Secrets of Successful Conversations

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

When we wish to talk with our aging parents or our adult children about difficult or sensitive topics, we have two things to manage: the task of the conversation…and the emotions that accompany it. Each party to the conversation has needs which the other can help them meet. Simply being heard is a huge need, but receiving support, understanding, and acceptance are also important. 

For each family, the pressing topic(s) will be different. But before you
talk about health issues, getting help around the house, downsizing, driving or any other concerns, take some time to prepare and consider your approach:
  • Think about what has contributed to effective conversations in the past, either with family or in other parts of your life.
  • See the conversation as a process, not an event. Address one issue at a time. Set a mini-goal for the conversation, rather than pressing for a major decision after a single discussion.
  • Each family has its own topics of concern but calmly discussing “what if?” scenarios may get better results than pressuring for immediate decisions.
  • Help the other person(s) prepare.  Send a letter, an email, or phone ahead if you think it’s time for a serious talk.
  • Brush up your listening skills, such as watching body language, re-stating what you have heard, and asking open-ended questions.
Whatever topic you choose to discuss, include these ABCD’s in your
A is for attitudes and assumptions: Why does Mom think staying put is best? Why do you believe she should move closer to you?
B is for boundaries: The adult child can talk about what they can and cannot do for your parents. The older parent can clarify which decisions they want to make for themselves, without well-meaning interference from their grown children.
C is for changes, now and in the future:
Talk about changes you’ve noticed, but do it without making a judgment or attaching meaning to them, e.g., “Dad, I notice the fridge isn’t as well
stocked as it used to be.” Don’t express opinions or make suggestions at this point.
Once the changes are acknowledged, talk about what those changes might mean to the person experiencing them, e.g., “How is your appetite?” or “How are you managing with the grocery shopping?”  
D is for decisions to be made or deferred:  The decision can be to take action on an issue now, or simply to schedule another time and place to keep planning. Wherever possible, ask – don’t tell – and decide on next steps collaboratively.
Using this ABCD framework can help you move forward, guided by your family and personal values. 
Sensitive conversations can help you know where things stand, what to
expect, what needs to be done. They can build relationships, allowing you to express feelings, and learn how others feel. They are the foundation of building strong relationships and solid plans for the future.
For more tips on what to do during the conversation, and what to do when conversations get stuck, consult the Sensitive Conversations section in the ElderWise e-guide, Age-Smart Planning. This e-guide also covers the “top ten” topics you and your family need to address to be proactive and prepared.
(c) ElderWise Inc., 2012
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents…and anyone wishing to do “age-smart” planning.
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