How to Have Difficult Conversation with Young Adults

As a parent, it is always challenging to have your children return home to live with you and having to navigate the nuances of raising young adults. 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 crucial conversations is like flying a plane. The goal of flight is to safely reach 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 flight experience. When stepping up to difficult conversations 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 child 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 behaviours 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 adult child?

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 child. 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 child. Not only will it calm any potential emotions on your end, but it will help create safety for them 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 child 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 them know that when you originally agreed 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 their perspective. Ask them about their plans and hopes as they are adjusting to a different life journey amidst the pandemic.

What You Hear

Pilots have gauges to provide valuable information that assists in not only flying the plane but also in making safe landings. When approaching young adults, gauge the situation by listening and letting their 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.

Learn the crucial skills that millions of people around the world deem essential for success at work and at home.

Latest Blog Posts

Stop Apologising

Have you found yourself in a relationship where you find yourself constantly apologising and feeling like you’re being taken advantage of? Genuinely expressing sorrow and


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Improve communication, habits, productivity and more with weekly insights and tips from our authors and experts.

Join our 10,000+ community.