Know the Subject

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Talking About COPD

If you think that you are the only one affected by your COPD, think again. When chronic obstructive pulmonary disease becomes a factor for you, it becomes a factor for everyone in your life. These people love you, they are interested in your best interests and they are your best allies in the war against COPD – but only if you can find effective ways to talk about it.

You know this, but telling other people about your illness is confusing, overwhelming and somewhat scary. What do you say? How do you say it? Suddenly, you feel yourself selfishly looking for ways to avoid your responsibilities rather than finding the best options for the people in your life.
Communication is key for you and for them. Follow these tips for telling a loved one about your COPD.

1. Know the Subject

Any conversation you have about COPD will be short and ineffective if you know nothing about the subject. It’s time to imagine you are headed back to school to give a report on COPD. What would your teacher or classmates want to know?

Work to understand that COPD is not one disease. It is actually an umbrella term used when discussing several diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory asthma and some bronchiectasis. Read pamphlets. Ask your doctor questions. Seek out information from people you know with COPD. Search for the best information available online.

You’ll need every resource possible since COPD is a challenging disease to grasp for anyone. People who are hearing the information for the first time will need all of the facts available.

Have a Goal

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2. Have a Goal

Now that you know a bit about COPD, what is your goal? Do you simply want to tell people in your life that you have this disease? Or are you looking to accomplish more? If you don’t have a goal, you won’t have a direction or a point to express to the people in your life.

Maybe you what people to know how much you love them and how you will depend on them in the future. Perhaps, you want to express your own anger and frustrations about the path that has lead you to this point. In most circumstances, any goal you decide on will be an appropriate goal if you follow through the best way you know how. Speaking without a goal will make it impossible to communicate information is an understandable way.

Know Your Audience

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3. Know Your Audience

When you are thinking of communicating any information, you have to consider your audience. If you are telling your wife about your diagnosis, you will state the information in a different way than if you were talking to your granddaughter. Because COPD usually touches people over the age of 40, you have multiple generations to consider and variations within each group. You will need special considerations when talking to your parents, your siblings, your children and your grandchildren.

Some groups can handle complex medical terms while others will need very simple information. Some groups will respond better to direct, face-to-face communication while others will respond better to some style of electronic communication. Resist the urge to take the easy way out by sending a mass email about your condition. The best communication usually takes time.

Be Preventative

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4. Be Preventative

Generally, people wait too long to communicate important issues to loved ones. You might be waiting for the right place, the right time or some completely unlikely scenario to unfold. Waiting puts you at an extreme disadvantage, though.

When others hear about the situation indirectly, they begin jumping to conclusions that are misinformed and misguided. Not only that, but they may be annoyed, frustrated or angry that they had to find out from a source other than you. You lose any power in this situation because you have to undo the damage done. Act swiftly when you receive the news to better manage the reactions of others.

Avoid Distractions

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5. Avoid Distractions

When you actually sit people down to speak to them, you will want the environment to be quiet, calm and clear of distractions. If someone is cooking a huge meal or chasing six kids around the backyard, you will not have the level of attention you need. Less attention means that there is a lower chance that the message will be well received or fully understood. Find a peaceful setting, make good eye contact and say what must be said.

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Be Clear and Honest

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6. Be Clear and Honest

Of course, what you say is up to you based on your goal and your audience. How you say it is another matter. Whatever you say, say it clearly and deliberately. This does not mean that you should have your speech written on 3 x 5 notecards with a slideshow presentation, but it does mean that it should be simple and easy to understand.

Giving a paper or some type of handout can do world of good to make the information more tangible. Honesty is exceptionally important as well. By “sugar coating” the information you establish unrealistic expectations for your audience. Sometimes the truth is hard, but it is always best. Plus, other people may be better at detecting dishonesty in you than your give them credit for. Dishonesty helps no one.

Be Concise

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7. Be Concise

One of the best ways to add clarity to your conversation about COPD is to be concise. When people feel nervous or uncomfortable, they tend to ramble. Forget about the idea that your long-winded delivery helps give detailed information. Too much information muddies the water making your message harder to receive.

Consider this general script sample: “I wanted to talk to you because I am sick. I have a disease called COPD. It means that it is harder for me to breathe. It makes me cough a lot, get dizzy and feel tired. One day, hopefully not for a long time, I won’t be able to breathe anymore, and I will die. I wanted to tell you because you are important to me and you deserve to know.”

It may seem blunt and uncomfortable, but it clearly states what’s going on and what will happen.

Be a Good Listener

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8. Be a Good Listener

You may think that your work is done after the words leave your mouth. This could not be further from the truth. The best communication is a dialogue, not a lecture. Your loved ones will have questions. They will be filled with surprise, confusion, sadness and anger. Listen to what they have to say rather than literally or figuratively running away.

You don’t have to have all the answers, but reacting with understanding, kindness and support will help your loved ones feel heard and valid in their response.

Watch and React

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9. Watch and React

Sometimes your loved ones’ responses won’t be verbalized, so you will need to use your best empathy to try to understand what they are thinking and feeling. Let them know that you will support them as you hope they support you during this entire process. Let them know that you still want to have fun and do the things you enjoy.

If they cry, hand them a tissue. If they look confused, offer some more details. If they storm out of the room, give them some time and return to the conversation. Your presentation, response to them and body language can have as much impact as the words that you use. Be sure to have nonverbal communication skills on par with your verbal communication for best success.

Continue the Conversation

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10. Continue the Conversation

Speaking of returning to the conversation, the communication about COPD should not be limited to one meeting or one email. This is an ongoing process that needs attention over the course of days, weeks and months. Your loved ones’ reactions and feelings will change just as yours will. If you assume that their opinion has not changed over the last weeks, you are selling them short and acting as if you do not truly care about their experience. Keeping the lines of communication open helps ensure that everyone gets their needs met efficiently and completely.

Read more about the importance of talking about COPD over at NewLifeOutlook.

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