professionals for a successful outcome. “Expert Strategies from Business Professionals: Overcoming Resistance from Aging Parents in Need of Support”

How to Use Negotiation and Dispute Resolution Techniques to Resolve Conflict with Aging Parents

Caring for aging parents can be a delicate and emotional process, especially when it comes to negotiating sensitive issues like in-home care and driving privileges. But according to a group of researchers at Northwestern University, negotiation and dispute resolution techniques commonly used in the business world can help defuse these kinds of conflicts. With their expertise, these researchers have developed a training curriculum for social workers, care managers, and health care professionals who work with resistant older adults. The curriculum features negotiation and dispute resolution techniques that professionals can use to elicit what’s most important to older adults and approach care arrangements as a collaboration.

Prepare for the Negotiation

Preparation is essential for any type of negotiation, advised Jeanne Brett, professor emerita of dispute resolution and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and a member of the NegotiAge team. The first step is to think through answers to several fundamental questions:

– What issues need to be addressed?
– Who are the parties invested in these issues?
– What are the parties’ positions on each of these issues?
– Why do you believe they’re taking those positions?
– What’s going to happen if you can’t reach an agreement?

Write down answers to these questions in a planning document, and be sure to include yourself among the parties and spell out your goals for the conversation.

Look for Common Interests

The next step is to find areas where these parties’ interests intersect and work from there. Everyone wants your parents to maintain their lifestyles, stay active, and remain independent. No one wants to label them as incompetent. Negotiations are most successful when they address the interests of all the parties involved.

Ask Questions

Instead of assuming that you know why your parents are taking a specific position, ask follow-up questions like “Why?” or “Why not?”. Listen carefully and make the person you’re negotiating with feel heard and respected. Brainstorm strategies together that can help solve the problem at hand. If you find yourself going round and round without making progress, try saying something like, “We could argue about this all afternoon, but neither one of us is going to give in. Let’s set aside our arguments and come up with five ways that you can get to activities without your car.”

Don’t Adopt an Adversarial Approach

Don’t adopt an adversarial approach. Rather, emphasize that you’re on the same team. The goal isn’t for one side to win; it’s for people to work together to find a solution to the issue at hand. Redirect your focus to brainstorming strategies that can help solve the problem at hand.

Bring in a Third Party

If all else fails, you can bring in a neutral third party to act as a mediator and facilitate the conversation. This can be a trusted family friend, a geriatric care manager, or an elder law attorney.


Caring for aging parents can be a challenging and emotional experience, but by utilizing negotiation and dispute resolution techniques, you can help defuse conflicts and make it easier for older people to receive needed support. Remember to prepare for the negotiation, look for common interests, ask questions, don’t adopt an adversarial approach, and bring in a neutral third party if needed. By approaching the negotiation as a collaboration and emphasizing that you’re all on the same team, you can find solutions that benefit everyone involved.

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