No one likes to have a conversation with someone they anticipate will be difficult or unpleasant, but unfortunately in caregiving, you can't escape difficult conversations. Here are a few suggestions to help with preparing the conversation and working towards a positive outcome.
1. Know the outcome you want to achieve from the conversation. Keep that front and centre in your mind, no matter how upset you feel.
2. Recognize that the first conversation may be setting the groundwork for later conversations on the same topic. Usually difficult conversations are not resolved immediately, it is something you have to work on.
3. Don't anticipate the worst. Sometimes we stop ourselves from having conversations because we are afraid of what might happen and we build up a scenario in our head that is overwhelmingly negative. Mentally step back from your fears and concerns and walk through the worst that can happen and how you can counter it. Then think about how you can turn the discussion around.
4. Understand your own triggers that get you upset, frustrated and angry. Prepare yourself to outwardly react in a more positive manner to de-escalate the emotion in the conversation. A good resource to read is the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most from the Harvard Negotiation Project. They also have a book called Crucial Conversations that is worth reading.
5. Time your discussions. Don't have the conversations when the person is tired, hungry or already upset about something else.
6. Remember that the emotion they show probably has nothing to do with you. you are the closest to them, so they take it out on you. If you are discussing something that affects their sense of security, they may verbally attack you ...don't take it personnally, stay focused on what you want to achieve. When the conversation is over, get outside for fresh air and try and get some exercise.
7.Ask them questions as part of the discussion so they feel they have choices. Remember that as they lose their ability to do things for themselves, it can slowly eat away at their sense of independence and dignity. Instead of change happening to them, questions let them contribute and direct the change that is happening to them. Just make sure the choices align with the outcome you are trying to achieve. For example, if you are discussing moving, don't give staying where they are as an option.
8.Sometimes you aren't the right person to be having this discussion with them. Family dynamics can be such that the person feels that the outcomes you want are to make your life easier as the primary caregiver and not because it is best for them. Think about who the care recipient is more receptive to listening to when change is discussed. Sometimes it is a professional like a family doctor, sometimes it is your sibling, or their friend. Enlist their help and have them either talk to the person in advance or have the discussion with them.
9. Use a visual or physical prop to get the focus away from people and feelings. It helps to reduce the emotion in the discussion. For example, if you are discussing downsizing, start a list on a piece of paper of all of the things that the care recipient would like to have wherever they live. Eg: The person would like a place with a lot of light, the ability to go for morning walks, etc. Bring out the short list and get them to correct or revise it.
10. Plan for something positive to happen when the conversation is over to bring about a sense of normalicy. Part of having difficult conversations is the fear that you have hurt the other person or that they will not like you any more, etc. By planning to do something mundane but still positive, you are sending the message that these conversations are not the be all and end all of your relationship. You can disagree, but you still love and care for each other and work out a compromise.