Do’s and don’ts of having difficult conversations

Press Staff Writer

        What makes a conversation difficult? Is it because the topic is high stakes, such as death, finances or parenting? Is it the person you’re having the conversation with, such as a parent, child or co-worker? Or is it because sometimes there is no “good outcome?” We know we can’t “make it better” or there are no “real answers?”
        In reality, it is a little bit of it all, but what really makes certain conversations difficult is that they are emotional, yet we try to respond cognitively. We cannot logic our way out of our emotions. Caregiving raises many emotions. Here are some basic tips and tricks when having a difficult conversation.
        • Don’t: Offer solutions or give advice. This just makes the other person feel as if you think you’re smarter than them. Not only that, but it also discounts the emotion behind the problem.
        • Do: Name the emotion that you’re hearing. For example, “It sounds like you’re really worried” or “I think it is ok to be angry about this.”
        • Don’t: Assume you know how someone else will handle a problem because it is how you would handle it.
        • Do: Offer support in very specific ways such as proposing the kind of help you are able to. For example, “I’m going to the store, what can I pick up for you?”
        One of the best phrases to use is simply “tell me more.” You could say “tell me more about what’s making you anxious.” The bottom line is, acknowledge the emotion behind the problem. Try to understand without bias and offer specific ways to support the person who is struggling.
        Where to turn for help
        Caregivers often find themselves overwhelmed with responsibilities – juggling their own needs and those of the care receiver. This feeling is common and shared among caregivers. While they need help, they are not sure where to turn or if they even have time to ask.
        Hospice of Northwest Ohio nurse educator Sara Chambers BSN, RN, CHPN can help by providing tips and guidance for caregivers. Contact her at 419-931-5423 or


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