Dear Dr. Sadaqat Ali,
Many of us in our lives have avoided breakthrough negotiations, not just over weeks and months, but sometimes over years or even decades. I am in a real fix. My father has just turned 60. He is a patient of diabetic neuropathy in his legs and feet for many years and now he is showing signs of dementia. I do not know how to approach him. He has difficulty standing and walking, and we are very concerned about him falling. But what worries us most of all is that he continues to drive. If we approach him with our concerns, he gets angry with us. I am worried I will make things worse for him by bringing his attention to his health issues, even though I know he must be aware of his memory loss because it is so obvious. Because I have found it difficult to control my feelings and deal with the emotional pain when thinking about my father, I am worried about becoming emotional and upset when we do eventually discuss it. I want him to know more than anything that I love him dearly and will always be there for him.
Dear Helpless Son,
I am inspired to see someone who has decided to speak on a very important topic. There are a couple of fundamental principles you must not violate if you decide to finally step up to a break through negotiations after a long period of silence. You are more likely to succeed if you give up the need to succeed. Unless your father is in immediate physical danger, your goal in this conversation is not to convince him that you are right, but to open the topic for discussion. In fact, I’d suggest your goal not be to come to agreement about his current condition as much as to come to agreement that something is happening and that you should agree to criteria for taking steps in the future. In other words, after opening the discussion, you might say, “Dad, given that your health is being affected, and that others are more likely to be aware of how bad it is than you are, can we talk about what signs we’ll watch for that indicate you need to change your living situation. Don’t worry about convincing him of your current view–just involve him in discussing scenarios.
The second principle that helps you is keeping your cool andlead with facts, not stories. Your father may not agree with your story (“your memory is declining and you have neuropathy in your legs”). Your success in being persuasive depends upon your ability to share specific observations you’ve made–particularly those he may recognize. Share a series of these to help him see that it is a pattern, or he’s likely to write off the one or two you can recollect.