The Games We Play


We all spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to do what we want them to do.  How can I make my boyfriend commit?  How do I get my kids to clean their rooms?  How do I stop that guy at work from coming in late every day?  There are so many different tactics that we attempt to use in order to get what we want.  We try to give someone “a taste of their own medicine” with the hopes that they’ll figure out how we feel.  We try to buy someone off, or punish them by giving them the cold shoulder.  There’s a million games that we play in relationships – and often they backfire.

For example, huge issues quickly arose when a dear friend of mine and I moved in together, but had never discussed what it meant to each of us to be roommates.  Her picture was that we would do everything together, and she was very upset to find that I carried on my life much as I had before we moved in together.  The angrier she got that I was leaving her out, the more frustrated I became that she was trying to control me.  Looking back, I realize that the whole situation could easily have been avoided if we’d actually had a conversation about our picture of what living together would look like, instead of us each lashing out and getting angry with each other.

One of the things that can really help prevent problems from arising in relationships of any kind is to have a clear understanding of the social contract which establishes the “rules” for the relationship.  When we actually make these rules explicit, it ensures that everyone is on the same page.  Often, the problems that arise are simply because there is a difference in expectations. 

I heard a story about the staff a daycare centre that was frustrated with parents who were picking up their children late.  They decided to implement a late fee – a certain amount for each minute the parent was late in picking up their child.  To their surprise, instead of solving their problem, it actually made it worse.  Instead of parents feeling like they needed to be there on time, parents felt that as long as they paid the fee, it was ok to be late now.  Daycare staff and parents had very different pictures of how the relationship was going to work.  How different might this have turned out if instead of implementing the fee, the daycare staff had simply talked to the parents about how important it was to have the children picked up on time so that staff were not working overtime and being forced to miss out on their own family obligations? 

How often do conflicts happen in life because we just haven’t really talked?  Instead of playing games, trying to understand and be understood? 


Abe Was A Wise Man…


I had this one teacher that drove me crazy.  He would give us the stupidest assignments.  They were always half-thought out, and never clear.  We struggled like crazy to know what the heck he wanted from us.  I was a very driven student and wanted to do well, but I never knew what I had to do to please him.  It was probably one of the most frustrating classes I ever was in.

Looking back, I think he was brilliant.

It was the first time that I ever was forced to create a project that I set the standards for myself.  I had to self-evaluate, and create something that I thought was quality work.  I wasn’t simply vomiting up what I thought the teacher wanted to hear; I was thinking for myself, and it was probably one of the classes in which I learned the most.

 It also taught me an important lesson:  Whenever you think someone is a complete idiot or a terrible person, if you really take the time to get to know them, you will usually find something that explains their behaviour in a way that changes how you feel about them.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew that we were a group of dedicated students, and he wanted to give us the opportunity to be the best we could be.

Anyone else out there have a story of how someone they thought was evil turned out to have motivations that you just didn’t understand at the time?  Please share!

The Irony of Validation


You are in a situation where you feel strongly that someone is about to make a huge mistake.  You don’t want to see disaster strike, so you have to change their mind quickly.  You put together the best argument you can to pursuade them that they are wrong and to convince them to see things your way.  And often, what you get is push back.  They tell you that you don’t understand.  They give you all the reasons why their course of action is the right one.  They respond by putting together the best argument they can to defend their decision.

The problem is that things in these kinds of situations are rarely black and white.  They are complicated and messy.  And there is always some valid reasons for people choosing to act in a particular way – otherwise they wouldn’t have decided to do it!

The irony is, when we validate those reasons, people often will consider other alternatives.  Often, they even point them out themselves.

Take the woman who was planning an aggressive approach to dealing with an injustice she’d witnessed.  I was concerned that this tactic was going to backfire on her and that her actions would only result in her being written off as emotional and crazy.  If someone had expressed this concern, she likely would have argued that no one would listen to her if she didn’t force them.  But when I commented that this was obviously an issue that she felt incredibly passionate about, and that it was something that she was really invested in making sure a positive outcome was achieved, she started to talk about her worries that no one would listen.  She started to share her fears about how things might go wrong, and we ended up having a great conversation about the pros and cons of different strategies.

It’s funny how we tend to characterize these kinds of situations as being people being on opposite sides.  She wanted to do things one way, I thought another was a better way.  And we could have likely argued both sides indefinitely.

But we weren’t on opposite sides.  We both would like to see the issue resolved.  I didn’t want to see her put down and ignored by others; she didn’t want that either.

When we demonstrate to another person that we are on the same side, and that we understand what they want and what’s important to them, they don’t have to argue with us anymore.  It frees us up to discuss the messy, complicated realities of life.  Instead of two brains working against each other, constructing arguments to try to “win”, two brains can work together to come up with the best possible solution.

We worry that if we validate someone’s actions that it will reinforce their point of view.  The irony is that, more often than not, validation is what opens up new possibilities.


Making the Tough Decisions


For many years, I watched from a distance as principals struggled over creating next year’s timetable.  I always counted my blessings that this wasn’t part of my job, because it looked like such an overwhelming task to try to think of every possible variable you need to consider.

And, of course, the universe is now laughing at me.  It’s part of my job now.

In our school, we have a team who sets the timetable, so I do count my blessings that I’m not alone.  And I’ve been surprised to find that this task is like doing a puzzle, and I actually like trying to work it all out.  However, there are certainly times that it’s beyond painful.

This teacher wants this course…. That teacher wants their prep at this time… These courses should be in the morning…. Those courses should be in the second semester… Some students are going to need to be able to have their compulsory courses done by January… some are needing a combination of grade 11 and 12 courses so we have to make sure it’s possible for them to get what they need…


Fortunately, we have an awesome leader.  At the point that it felt like we were sinking into the bog, she stopped us.  She asked a simple question.  “What is our purpose?”

And it all became clear.  Our purpose is to provide the best possible education for our students.  While there were some variables that we would have liked to accommodate, there were some that were clearly important in providing a quality learning experience.  Those had to come first.

It reminded me again of how important it is to keep in touch with our basic values and beliefs, and to use those as touchstones when struggling to make important decisions.

Even though the ultimate decision I make may not be perfect, at the end of the day, I know that I can stand behind it because it was made on solid principles.

What is guiding your decision-making?

What Is Success?


I love hearing stories about how problems were solved and relationships were restored because someone learned how to use Restitution.  But the part that we don’t so often like to mention is that sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out like that.

I learned this first-hand after having a disagreement with a co-worker.  I had been really upset, and went home that night and evaluated how I’d handled myself.  I recognized what my need was, and what hers was, and realized that she wasn’t the unreasonable, irrational person that I’d made her out to be in my mind.  I felt confident that I could use the skills I’ve learned in Restitution to go back and work this out.

That’s now how it went down.  She wanted no part of it.

I’ve seen this happen with kids I’ve worked with too.  After counselling a student who has engaged in bullying, they want to make it right, but the child they’ve hurt doesn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Is this a failure of Restitution?

Not at all.

Restitution is about being the best person you can be.  It’s about taking responsibility when you make mistakes, learning from them, and growing stronger because of the experience.

It surprised me after my colleague rejected my attempts to resolve the problem between us that I actually didn’t feel terrible.  I didn’t at all feel like I’d failed.  I actually felt kind of proud of myself.  It’s not easy to take responsibility.  I felt like I’d done the right thing.

Of course, it would be ideal if we could always fix the mistakes we’ve made.  But we can’t control other people, and sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Think about that the next time you are solving a problem.  If you are being the person you want to be in that situation, you have been successful!

I’ve Told You A Million Times!


I heard someone say the other day that when you are frustrated because you’ve tried a million times to address a problem you have with someone and it hasn’t worked, that this is often a sign that you are trying to change someone.  It reminded me of the famous Einstein quote above.  It’s amazing, when you think about it, how much effort we put into having the same arguments over and over again without realizing that we are only going to achieve the same end result as we always have.  I suppose in some weird way, it’s a testament to how much hope we humans can hold, even in the darkest of situations.  We convince ourselves that maybe this time our attempts to make someone see things our way will finally succeed!  But, it is kind of sad how much energy we sometimes put into things which are truly not in our control.

When you accept that the only person you control is yourself, it opens up a new world of possibilities.  Instead of striving to change other people, we can start to focus on things that can actually make a difference.  Instead of trying to turn your teenager into a neat freak by lecturing him on the value of cleanliness every day, you can instead brainstorm about how you can peacefully live together.  Maybe you can have a discussion about how you can both be respectful of the other’s needs, and find some agreements that work for you both.  Maybe you can tidy up together.  Maybe you can create an organizational system that will be easier to manage.  Maybe you can hire a house cleaner.  Maybe you can close his door when you walk by his room.

Take a moment today to think about the frustrations that continually bother you.  Are you putting more energy into trying to convince someone else to change than into actually finding solutions?


Get Off The Sidewalk!!


From the time my children were born, people have been warning me to enjoy my kids while they are young, because their teen years will be a nightmare.  I have to say that in almost every way, I disagree.  I have loved watching my kids grow up, and even though there are times of frustration for both them and me, I feel so lucky to have them in my life.

Except for the driving.

Oh my god.  The driving.

When my daughter gets behind the wheel of a car, I become a raving lunatic.  No matter how I tell myself that wildly gasping and grabbing at the dashboard only panics her and makes the situation more dangerous, I can’t seem to stop myself.

I was talking with her about how I was struggling for an idea to write in this week’s blog, and she suggested that I write about something that demonstrated one of the basic needs that drive behaviour.  She suggested that my behaviour while supervising her driving was an excellent example of someone with an excessive need for power.  (I do love the girl, but she can still be a brat!)

Her joking did make me think, though.  I hadn’t thought of my reactions as being connected to power at all.  To me, it’s all about the basic survival instinct.  I’m simply terrified that she (and I!) will be physically hurt if she gets in an accident.

It made me wonder… how often do we incorrectly assume that one need is driving someone’s behaviour, when they see it in an entirely different way.

And how might our responses to behaviour be different if we attributed the actions of others to another need?

Would you treat that child differently if you saw him as desperate to belong instead of being the class clown?

Would you react differently if you saw that girl as being excited instead of disobedient?

Would my daughter react differently to me if she saw me as fearful instead of controlling?

Maybe we should be spending more time in the parking lot practicing at slow speeds instead of on the highway.  I think that might work better, because I would be so afraid.

On the other hand, maybe this is one of those things that should be a special activity she does with her Daddy.