What Does It Take to Be Heard?


For the past few years, due to my husband’s journey with Alzheimer’s, I’ve been assisting him with his duties as Power of Attorney (POA) for his mom, who also has dementia and now lives in a nursing home. We have almost completed transferring this POA to other family members, which has been – and continues to be – a very layered process. I recently found myself quite flustered … and a bit cranky … due to some miscommunication which has taught me some important lessons about my own not-so-perfect skills.

What was the miscommunication? And what have I learned?

First, a bit of back story (I promise not to bore you with all the nitty-gritty details). One of the elements necessary to transfer a POA to someone not named on the existing legal documentation is providing a clear picture of the person’s (in this case, my husband’s mom) financial situation.

While for some people this might be an easy task, David and his mom never talked about her finances. There is no document outlining her accounts, what is where, and so on. And while David has always struggled with organizing paperwork, his current situation means he’s completely befuddled. In order to meet this legal requirement, I spent many, many hours going through my mother-in-law’s mail, making phone calls with David, and searching out additional information to identify all of her accounts.

Finally, back in May, I was able to submit the necessary information to our lawyer and, since then, all has been quiet. I knew there would be a next step but gratefully enjoyed the less hectic time.

A few weeks ago an email arrived from the lawyer letting me know that the next step involved a submission to the courts, including an affidavit affirmed by David plus the submission of several records.

Here’s where things got messy. The lawyer clearly stated in the email: I’ll need to attach the original POA and the original letter from David’s doctor. Bank account statements (that you previously provided) will also be attached.

I read this email incredibly quickly because it also included a request for a meeting date to sign the necessary documents. I can visualize how I immediately jumped from the email over to my calendar, wrote a response and stored in my brain a list of the paperwork I needed to organize.

The problem was … I didn’t store the information accurately. Somehow I completely missed the word “original” and the word “bank”. And because I’m a master at making assumptions (a not-so-perfect skill), I never went back and reviewed this initial email.

We arrived at the lawyer’s office with several hours’ worth of photocopied financial records instead of only the bank account statements and without the originals of the POA or the letter from David’s doctor. This meant an immediate return drive home and back again so we could proceed with the affidavit.

Here are the four things I’ve taken away from this experience:

  1. I need to be more thoughtful when reading email, especially those that include details of upcoming tasks;
  2. I need to stop assuming that I remember things correctly and take the time to confirm details;
  3. It is highly likely that all of us – and our clients – read email quickly. When there are very specific details in an email, it is both effective and efficient to accentuate the information in some way. For example, if the lawyer had underlined, italicized or bolded the words “original” and “bank”, it would have created certain clarity.
  4. When vital details are being communicated, consider including a phone conversation. If the lawyer and I had spoken to each other, she would have put emphasis on the word “original” and I likely would have asked for clarity about “account statements”.

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, from American leadership guru and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Frances Hesselbein:

Communication is not saying something; communication is being heard.

Being heard demands more of us than we realize.


P.S. Huge thanks to Linda Daley of Daley Progress. She’s been working away this summer to create a new website for The Phone Lady and it was unveiled this week. I’m very pleased. What do you think now that you’re here?

12 thoughts on “What Does It Take to Be Heard?”

    • Thanks, Scott. I was so embarrassed at the lawyer’s when I realized my mistakes, and as I thought about it I realized how easily this happens and that it is likely happening in my own emails to clients. I appreciate that you have shared your thoughts.

    • Thanks, Cathy. I tend to think of myself as an excellent reader and I also tend to trust my memory in a big way. This experience definitely has me paying more attention.

  1. A great article Mary Jane. I have made a copy of it and would like to share it with the people I teach when I am talking about how our own current point of view can change what our brains actually record what we see and hear. Thank you.

  2. I agree, MJ, and have done similar things, often because I’m in a rush. And while your lawyer was clear, I’ve learned over the years, depending on my audience, to be aware of key words in my message that may need repeating – or put in bold – to help the receiver of the message remember them. (An old teacher habit— say it twice). It’s not all on the reader of the message. And honestly, given what’s going on in your and D’s lives, I hope you’re cutting yourself some slack!

    • Hi Lorri, Thanks for your lovely comment. That is the big lesson for all of us to … add clarity … in written messages. I think we can assume the “fast read”. The most uncomfortable part of this incident for me was how flustered and cranky I become in the lawyer’s office. It wasn’t very attractive. 🙂

  3. Great article Mary Jane. Just this weekend we found ourselves at a wedding in Montreal an hour early. We had both been assuming 3 pm when in fact it was 4. Luckily it was a beautiful day to wander around the former Expo 67 grounds.


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