage in a WWE-style brawl, b) want to have a run-on sentence conversation with me about the soccer ball they lost outside last week, and/or c) miss me so much that they must have a hug and multiple kisses RIGHT NOW MOMMY! If you are able, find a quiet place with a lock on the door and have those difficult conversations on the phone. Then get to smooching your attention-seeking children. I know I will.
Lastly, most healthcare organizations (physician offices, insurance companies, home health agencies) won’t have a conversation with anyone other than the patient or member unless there is a HIPAA waiver that explicitly gives permission to someone else. When you run into this issue, ask them to email the form, get it filled out and signed, and send it back. It will save you from having to jump through hoops every time you call.