Thursday, June 11, 2009

Persuasion, Games and Resources

In the last post of this series on talking with your parent, I'd like to discuss some persuasive techniques, a common conversational "game" we all play and finish with some resources for further reading.

If you truly believe that a certain course of action is best for your parent (and would better balance your responsibilities), you may need to use gentle persuasion.

  • Consider first what type of argument might best sway your parent, not necessarily what you see as the most important or the most critical issue. What factors does your parent consider when making decisions? Saving money, not being a burden, maintaining independence, making the healthiest choice, getting a bargain, being safe--on which of these does your parent place the highest value? That's the approach to take.
    For example, to persuade a parent not to drive, one family might need to prove that not having a car will save a lot of money; another family might need to stress that someone else might get hurt. Try several approaches over time to find one that will work.

  • Most elders wish to maintain their independence. So if your parent is reluctant to talk with you about aging, stress that the longer she waits to make decisions, the fewer choices she will likely have. One fall, one illness, one disability will immediately limit options. Making plans now, however preliminary, with your help and support, will allow her to continue to make her own decisions and maintain her independence for a longer period of time.

  • Do not dictate, unless his safety or the safety of others is an issue. Most people balk at orders. Think how you would feel if someone made a demand of you. Reform the demand into a request or suggestion.

The "Yes, but..." Communication Game
In his landmark book Games People Play (Random House, 1964), Eric Berne presents many communication games that we humans devise to get our way, deny reality or avoid honesty. He describes one of our favorite communication games: "Yes, but…". We share a problem that we face with a friend. The friend suggests a solution. We respond, "Yes, but…" and come back with a reason why we cannot do it. Your parent will do the same thing.
Here's how such a conversation might go:

You: You've told me the housework is hard for you. How about hiring a cleaning service?
Your parent: That's a thought. But I don't like strangers in the house. They'll rob you.
You: If you hire a reputable company with workers who are bonded, that shouldn't be a problem.
Your parent: Yes, perhaps that would be Okay, but they charge too much.
You: I might be able to help you with the cost. How about finding out how much it might be?
Your parent: Oh, that's sweet of you, but I really don't have time to call.

The game of "Yes, but..." is not about finding solutions. The purpose for your parent is:

  • To reject all the solutions presented.
  • To assure himself that since you could not offer a viable solution, he is superior in reasoning; he has won.
  • To play until the final silence when you can think of no more options. This demonstrates that you are inadequate because you could not come up with a solution good enough. He has won.

The purpose for you in the game is:

  • To feel helpful, a "good" child, as you propose solutions.
  • To accept the familiar role of "child" to his "parent"; his all-knowing, to your less than adequate knowledge.

In the end, "Yes, but..." brings no solution to the issue at hand. There is no reason to play unless one of the purposes appeals to you. The way to stop the game is not to play.

To "They charge too much", answer, "Oh, that's too bad. I didn't realize that." And change the subject.

To "I don't like strangers in the house", answer, "I can understand that," and change the subject.

Call the game. Sometime during the dialogue, say lightly, "Well, it's clear that you really don't want any help cleaning the house. Is there something else that you need?"

Change the subject. Or talk about your own house cleaning techniques. "Yes, but..." takes you in circles and provides little progress toward your goal of gathering information and finding a solution.

Promises, Promises
Beware of making hasty promises. Saying “I promise you’ll never have to give up the house” shuts the door to alternatives that may be more suitable in the future. Keep the options open. Instead say, “I know how much you love this house and I’ll try to help you as much as I can, but I can’t promise that you will be able to stay here forever.”

Respect Your Parent
•Your purpose in asking about your parent’s needs is not to dictate or decree, but to find a solution that’s best for your parent. Respect his wishes. You cannot run his life, just as you cannot run the lives of your older children. Advise, support and stand ready to help.
•How do you treat your adult friends? Try to treat your parent as you would any other adult but with a extra dose of respect.
•Let him know you respect his opinion; be tolerant of some of his indecision in stress; give him the support to make his own decisions.

When the Decision Is Made
After all the discussion and persuasion, remember that your parent is an adult and if she is mentally capable and is not endangering herself or others, she has the right to her own decisions--and to living with the consequences. By talking with her, you have done what you needed to do. Accept her decision, even if it's not the one you would have chosen, and work to find your balance within that reality.

Resources for More Reading
The following books are available through the OBC Eldercare Bookstore.
Berne, Eric. Games People Play. Random House, 1964.

Edinberg, Mark. Talking with Your Aging Parents. Boston: Shambhala, 1988.

Shulman, Vernard H. and Raeann Berman. How to Survive Your Aging Parents…so you and they can enjoy life. 2nd Ed. see Chapter 10: “How To Talk About Difficult Subjects”. Surrey Books, 2001.

Taylor, Dan. The Parent Care Conversation: Six Strategies for Dealing with the Emotional and Financial Challenges of Aging Parents. Penquin, 2006.

On the Web:
The 40/70 Rule, Home Instead Senior Care, Omaha, NE. A guide, video and several articles that include conversations starters and how to continue the dialog. Excellent ideas.

1 comment:

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    Best Wishes,