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This is part two of a three part blog about the art of conversation.

If you haven’t read my first post, you might want to–click here.

The art of conversation starts with what you bring to the table.

The best conversationalists have a great sense of emotional intelligence, are easy, approachable, mix humor and poignancy, and can slide from subject to subject at a blink. It’s got a lot to do with a deep sense of confidence. There’s nothing sexier, more alluring, more satisfying than to be with someone who “sits deep in their own saddle.”

What the heck does that mean, you ask?

My middle daughter used to ride horses–and studied the art of dressage.

They call it horse ballet. It’s formal, in many ways, and when people compete at dressage, it’s very fancy–they dress in coat and tails–and a top hat. My daughter’s instructor used to tell my daughter to sit deep in the saddle (this is typically true for all types of horseback riding)–which meant literally to tilt her hips back and down, sink her heels as far down as possible, and plant herself in the saddle. I adopted this metaphor for my own life.

For me, it means to recenter myself, be present, own my own worth and where I am in life so I won’t get “bounced off” at every little bump in the road. 

Side note: Personal confidence has nothing to do with cockiness. Cockiness is a cheap knock-off. Confidence is elegant, generous, patient, and aware. A confident person can’t be easily threatened so they’re not coming from a fear based position. So giving a compliment is genuine, and letting someone else shine is a pleasure and doesn’t take away from their own worth. If you are privileged to be in a conversation with someone like that, then you leave feeling better about yourself–and you don’t even know why.

What’s this got to do with caregiving?

Everything.

When any of us feel our own worth, we attract goodness, and people treat us better because we exude grace and respect–for ourselves and others. My mother had this–she felt her own sense of worth that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s couldn’t take from her.

How do you become a good conversationalist?

  • Take some slow, deep breaths before you enter a room or situation
  • Envision who you will be talking to
  • See the two of you at ease–engaged in a natural conversation
  • If it’s an important conversation, plan out 2-3 points–no more
  • Really listen. Pay attention to what they repeat, to their body language, to the way their face changes at certain thoughts
  • Don’t play psychologist–no one likes to be analyzed
  • If it’s a casual conversation–a dinner, get together with friends, then relax and be yourself. Don’t worry about every little word. Let others talk, but a little over-talking-interrupting is normal when things really get rolling. Forget how you look or trying to sound deep or witty and just trust your natural instincts.
  • Don’t play the “one up” game–that’s when they tell  story about being st or hurt–and then you “one up” them by telling a story about something worse that happened to you
  • Ask open ended questions–ones that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”

But what about those difficult conversations–the one you need to have with your loved one?

Caregivers and family members have to eventually ask their loved ones some tough questions:

  • I think it’s time for us to plan for the time when you’ll no longer drive. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t still live at home or enjoy your same activities, but can we talk about some alternative transportation?
  • How do you feel about a living will? Do you know what that is? If not, I can explain it to you.
  • Have you thought about what you’ll do if you can’t continue to live in your own home? Have you made plans?
  • You remember we went to the doctor’s last week, and the doctor said you have Alzheimer’s. Have you thought about that? Do you have questions? I’d like to talk about how best to help care for you…
  • How do you feel about hospice? When the time comes, would you rather stay at home and have hospice here–or at a hospital?
  • Have you thought about your memorial service? I know it’s uncomfortable, but I’d like your thoughts–how you’d like to be remembered.

These are difficult conversations, and perhaps the most difficult part is just getting started. Think about what scares you the most. Are you afraid they’ll get mad? Shut down? Refuse to ever talk about it again? That you’ll hurt their feelings?

All that might be true, but some conversations need to take place regardless of how someone will take it.

You have to risk the fight, the pouting, the temper tantrum, the silent treatment that may come. If they get mad, let them. A few days later, ask again. Keep asking. Just act oblivious to the fact that they get upset. Contrary to popular belief, you will not die from being uncomfortable.

In the end, it’s better to deal with the few minutes, hours, days of hurt than to have to make decisions for someone else–and then feel guilt and resentment and forever wonder if you did the right thing.

This might help kick-start a difficult conversation:

I’ve actually done this–if you know you have an uncomfortable/difficult conversation coming up–do a dry run. The next time you get in your car, talk out loud and practice your conversation.

Say it all verbatim–exactly as you would if they were in the car with you. You can even add in their part–play out different scenarios–one where they argue with you, whine, cry, pitch a fit…and one where they listen to you, hesitate, but don’t completely discount what you’re trying to say.

Do this dry run several times until you get used to your own words. You need to hear yourself say it. You need the practice–and it really helps!

Get used to talking–about everything. It’s okay to have differing views. It doesn’t mean you can’t love each other–even democrats and republicans have been known to get along–under the same roof.

The art of conversation can benefit your life in so many ways.

Nothing feels better than to leave someone’s house or restaurant after having a good talk–laughter, tears, banter, stories, memories…this is what binds us to those we love.

My next blog post will focus on the hardest of all conversations–communicating with our loved ones when they have Alzheimer’s or dementia or Lewy Body, or a brain injury, or having that last conversation with those we love in their final hours.

I’m Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I hope you’ll join in the conversation.

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