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How to deal with difficult conversations

We help you to understand your loved one’s reactions in a difficult conversation and offer advice on how to overcome common challenges.
3 min read
In this article
Managing difficult conversations Refusing to talk about the situation Refusing to accept that he or she a deteriorating illness/condition
Insisting that they can cope on their own Reacting angrily, appearing confused or contradicting themselves

Managing difficult conversations

 

Here you’ll find a series of possible scenarios you may encounter. We suggest possible explanations for the problems, as well as solutions you may find useful.

 

Helping the person you’re supporting through difficult changes related to their health, care and living situation can be emotionally and physically tiring at the best of times, and, despite your best efforts, things won’t always go smoothly. It’s possible that your loved one might refuse to discuss the topic, deny that anything is wrong or refuse to make changes that you feel are necessary.

 

This can be very frustrating and put you in a difficult situation, particularly if there are urgent decisions that you feel need to be made. Here, we offer advice on how to deal with some common responses.

 

Refusing to talk about the situation

Possible explanations

Your friend or relative might find it hard to talk to you. Don’t take this as an insult. Some people find it easier to talk to a stranger than a close relative about personal worries or health problems. Or they might be more willing to talk to someone who has experienced similar problems. Also, remember that you have been preparing for this conversation, whereas it may come as a bolt from the blue for your loved one.

Possible solutions

  • Ask gently why they don’t want to talk and if there is anyone else that they might prefer to talk to? For example, might they feel happier talking to a GP or a social worker? Or is there another relative or friend that they are particularly close to or has experience of a similar situation?
  • Or would they prefer to have a little time to think about things, and for the two of you to discuss the subject again in a few days’ time?

Refusing to accept that he or she a deteriorating illness/condition

Possible explanations

Your loved one might be finding it difficult to accept an illness or deteriorating health, so denies that there is a problem or that they need any help.

Possible solutions

  • Empathise: try to understand how they are feeling. They might be scared or worried.
  • Give reassurance: reassure them that there are ways to make life easier, safer, more comfortable for them. But identifying and accepting the problem is the first step to getting the care and support that they need.
  • Give time: give them a breather to think about things and then try again. It might be that they just need time to come to terms with the situation.

Your friend or relative might be finding it difficult to accept an illness or deteriorating health, so denies that there is a problem or that they need any help.

Insisting that they can cope on their own

Possible explanation

Your friend or relative might not realise that they need help and support, or recognise how their health or mobility has deteriorated over time. Or they may have always been very independent and proud.

Possible solutions

  • Ask about difficulties: get them thinking about the issues by asking if there are some things that they find more difficult now than they used to before.
  • Use examples: giving examples of difficulties or changes you have noticed might help them to realise that things have changed and they do need care or support of some kind.
  • Family: are there other family members who might be able to offer help and support? Your loved one might be more likely to listen if a second person raises the same issues and concerns.
  • Get a ‘professional opinion’: could a social worker or GP help to explain the situation? For example, if your loved one is unwilling to accept that they need an increased level of care, they might take more notice of an independent health professional.
  • Arrange a needs assessment: a free and professional assessment of care needs.
  • Make sure that you discuss your plans with your loved one: any care and support should be done with them, not for them.

Reacting angrily, appearing confused or contradicting themselves

Possible explanation

Could it be that your friend or relative is suffering from dementia? Dementia can lead to behavioural changes, anger and confusion – although these are often consequences of the person’s environment or care rather than direct symptoms of the condition. They may not understand what is going on.

Possible solution

See discussing dementia care options for advice on how to deal with this situation.

 

Further reading

How to communicate effectively

We help you to get the best out of difficult discussions by voicing concerns tactfully, asking the right questions and ...

Last updated: 18 Sep 2018