Tough Talks Book Series

Discussing a very personal issue

A reader of Tough Talks® in Tough Times: What Bosses Need to Know to Deliver Bad News, Motivate Employees & Stay Sane approached me recently and asked if she could get my communication advice on a very personal issue. Cara (not her real name) needed to have a conversation about the delicate subject of incontinence with her mother-in-law. At an upcoming family event, Cara was worried that her mother-in-law would have an accident, making it embarrassing for everyone. “We have to talk about it,” said the 50 year old professional woman, “but we don’t know how to discuss this particular subject.”

“My husband and I are concerned that she won’t visit the restroom often enough,” she explained. “How do we handle this difficult conversation? What should we say?”

Difficult conversations become overwhelming when a person doesn’t have a plan. The topic or circumstances may vary, but the feelings of embarrassment, hurt, shame, sadness, etc., are bound to occur at some level in every unpleasant discussion. Understanding the elements involved in tough talks™ and practicing what to say ahead of time can mitigate them.

I advised her of the following:

    • Make her difficult discussion a one-on-one conversation. Mom may feel ganged up on if both Cara and her husband talked about this sensitive issue.
    • Think about the positive feelings that her mother-in-law can have if all goes well. Turn negative consequences around by focusing on good outcomes.
    • Make her mother-in-law a part of the solution.

Here are the words I suggested she use:

    • “Mom, I want to make sure you have a wonderful time at this family event. What can I do to help you?”
    • “I have to use the restroom quite frequently myself these days. Is that a problem for you, too?”
    • “Would you like me to carry extra supplies of personal hygiene products in my purse?”
    • “How about if we both use the bathroom together throughout the event?”

Cara told me the event was a success.  Her mother-in-law appreciated her kind words and help. (No need for her son to be involved in this “ladies only” crucial conversation.)

“She wanted to take a small handbag, so I carried extra supplies in my purse. We visited the restroom every half hour. No accidents at all. It was a great day.”

By facing the tough talk™ with the other person in mind, thinking through the words to say, and keeping the conversation to “just the girls,” Cara made this difficult discussion a win-win for all.

For an in depth look at the 5 step CHECK® system for handling difficult topics, order Tough Talks® in Tough Times: What Bosses Need to Know to Deliver Bad News, Motivate Employees & Stay Sane.  The CHECK® system works at work and at home.

Let me know how I can help you with your difficult discussion. Send your tough talks™ questions to me at Or you can post your comments on this blog.

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