When ‘I’ messages don’t work – the soft ‘no’

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is the last at number 22) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.  It is about when ‘I’ messages don’t work – the soft ‘no’

When l-Messages don’t work

There will be times when your I-Messages do not bring about any change in the behaviour you don’t like.  When this happens, it is most useful to check out how you sent the message and in what way it was worded – perhaps with a friend to help work through the different parts. 

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  1. Was it really your problem?

For all sorts of reasons there are times when we are unhappy with what other people are doing even though it doesn’t actually interfere with our needs.  If you send an I-Message and cannot come up with a concrete and tangible effect on you, an actual way that what they are doing is interfering with your needs, it is unlikely that it will achieve what you want.

  1. Were you congruent?

As well as the risk of toning down your challenge until it has no effect, there is the risk that you can overshoot so far that they cannot take you seriously.  Being congruent means expressing yourself in such a way that all the parts of your message – the words, the body posture, the tone of voice -match up with the feelings inside.  It means you are being as straight as you can be.

  1. Were you acting aggressively rather than assertively?

Try as hard as you might it may be that right now you haven’t managed to make the switch from aggressive confrontation to assertive challenging. What was your I-Message really like?  Did it contain labels and put-downs?  Was it of the “when you always behave like an inconsiderate slob, I feel ….”  type that lacks an assertive description of the behaviour?

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4. The need to behave as they are is stronger than the need help you with your problem.

At the end of the day, however careful and congruent your I-Message, it may just be that the other person feels that their needs come first right now and they don’t care about your problem.

It may be that they have a problem too and that is why they are behaving in the unacceptable way.  At this point, you have the difficult task of deciding whether you are going to put your needs to one side temporarily  while sorting their problem, or find some other way of meeting your needs without their co-operation.

If both parties have a problem that cannot be solved independently, you are a situation of conflict.  The authoritarian approach would be to force the other party to do it your way, the permissive approach would be to let them win.  The assertive approach is to treat each other with respect and sit down to talk about it and find a mutually acceptable solution.

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This is the process of negotiation.  It is simply a combination of self-disclosure – stating your needs, and reflective listening – hearing the other’s needs, repeated until you are all clear as to what the real underlying needs are.  Then and only then can you brainstorm possible ways to meet all the needs.

Saving energy with the “Soft No”

There are times when the situation does not lend itself to negotiation, and an unpopular view or decision has to be implemented.  This situation arises quite frequently within families, and also in work situations where a management decision has to be carried through.

On these occasions it is useful for us to be firm about what we want and what is to happen in a particular situation.  Being firm doesn’t always have the desired effect – we may end up losing our cool and saying and doing things we later regret.

It is much more effective if we can find a way to be firm and gentle at the same time.

Being able to use the “soft-no” comes from feeling calm, centred and happy with who you are and what you are doing.  It really feels comfortable for you to be saying no.  Your body stays soft and relaxed and your voice is clear and firm.  You continue to use the words you first used and you don’t get into discussion or argument about what you are saying.

You don’t apologise, with words or by your manner, for what you are doing. People, especially children, sense the weakness that often underlies an apology.

If you begin to tense your body or feel angry you need to be able to let go of those feelings and come back to being calm and relaxed. That is, you control your feelings before they have taken you over.  Unless you are a brilliant actor, the “soft-no” won’t work if you don’t feel peaceful and sure of yourself.  It has to be congruent.

Many effective teachers learn this skill and use it with large groups of children.  Professionals who deal with very disturbed children use it too, often managing to remain calm and peaceful for two or three hours while they gently restrain a kicking, biting, swearing child until he or she has calmed down enough to talk to.  The soft-no attitude is a skill well worth acquiring, and the way to start is to learn how to keep your body relaxed.

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Sticking to agreements

June was fed up with her teenage childrens’ habit of leaving lights on. When she had been out for an evening, she would often come home to find every light in the house still on, even though all the children were in bed. 

June had mastered the art of negotiating with her children, so they held a negotiating session and June got agreement that her children would make sure lights were off before going to bed.  But the problem repeated itself. So June called a second session to make sure everyone was truly in agreement with the solution.  They were.  Yet only a week later she came home again to find the house ablaze. 

On this occasion she went and woke all the children up – even though it was after 11 p.m – and calmly and firmly told them to get out of bed and turn off the lights. 

She met some strong resistance (each child put the blame on someone else), yet she stuck to her demand, expressing it more quietly rather than more loudly, until they were all assembled downstairs to switch off the lights.  It was the last time the lights were left blazing in the house!

For June this really worked!!  Consider giving the material in these ‘blogs’ a ‘go’.  You have nothing to lose!! Speaking personally, I get something new every time and am most grateful to the Sokolov-Pearson partnership … Thank you SO MUCH.

 

There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”. Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at www.suewashington.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Firm and Gentle

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 21) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

Through this and the next posting is the exploration of being firm and gentle.  It turns the methods many of us have used for ages on its head!

Styles of parenting

When we were little we probably encountered three types of people:-

  • Those who were authoritarian and had a lot of power and authority over us and whom we may have feared;
  • Those who were very weak, who let us walk all over them and whom we may have discounted or ignored;
  • Those who were straight with us, who treated us with respect and whom we probably liked a great deal.

Unfortunately for us, there are not so many of the third type, so we don’t get much chance when we are growing up to model ourselves on that sort of behaviour.

We live in an authoritarian society and this shows most clearly in the way we treat children today.  As any parent knows, children are not well received by the general public.  They are “noisy”, “dirty” and “a nuisance”. We only have to take a normally curious five-year-old into a restaurant or on to a train to find that out for ourselves.

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The old Victorian idea that children should be seen and not heard is still with us, however enlightened we might think we have become.  We may be less authoritarian about our children at home nowadays but, in Britain, we are still authoritarian in public.  There are so many places that children can’t go and so many things that they are not allowed to do, as any parent is very well aware.

In other European countries, such as Spain or Italy, children of all ages are to be seen with their parents in restaurants in the evening.  No one seems to mind when the very young ones run up and down and play. They are just part of the family group.  It is clearly possible to be far more accepting of children in public than normally happens in Britain.

Even at home, we may be more authoritarian than we imagine.  Or else we may claim that we are the exact reverse and consider ourselves permissive parents.  Reverse is the right word because authoritarianism and permissiveness are just different sides of the same coin.  Someone once said that a permissive parent was a failed authoritarian one and there may be some truth to this.

Let’s look at what this means a bit more closely.

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The authoritarian approach

 This person knows what is best for you and they tell you in no uncertain terms what to feel, think, believe and do.  They are the authority on everything and if you don’t do what they say you are in big trouble.  They will curtail your freedom and might even resort to verbal and physical violence to get you to do what they want.

They are powerful and strong personalities and can be frightening.  Even if they don’t physically abuse you, you will probably be afraid of them.  They look angry a lot.  They speak in a loud, powerful voice and have a tendency to loom over you.

They always seem to get their own way and win every argument – they are the boss.

Such people can, at first sight, appear to have everything going for them. They get their own needs met and they are often quite successful in the world.  They have to do a lot of fighting for what they want but they don’t seem to mind that too much. It is the people whom they boss and hurt and tread on who have the difficulties.

There are three types of responses to authoritarian behaviour:  fight, flight or submission.

The fighters are the children who appear to go along with the authoritarian adult but secretly hate them and plan to get their revenge.  Or they attempt to stand up to them and get badly bruised, mentally as well as physically.  They may grow up hardened and determined that no one will ever try to walk all over them again.

The children who opt for flight are those who decide to keep out of the way as much as possible, which usually means withdrawing into themselves. Unfortunately, if they do withdraw into themselves, they may end up unable to respond even to other people who aren’t authoritarian and so may never get their own needs met.

Yet others may submit under the onslaught and make a decision early on in their life that their needs are of no value.  They learn to give in at the first sign of pressure from someone else and have no sense of self-worth.

Behaving in an authoritarian way can severely damage the self-worth of another individual, especially when they are young and unable to employ adult skills to help themselves.  The authoritarian approach means that you get your own way but also it means that others are afraid of you and may not like you.

Behaving in an authoritarian way means that you have to be on guard all the time; you are never allowed to show human weakness.

Behaving in an authoritarian way means not being truly yourself and being cut off from warm loving relationships.

The permissive approach

Behaving permissively is the other side of the story.  With this behaviour you are not allowed to get your own needs met and you allow others to walk all over you.

You may appear open, loving and kind, you may appear to be doing all the right things, but all of it is done at the expense of yourself.  You give and give but it is never enough.  The people around you always seem to want more and you can never satisfy them.  You are taken for granted all of the time and always seem to be left to clean up the mess.  Your generosity is never recognised or returned and you can quite often end up resenting your children, and partner if you have one.

People respond to those who behave  behave permissively by walking all over them, and often end up disliking them.  Children react to this permissiveness by pushing and pushing  in an effort to find some limits. They sense that the adult is doing and saying things that they don’t really want to and they push for the adult to become congruent and real.

Many children cannot cope with the amount of power that the parent behaving permissively gives to them and they begin ordering the adult around and demanding that all their needs be met instantly without taking anyone else into account.

Behaving permissively means that others pity you or take advantage of you.  Behaving permissively means that you never get to live your own life.  Behaving permissively produces the very thing that you are striving to avoid – children who behave aggressively and who disregard the needs of others.

The authoritarian and permissive approaches are not actually so different.  They are both examples of the use of power.  In the first case, the parent yields it and, in the second, the child.  Authoritarian and permissive behaviour are just at opposite ends of the same power line.

A new way

If we want to relate to other people more usefully and respectfully, it is worth while trying to get off the line of power altogether.   We need to find ways to meet everyone’s needs and that means working in a constructive way to come up with mutually acceptable solutions.  We need always to be aware of both our own needs and rights and those of others.

This means we value ourselves and others and we are straightforward and honest in communicating our thoughts and feelings when our needs are being interfered with.  We listen when others tell us we are interfering with theirs.  We place value on our own skills, wisdom and experience and use them to help others when necessary.

Behaving assertively

Challenging unacceptable behaviour with I-Messages that satisfy the basic aims of changing unacceptable behaviour, maintaining self esteem all round and facilitating the growth of all parties is the ideal way of behaving.

If you have developed a habit of letting others get away with behaviour that interferes with your needs, it is time to start behaving assertively.

At the same time, if you tend to react aggressively or in an overbearing way even when you don’t own the problem, it is time you started behaving assertively as well.

The benefits to you and everyone around you will be a greatly increased sense of self-worth on all sides, better feelings all round, and all of you meeting more and more of your needs more of the time.  People who behave assertively are liked and respected by others.  They take responsibility for their own needs and help others to do the same.  People who behave assertively contribute to the well-being of the world just by behaving the way they do…

 

There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”. Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at: sue@suewashington.com

 

When l-Messages don’t work

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 20) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

When l-Messages don’t work

There will be times when your I-Messages do not bring about any change in the behaviour you don’t like.  When this happens, it is most useful to check out how you sent the message and in what way it was worded – perhaps with a friend to help work through the different parts.

1. Was it really your problem?

For all sorts of reasons there are times when we are unhappy with what other people are doing even though it doesn’t actually interfere with our needs.  It may also be that we are taking on a problem that wasn’t ours in the first place.  (See ‘Whose Problem?’  to clarify this issue)

“I used to get really upset when my husband was away on business, and he sat in the pub with colleagues, drinking and socialising till the small hours of the morning.  I was concerned about his lack of sleep, especially when he had to spend long hours driving on the motorway the next day.  Now I realise that it’s his life and his body, and it’s his decision whether or not he gets enough sleep.  What he does is his problem – my only problem was a need to try and control his behaviour.”

If you send an I-Message and cannot come up with a concrete and tangible effect on you, an actual way that what they are doing is interfering with your needs, it is unlikely that it will achieve what you want.

2. Were you congruent?

Being congruent means expressing yourself in such a way that all the parts of your message – the words, the body posture, the tone of voice – match up with the feelings inside, you are being as straight with them as you can be.

As well as the risk of toning down your challenge until it has no effect, there is the risk that you can overshoot so far that you will not be taken seriously.

“Having been so shy about confronting them all these years, my first l-Messages were  ridiculously tentative – ‘would you mind terribly … only it’s a bit of a nuisance’ when in fact it was a flaming bore.  No wonder no one took me seriously”.

3. Were you are acting aggressively rather than assertively?

Was it a really sneaky You-Message?  Try as hard as you might it may be that right now you haven’t managed to make the switch from aggressive confrontation to assertive challenging.

What was your I-Message really like?  Did it contain labels and put-downs?  Was it of the “when you always behave like an inconsiderate slob, I feel ….” type that lacks an assertive description of the behaviour?  Using you-messages (labelling) instead of I-messages (owning the problem, and stating its effect) tends to breed aggression and ill-will rather than co-operation.

4. Was there conflict of needs and values?

However hard we try to be congruent, and give I-messages, it may be that the needs of the other person or persons get in the way, and provide an overwhelming stimulus or motivation for them to continue behaving in the way we find unacceptable.  Then we both own the problem and will have to find some way to “problem solve” or negotiate to find an answer.

The hypnotic effect of language

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We learn how to think and what to believe about ourselves from the messages the important adults in our lives sent us as children (and may still be sending us).  If a child has always been labelled “clumsy” or “dumb” he will very likely grow up behaving that way.  We all have a real need to be accepted and if that means satisfying other peoples’ expectations we will do so.

If our parents and teachers expected us to be brilliant or helpful and labelled us that way, we may very well have grown up resenting having to be bright or helpful.

Awareness of our ‘programming’ is useful, not only to understand our own behaviour, but also as ‘preventative’ in the ‘programming’ of the children in our lives.  Our influence is likely to be most profound on our own children, but it can happen that a comment we make or choose not to make can have a profound effect on a child we may see only once, when it reinforces or works to break down programming that is already established.  Consider this next section as it applies both to children in your life, and to the child that you once were – the child within, as  part of the process of understanding your own programming.

What is said to, and about, children matters because they are likely to believe it.  If you tell a child something often enough they can become “programmed” into believing it.  This is why as adults we quite often have negative beliefs about ourselves that are very hard to change.

Beliefs like:-

  •  I am stupid.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I will never be any good.
  • I am clumsy.
  • I will never be successful.
  • No-one will ever love me.
  • I am just lazy.

Children aren’t born with these beliefs – they are programmed into believing them by the adults who bring them up.  We do this programming in two ways:-

1. Directly

In what we say to the child and how we behave towards them.  For example saying “You are so clumsy” and not trusting them to touch or carry things.

2. Indirectly

By talking about our children both when we know they can hear us and when we think they can’t hear us.  For example, saying “She is very shy and never talks to anyone” while the child is standing next to you, or “I am really fed up – I don’t think I was cut out to be a mother.  I wish I had never had John because he is such a nuisance,” said to a friend in the kitchen while John plays in the next room.

Children have amazing hearing and, like adults, they are desperate to know what is being said if they think they are the topic of conversation.

Over the years, often repeated messages from parents become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Negative messages tend to be remembered more clearly because they are usually delivered with more energy and power than positive ones. So messages we send when we have reached the end of our tether and get very angry have far more impact on the child than an occasional “I love you”, said as the child is rushing into school.

Messages are also registered unconsciously by the child and may be played out in later life without the person ever realising why.

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Reasons for doing this

  • Adults tend to treat children in the same way they were treated.
  • The belief that children can be shamed into better behaviour – and this must be done by telling them how bad they are.
  • Tired and depressed parents, whose needs aren’t getting met, lashing out at someone smaller and weaker.

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There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”. Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at: sue@suewashington.com