How to Make Difficult Conversations Easier
Nearly everyone is apprehensive about difficult conversations. Even you, as a speech pathologist, may find yourself shying away from a topic or situation with a client that needs addressed. Unfortunately, it’s your job as an SLP to be willing to take on tough conversations to ensure that your client is empowered, and their speech therapy is successful.
There are many reasons when a difficult conversation must be had. The following are examples of when you may need to sit down for a tough talk:
- Following policies or procedures
- Goal setting
- Progress report
- Participation or lack thereof
- The next steps (continuing beyond therapy or the end to therapy)
Begin at the End of the Conversation
When you know that you must discuss a difficult topic or something that may be hard to convey to your client, it can be helpful to start with the end of the conversation in mind. The conversation, no matter the topic or situation, should have a goal. Think about what it is you want to accomplish at the end of the discussion. What outcome is the best for the client?
At the same time, realize that the conversation is not about you. It is about the client and their family/caregiver. For that reason, you must take into consideration what the client is hoping to attain from the discussion.
Coming at the conversation from the endpoint means being prepared and developing a plan that you can utilize to achieve the goal of the conversation.
Characteristics of Good Communication
You already know that good communication skills are important. When you’re taking on a tough conversation, these skills become even more important because difficult conversations can sometimes be interpreted as negative or giving/receiving bad news. Your student and their caregiver or family may come to the conversation with their emotions running high and on the defensive. Even you, as the therapist and professional may be feeling anxious about the conversation. There are several strategies to create a more positive mood and produce a successful conversation:
- Be empathetic.
- Be engaging.
- Don’t do all the talking.
- Plan enough time to have the conversation and answer questions.
- Use language the client or their family/caregiver can understand.
- Have patience.
- Keep your emotions in check.
- Be mindful of your body language.
- Bring another team member to support you and mediate or redirect the conversation if necessary.
By incorporating these guidelines, you can come to the conversation with a more thoughtful, positive approach to the discussion.
No one truly enjoys taking on difficult conversations or delivering bad news, but if you keep in mind that the conversation isn’t about you and is meant to help the client achieve success, the conversation can be a lot less anxiety-inducing for everyone.