Communication issues after TBI can be a problem. There’s the trouble you may have expressing yourself, the trouble you may have understanding others, the trouble finding words, or just communicating in general. Communication is a two-way street, and I’ve found that in my own case, that street can sometimes be “under construction” with plenty of potholes and speed bumps and detours. The trick, in my experience, is to not give up, keep asking for clarification, and not quit until that road is traveled to everyone’s satisfaction — especially mine.
Communication problems can cause persons with TBI to have difficulty understanding and expressing information in some of the following ways:
- Difficulty thinking of the right word.
- Trouble starting or following conversations or understanding what others say.
- Rambling or getting off topic easily.
- Difficulty with more complex language skills, such as expressing thoughts in an organized manner.
- Trouble communicating thoughts and feelings using facial expressions, tone of voice and body language (non-verbal communication).
- Having problems reading others’ emotions and not responding appropriately to another person’s feelings or to the social situation.
- Misunderstanding jokes or sarcasm.
These problems can be caused by aphasia, having trouble understanding and producing spoken and/or written language, or problems with attention and distraction. They can be directly caused by problems with specific speech/language “wiring”, or they can be related to distractability or short-term working memory issues. In my case, my pitiful short-term/working memory is a big culprit — I tend to forget what people said just a minute ago, so that can make it hard to communicate. Also, when I am tired, it makes everything harder, so if I’m involved in a long conversation about something important, I can run out of steam and have a harder and harder time as the conversation progresses.
Communication Issues after Brain Injury can include:
4. Trouble being understood – No matter how hard you try, others can’t quite seem to “get” what you’re saying. This happens to me all the time, and it appears to have its roots in a number of sources:
- I have trouble organizing my thoughts.
- I get distracted by unrelated details or things that are happening around me and I tend to forget what point I was trying to make.
- I have trouble figuring out what information is most important to communicate to others. It all seems important to me, but not all of it is.
- I am nervous about communicating with others, because I have a crappy track record of it.
- I get distracted while talking to the other person, so I don’t pick up all the clues they are sending about whether or not they understand me.
- I have spent an awful lot of time NOT communicating with others, so I’m more out of practice than many.
- Other people don’t always pay attention to what I’m saying. They get lost in their own thoughts and interpretations and they “project” onto me their own biases and opinions, which skew what I’m actually trying to say.
- Other people don’t always take me that seriously, because I don’t parade around with a lot of gravitas that tells the world “I’m really important and you need to listen to me.” So, they seem to interpret this as insignificance on my part.
- I get tired, and when that happens, everything goes haywire.
- What to do about trouble being understood?
- Take some time to organize your thoughts before you start talking. If you can do this (and sometimes you can’t, because things are happening “on the fly”), take some time to figure out the exact point you want to make — and then stick to that.
- Keep it short and sweet. We can often say more than enough in a sentence or two, rather than the paragraphs our minds come up with. Getting nervous can make you say the same thing in ten different ways, and people can stop listening to you after the thrid or fourth version. Less is often more, in communication.
- Keep trying and don’t give up, until you are sure that the other person fully understands what you’re saying. You don’t want to overwhelm the other person, but you do want to be sure that they understand you. Just keep at it, and ask them to summarize what they think you just said. If they’ve got it wrong — and it’s possible they have — keep reiterating your point until you are confident that they understand.
- Try to communicate in a number of different ways. Use illustrations or stories — just don’t get too far afield, you don’t want to lose them by wandering. Use analogies, if you can think of them, and use different words to “flesh out” your point.
- Pay close attention to what they other person is saying and/or doing in response to your words. If they are fidgeting and obviously nervous, there’s a good chance they are not getting everything you’re saying, because they are experiencing a stress response that’s limiting their cognitive range. If they are stressed or nervous or anxious, try to mirror their body language — that can make people feel more comfortable with you. I’ve done that for years, and while it feels bogus and contrived, it actually seems to work. People like to be mirrored, so try moving your body in the same ways that they do — if they have their arms crossed, cross yours. If they are running their hands through their hair, do that too. If they are rubbing their chin, try that. See how that works.
- Likewise, pay attention to how you’re feeling — if you’re stressed, your own cognitive range is going to be narrowed, and it’s going to make everything harder. Do some slow breathing and consciously relax. Think about something nice and relaxing, and “let go” of the tension. It’s going to be okay. You can do this. Even if you’re struggling, remember — other people struggle all the time, and they still manage to make it through the day. Plus, this is a good learning experience for you. You can take another look at what happened later, when you have some perspective, and figure out what worked and what didn’t.
- Don’t assume that others don’t understand you. Sometimes they actually do, you are just not realizing it, because you’re not getting the clues. Be gentle with yourself and don’t assume the worst. This just makes things harder.
Feeling like you can’t communicate can be stressful, even terrifying. People are social creatures, and even if you’re not very social, yourself, the rest of the world is, so unless you’re independently wealthy with servants to do the job for you, you’re going to have to talk to someone, at some point on down the line. Especially if you’re dealing with public agencies, doctors, lawyers, healthcare providers, teachers… anyone who is in a profession to assist or interact with you. Being able to communicate your ideas and thoughts and needs and requirements is an important skill, so most of all, don’t give up — just keep trying until you are sure you’ve been understood.
5. Trouble understanding
[ coming soon… ]
6. Trouble finding words
[ coming soon… ]
7. Trouble communicating in general
[ coming soon… ]