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<xTITLE>Three Secrets About Difficult Conversations</xTITLE>

Three Secrets About Difficult Conversations

by Amy Sereday
October 2016 Amy Sereday

When families face geriatric illness, in order to meet the challenges ahead, they need to have difficult conversations.   These conversations can be much easier and more productive with the help of an elder and adult family mediator.  Why would you need to pay a professional to help you have a family discussion?  I mean, it’s just a conversation, right?

Let’s get back to that question in a moment. First, I am going to let you in on a few secrets about difficult conversations.

Secret #1: A difficult conversation isn’t just a conversation.

You know you need to talk about the future but all that you can think about is:  “My wife has Alzheimer’s. My wife….”

You know you need to talk about care planning but all that runs through your head is “My father has ALS.  My dad….”

Difficult conversations are gut wrenching and stressful and confusing. It is a struggle to think clearly through the fog of emotions and uncertainty. Talking about it makes it real.  The decisions made may impact the family.  Change is difficult.  It may feel easier to simply avoid these topics and hope for the best.  When it’s your loved one, it’s not just a conversation.

Secret #2: Difficult conversations are rarely about just one thing. 

We may go in thinking the topic in front of us is simple. Humans simplify. We categorize. It’s what we do. But a discussion about living arrangements may really be a discussion about safety, finances, meal preparation, transportation, and future health needs. 

It is essential to root out the hidden topics and have smaller, more manageable discussions about each. If we try to have one discussion about living arrangements, we can miss hidden problems that will crop up later, or hidden solutions we wish we’d found earlier!

Secret #3: Familiar solutions aren’t solutions.

Have you ever had a difficult conversation that seemed to go well but you quickly found yourself right back where you started? Difficult conversations are uncomfortable and we generally try to get out of them as quickly as possible. So we reach for the first reasonable solution we can find.  But easy, familiar solutions are one of the reasons we keep circling back to the same problems.  The easy solution is rarely the best solution.  We need to spend a bit more time in those difficult conversations, as unpleasant as they may be.  In the uncomfortable space, where we are really digging in and being honest, that is where the best solutions are hiding.

Difficult conversations aren't your garden variety family discussions.  They are heavy topics and most families need a little help. They need help

  • starting the conversation
  • organizing the topics
  • knowing where to take the discussion.

This is where the guidance of a family mediator can be so valuable. In my experience, families rarely regret their choice to work with a family mediator; except perhaps that they didn’t try it sooner.


Amy Sereday is the Managing Member of Compass Mediation LLC.  She holds a MS in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University, a BA in Communication from Western CT State University and a post-baccalaureate certificate in Paralegal Studies from University of Hartford. She is a certified mediator with advanced training in elder and adult family mediation.  Amy completed her mediation apprenticeship through Columbia University in partnership with Westchester & Rockland Mediation Centers of CLUSTER, Inc., earning her certification from the NY State Unified Courts as a community mediator and as a custody visitation mediator. Amy has more than 15 years of paralegal experience in the practice areas of estate planning, elder law, probate, and real estate. She is a  member of the Elder Decision-Making section of the Association for Conflict Resolution and the Paralegal Section of the Connecticut Bar Association.

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