All week we have been addressing how Sandwiched Boomers can improve their conversations with loved ones. We have talked about the techniques of active listening – being empathic and focusing on what the other is saying in an effort to come away with a clearer understanding of the speaker’s position. We have also highlighted the importance of body language in communication. By paying attention to the silent messages being sent – both by you and your partner – you can enhance the chances of having meaningful talks with your aging parents and growing children.

Now we look at the message itself.

As a full-fledged member of the Sandwich Generation, Kate needed to address the issue of car keys with both her eighty-year old father and her sixteen-year old son. For one, it was about when to take away the keys, for the other, when to give them. For both, driving represented independence, control and self-esteem. When you are discussing a topic that brings up such sensitive issues, it is crucial to recognize that your words will be heard through an emotional filter. So it is even more important to choose them wisely.

Think about the goal you want to accomplish and be able to break it down into specific tasks. Present them one at a time and be clear and direct in what you say. As Kate related, “I had to have many talks with Dad before he was willing to consider that his days behind the wheel were over. Each time, I let him know how concerned I was to have him driving – I just didn’t think it was safe. We talked about how he could take advantage of other alternatives to get around. Finally we came up with a plan that worked for both of us – I would feel better knowing that he was not driving and he wouldn’t be stuck at home with no way to get around.”

Kate was able to send an “I message,” detailing her position and yet revise it to let her father know that she respected his needs. She used the same kind of I-message techniques when she talked with her son about his driving the family car alone. Although she maintained her firm position about waiting until she achieved her comfort level before she would grant him the keys, their conversations were a powerful statement about how much she valued his input and cared about him.

Tune in again tomorrow when we will consider why it is sometimes so difficult to talk with your family-in-flux.

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