Resource Guide for Family Caregivers
Communicate with healthcare providers

Good communication is the foundation of building a working partnership. Communication takes time, effort and a willingness to work out differences together.  When communicating with health care providers (or anyone), being assertive is generally considered to be more helpful than being non assertive. Here are some of the reasons why.


Non-assertive communication is behaviour that allows and even encourages other people to treat you, your thoughts and your feelings in whatever way they want, without your challenging it.

Non-assertive communication involves behaviours that are shy and over- apologetic, as though denying any personal rights or preferences.


Non-assertive communication avoids confrontation, avoids problems by not addressing them, establishes a pattern of allowing others to take advantage of you, builds anger and resentment, and builds unrealistic expectations.


Non-assertive communication wastes time - both yours and the health care providers - by ―beating around the bush‖ in a way that causes frustration. Needs do not get addressed and messages do not get properly conveyed. This may be hazardous to your health or to that of the care recipient because inappropriate treatment may result from misunderstanding or incomplete information.


Assertive communication, by contrast, is behaviour that reflects your intent to stand up for your personal rights (or those of the care recipient) and express your

thoughts, feelings and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways that respect the rights of others.


Assertive communication attacks problems not people. It establishes a pattern of respect for future dealings; it deals with anger and addresses requests. It is not the same as aggressive behaviour. Assertive behaviour is often confused with aggressive behaviour; however, being assertive does not involve hurting the other person physically or emotionally.


When using assertive communication, you take responsibility for your own statements. Statements become cues and let the health care provider know what your understanding is, allowing for feedback. In addition, it can lead to improved care as wants and needs are more clearly presented and understood. By behaving assertively, you open the way for honest relationships with others. Remember though, other people also have a right to express their own wants, needs, feelings and ideas. 

One aspect of assertive communication is active listening.


Techniques that promote active listening

  • Accept what the person is saying or feeling.
  • Clarify what you think the person is saying or feeling by:  a) restating what the other person has said  b) paraphrasing or putting in your own words what they said c) checking your perception or view of the situation with theirs.
  • Inquire about the person’s perception or interpretation of the situation.

Neither assertive communication nor active listening will make problems in relationships go away, but when consistently used, they are techniques that can help clarify situations, promote open communication, identify problem areas and areas of common interest, and help identify possible solutions.

What if you have a request to make that is particularly difficult? It can be hard to ask for help. There is always the possibility that your request will be turned down or your needs, or those of the care recipient, will be misunderstood or not acknowledged. Nonetheless, there are times when you really need others to hear you and pay attention to your request. Remember:

  • You have a right to make the needs of the care recipient and your needs known to others.
  • You deny your own importance when you do not ask for what you truly believe is needed in the situation.
  • The best way to get what you or the care recipient need is to ask for it directly. Make your request clear and to the point. For example: a) How do you feel about that? b) Are you able to do that? c) When can you give me a reply?