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? 


This IS My Job


I used to get frustrated about how much time got wasted in my workplace.  People would interrupt me when I was working to chat about the weekend, or things going on in their lives.  I welcomed the odd storm day that forced me to work from home, as I could get so much accomplished when I was able to work without all those distractions.

But if you really want to talk about efficiency, email has been an amazing time saver.  I’m part of a diminishing group of people who used to work before there was such a thing as email.  Looking back, it’s mind boggling to think of how much longer it took us to do business when you actually had to catch someone on the phone to talk.  I can fire off a dozen emails in the time it used to take me to make one phone call.  And when things had to be done by phone, you couldn’t just get straight down to business either – that would seem rude.  So you had to do the small talk, chit-chat thing before moving on to your real reason for the call.  What a massive waste of time!

Except that it wasn’t.

I’ve seen good ideas wither on the vine because people could not work together to make them happen.  I’ve seen how simple tasks can become incredibly complex because people are playing games, or don’t want to put in any effort for someone they feel doesn’t respect them.   

I appreciate now that everything about work is really about people.  Without relationships, very little happens efficiently.  Differences of opinion do not turn into battles or become personal attacks when opposing sides know and respect each other.  Good ideas can turn into great ones when people go the extra mile with their contributions to a project. 

So I’ve changed my tune.  Spending time building relationships does not interfere with my work.  It is my work.  Although I still appreciate the time saving that things like email have brought, I’m also aware that I need to attend to the people I work with – not just our tasks.  After all, belonging is a basic human need, and without it, things go off kilter. 

I heard a great line recently that I think sums this idea up very well:  We need to loiter with intent.  We need to hang out with people, get to know them, build relationships.  Sure – it can be a break from work, but remember – it’s not a waste of time. 

Why Are We So Cruel?

A couple of events that hit the news recently left me incredibly sad at the cruelty that we humans can heap upon one another.  One was the tragic death of a young toddler in Austin, Manitoba who wandered off from his home and was found in a nearby stream.  And this week, the same thing happened when Fort McMurray, Alberta went up in flames.  In the midst of the most horrific experiences of their lives, other people pointed the finger and blamed the people involved for bringing these events upon themselves.

That mother should have been supervising her child more closely.

Its karma that the environment took down a city built upon the oil industry.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in your darkest hour, and to see such hurtful comments being thrown around social media.  Does any mother want to do anything to cause the death of her child?  Does any person really want to endanger the survival of our planet?

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that my hands are covered with scars from a never-ending series of kitchen knife mishaps.  Now, I know that knives are sharp.  I am more than aware of the consequences of not being careful while handling them.  But it still happens.  Why?  Because I believe that I can save the time of pulling out a cutting board and instead slice up an apple in my hand to calm a screaming toddler.  I think I can be safe and get things done quickly at the same time, and sometimes I make a mistake in judgement.  And I’m sure thankful when I need stitches that I’ve never had a doctor tell me that I deserve to be in pain.

People do the best that they can, and sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

But in both these recent tragedies, I don’t think this is even the issue.  It’s not that anyone made a mistake in judgement.  Bad things simply happen sometimes, no matter what you do.  Kids get away from their parents, no matter how watchful your eye.  Forest fires do not target anyone; they just burn.

So then why must people point fingers and blame instead of having compassion?  When I’m getting my fingers sewn up, the medical staff  are gentle with me and freeze my hand so I won’t feel anything as they make it all better.

I wonder if it has something to do with power.  We all need to feel a sense of control in our lives, and when we see these terrible things happen to others, it makes us afraid that perhaps we could be vulnerable too.  But if we can find some fault with the victims of tragedy and convince ourselves that they did something to deserve their pain, then it follows that as long as we make better choices, then we can make sure nothing like that ever happens to us.

Of course, it’s smart to be careful.  Don’t drive while drinking, be careful with electricity, ensure you have supplies in your home to manage a power outage.

But don’t for a second think that any of us our capable of controlling everything so perfectly that nothing bad can ever befall us.  Sometimes we misjudge.  And sometimes things happen to us that were beyond anyone’s control.

And when they do, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could lift each other up when disaster strikes?



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!

Do You Make Those Around You Better?


Nothing I like better than to spend a Sunday evening watching my beloved Minnesota Vikings kick butt!  But this week, something other than just football caught my attention.

One of Teddy Bridgewater’s teammates was talking about what it’s like to play with him as the quarterback.  The line that caught me was when he explained that playing with Teddy made you want to be a better person.  He said that Teddy is always calm under pressure, and that watching the way he handles himself makes others want to do the same.

This made me think of a conversation I had with a leader who was sharing the frustration they have been experiencing with managing their staff.  He told me that he was seriously considering “giving people a taste of their own medicine” by treating them with the same lack of respect that they were showing to others.

What do you think the chances are that this strategy will cause his staff to wake up and realize the error of their ways?  I think it’s vastly more likely that disrespect will breed further disrespect.

I’ve heard the same theory applied to children’s behaviour, too.  It’s easy to slip into thinking that we can teach by causing someone else to feel as badly as they’ve made us feel.

The problem is that behaviour is driven by the pictures in our head.  If people don’t have a picture in their heads of how to be a positive force, they cannot achieve it.  In every interaction we have with others throughout our day, we have a choice to make.  Are we going to react to the situations around us, and justify our actions because of the challenge of a situation and the fact that “everyone else is doing it”?  Or will we choose to be like Teddy, and be a role model for others of how to handle yourself with grace and strength in spite of the stress of the situation?


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!

Consequences Don’t Fix

workplace_progressive_disciplineLast week, I wrote about how important it is to fix things when our actions have caused harm to another person. It’s difficult sometimes, though, to figure out how to fix the mistakes that we have made.

What remedies the pain caused when someone hears that you have been a part of spreading a rumour about them?

What repairs the damage done when you cause another person to miss out on an opportunity that isn’t going to arise again?

When you break something, fixing is often easier. You can either replace the item, or find a way to mend it. But in many situations, it can be really hard to find an obvious solution.

What often happens is we turn to consequences. You were mean to your brother, so you lose TV for the night. The problem is, losing TV does nothing to restore the relationship between siblings. There may be some solace in knowing the person who has hurt you is now being hurt, but it doesn’t really make it better.

The good news is that our brains are very creative. If we learn to appreciate that sometimes these things are hard, and it might take some time to figure out, it’s amazing how the answers sometimes come to us when we relax and don’t get too caught up in figuring it out RIGHT NOW! It’s totally ok to say to a child that you are trying to help that you don’t know the answer either. I actually think it’s pretty important for kids to know that in life, sometimes things don’t come easy, and that it might take some time and some hard thinking to figure it out.

When trying to come up with a way to fix things, it can also help to think about the need that was harmed by your actions. If someone’s sense of belonging was hurt by a rumour being spread, what can be done to help that person feel more accepted? If someone’s sense of power was damaged by a lost opportunity, in what other ways could you help that person to rebuild their sense of mastery or competence in their life?

Please share in the comment section below the ways that you have seen people fix things. You might just help the creative juices start flowing for someone else!