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“Don’t ask why a person is the way he is, ask for what he would change.”
— Milton Erickson, MD.
A reader asks:
“I’m wondering if there is an article in your blog on how to work with individuals who feel they have to teach others regularly, whether it is warranted or desired. I have someone who is a kindhearted person, and seems to feel the need to make “teachable” moments. This creates parent/child relationship I don’t want. Do you have any articles that talk about how to maintain the adult role when being addressed by someone using a parent/child approach?”
Great question! Let’s start with what not to do: Don’t spend time analyzing why they are the way they are or why you are the way you are. It will keep you stuck.
How Analysis Becomes Paralysis
Hanging back and analyzing my motives or those of others helps me avoid experiencing the gap between who I hope to become and who I am right now. You see, in my mind, I’m a Jedi Knight, able to cut through any problem with one brilliantly turned phrase; in reality I’m drooling and babbling like a tiny infant. Ouch! Changing an interaction means risking contact with the gap between ideal Liz and real Liz. The longer I stay in analysis mode, the longer I can avoid that risk. Once I’ve decided to take the leap, I must focus on the only person I can change: Me. This is where things start to get fun.
Minding Your Own Business
Byron Katie talks about the 3 kinds of business: Yours, mine and God’s. There is no other kind. You are responsible for your business. I am responsible for mine. Being other – or better – than I am is not my business. Being an expert on you isn’t my business. My business is to be me, fully, sloppily, brilliantly, tentatively, every moment of every day. Your business is to be you, just as you are.
When two adults get caught up in a parent-child relationship, the “parent” has crowded into the “child’s” business and the “child” has let them. The “child” must resume adult-level function by getting back into their own business and leaving the “parent” to theirs.
Here are 4 strategies for reclaiming your adult voice:
1. Interrupt to paraphrase and redirect. Rather than crankily saying “You already TOLD me this, thank you, “ try this: “Rather than you explaining this again, let me lay it out for you. You can tell me what I missed.” Then you might say: “Great – I’m clear about what we’ve promised; what eludes me is how we’re addressing scope creep with this client.” Or, “I must be missing something: How will this approach help us meet our goals?”
2. Give voice to what is so for you, and invite that from others. This includes your confusion, doubts and hesitations, as well as what you are sure of. This goes against much of what we’ve been taught: When we feel talked-down-to the temptation is to shore up our position by showing how heroically smart, tough and competent we are. This is how conversations that could spark real change become a war between two entrenched positions. Productive conversations need an adult, not a hero.
3. Disagree and be willing to be wrong. “I don’t see it that way,” is the cleanest, most respectful way I know to disagree with someone. The language implies we are looking at the same thing, yet we are not coming to the same conclusion. What could be more fascinating? From this place of curiosity, it’s easy to explore the assumptions we’ve each made that led us to such different conclusions. From that place, wrong-doing becomes irrelevant and anything is possible. Even when you are frustrated beyond words, you can still be caught up in this curiosity.
4. Say what you want and need, but aren’t getting. If you’ve been maintaining your image rather than drooling and babbling with the rest of us, this is going to feel mighty uncomfortable. It’s nothing more than being in your business while letting others stay in theirs. Using “I” statements and keep your language blame and judgment-free will help you stay in your own business.
I’m especially curious about what you have to add to this. If you’d like, you can let me know in the comments.