How to Talk with Clients in Troubled Times

Whatever your views on the news, outrage rules the Internet and airways. It’s hard to avoid, and it’s hard not to feel weighed down by the latest dark headlines about raging wildfires, flooded communities, mass shootings, trade wars, nuclear arms races, the opium epidemic, political name-calling and dysfunctional government.

It’s also hard not to let those worries intrude on your work with clients. When helping individuals who are already vulnerable, the last thing you want to do is let your own insecurities and fears about the world undermine your ability to help them feel safe.

So what do you say when a client who is a Holocaust survivor brings up the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting? Or a client who bootstrapped her way from immigrant poverty to a comfortable life criticizes the migrant caravan at the Texas border?

Especially if clients express viewpoints that challenge your personal values, how do you remain present and supportive without crossing boundaries that compromise your professional relationship?

Here are a few ways to take care of yourself that will help you better care for your clients in troubling times:

  • Set limits on your consumption of news and social media. Facebook and other platforms are engineered to be addictive, monetizing controversy to increase clicks and shares. Even reliable news sources benefit from headlines that tap strong emotions. While it’s important to stay informed when so much is at stake, try to limit how often you check your Twitter feed and online news services during the day. Avoid overdosing on pundit analysis before bedtime. Be selective in your news sources and learn to recognize click bait.
  • Cultivate a calm, measured manner when speaking with clients about current events. We are mirrors for those who depend on us. If you can remain composed when listening to your client’s concerns about the latest news, he will be more likely to calm down, too.
  • Don’t talk politics unless your client brings it up. Even if you have just learned some news that is causing you distress, your client may well have no idea what’s going on. Call a friend, family member or co-worker to decompress, as needed at an appropriate time, but don’t sound off to your client. That’s not what you’re there for.
  • If your client expresses political views that you find offensive, agree to disagree. This is tough, and it comes with some caveats. Should those views intentionally or unintentionally target your race, religion, gender orientation or other personal qualities, it’s fair to explain how that makes you feel—as a teachable moment, not an accusation. In general, however, it’s best to set personal political differences aside and to focus on the care-related issues at hand.
  • Strive for empathy and remember to take a “patience pill.” So much of what divides us today comes down to fear of losing what we hold most dear. Compassionate listening can be a powerful antidote. Patience, of course, is crucial to all that we do as Aging Life Care Professionals®. And when you’re done for the day, be sure to make time for that nice soak in the tub or a good comedy on your favorite streaming service to unwind and remember the good things in life.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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Image: Kevin Grieve

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