When I was younger and showing the first signs of a lifelong and insatiable appetite for finding out about people, my oldest brother’s usual reply to one of my interested and it must be said, entirely harmless questions, would be (referencing the Monty Python classic sketch) “Well, I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!”
My heart would sink as I knew his response meant giving himself carte blanche to answer everything as facetiously as possible. Amusing for him of course, if rather less helpful for me, often so earnest and terribly serious.
The Python Cardinals, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, had some interesting weaponry: “fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope – and nice red uniforms".
For those who never saw the sketch, it went along these lines. After bursting in somewhere, they would immediately get bogged down with endless recitations of their weapons, which became progressively more meaningless as they continually re-entered rooms and re-recited their surprise tactics, failing, of course, to achieve anything at all.
Working on a life story project at a care home recently, I was reminded of both catchphrase and sketch, as we explored the lives of some of the nonogenarian residents living with various stages of dementia.
Using REAL Communication workshops, carers developed their enquiry techniques – which involve particular kinds of questioning.
Empathic enquiry is a basic tool for breaking open people’s past as well as their present, and allows options for deeper exploration of a person’s life story. And while revealing the profound uncertainties often to be found behind carers’ confident facades, the techniques also allow them to re-consider and develop their skills in relating and listening.
The workshops lead to more meaningful relationships with residents.
The results can also change people’s attitudes to their work for good and as importantly, by fostering better practice, affect the whole home’s culture for the better, enabling the environment to be more open and connected.
This helps staff to relate better as a community and helps them create more rewarding strategies for improvement and change.