Guidelines for Important Family Discussions

  • Plan in Advance:
    • Discuss possible ground rules such as: No cellphones, keeping civil (no name-calling, swearing, shouting, etc.), and no interrupting. However don't make these rules absolute.  If a family member has to be on call for a job or a child, they will have to have their phones on.  If the family's usual way of communicating involves shouting and name-calling, maybe it will be hard to avoid.  If the shouting and name-calling usually results in someone walking out or getting too angry to listen any more, avoiding name-calling and shouting will be essential.  The old talking stick might work.  Designate an object that only the person holding can speak.
    • Discuss using an agenda to try to keep the discussion on track and to keep ancient history from interfering with the discussion of the current situation.
    • Try to get agreement that the goal of the discussion is to find a way of going forward that is acceptable to all while meeting the immediate needs. The goal is to work toward understanding and acceptance.
  • Think about how you will approach the conversation as a speaker.
    • Do not use the word "you" and do not use absolutes as in "You never listen" "You" sentences aimed at another person are usually criticisms and put the person on the defensive. Absolutes are generally an exaggeration and also put the other participant on the defensive.
    • Be willing to talk about your own needs and wishes. Why does your proposed solution work for you? If the other participants do not seem to be willing to hear you, instead of "You never listen" perhaps you could say something like: "I do not seem to be communicating well. Let me try to rephrase why it is important to me to . . . " Don't give up and don't clam up.
  • Think about how you will approach the conversation as a listener.
    • Be willing to listen to try to understand why the other person feels the way that they do. Why does their proposed solution work for them? Try putting yourself in their shoes. Can you picture how you would feel if the situations were reversed? But don't make assumptions. For instance, don't assume that they are broke and just out for money.
    • When you have identified their needs, can you think of other ways of meeting their needs that are acceptable to you.
    • Try not to interrupt unless you feel that you don't understand and clarification is important. Then say something like, "I am sorry to interrupt and I want to hear you out, but I did not understand what you just said and feel I need to understand."

Links for Sources on Family Communication

We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations by Judy Ringer

Collaborative Problem Solving: Steps in the Process
by Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren

The Art of Compassionate Communications for Elder-Caregivers
by Jull Sarah Moscowitz 

Resources for the Elderly

Legal Handbook for Older Delawareans

Guide to Services to Aging and Adults with Disabilities

Delaware Division of Services to Aging and Adults with Disabilities