Carolyn and I are constantly looking for ways to help people prepare and engage in Tough Conversations. Recently I learned from an AARP publication [see below] that people’s responses to the need for a tough conversation usually fall into one of three categories: resistance, reluctance, or readiness. This applies to both older adults and adult children. Older adults often complain about their adult children’s refusal to discuss their health care proxy, plans to move to a senior’s community, or what they wish to bequeath their children. A member of either group may prefer to sail down De Nile.
If you are stonewalled on the first or second try, don’t be discouraged. Look for opportunities to re-engage, however difficult. Be patient and tread carefully, understanding that it may take several tries before your conversation yields results.
Obviously being ready signals their willingness to resolve outstanding issues.
Some years ago Home Instead Senior Care surveyed 1,000 American adult children in a caretaking role to learn what barriers inhibited their engaging in a tough conversation with their parents. The most challenging hurdles to communication were:
• their being stuck in the old parent-child roles (31 per cent);
• their parents’ refusal to engage (16 per cent);
• lack of preparation on their part (10 per cent);
• distance (8 per cent); and
• fear (5 per cent).
Do you fall into one of these categories? If so, what has been your experience in attempting to overcome the barrier? How have you handled possible role-reversal situations? Has other hidden emotional baggage surfaced that inhibited dialogue?
Most importantly make the effort. Try not to let issues languish. Think about the consequences if you never tried and the issue remained forever unresolved.
Note: The AARP study is contained in Caring for Your Parents: The Complete Family Guide by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler. (New York: Sterling, 2008). The study was cited in probably the best book I have yet read on aging: A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – And Ourselves by Jane Gross. (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011). I cannot recommend her book highly enough.