I was recently listening to a podcast with a segment about communicating with Alzheimer’s patients. It was discussing the use of the “yes and” technique from improv comedy. Basically this is a technique in which a comic joins and builds upon a skit.

This is also what we in the mental health community refer to as “starting where the client is.” For example, if I have a client who is experiencing social anxiety, I do not tell them their fears are not real. Rather, we explore their fears and different ways to manage or counteract the anxiety.

Why does this work? Think about it. If you tell someone with Alzheimer’s that they can’t have a piece of cake because they are diabetic, when they do not remember they are diabetic, you are presenting information that is contrary to that person’s reality or experience. The same can be said if you try to tell someone who is psychotic that the voices are not real. Basically, you are telling them that they are lying and this triggers frustration, anger, and defensiveness.

Try this trick in your everyday interactions and see how those interactions change.

If your mother says, “You aren’t listening to me” say “Tell me more” rather than “Yes, I was.”

If your husband says, “You never appreciate what I do” say “Tell me more” rather than “Yes, I do.”

If your wife says, “You never clean up” say “Tell me more” rather than “Yes, I do.”

If your child says, “You just don’t understand me” say “Tell me more” rather than “You’re wrong, I do understand.”

If your boss says, “This project is not up to par” say “Tell me more” rather than “I worked all night on that project.”

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill