I was recently interviewed for the Parenting Well podcast.
I was recently interviewed for the Parenting Well podcast.
With election season in full swing, I’ve been getting more and more requests for advice about how to politely and respectfully divert charged or challenging conversations with friends or family.
So, I’ve put together this little SOS template to help you preserve relationships when you know there’s no hope of a productive, transformative dialogue, and you can’t or don’t want to just walk away.
Sounds like: (acknowledge their emotional experience)
…you are passionate about this.
…it’s been overwhelming and concerning.
…you are really hopeful that things will improve.
…you’ve been super motivated to learn all you can.
Offer well wishes: (keep it sincere and neutral)
I hope it resolves soon.
Here’s hoping things settle down quickly.
I’m sorry to hear that it’s been so challenging/upsetting.
Hopefully the worst is behind us.
Subject change: (to something light, fun or positive)
Hey, that reminds me, have you heard about that new movie …
Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask if you have a good recipe for…
On another note, I’m wondering what you think about this year’s team.
Random question … where’s the best place to get tacos?
It’s helpful to come up with some non-controversial, engaging topics in advance so you don’t have to generate them under duress. For example: sports, recipes, books, award nominees, restaurants, weather, a fond mutual memory, or an upcoming event.
Here’s how it might sound all put together:
Wow, sounds like you’ve been passionate about doing a lot of research about the issues. Hopefully you can get back to some light reading again in a few weeks! Speaking of reading, I could use a recommendation for a good mystery novel. What do you suggest?
Before we decide what to say to someone else, we’ve already had a conversation with ourselves. If we are emotionally triggered, that conversation could occur so quickly that it appears non-existent, but it still happened. It’s what we say to ourselves that determines our next steps.
If you want to change your responses to others, start by noticing and changing the conversation with yourself. If you are critical of yourself, cut yourself some slack. If you speak harshly, use a gentler tone. If you are judgmental, try looking for ways to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
Listening in on your inner conversation will give you lots of clues about why you treat others the way you do. And when you change how you speak to yourself, a transformation in how you address others often follows naturally and effortlessly.
Many thanks to graphic recorder Paula Kehoe for creating this infographic from my recent presentation to parents at a local high school about using Motivational Interviewing with teens. Isn’t it cool!?
I think it’s unfortunate that popular culture in the US places the blame squarely on the teenager when power struggles erupt.
It’s not always about the teenage brain!
All too often, it’s actually the adult (parent, teacher, coach) who has triggered a power struggle by trying to claim more than their fair share of the power in the relationship.
It’s convenient and socially sanctioned to shrug off the resulting resistance as typical teenage rebellion, and thus we miss an opportunity to examine and re-calibrate the adult’s contribution to the dynamic.
Try taking a long hard look at how you are speaking to your teen. If you are telling him what to do, you are inviting a power struggle.
If instead you have asked permission to share your concerns, opinions and suggestions with him, and then invited him to share his thoughts about what you’ve said, you are much more likely to experience a thoughtful, reasonable conversation.
When in doubt, speak to your teens the same way you would speak to co-workers who are having a bad day. Give them time and space to pull themselves together, make requests rather than demands, don’t raise your voice, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
If you really want to do a deep dive into this dynamic, ask yourself how you would respond if you were on the receiving end of what you just said to your teen (including both the tone and the content). Adult brains and teen brains are much more alike than they are different!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/91492606@N07/8347659722″>Girl boxer in position</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Many parents find themselves repeating the rules and implementing consequences when their child misbehaves, like this: “You know you are not allowed to talk to me like that! Go to your room until you can speak appropriately.”
Many parents also tell me that deep down they don’t feel satisfied with this approach, but they don’t know an alternative. I agree that there’s a better way, and here’s one option:
“Honey, I know you are aware that I don’t like to be spoken to that way. It’s not like you to be disrespectful. What’s going on?”
This strategy for addressing transgression is more likely to call forth the best in your child for several reasons: first, it gives him credit for doing well most of the time and makes it clear that you see this as a temporary glitch, and second, it communicates concern and connection and positions you as a resource rather than an adversary.
Whatever is beneath your child’s misbehavior can be most effectively addressed with your assistance — your empathetic listening and willingness to stay connected and help him through whatever is prohibiting him from being his best are more likely to lead to improved behavior than reminders and isolation.
The ringmaster at the circus usually opens the show with a time-honored phrase: “Your attention, please!” Why is this? Because he knows that if he’s able to direct your attention, he is more likely to be able to control your experience.
In my opinion, the single most important skill to develop in life is becoming the master of your own attention. (And by the way, I still have a lot of work to do in this area!)
At any given time, there will be many events, people, and circumstances clamoring for your acknowledgment.
Notice them all. But choose wisely which of them will receive your sustained attention, because what you focus on expands for you. Make sure you only devote your deep attention toward experiences you want more of.
If you feel stuck in a circumstance that you don’t want more of, you have some work to do. Shift and sort until you find something within it that you do appreciate: a kind doorman in the building with the nasty neighbors, a coworker who brings homemade cookies to the office that teems with petty gossip, or as Mr. Rogers said, the helpers who run toward danger and crisis to rescue and take care of those who were harmed.
Right foot hurts? Focus on your left. Angry about the driver who cut you off? Focus on the hundreds of other drivers you’ve encountered in traffic today who didn’t.
Learn to intentionally direct the power of your attention, and you will possess the key to change your entire experience of the world.
Hurt feelings happen. What distinguishes healthy relationships from dysfunctional ones is the way we respond to each other when our feelings are hurt.
If we confront and blame the other party under the assumption that they intended to cause us pain, they often become defensive because they feel deeply misunderstood. And it’s quite rare for two upset and defensive people to have a productive dialogue.
Instead we might broach the subject in this way: I believe that you did not intend to hurt or offend me, and I wanted to share my reaction when I heard you say that I am not a good team player. I felt upset and disappointed, because it’s important to me to make a valuable contribution to our process. I wondered if we could talk about what you are seeing and experiencing that led you to say that.
Here’s the thing — in the rare case where the person actually DID intend to disparage you, this response takes the wind right out of their sails and reveals you as … a team player! Taking the high road shows your true character, and allows the other party to gracefully step out of their petty moment while saving face. And that’s a win-win outcome.
Giving the benefit of the doubt opens doors. Assuming malicious intent closes them.
ps: If you are consistently assuming that people intend to hurt or harm you, and find it very difficult to give the benefit of the doubt, you might find that counseling can help you change that perception so you can inhabit a kinder world.
Communication is indeed a tool, but it is not a key, sledgehammer, leash, crowbar, or magic wand.
In other words, it is not a way to control people’s behavior.
So what CAN communication do? No more and no less than act as a flashing light to draw attention to an issue.
If we are thoughtful and respectful about our communication, it’s more likely that the other party will be open to receiving the signals we send.
The recipient of our communication is the only one who determines how to (or whether to) respond to our message.
So do your best to be kind and clear in your communication, and please realize that no matter how nicely you ask, the other person may still decide not to grant your request!
This means you must be prepared to back up your communication with action. If you ask your child very nicely to stop drawing on the walls and she doesn’t, you’ll have to either take the crayons away or produce some paper for her to draw on.
If you ask your spouse warmly and respectfully to have only one glass of wine so he can drive you home from the party but he drinks four, you’ll need to figure out an alternate mode of safe transportation.
If you ask your employee kindly but firmly to get the report to you by Thursday, and still don’t have it in hand at the end of the day on Friday, you’ll need to start making alternate plans for future reports as well as for your employee.
Even the most skillful communication does not have the power to control others. We each decide for ourselves which actions to take.