Having the Talk

Ten Tips on How to Approach a Difficult Topic

From the AARP FOUNDATION

The reality is that some conversations are just plain difficult — even with the people to whom you feel the closest. When preparing to discuss a difficult topic like senior care needs, it helps to follow the ground rules below to ensure that everyone’s feelings are respected and viewpoints are heard. To help make the conversation as productive and positive as possible:

  1. Try not to approach the conversation with preconceived ideas about what your loved ones might say or how they might react. “Dad, I just wanted to have a talk about what you want. Let’s just start with what is important to you.”
  2. Approach the conversation with an attitude of listening, not telling. “Dad, have you thought about what you want to do if you needed more help?” — as opposed to “we really need to talk about a plan if you get sick.”
  3. Make references to yourself and your own thoughts about what you want for the future. Let them know they are not alone, that everyone will have to make these decisions. “Look, I know this isn’t fun to think about or talk about, but I really want to know what’s important to you. I’m going to do the same thing for myself.”
  4. Be very straightforward with the facts. Do not hide negative information, but also be sure to acknowledge and build on family strengths. “As time goes on, it might be difficult to stay in this house because of all the stairs, but you have other options. Let’s talk about what those might be.”
  5. Phrase your concerns as questions, letting your loved ones draw conclusions and make the choices. “Mom, do you think you might want a hand with some of the housekeeping or shopping?”
  6. Give your loved ones room to get angry or upset, but address these feelings calmly. “I understand all this is really hard to talk about. It is upsetting for me, too. But it’s important for all of us to discuss.”
  7. Leave the conversation open. It’s okay to continue the conversation at another time. “Dad, it’s OK if we talk about this more later. I just wanted you to start thinking about how you would handle some of these things.”
  8. Make sure everyone is heard — especially those family members who might be afraid to tell you what they think. “Susan, I know this is really hard for you. What do you think about what we are suggesting?”
  9. End the conversation on a positive note. “This is a hard conversation for both of us, but I really appreciate you having it.”
  10. Plan something relaxing or fun after the conversation to remind everyone why you enjoy being a family. Go out to dinner, attend services together, or watch a favorite TV program.

These are just a few suggestions of things you, your loved ones, and other family members can do to unwind after a difficult conversation.

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