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  • It’s that dreaded time of the year when well-meaning elderly members of your family probe you with deeply personal, uncomfortable questions

    Please don’t take it personally. They come from a different value system, from a different time and place when life was different, which have in turn shaped the person and his or her belief system.

    Here’s how to discover and uncover those beliefs with a re-statement technique that I learnt as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. The other person’s words are their personal representation of their perception of reality. Important phrases encapsulate beliefs, prior conditioning, emotional responses and may be an anchor for other associated thoughts, beliefs and emotion. Repeating them to the client (in a polite way, of course), not only enhances rapport between you and the other person, it allows you to connect with the other person’s inner world in a way that is meaningful to the other person.

    1. Always use their words

    Relative A: Why you so old not married yet?

    (English translation: you are of the age in which society expects you to have gotten married. And yet, you are not. What is the reason for this?)

    You: Why is getting married important?

    2. Use ‘Why questions

    Relative A: You are so old. You need someone to take care of you. Your parents will not be around forever. We want to know that you are taken care of when we are gone. We want you to have a life companion.

    You: Why is it important to have a life companion?

    Relative A: Because otherwise you will die alone. Your friends- they will leave you once they have their own families. And then who can you turn to? Family. Family will not leave you.

    You: Why is family so important?

    Relative A: We all need someone to turn to in the event that we are ill, or in pain or in trouble. Blood is thicker than water. Family will come through no matter what.

    3. Ask about their beliefs

    You: Why do you think family will come through no matter what?

    Relative A: If you look at our family, we are very close-knit. You look at me and my brothers, if anything happens to me, I will come through for them. If anything happens to me, they with come through and fight for me.

    You: How is that important to you?

    Relative A: I know that they’ve got my back and no matter what I do, I know that I have someone to watch out for me.

    You: Why is that important to you?

    Relative A: The knowledge that I have my family’s backing gives me the confidence to go bravely through life and do what I need to do.

    You: Why is your family’s affirmation of your actions so important to you?


    Avoid using ‘but’. Turn the tables. Probe them and their beliefs. Your elderly relatives are windows into a time long past which close with their passing. Let them talk.

    Grace Ng Ee Wern is a former lawyer who teaches integrated communication skills and strategies with her studio Vocalogy.