Tag Archives: raising children

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!

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.



Crucial Conversations QA

Mending Family Ties

Al Switzler is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Al Switzler is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


During the month of July, we will be running “best of” content from the authors. The following article first appeared on August 15, 2007.

Crucial ConversationsQ Dear Crucial Skills,
My son asked my brother for a big, non-monetary favor, and my brother turned him down. Now my son is very angry and cuts himself out of the family activities whenever my brother is involved. He refuses to go to my brother’s house for family events or be friendly when my brother is included.

He is holding a deep grudge and the anger is hard on everyone. I’ve tried to talk to him about this—how the grudge is hurting him more than my brother and how the anger is eating at him. I’ve also tried to explain what this tension does to the rest of the family and the sadness it causes. So far he has blocked me out and won’t discuss it. I know the problem is my son’s, but it’s hurtful to me as well. My brother has acted like an adult and is open to my son, but he has not apologized—and I’m not sure he has anything to apologize for. What next?

The Family Peacekeeper

A Dear Peacekeeper,
You described a tough situation that I’m sure many people identify with. This leads me to an observation before I offer some suggestions.

I’m interested that you signed off as a “peacekeeper.” Judging by your description of the situation, I believe you are. To keep the family strong, you have encouraged people to surface the issues and resolve them. Good for you. Not everyone who calls himself or herself a peacekeeper is one. Often a more accurate description is “avoidance coordinator” or “problem hider.” These people use phrases like, “Oh, don’t bring that up, it’ll just cause more problems,” or “Let it rest; time will cure it.”

Your efforts so far are right on track to me. And your frustration is one I can identify with—because nothing matters more to me than family. Now for a suggestion:

You have done well in talking to your son about the consequences to him, the family, your brother, and you. One question you might consider is how your son perceived the conversations you’ve had with him. How did your motive come across? In crucial conversations we learn to Start with Heart. Ask yourself, “What am I acting like I want?” Sometimes our motive comes across as selfish and short term. Did your son see you as nagging? Or as taking your brother’s side?

Motive precedes message. When your motive is genuine and seen as mutual and long term, the other person is very likely to hear you. To find a more effective motive, ask yourself “What do I really want for me, for my son, and for our relationship?” The first two parts help the motive become mutual; the relationship part helps the motive become long term. If the answer helps you ask more questions about your son’s motives, choices, and desires, then perhaps the conversation will be seen as a mutual dialogue and not another “lesson.” By starting with heart, you are more likely to end up with the relationship and the results you desire.

You might also ask your brother to talk to your son about his desires. The simplest form of this is to combine an observation and a question. For example:

“I’ve noticed that you don’t come to our home and you no longer talk to me. I want you to know that I want to have a wonderful relationship with you and would like very much if we could talk through this so we can resolve it.”

You are not asking your brother to apologize, just to make the request for dialogue and share his intentions to have a good relationship. This minimal step can help clarify that your brother has good feelings toward your son and that his decision not to help your son out was not personally motivated.

We won’t necessarily resolve all the tough situations we face. But if we keep trying, using our best skills gives us our best chance for improving results and relationships.

Best wishes,

Kerrying On

Kerrying On: Wild Mushrooms

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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I’m not sure how old I was when my mom taught me how to find wild mushrooms. I know she held my hand as we walked into the woods that day. I can still feel the warm touch of her delicate fingers. That would put me at around seven years of age. Any older than that I would have stopped holding hands because, according to my older brother, it wasn’t “cool.” What a shame.

It was springtime in Bellingham, Washington and if you knew where and how to search you could find delicious edible mushrooms in the woods behind our home. However, as Mom soon taught me, it took some first-class hunting. (Toadstools were easy to find, but they would kill you.)

After trekking through the woods for nearly an hour Mom eventually dropped five mushrooms into our brown paper bag. I had found one. We eagerly took our bounty home where Mom quickly fried it and popped the tender morsels into an omelet. This ritual went on for a couple of weeks—the two of us searching hand-in-hand and eventually returning with a half dozen or so mushrooms.

Then one Saturday morning my world changed. Driven by some genetic, time-released code hidden deep inside my cells, I sprung to my feet, grabbed a brown paper bag, and went in search of the fungi on my own. I still remember how frightened I was as I walked into the thick, dark woods behind our house. I hadn’t read about the “wild things” that lived there (the book wouldn’t come out for another decade), but I certainly had heard their occasional growls and howls. I had even seen their tracks. Plus my older brother had filled my head with tales of moose, cougars, and bears (Oh my!) that routinely mauled anyone who dared enter their domain. And I was about to enter their domain.

The prospect of being gutted by a beast frightened me right down to my socks, but it wasn’t enough to keep me home. Not that day. My desire to prove my mettle outweighed the fear that normally kept me close to home. It was my time to step up to the table. It was my time to provide for the table. So, I plunged into the darkness, eyes pinned to the forest floor—dead set on bringing home the bacon.

It was hard work finding mushrooms that day. The woods were wet from an overnight rain; the underbrush scratched my arms, burrs stuck to my pant legs and socks, and stinger nettles rubbed against my exposed neck and ankles—leaving behind tiny mountain ranges of welts. All the while, the mushrooms hid. They were masters of camouflage. With no effort whatsoever, they magically disappeared into the forest floor—nature’s Waldos—perfectly blending into the background.

After over an hour of fungi-less searching, and just before I trudged home in utter defeat, I eventually stumbled into a small grove that offered the first mushroom of the day. As I bent down to gather it up, there next to it I saw another—and then another. Startled by the find, I jumped to my feet, gave my eyes a second to adjust to the diminished light, and there, peeking their heads through the loam and leaves, I spotted dozens of edible delights. I’ll never forget that glorious moment. I had stumbled on the mother lode of mushrooms. I would return home the victor.

I soon gathered up every single fungal gem and dashed home with my brown paper bag filled to the top. (These were the honeycomb variety of mushroom and as such, easy to spot—so I wasn’t running the risk of bringing home deadly toadstools.) Mom beamed with delight when she saw what I was carrying. My brother gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Dad slapped me on the back, carefully inspected my bounty, washed it, and fried the lot in butter. Then the four of us sat down at the family table and feasted on a delicious breakfast that I, a seven-year-old boy, had hunted and gathered all by myself.

Some kids go through a formal rite of passage into manhood. They do it at church or during a tribal ceremony or maybe even at home when Dad tosses them the keys to the car or their first laptop computer. Not with me. I was only seven that day I brought home the mushrooms—about half the age most people think it takes to spring into manhood. But for me, I’m pretty sure I made part of the leap right then and there. After all, as everyone could plainly see, I was now a member of the select group of people that helped feed our family.

And feed our family I did. From mushroom gathering I soon graduated to berry picking, clam digging, and fishing. We were dirt poor during my childhood years, but we always ate well. Imagine a dinner comprised of wild mushrooms, butter clams, trout, and hot blackberry pie. It’s the kind of fare they serve at a fancy restaurant nowadays. We Pattersons ate such stuff because it was free and, more often than not, I had brought it home.

I hadn’t thought about this part of my life until last week when two of my granddaughters invited me to a fashion show. At age nine, the two of them had taken a sewing class from one of our neighbors and now they were going to model the blouse and skirt each of them had made. They had picked the patterns, selected the material, and after hours of work and meticulous care had sewn an outfit that they’d soon be wearing to school.

As each granddaughter paraded around the church auditorium cum runway, I nearly burst with pride. Imagine that, making their own clothes—and only in the second grade! Later that evening as we talked, each child stood confidently wrapped in clothes of her own making. As I looked closely into their eyes I could tell that both girls had changed. I had seen them perform ballet, gymnastics, cheer leading, piano, violin—you name it—they had taken the lessons and performed at the recitals. But this was different. They were different.

Most lessons are about improving yourself, performing, and then taking a bow. And while I believe in such personal training and the skills, confidence, and discipline it develops, it’s not the same as producing something the family can use. It’s not the same as adding to the country’s gross national product. It’s not the same as picking mushrooms or sewing your own clothes. Do that, and you’re part of the group that feeds and clothes your family. Do that, and you change.

I suddenly saw the value of teaching children and grandchildren (while they’re still young) ways to help feed and clothe the family as well as how to care for the home. Perhaps you think I’m grasping at straws, but I think the difference between performing and providing, although subtle, is substantial. Praising a kid for taking three minutes to draw a crayon picture is one thing. Praising a child for bringing home the bacon is something both memorable and worth shouting about.

And now for the organizational take away. Within companies we often put people through training and other educational experiences that help them improve in some way. But we don’t always teach what it takes to “put food on the table.” That’s because we don’t take the time to identify and teach skills that can make a difference to the bottom line. We’re driven by catalogues and what’s currently popular or even what’s politically safe more than we’re driven by our actual needs. Besides, it’s hard to discover what you really need. It can take real research. You have to talk about problems. And that can be awkward.

In a similar vein, we only rarely teach complex interpersonal skills (skills that can affect the bottom line) because it can be difficult. People don’t follow rote paths. You have to be prepared for all kinds of different responses, and who wants to do that? We don’t practice until we’re competent and confident because that can be repetitive and require touchy feedback. In short, we frequently avoid the nettles, burrs, and bears (Oh my!) and do what’s easy and comfortable instead. We walk to where it’s safe, light, and comfortable, not where we need to go to find the mushrooms. Then, of course, we come home un-scraped, un-prickled, un-stung, and empty handed.

But that’s okay. Because in today’s world we’re likely to get a high-five and a rowdy cheer—just for trying.

I, on the other hand, want the mushrooms.