Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Time to Move Out

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Confrontations

QDear Crucial Skills,

I have a son who I need to have a crucial conversation with. At twenty-one, he is living at home and working part time for a fast-food chain. He has drifted in and out of community college classes and lacks direction and ambition.

We are two completely different personalities–I am very organized, serious, and high-strung. He is very laid-back, social, and unconcerned with his future. My goal is to see him be self-supporting and able to live on his own. Although he says he wants to move out and not live with his parents, I do not see him making any efforts toward that goal. When I ask him to sit down and talk, I feel as if I’m talking to a brick wall.

Please, I need help in helping him to move forward with his life.

Thank you,

A Dear Done,

I’ll focus my advice where I think you are—having held half of a crucial conversation and needing to step up to a crucial confrontation.

You have already spoken with your son about general goals, direction, and aspirations. That half of the crucial conversation has gone fine. You’ve concluded that he has some vague ideas about what he wants. But they sound more like fantasies than plans.

You also need to hold the other half of the crucial conversation. You’ve shown a sincere interest in his goals. But you haven’t asserted your own. There are things you want. You want him to make progress. You want him to move out on his own. And—if you’re like many parents—you’d like to move on to the next phase of your life.

Sometimes parents fail in their crucial conversations with their children because they are unwilling to acknowledge that they have needs and wants. Don’t make that mistake. Be absolutely committed to hearing what your son wants—and supporting it—but absolutely clear that you are a party to this conversation. Otherwise you perpetuate the infantile view babies have that they are the only real entity and everything around them exists to serve them. This is fine when your only aspirations are eating and sleeping, but as we get older we also need to learn to accommodate the needs of others.

So, tip number one: Finish the crucial conversation. Assert what you’d like to see happen. Let your son know that as long as he is making measured progress toward what you mutually agree on, you are happy to play a supportive role (i.e., let him live at home). Make clear agreements. Agree on who will do what and by when. Also agree on specific times when you will talk again to let him report progress against your agreement.

That’s where the crucial confrontation comes in.

Tip number 2: You need to follow up on the commitments. Hold him accountable. Do it lovingly. Do it politely. Do it patiently. But do it firmly. As you are keenly aware, you’re doing this as much for him as for you. Nothing stunts maturation more than parents who are unwilling to let their children experience the natural consequences of their own actions. And endlessly subsidizing a son who is not self-reliant is a common form of this unwitting collusion.

If you really want to help your son, holding him accountable—even to the point of requiring him to live in temporary squalor—may be the most loving thing you can do. And if you use the skills of Crucial Confrontations well—you’ll even do it in a loving way.

Best wishes,

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3 thoughts on “Time to Move Out”

  1. ysette9

    This is just so well stated I feel compelled to share this article:

    “Nothing stunts maturation more than parents who are unwilling to let their children experience the natural consequences of their own actions”

  2. Mac

    An actual story as an example of following your advice.

    Our son — very intelligent, very talented, yet had a hard time “taking hold.” He returned from military service with highly valuable skills, but couldn’t hold a job. To help him out for a limited time, several family members set him up with minimal living, enough to enable him to get a job without worrying about all those initial deposits, setting up services, etc. This went on for a year.

    This didn’t work. My son hardly looked for a job, hardly did anything for himself, and even lost his car due to not keeping license plates current and carrying insurance.

    My son is a good kid otherwise. No partying, no drinking, no drugs, and so on. Everyone likes him that meets him. We like him.

    We sought advice from a highly trusted therapist. She knows us and our son very well. Her advice–the gravy train stops here and now. We followed the advice, which was the hardest thing for us to do (embarrassing to admit). We did it in a loving manner that maintained the relationship but not the assistance as you mentioned.

    Within days, my son’s friend invited my son to stay with them for a while. There were lots of jobs. That didn’t work out for the job, but my son was on his own. During this time, a lot of life’s puzzle pieces fell into place for him.

    All on his own, he found a special program that assisted military veterans in his situation. He signed up, moved himself, and jumped through lots of hoops to get accepted to the program — no small feat. Now he is back in school, highly motivated, working hard at a part time job he previously would have snubbed, and so on. All this on his own.

    We are very proud of him, and even more so now. He is doing well, and that of his own doing.

    1. Audrey

      This is exactly the hope that we, parents, are looking for. Thank you. I am inspired and encouraged by this.

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