Feb 24, 2009

The 12 Communication Roadblocks

Throughout our lives, we have learned a variety of ways to help children as well as adults when they have strong feelings, thoughts or problems. We want to be helpful, yet many of our responses actually make it more difficult for the person to express himself, make a decision, or solve a problem.

Listed here are twelve of the more frequent "helping responses" which can become "Roadblocks" to communication. When you read this list, you may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you because so many of your regular ways of talking responses are now called roadblocks.

  1. Ordering, Directing: "Stop feeling sorry for yourself..."
  2. Warning, Threatening: "You'll never make friends if..." "You'd better stop worrying so much or..."
  3. Moralizing, Preaching: "Life is not a bowl of cherries..." "You shouldn't feel that way..." "Patience is a virtue you should learn..."
  4. Advising, Giving Solutions: "What I would do is...", "Why don't you..." "Let me suggest..."
  5. Persuading with Logic, Arguing: "Here is why you are wrong..." "The facts are..." "Yes, but..."
  6. Judging, Criticizing, Blaming: "You are not thinking maturely..." "You are just lazy..." "Maybe you started the fight first..."
  7. Praising, Agreeing: "Well, I think you're doing a great job!" "You're right!--that teacher sounds awful."
  8. Name-calling, Ridiculing: "Crybaby--", "That's stupid to worry about one low test grade."
  9. Analyzing, Diagnosing: "What's wrong with you is..." "You're just tired." "What you really mean is..."
  10. Reassuring, Sympathizing: "Don't worry." "You'll feel better." "Oh, cheer up!"
  11. Questioning, Probing: "Why..." "Who...?" "What did you...?" "How...?"
  12. Diverting, Sarcasm, Withdrawal: "Let's talk about pleasant things..." "Why don't you try running the world!?" Remaining silent, turning away

Two things to know about "Roadblocks":
  1. These are roadblocks when the child/other is experiencing a problem or strong feelings (Other Owns a Problem). When the relationship is in the "No Problem Area" many of these are not roadblocks (e.g., joking, asking questions, etc.). Some, like name-calling and ridiculing are always risky and cause problems.
  2. You are not a "bad" parent because you use roadblocks. You are doing what you have been taught to do to help others. P.E.T. will provide you with more effective alternatives to begin using instead of these common roadblocks.
Future posts on the effects some roadblocks have on communication, and useful alternatives to help the flow of communication.

Feb 19, 2009

Setting the Stage: The Important Step to Take Before Method III

Before beginning Method III for the first time it is essential that you lay the ground work with your child or other person. In P.E.T. this is called "Setting the Stage" and it is something you need to do before starting with Step 1.

Just because you want to use a win-win way to solve problems, don't expect the other person to immediately be enthusiastic about trying something new. If your child, partner or other person is used to Method I or Method II as the way you solve problems together, he or she may be very suspicious when you try to introduce Method III. To her it may seem hard to believe and it may take time and energy to help her accept and embrace Method III.

"Setting the Stage" provides a way for you to introduce both the idea and steps of Method III while dealing with any feelings of mistrust or uncertainty on the part of the child/other. It's important that you not use Method I (power) to get them to agree to try Method III.

Once you have used Method III with your child/other and she is familiar with it and has trust that her needs will get met (you will both be winners), then "Setting the Stage" goes very quickly. The process becomes much less formal and usually involves only having to identify there is a problem and agreeing on a time to address it using Method III.

  • Choose best possible time/situation.
  • Tell child you would like to talk with him/her about a problem.
  • Convince child you both need to be happy with the results.
  • Explain Method III.
  • Agree to use Method III and schedule a time to begin.
Choose the best possible time/situation.
The very first time you introduce the idea of using Method III to your child or family, do it when there is no conflict and you are both in the No Problem Area. Talk about how and why you would like to solve problems differently in the future.

For best reception and acceptance of Method III, try it first on a "No Problem Area" decision such as what to do during the next family vacation or choose a very small problem which is free of strong feelings and past history.

Tell the child/other you would like to talk with him or her about a problem.
When you do finally introduce an actual problem, indicate that you would like to work it out differently than you have in the past. Let him know you want to work together to solve it and that his thoughts, feelings and needs are important to you.

Convince the child/other you both need to be happy with the results.
This is a place for Gear Shifting. "Convince" doesn't mean you try to talk him into it, in fact it means you will probably need to do a lot of Active listening.

Begin with an I-Message about why you want to solve this problem in a different way and then be ready to Gear Shift and use Active Listening to deal with any suspicion, resistance or confusion on the part of your child or other. 

Once you have Active Listened, use another I-Message to restate your genuine desire to work the problem out in a win-win way so you end up agreeing on a solution that you both are happy with.

Explain Method III.
Don't expect your child or the other person to automatically understand what you mean by Method III Problem Solving. Because of their life experiences, the words "Problem Solving" means Method I, II or Compromise to them. You will need to explain exactly what the Six Steps are and how they work.

Start by briefly reviewing the ways of solving problems they are most familiar with, Method I, and Method II (win-lose).

Example - you might explain this to your child by telling her: "One way for us to solve a problem is for me to tell you what to do - and you have to do it. You'll end up unhappy and feeling like the loser. Another way is for you to decide to do whatever you want - and I end up feeling like the loser."

"Our relationship is important to me. I want you and me to feel good about how we solve our problems together."

"I'd like to do things differently. There is a better way to work things out so there are no losers and everyone wins."

Be ready at any point to Active Listen to more suspicion or confusion.

When your child/other is ready to hear it, explain what each of the Six Steps are. Use language and examples that fit the age of your child.

Agree to use Method III and schedule a time to begin.
Once your child or other understands how Method III works, and she is willing to try it, agree on when you will begin Step 1. You may decide to start immediately or at a later time.

Note that how precisely you follow the process of "setting the Stage" and how much detail you present will depend on the age of the child and on the relationship.

Please leave any comments or questions you have!

Feb 12, 2009

Get What You Need Every Time: Method III

Last month, the Family Connection explored how compromise can be detrimental to a relationship rather than healthy. Compromising involves people in a conflict trying to keep as much of their own solution as possible, and lose as little as possible. In the end, someone’s needs are what actually end up being compromised, and this usually results in feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, etc. 

Method III is a different way of resolving conflict that fosters healthy, close relationships. Instead of putting ourselves through the frustration of not having our needs met through compromise, or feeling like we have to battle our loved ones in a "my needs vs. your needs" battle, we can clearly state our needs and then discuss and reach a solution that meets everyone's needs. In other words, we really can make sure everyone gets what they need all of the time. 

Next time you have a conflict, instead of giving in to the other person and sacrificing your needs for theirs (Method II), implementing your own solutions and putting your needs ahead of theirs (Method I), or going through the frustration of a compromise, try these six simple steps of Method III instead:

1. Define everyone’s needs
2. Brainstorm solutions
3. Evaluate the solutions
4. Decide on final solutions
5. Implement solutions
6. Evaluate solutions

Let’s take a look at how this would work using one of last month’s examples. 

"I don't want to eat my broccoli; it makes me gag!"
"You need your vegetables. Now just take 5 bites!"

Before you launch into Method III, make sure you set a time that everyone involved in the conflict can sit down and go through all six steps. Depending on the conflict and who is involved, Method III could take 5 minutes, or it could take 30. Make sure you leave adequate time open, and that it is a good time for everyone! 

Method III is about getting your needs met, not getting your solution “met” as it were. It can be a challenge separating solutions from needs. For example, when a child says "I need my own room," they have presented a solution for his/her underlying needs. What s/he actually might need may be more privacy or more space—and that need is something both parties involved can determine together with Active Listening. 

Defining needs (Step 1) is the most critical of the six steps, since steps 2-6 are all about finding solutions for the needs defined in the first step. The next Family Connection will discuss Step 1 and separating needs from solutions in more detail.

Both of these things--making sure you choose a good time, and begin Method III without predetermined solutions--are part of what P.E.T. calls “Setting the Stage.” For more information on “Setting the Stage,” check out the P.E.T. blog! 

Step 1: Define Everyone’s Needs
 Parent: So you really hate that broccoli, don’t you?
 Child:   Yeah. It really grosses me out! I gag! I can’t eat it.
 Parent: Ok, so you need to stay away from broccoli.
 Child:   Yeah!
 Parent: Well, I need to make sure you’re getting all of your veggies. 

Remember, this is a simple example; often times, there are several needs. Write everyone’s needs down if you like!

Step 2: Brainstorm Solutions
Next, put your heads together and brainstorm solutions. The purpose of this is to generate lots of alternative solutions without any discussion or evaluation; keeping evaluation out of this step encourages thinking off the top of your heads. It is important to write down every solution that is suggested, even if it seems silly or impossible. Save the evaluation for later! Evaluating during brainstorming might discourage people from voicing their ideas, and you might miss a good one!

Parent: So what can we do so that you don’t have to eat broccoli and I know you’re getting all your vitamins?
Child: Eat more vitamins!
Parent: Ok, I’ll write that idea down. And I’m also going to write down serving vegetables you like!
Child:  Or what about smoothies?

Once you’re done brainstorming ideas, go ahead and move on to the next step.

Step 3: Evaluate the Solutions
Go down the list and discuss all of the ideas with each other. A good idea is to put a checkmark next to the ideas you both agree on, cross out the ones no one agrees on, and put a question mark next to the ones on which you have a difference of opinion. You can use your I-Messages and Active Listening skills to discuss the items with a question mark, until you can both agree on a checkmark or crossing it out. You should be left with a list of solutions that you both agree on.

In this case, our parent-child pair put a checkmark next to the smoothies solution, and the choosing vegetables that the child likes solution. They both agreed to cross out the vitamins after a brief discussion, since the parent says that there’s a limit on how many vitamins the child can safely take per day. 

Step 4: Decide on Final Solution(s)
Decide together on the final solution to your conflict. This could include putting one or more of your ideas into action. Since the parent and child here put checkmarks next to 2 solutions, they take a closer look at these two. They decide that choosing a vegetable the child likes and drinking smoothies will both work. The child will be eating something s/he likes, and the parent will know that his/her child will be getting proper nutrition. Remember, the final solution(s) should be mutually agreed on!

Step 5: Implement Solution(s)
At this point, all parties involved should decide who is responsible for the different parts of the solution(s) and what each agrees to do to carry it out. It’s important to agree on when to begin and then put your solution into practice. 

In this example, the child agrees to prepare a list of vegetables he likes and get it to the parent before her next grocery shopping trip, which will be on Friday. The parent agrees to pick up these veggies and serve them with dinner, and s/he also agrees to make smoothies for the child on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Step 6: Evaluate Solution(s)
The next step is to work out a plan to check later on to be sure the solution(s) is still working and everyone’s needs continue to be met if it is an ongoing situation. If it is a one-time event, then be sure that everyone’s needs have been met and the problem has been solved. 

Parent and child decide that they will sit down to talk again in a month. They choose a date on the calendar that works for both of them. 

If the solution(s) isn’t working at that point, they may need to re-evaluate, discuss a different way of implementing their solution, or even brainstorm more ideas.

Method III can help you resolve conflicts without power struggles, hurt feelings, resentment, or anger. It makes sure everyone's needs are met, and everyone will feel satisfied. 

Give it a try!