Tag Archives: Parenting

How Do I Say That Category

Fighting Racism Authentically

VitalSmarts Master Trainer Maria Moss talks about finding authentic ways to fight racism. For more information on learning the skills you need to speak up when it matters most, visit crucialskills.com/saythat

Crucial Conversations QA

Aligning Different Parenting Styles

Dear Joseph,

My husband is constantly angry at our fifteen-year-old son. They are always in shouting matches and it drives me crazy. When I walk away from them, my husband says I am “burying my head in the sand.” My husband is very negative and set in his ways, and he expects our son to have the same ideas. My husband also verbalizes his disappointment in our son and tells him he is only concerned with himself. Granted, there are times this is true, but he’s a typical teenage boy. He’s sometimes mouthy, but he’s a good kid, works hard even though he may complain, and is never in trouble anywhere but at home.

I want to support my husband, but I feel he is often wrong, that he goes too far, and that some of his expectations are unreasonable. When I try to talk about it, he says that I am taking our son’s side and that the only way he can keep the peace is to just shut his mouth and not say anything. He’s not very open to conversation. Help!

Signed,
End of My Rope

Dear End,

Aren’t marriages wonderful? And I mean that! Sustained, intimate relationships are usually both the greatest opportunity for personal growth and the greatest challenge of our lives. And they are the former because they are the latter.

You are exactly the gift your husband needs, and he may just be the perfect gift for you. Children need both affirmation and influence. It sounds like you’re world-class at affirmation and he has a bias for influence. Unfortunately, many relationships break down because we keep trying to make the other person be good at what we value without properly recognizing our need for what they bring to the party. Now, I’m not suggesting your husband’s approach to influence is the best. But it sounds as though what’s important to him is trying to help bring out the best in your son. And your approach to affirming him may, at times, come at the expense of helping him aspire to higher standards. But that should not take away from the fact that you see great worth and beauty in him. That’s wonderful!

So the question is how do you turn conflicting values into complementary ones? How can you and your husband create a relationship where your son gets the best you both have to offer—and where you both learn to offer it in a healthier way?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Start with safety. Help your husband know that you value what he is trying to do for your son. Express genuine appreciation for his desire to influence your son to strive. Point out specific ways you can see that your son has benefited from having him as a father. Then scrupulously avoid using the word, “but.” Don’t do it! Get it out of your brain.

After affirming your value for having a positive influence on your son, don’t go on to say, “But…you often do it about things that aren’t that important.” There are no “buts” when you’re affirming people and creating Mutual Purpose. There are only “ands.” The fact that you appreciate him wanting to challenge your son is not offset in any way by your desire to also affirm him. The two are complementary, not competing, values. So don’t make it seem like they are in conflict by using the b-word.

2. Motivate with natural consequences. If your husband is reluctant to engage in this conversation with you, think of things that are important to your husband that will help him want to engage. Then share these as you invite him into this complex discussion. Think, for example, about pain, concerns, worries, or problems he may have with you or with your son that are connected to the changes you’d like to discuss.

For example, you might say, “John, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can better work together with our son. I know you and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. I know you are also frustrated that he has drifted away from you. I also know you don’t like how I criticize you at times about how you handle things. I don’t have a lot of answers, but I want to find a way to help you have the relationship you want and to partner in a way that works for you as we solve problems with him. Could we set aside some time to discuss this?”

3. Work on you first. Realize that while you will have useful feedback for your husband, he will likely see weaknesses in you that you must be willing to hear. Be open and humble. If you get defensive in the conversation, avoid reacting in the moment. Say, “I’m sure there is merit in what you’re saying. I’m feeling defensive right now so I’m going to need time to think about it. Can I do that and then get back with you later to talk about what I will do with these suggestions?”

If you are to work together better, it is going to require both of you to change. You will need to be more willing to be part of raising tough issues with your son and holding him accountable. Your husband will need to be willing to learn to do it in a healthier way—and focus on big things while letting go of little things. If you both work on yourselves, you’ll be a potent parenting team for your son.

4. Organize for the long run. Have realistic expectations. If both you and your husband have habits that have been nurtured over a lifetime, they aren’t going to change after one conversation. I suggest you frame this conversation as a starting point, then agree on ways you can help each other stick with commitments you make about how to work together more productively. Be patient with one another as you try new approaches. Expect relapses. I suggest you read our book, Change Anything, as a couple, for ideas on how to create a plan that will help you both make steady progress in changing these habits.

I applaud your commitment to your son and wish you the best as you find ways to complement one another, grow together, and give your son the gifts both of you want so much to offer.

Warmly,

Joseph

Crucial Conversations QA

Improving Father-Daughter Relationships

Dear Crucial Skills,

My husband and our daughter fight a lot but when I try to diffuse the situation they often get angry at me, and as a result I resort to silence. Their most recent fight started with a simple request from my husband for our daughter to put the dog food in the garage and ended with them yelling at each other and my daughter going to her room yelling “I hate you, I’m moving out!”

After reading Crucial Conversations I decided to listen and evaluate their conversations. I learned they both go to violence and they both have the same goal—unfortunately, their common goal is to win the argument! Their relationship is getting worse all the time and I want to help them learn to communicate but I don’t know how.

Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught,

You are in a difficult position. You are the third party in a relationship with two people who badly mishandle their crucial conversations with each other. Your choice of reactions include: going against them and setting up a three-way gunfight; joining one and ganging up on the other; refusing to participate and walking away; or trying to change the way they interact. The last option is the best choice, but it’s also the most difficult.

Family therapists and professional facilitators spend years learning and conducting real-time mediations to help other people improve communication, but even with years of experience they do so with mixed results. Getting your family to agree to have you facilitate their crucial conversations would be tough enough; actually facilitating the conversations would be even harder.

Perhaps the best way to help your family is to have individual crucial conversations with your husband and your daughter about how they conduct themselves in their crucial conversations. Your role then is not to facilitate their conversations; rather, your role is to help them improve their conversations.

The key to holding effective crucial conversations is to create mutual purpose and mutual respect. These two conditions make it safe to dialogue about tough things.

First, have a conversation with your husband. Begin by sharing the facts with him. For example, you might say, “I noticed when you spoke with Jennifer yesterday about putting the dog food in the garage, you both got very angry and it turned into a fight.”

By sharing the facts and avoiding accusations, you minimize his defensiveness. You also introduce the subject of your conversation with your husband without placing blame.

Let’s say your husband (we’ll call him Larry) gets defensive and responds with, “It wasn’t my fault that it turned into a fight, it’s Jennifer’s lousy attitude that’s the problem.”

Make it safe for Larry by sharing your good intentions and clarifying your purpose. “Larry, I’m not blaming you or suggesting it’s your fault. I just want to figure out how to solve problems in a way that improves relationships in our family.” This skill, called “sharing your good intentions,” discloses what your motives are and identifies your purposes. It also helps your husband see that this conversation is not an attack.

Perhaps Larry responds with silence. Check to see if your purpose is mutual.

“What I want is for problems to be solved—like Jennifer putting the dog food where it belongs—in a way that is respectful. I want her to feel you respect her and I also want her to treat you with respect. Is that what you want too?”

This purpose is likely one that he shares and desires also, in which case, you’ve successfully established mutual purpose.

If you sense your husband is reluctant to try a different approach, share with him the consequences you believe will result if things don’t change.

“Larry, if things don’t improve between you and Jennifer, I’m afraid there will be serious damage to your relationship that could last well into the future. She is getting to the age where she will be making some big decisions and leaving home. I’m worried that a strained relationship might push her away and make her hesitant to confide in us. That will make it difficult for us to be of help to her at this important time.”

If these consequences help him come around then you might move to getting his commitment. If he’s still resisting, you might share a consequence that shows him how this problem affects you. “When you fight with Jennifer, it really hurts me. I love you both and it scares me to see you attacking each other. I feel like our family is breaking apart and it causes me great pain.”

When he expresses a willingness to make things better, it is time to decide who does what by when. What exactly do you want him to do? Do you want him to apologize to Jennifer? Do you want them to sit down and discuss their relationship? Maybe you want him to start with baby steps. “Larry, I want your commitment that you’ll see your relationship with Jennifer as a higher priority than putting away the dog food. That doesn’t mean you let things slide, it just means you will handle things with her in a calm, respectful way. Do I have your promise?”

For someone who is reasonably good at interpersonal relationships, this dialogue may be sufficient for Larry to do things differently. If Larry is less skilled, you may need to factually and accurately describe some of the words and phrases he uses that are disrespectful. Give specific feedback on his behaviors and suggest replacement behaviors or skills that will help him improve.

After getting his agreement to do a better job, suggest a time and date to follow up and talk over how things are going.

After successfully navigating this crucial conversation with your husband, have the same conversation with your daughter.

Conversations with family members about their behavior are tough conversations to hold, but holding them and holding them well is crucial to the well-being of you and your family.

All the best,
Ron