We Need to Talk

“We need to talk...” Oh, how those words paralyze me. The phrase typically foreshadows unpleasantness or minimally a disruption of plans. Parents raising a child with a disability hear that phrase, lots. No matter how gently those words are spoken, they convey a threat to stability and plans. In that moment, it’s important to take a deep, calming breath. Despite knowing that, sometimes I find myself holding my breath, as if suddenly submerged into icy water. Maybe you too?

Too often, whoever initiates the discussion jumps right into offering solutions. Even with well-intentioned allies, be wary whenever someone poses simple solutions to complex issues. Before discussing how to address any presenting problem, consider the context and explore factors that influenced the issue. Probing all contributing factors fosters clarity and expands your field of vision. Even if you choose the proposed quick fix solution, you’ll rest easier knowing that you did so after careful consideration.

So what is the presenting issue and why has it surfaced? The answer depends on who you ask. When someone approaches you with a ready-made solution, it’s easy to be set back on your heels. Something has triggered this approach, but it’s probably been brewing for a while. You likely only have a moment, so take a deep breath and try to clear your head.

Once the person has your attention, conversations often begin with: “He/she would be better off if…” “If only we had more resources…” “This just isn’t working...” “I don’t want to upset you, but…” None of those introductory comments hold a glimmer of hope. Such comments can leave you feeling overwhelmed, judged, unworthy, apologetic and isolated. The person often tries to soften the blow by offering a solution—from their perspective. That’s where you step in.

Connecting and redirecting is key to fostering clear thinking and exploration of viable options. Start by building a communication bridge. Acknowledge that the identified issue that deserves time and attention. Ask lots of exploratory questions about the issue, what triggered this conversation, who else is involved, and so on. I’ve always liked the idea of diving deep by asking why five times. That often leads you to the root of matter. Redirecting and framing negative comments can help neutralize emotions and open doors of possibility. And as you know, imagining better and seeing possibilities is as good as it gets.

Susan Dunnigan

September 2022