Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

How to Start a Crucial Conversation with Your Adult Children

Dear Crucial Skills,

My 27-year-old son moved in with me and my husband before the pandemic and planned to buy a house last spring. He has since enrolled in grad school and it’s now a seller’s market, so he is still here. The problem is that we have a four-bedroom house, and we want it all to ourselves. My son is now needing more space and using the two empty rooms for photo shoots and storage. I had planned to use those rooms as a meditation/prayer room and entertainment room. He is such an amazing son, and I am told that I judge strongly and don’t say things the right way. How should I approach this?

Signed,
Struggling to Start

Dear Struggling to Start,

As a parent of four sons, three of whom are in their twenties, I can relate to having your children return home to live with you and the challenges that brings. More importantly, I can relate to navigating the nuances of raising adult children. What worked when they were little, doesn’t seem to work any longer. Parenting at this stage of life becomes more about influence. Knowing how to leverage the levers of influence can be your strongest ally.

Imagine that holding conversations is like flying a plane. The goal of flight is to safely get where you are going. There’s a lot that goes into that process, but passengers rightfully place emphasis on the landing. A poor landing can ruin the best of experiences. When stepping up to difficult converations we worry over how the message will “land.” How will they receive it? What will the impact be on our relationship? And so on.

You may have heard that a good landing starts with a good approach. That’s not only a good buzz phrase for aviation safety, but also for Crucial Conversations. Every runway (situation) is unique and uncontrollable conditions can impact a safe and smooth landing. It’s vital that pilots have a solid procedural sequence as they enter the airport traffic. The same goes for these types of conversations. When building a framework for your conversation sequence, consider the following.

WHAT YOU WANT

Safe landings begin with managing the aircraft’s speed and altitude. It’s important that as you approach the conversation with your son to slow down and manage your altitude. I’ve heard it said, “Attitude determines altitude.” When confronted with difficult situations, our motives (attitude) can quickly deteriorate and then our behaviors morph to match. Be clear with yourself and your son about what you really want. Begin by asking yourself, “What do I really want…”

  • For myself?
  • For my son?
  • For our relationship?

Notice the distinction between “for” and “from.” Often when we answer the question “What do I really want?” we answer with, “I want them to change.” In this case the answer may be that you want him to move out or that you want your rooms back. Those may be true, but they can be unhelpful if you are looking for a safe landing. Look beyond the short and one-sided motives. Focus more on long-term results and the relationship with your son. Managing your altitude by managing your motives can help secure a safe landing even amidst the toughest of elements.

It won’t be enough for you to know your intentions. Once your intent is right, begin the conversation by sharing your intent with your son. Not only will it calm any potential emotions on your end, but it will help create safety for your son to join you in the conversation.

WHAT YOU SAY

The success of your conversation landing will largely depend on how you begin the conversation. Knowing your intentions and sharing them with your son will certainly help. But you need to make sure you share your views in a way that invites dialogue.

Begin by describing the gap between what you were expecting and what is actually happening. Let your son know that when you orignally agreed for him to move back in you thought it would be temporary. Share what you have planned for the spare bedrooms. Then invite him into the dialogue by asking him to share his perspective. Ask him about his plans and hopes as he’s adjusting to a different life journey amidst the pandemic.

WHAT YOU HEAR

Pilots have gauges to provide valuable information that assist in not only flying the plane, but also in making safe landings. When approaching your son, gauge the situation by listening to him and letting his answers guide your landing.

Our tendency when listening is not to really listen at all. We often listen with the intent to respond. While others are speaking, we are crafting our next clever comment. Challenge yourself to carry on the conversation without input, anecdotes, correction, criticism, or counsel. Just keep asking clarifying questions. Just learn. One question may open the floodgates, but it may take several questions. As he shares, continue the journey by responding to his answers with questions that begin with: How will that…? What will that…? Or why will that…?

We achieve a conversational “safe landing” when all parties are engaged in dialogue. Dialogue is the key to finding solutions and getting results. And, with the right approach, you can strengthen your relationship in the process. Happy landing.

Scott

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2 thoughts on “How to Start a Crucial Conversation with Your Adult Children”

  1. Lori Ann Aemisegger

    Awesome post – love the analogy to a plane!!!!

  2. Rachel

    Plane analogy, especially the Attitude determines Altitude phrase, was very helpful.
    Also- what do we want “for” ourselves, our child, our relationship. Not “from”

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