Sunday, March 20, 2011


Everyone wants affirmation.


She had been an active and vital part of the workshop on bullying and teasing. With wild abandon she gave herself to the experience, she did role plays, encouraged others, was gracious with sharing time and never once, despite enthusiasm, did she hog the spotlight. She was just as happy when someone else succeeded as when she did. I liked her. On her way out of the workshop I shook her hand and told her that I had loved teaching her, that she was a real addition to the class and that she had done well. She beamed back at me asking, 'Really?' I said, and meant, 'Really.'

And because I liked her my failure to stop her hurt bothers me even more.

I come to you all with a question. There are times I ask myself 'What Would Readers Do?' And here I am asking. First the situation, then, the question:

The Situation:

I am midway through a presentation to staff on staying positive and staying the course. On break I chat with a few people and then I notice the woman with a disability from the morning session on Bullying heading towards me bringing along behind a reluctant looking staff. A young woman, a pretty woman, a woman who shouldn't yet be bitter and burned out - but who knows what lives others live. But regardless of mood or of circumstance, she was a caregiver in company with someone in care. It's a role more important than mood or whim. When they arrived the woman with a disability, looked first at her staff and then me and said, 'Tell her.'

The staff glanced at me, bored and irritated, but I said, gamely, 'She did incredibly well ...' and before I could continue the staff simply turned away and began speaking to someone sitting up at the front. She cut me off. That's rude. She diminished and demoralized and humiliated the woman with a disability. That's abusive. I saw hurt on her face so I continued talking to the woman's back, 'she contributed to the workshop and it was a better class because she was there. You are lucky to be working with her.' She never turned, never acknowledged the compliment to the woman she worked with. She walked away.

I was, through the whole thing, within touching distance of her. I could have reached out and touched her arm, I could have forcibly made her turn to me and listen, but I didn't. I was shocked. I was appalled. And I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to make it better. Afterwards as we drove away, I was angry at myself. I should have known what to do.

I don't know if I was showing discretion or cowardice. I don't know. I didn't know if my making an issue of it would make life harder for a woman who so needs affirmation. I didn't know if it would have made a difference at all.  Maybe it would have made it better, perhaps worse. But I don't know.

The Question:

What would you have done in my situation?

Help me know what to do next time.

Cause there will be a next time. There are those who work with people with disabilities who need working with themselves. There are those who think that the issue is disability when the issue is attitude. There are those who should be thinking of, maybe, either growing up or getting out.





David Morris said...

I don't know what I'd do.
But I know that you need to understand why the caregiver did what she did.
Maybe then it's best to help alleviate their own problems, or to call them out on their errors.
Maybe the caregiver is put in the job against their desires.
Maybe the caregiver has let disgust and a feeling of superiority replace respect for the person they work with.

CL said...

To be honest, I probably would have done what you did. When someone does something surprising and offensive, I usually stare at them with an open mouth, and then five minutes later, I'm furious with myself for not standing up for myself or others.

But as for what I'd be wishing I had done. I guess I would have tried to get her attention, either by touching her arm or moving toward her and saying "excuse me" -- and then I would make eye contact and say, "[Name] wanted me to tell you how she did in class today." As though the caregiver failed to hear, but we'd all know that wasn't the case. At that point, she would either realize she screwed up and listen or she would try to defend her actions, and I could respond, which could start a conversation about how it was inappropriate.

But maybe that approach would actually be letting her off the hook too much. I think if I tried to be even more direct, like "Excuse me, I feel that what you just did was inappropriate." I'd get really anxious, because directly confronting and criticizing a stranger is something I was taught to never do. But maybe sucking up the anxiety and being very direct was called for? I also wonder if there would be some risk of the caregiving treating the woman even more poorly after a confrontation -- most people don't take criticism well.

I guess I don't have a good answer, but I'm curious to see what others say.

Anonymous said...

There may be many reasons for bad manners, but there is seldom a good excuse for such. Whatever this young woman's reason for behaving so badly, a brief reminder from you that she was being rude would not be out of line.

Aeryn said...

I don't know what I would have done, or what I would do,

but I just wanted to drop by and add my voice saying

"That staff's behaviour was NOT okay."

I will be reading other people's comments thoughtfully, thinking about what I could do if I find myself in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -
I would probably have done axactly what you did, Dave.
A long time ago, I heard a vicious put-down of someone who was behaving unprofessionally. "Are you always this obnoxious, or are you making a special effort, just for me?"
I wonder if I would ever have the courage to say that. And would it improve the situation? Anyway, it's something to think about, when I'm mulling over what I should have said - long after the event.

Anonymous said...

I have been in a situation (different details - but similar in that a "professional" was not behaving "professionally"). My "short answer" is to ask the individual the correct spelling of his/her last name. This needs to be reported - just as much as a physical assault should! After all, emotional blackmail is more insidious - and ultimately more destructive.
At least with the report would come the opportunity for the staff member to explain his/herself in private. This might help management to support that psrson in discovering how his/her attitude is hurtful to those s/he supports. It would help that person in a path of remediation and/or help that person realize that s/he is not in the right profession.
Just my two bits, Dave. In the mean time - congratulations for your affirmation of the woman who participated so well.

Anonymous said...

David Morris, I don't think you need to know why the caregiver did what she did ... there is no reason, only excuses, for this behaviour. Dave, the blog writer, said it in the blog, she was at work, she was care providing, her mood or her history or her life situation bear no consideration in the matter. A husband who puts down or beats his wife because he had a bad day or a mean mommy is still an abuser, plain and simple.

little.birdy said...

You can lead a horse to water to water but you cannot make him drink. I think it is a real possibility that nothing you could have done would have increased the value of the woman with a disability in the eyes of the caretaker. Her mind was already made up.

Molly said...

I would speak to the girl you were talking about and say "Wow. She turned right away as I was trying to tell her how much I value your participation. I'm sorry that happened but I am still so thankful you were here to participate today!"

tetisheri said...

A friend of mine who is a nurse and has done home health care and I have been discussing this.

I have experience in dealing with a lot of care providers. My youngest brother had spina bifida and was a wheelchair user. He had care providers and doctors who didn't talk to him, but rather the able-bodied people around him. He also have providers who saw him as the wonderful person that he was.

It has always amazed me that there are so many people in social services who don't treat the people who they serve as actual people. They are the people who refer to their clients as cripples, r*****ds, so on. My husband is a person with disabilities and he and I have gotten rid of providers based on the language they use.

The reason I've been discussing this with a friend is that my husband recently had foot surgery to try and help him be out of pain and be more mobile. He's using a walker and is currently non-weight bearing. We had some PT/OT people come to our home for evaluations. They just walked into our home and did a lot of talking at us and not to us.

Now, this is a really long way to get to my answer. I complained. I called their office and filed formal complaints. In your case I would have followed the woman in the hopes of getting her alone and asked her some polite version of "Why did you do that?" It was disrespectful to you, and supremely dismissive of the woman in your workshop. I probably would also have asked her why she was in this job if she didn't want to treat people with disabilities like actual people.

There are too many care givers who act like they are doing some sort of special favor to help their clients. But, what they don't always seem to realize is that they aren't someone doing something special. They are employees of their client. They are there to make sure that their client's need are met, not to have their client work around what the provider wants.

It's not special treatment to be treated with a human being with feeling and dignity. It's how everyone wants to be treated. It's how everybody wants to be treated. It's all about dignity and respect.

Sorry, it's earlyish, and I am tired and don't feel well, so it's long and rambling.

Andrea S. said...

Like many others, I, too, would probably have done something similar to what you did--not because I necessarily felt it was the best option but because I probably would have been too much in shock at the woman's rudeness to think of something more productive on the spot.

I think Molly has at least part of the right answer in bringing the focus back to the woman who was hurt to reinforce the message for her that 1. Her caregiver's behavior is absolutely not okay and, 2. You still value her contribution to the class.

I would still want to say something directly to that caregiver, though I'm not sure what. I'm tempted by the suggestion from wheeliecronie, "Are you always this obnoxious or ..." ... but I doubt that would help much. Maybe going after her and saying politely but firmly, "Excuse me, maybe you didn't hear me, but I was still in the middle of talking with you," then repeating what you said.

I would be tempted to ask her outright at some point why on Earth she is in a job that she obviously hates so much that she can't even see the wonderful person she's working with for who she is. If she's that miserable and resentful, wouldn't she be happier in another profession? Though I'm not sure how productive that is--would a statement/question like that really get her to think about why she's in this profession? Or would it just entrench her defensiveness?

And like others, I would worry that too harsh a confrontation could backfire on the woman she is working with.

Perhaps also talk with the woman in your workshop about what her options are for dealing with an emotionally abusive caregiver: How does she feel about the idea of filing a complaint about the caregiver? If she fears it would make things worse, what are some steps she could take to minimize risk to herself? Etc.

Belinda said...

Wow, some great responses to that unthinkable situation. I mean, if she did that to YOU, I wonder what she does when she is not being addressed by the guest speaker at an event.

I don't think saying something directly to her would have much effect. In the moment I don't think well on my feet but I would focus on the woman in front of me, not the woman who apparently doesn't have the personality or skills to support her. If she was here in front of me right now I would say that was rude and not okay and I would ask if she was supported by an agency, and suggest she might want to make a complaint.

R said...

I think I'd first say to the disabled person "wow, sucks to have her supporting you" or somesuch - at which point hopefully the staff would notice and be ashamed - and then if still ignored, interrupt by any reasonable means and say firmly "name wanted me to pass on how well this morning's session went" and so on.

As a communication aid user, and someone who is also often ignored and has experienced that type of abusive behaviour from staff, I would not - could not - ever just let it go. I've taken everybody from police officers to consultant surgeons to task for ignoring what I have to say, I'd like to think that at least I might manage to improve the experience of the next non-speaking person who has to deal with them.

Anonymous said...

I think you handled it very well. As long as the lady to whom you were giving the praise heard it, I think she recieved her affirmation from you and that probably meant a lot to her. She may not hear that very often (not by the sounds of her support staff)so going out of your way to tel her she did good probably made her day.

ivanova said...

I agree with the commenter named Molly. The staff person made it very clear that she was not going to listen to you or to her client. In such a flagrantly rude way, she was sending a loud message of "I am not listening, not available, won't talk to you." I don't think you can break down such a strong barrier.

But you can talk to the client, and basically affirm her reality. ("Wow. You did a really great job. I don't know why she won't listen to me, and I feel bad about that.") But sometimes it's hard to think of what to do in that moment. Half the time I end up kicking myself because I can't think of what I wanted to say until afterwards. I think that's called "esprit d'escalier."

Michael said...

It was nice to see you and Joe on Friday. I left the afternoon workshop reenergized. Lots to think about.
The situation you write about makes me sad and angry. All of us who are care providers have lives and issues and ocassionally we make mistakes, but it behooves us to be present to our clients when we are at work. By the way you describe how the staff and client approached you, it seems to me that this woman has felt diminished by the other woman's support regularly. I agree witha previous poster who felt that you did right in giving value to the client. I would have offered the client an opportunity in a safe place to tallk about the rudeness of her support person. I also would have privately spoke to the support person and pointed out that she seemed distracted and it had impacted her client in an obvious way. Depending on her response I would find out where she works and notify her manager. A tough and disheartening situation.. especially given the topic of your lecture that day! Did she not hear anything that you shared before the break?!

Zoe said...

First I want to say I don't think you should feel bad about how you acted. I think when something like that gets sprung on someone suddenly, it's difficult to know how to react.

The most useful thing I could think of to do in that situation would be to report the incident to whoever employs the aide. And/or give the disabled woman information about how to request a different aide to work with.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I don't know what I would have done but I do know that I would have been flustered. I like the comment that recommended getting the staff's name and reporting her behaviour to her agency - if the agency has any integrity at all they would address it with the staff. I also like the suggestion of commenting on the rudeness of the staff's behaviour to the woman she was supposedly supporting. At least the woman would have affirmation that the staff's behaviour was unacceptable. I like those suggestions but I don't know if I would have the presence of mind to do them.

There is no excuse for that staff's behaviour - none!


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave
I'm not sure that I can say this in a way that won't be felt to be excusing. Nor, I suppose, am I going to answer your question: you did the best you could & will be better prepared next time.So here goes:
This blog talks a lot about the (bad) experiences that people have based upon their differences and about changing systems: agencies, reporting hierarchies, schools, etc. When talking about the individuals who are (actively) part of the problem, this blog very nicely reveals the personal to support the need for systemic change but rarely addresses whether and how those individuals can change. I guess this is a long introduction to say that, in my experience, staff behave like that because where they come from it's okay to do so. She should know better? Well, maybe. There ARE people who know better, there seem to be people who seem to be lost causes, then there are most of the rest of us who just go along. It's sometimes hard to know whether someone needs to be brought up short or brought along.
Your role is unique, but your situation is not: what's the right thing to do when the support staff attached to some of the people at my gym are bad? Or the job coaches at the local market? I *wish* I could react quickly and do just the right thing.

Maggie said...

I like Molly's answer best, because it supports the woman who did so well in the anti-bullying session.

I'm not sure what would actually get the attention of the staff person in your story.

Having, until my 40s, been the person who acted dismissively in public when I was angry, I can say that if I had been that staff, nothing you could have done in that moment would have made my behavior any better in that moment - and many things might have made it worse.

For example, I remember watching myself say something intentionally cruel in response to someone defending a person I had only hurt accidentally. In Dave's story, if I had been that staff person, I might have defended my rudeness by explaining to Dave just how worthless my person in care was, and just why she didn't deserve better treatment, on and on until at least she (and maybe others present) was in tears. If further confronted, I might have stalked off, chin high, hearing nothing.

The fact that an hour later I would have been bitterly ashamed of myself probably wouldn't change my behavior next time, either. In those years my position was that my anger was 'caused by' the actions of other people, that the world was outrageously mean to me, and that nobody had the right to challenge anything I might say because my anger was righteous and none of their business. (sigh)

It's conceivable that someone might have intervened successfully with me on one of those occasions, but they would have had to catch me alone, on a different day, and they would have had to begin by suggesting that they had seen me 'act less effectively than I could' and offer me some guidance if I wanted to change. It would have taken more than one such conversation, by a boss I both trusted and liked.

Dave could have done it, but probably not in a situation where you're in from out of town. And certainly not in public.

Bottom line? From my perspective you did the right thing. Any refinement would involve supporting the particpant, not confronting the staff at that moment.

Erin said...

I think you did quite well in this situation. I doubt I would have done so well. I've spoken rather harshly to my brother or Dads caregivers and 9 out of 10 times it isn't helpful and I end up regretting it. It's perpetuating the abuse.

It is unfotunate that alot of caregivers forget they are dealing with human beings who deserve as much respect as any other person in their lives. It's disheartning to see people who have chosen to help others fall so short of the mark.

I love the idea of continuing the conversation with the client rather than the Caregiver. It's positive while still transmitting your message to the caregiver indirectly.

Renee said...

I bet this young girl needs more training. Maybe call up her employer and offer your services. I had a worker of that age with that "it's a paycheck attitude" working with my son and I was very outspoken with the clinical supervisor that she needed more training. It is and was my opinion that with training she would either learn what she needed to learn and have a change of heart or realize that she was in the wrong field of work.

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is a dilemma. I usually am stunned into silence but occasionally, I come to my senses and say in a very, very loud voice "Excuse me? you, yeah, you with the red coat. What is your name?" Loud voices attract attention. Repeat persons name loudly. Spell it out loud. Make sure that everyone in the vicinity hears you. If you don't get attention, find out who is in charge. Report, report, report and then, follow-up.

Kasie said...

First, I agree with what Molly said.
Second, I would like to think I would have asked the participant if I could have her name and contact information, so that I could send her something in writing about what an outstanding participant she was. Then, she could share it with all the people she wanted to; blowing her own horn, if you will. She may have wanted you to convince her worker that she was valuable so her worker would repeat that to others. It doesn't sound like her worker would have bragged her up at all, in which case you may have given her a tool enabling her to shine on her own.
Additionally, although maybe not completely above board, I would have used the contact information she gave me to report her worker to the Office of Recipient Rights or whatever protection and advocacy system is available in their area. And, in the course of reporting, I would have asked that agency to relay to her support team that she was a great asset to your training.

sandi9876 said...

I like what Kasie suggested.
Although, likely I might have stumbled over my words and felt my heart in my throat, I think the best thing to do would be to focus the attention back to the person who clearly wanted to have the conversation with you. Getting her name and address, or the agency's address would mean that you could pass the praise on to a staff who WOULD CARE and WOULD PRAISE HER. Obviously somebody saw the value in her attending your workshop, and helped her to sign up.... so someone she works with is a great staff, and someone would have been happy to hear news.
And, As Kasie said, if you also mentioned the bad attitude of her staff... well... I can imagine a supervisor would welcome some unbiased observation in her performance appraisal...

Joyfulgirl said...

what came to my mind was “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not."
I feel bad for the person who is in her care. How demoralising for her.