Want to sharpen your tools? Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn and connect with others!
Hope to see you in August!
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?
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.
I can’t believe 2017 is here! This time of year always makes me thoughtful about the year that has passed, and excited about the year that is about to begin. The words of one of my clients came back to me today… he told me that he’d decided that it was time to look forward and not backward in his life. This makes so much sense – after all, we can’t change what’s already happened, but if we put our energy into things we can control, we can make amazing things happen. Yet, so often, it’s not that easy. I hear people talk all the time about wanting to move forward, yet in reality, I see people struggling to do this. What is it that keeps drawing us back into the past when what we really want is a happy future?
I’ve felt this pull myself recently. This year, my youngest child turned 18 years old and moved out. My life has been incredibly rich because of these two amazing people that I got to be a mom to. I’m so proud of them, and excited for the lives they have ahead of them. But at the same time, it’s the end of an era. I’ve found myself looking through old home movies and picture albums, and it’s bittersweet. What a wonderful life I’ve had! It’s hard to believe that those childhood years are gone.
I used to get belonging from cuddling up and reading bedtime stories to my kids; from packing picnic lunches and spending a family day at the beach; from roasting marshmallows together over the fire while camping. I felt pride when my children showed kindness to others, when they achieved success in school, when they nailed their part in the musical production or stood on their head goaltending on the hockey ice. We joked with each other; we laughed together; we played together. We had amazing family vacations. It’s easy to let myself get overcome with sadness of those days that I will never have again.
As we travel through life, we find ways to meet our needs. And being a mom was very need-fulfilling. And I think that’s the draw to the past. It’s hard to find new ways to get your needs met – especially when the old ones were so darn effective.
But I’ve also learned that even when they aren’t that effective, it’s still hard to figure out a new way. The alcoholic knows that drinking is destroying their life, yet can’t find another way to relieve their stress. The abused woman knows that her life is in danger, but goes back to her partner because she is so incredibly lonely without him. It’s hard to move forward when you can’t even picture another way that you could find happiness.
So whether life has changed on you – with the death of a partner, the loss of a job, or your children growing up – or whether you want to change your life – going back to school, leaving an unhealthy relationship, learning to control your anger – the key to achieving your goals is in creating new pictures for yourself. You will need to let go of how you did things in the past, and find new ways to meet your needs.
So – my wish to you in 2017 – may you allow yourself to be creative, try new things, take chances, and create many new pictures for yourself that will bring much happiness and joy to your life! Happy New Year!
I’ve been working my way through a really cool course… it’s all about how those of us who work with Indigenous people can cultural safety in our practice. I have to admit, I was skeptical about how painful it might be to do an online course – but it’s really well done, and I’ve quite enjoyed it If you are interested, you can learn more about it here.
However, it’s not to plug this course that has led me to this post today. I had a bit of an “aha” moment when I was working my way through a section today that I really wanted to share.
They were talking specifically about the experience of Indigenous people with the health care system, and how so many times, people’s different experiences, perspectives and beliefs are not valued. The comment was made that we should not approach Aboriginal people as if we know what’s best for them. The importance of listening, and working to understand where a person is coming from and what is important to them is key in truly helping a person. For example, it’s easy to tell a person that they should be eating a healthier diet, but without listening, you might not find out the challenges of doing so in a remote community where fresh fruit and vegetables are not readily available or financially reasonable to purchase.
What struck me is that this is really true for every person in a helping relationship. It’s so easy to think that we have all the answers and know what’s best for a person. But each person is truly unique – with a different balance of basic needs, and different preferences about how to achieve these needs. What works for me to fill my need for connection with others may totally backfire for someone else. The things that make me feel powerful and like I can make a difference in the world are not the same as they are for others. My idea of fun and freedom is not skydiving out of an airplane – but it is for many other people.
Yet, it’s so easy when we are working with people to make judgments and think we know the answers to people’s struggles. I know I catch myself all the time thinking “If only this person would….”, without really honoring the fact that whatever they are doing they are doing for a reason. If only I was able to slow down and explore the reasons, perhaps I could be a better helper….
Perhaps those of us in the helping professions need to ask ourselves – are we simply telling people what to do, or are we seeking to truly understand and help people find what’s right for them?
Here we are again – the night before the first day of school. I’m excited about the upcoming year, and full of anticipation for all that is to come. I’ve watched as my new students have walked through the doors to register – many are nervous and unsure of themselves, and I want to make sure that each and every one of them leaves at the end of the year confident and capable in their abilities.
But I know that this can be difficult. While school is all about learning, mastery, and achievement, and is designed to reward and celebrate those things, I also know for some of my students this year, in spite of having a great need for power, they might not be able to satisfy that need easily. How does someone feel a sense of accomplishment when they work hard and still fail that test? Or when they are sitting in a class trying desperately to understand algebra, and it’s just not connecting for them? If they are to leave feeling confident and capable, how can we create the conditions for this to happen?
So tonight, I’m thinking about ways that people can gain that sense of power in ways other than strictly academic achievement. I want to ensure that there are leadership opportunities for them- so that even if academics are a challenge, that people still know that they are important to how our school functions and that their efforts really make a difference. I want to ensure that my students learn that no one has all the answers all the time, but that they have figured out where to go and how to get the answers and help that they need when they inevitably hit a wall. I want to teach them how to honestly reflect on their own progress, and to take pride in their own growth instead of focusing externally and comparing themselves to others. I want them to know that when they have lent a helping hand to someone else, that they may have changed the course of another person’s life. I want them to know that achievement and success come in many different ways.
What ways do you help to create opportunities for your students to fulfill their need for power?
With the end of the school year quickly approaching, I was reflecting with one of my students about all that she has gone through this year. It hasn’t been an easy road for her. There are many things she had to tackle that I wish had never happened. She’s had pain that no person should have to deal with. It would have been easy for her to become bitter, angry, and throw in the towel in the face of such adversity. It would actually be quite understandable.
If either of us had the power to change what happened, we certainly would. But as we talked, I realized there was another side to her experience. She didn’t give up; in fact, she has grown a lot this year, and not just academically. She’s learned a lot about relationships, coping strategies, leadership, and the skills and strength that she possesses. I do feel some sense of comfort as she leaves the walls of our little school and heads out into the big scary world that she is leaving with the knowledge that she has the ability to handle whatever the world throws at her.
I think about how often I get angry at the situations in my own life that I think are unfair. The difficult people that I have to deal with that frustrate me. The obstacles that get in my way. I don’t feel grateful for these experiences…. but maybe I should. I’m far from perfect, but navigating through these circumstances has taught me to be more patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve learned to be a better listener, and to be more collaborative in my work. I do think I’m a better person because of the tough times.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to muster gratitude the next time life kicks me in the teeth. It’s tough to see the positive when the negative is so overwhelming.
But I hope I can. I think I could find a little more peace in my corner of the world if I could remember that my life might be richer because it doesn’t always go the way I want.