De-Grading the Workplace
Instructions for Creating a Portfolio

Sometimes They Just Aren't Ready

I have a 16-year old daughter and let's just say that parenting her right now is . . . challenging. Apparently most things in the world are not meeting her expectations, particularly her relationships with the people around her. The other day she was complaining about someone she babysits for and how this person expects her to be infinitely available. I tried suggesting some ways to deal with the situation, but my daughter was having none of that. Apparently she preferred complaining about the issue to actually resolving it. After several frustrating minutes of conversation, I ultimately gave up. I couldn't take the resistance.

It got me to thinking about how this is a pretty human situation, especially when I'm dealing with trying to help people do things differently in their work lives. They have pain, they feel it and know that there's probably a better way to handle their work. But they just haven't reached the point of actually wanting to DO anything about it. They're better at thinking up reasons why they can't change than they are at thinking through how they could deal with the situation. Usually these reasons have to do with lack of time or lack of training or a boss who isn't supportive--all things that are supposedly "out of their control." This only adds to their belief that they're helpless in the face of what they're experiencing.

I know from my personal time in counseling that if you aren't ready for change, then all the  arguments in the world aren't going to make you do things differently. Logically you know that something has to give, but emotionally, you can't make the commitment. You have to hit that point where you can't take the pain of your old situation anymore before you're willing to really consider ways to change it. You have to feel that pain viscerally. There's a little "click" that you feel inside, a sort of going over the edge, "I have nothing to lose" moment when you decide that change must happen. THEN you're ready.

I think that's the situation for a lot of people when it comes to social media. They haven't yet reached their personal turning point. Until they do, all of our wonderful ideas and strategies for change mean nothing--they are simply something to resist. We have to recognize that and be patient. That moment WILL come, but until it does, we can only let people know that we're here when they're ready.


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Ignoring is one parenting technique that saves me some aggravation. Kind of a 'they'll come to me when they need parenting' approach. I did have a peer at work (at a prior job) that strongly resisted online learning. At some point I ignored him. While talking and working with him, I removed myself from the role of poster child for online learning. Some time passed and I received an email from him asking if he could learn about elearning tools I was using. Go figure.

You're right, Janet, that ignoring is often the best strategy. I also have a bad habit of offering unsolicited advice when my girls just want to vent. Finding the difference between the two is hard sometimes. Your comment about being the "poster child" for online learning is interesting. I think that's one reason we can get more resistance--we begin to stand for that thing that people don't want. We are the human embodiment of change and a safe target for their resistance. When we ignore them, we no longer have that role, which then gives them the space to ask the questions. As someone who typically wants to engage, I need to learn to ignore more often. :-)

When I was in therapy after my divorce, I learned some "transactional analysis" techniques and read Eric Berne's "Games People Play." The book's a bit outdated, but it was still a useful model for me to understand relationships.

"Games" are essentially repeated dysfunctional patterns--like the arguments couples have over and over without actually changing the underlying causes. Keeping in mind that I'm not a counselor and not a parent, your conversation with your daughter sounds like a game of "Yes, But."

In "Yes, But," one person complains about something. The other makes a suggestion for how to address the problem. For every suggestion, there's a "yes, but" saying why the solution won't work. This continues until one person gets frustrated enough to stop it or switch to a different "game."

You have two basic choices for how to respond in this game after the first "yes but" excuse is given.
1. "That's unfortunate," followed by silence.
2. "So what are you going to do about it?"

The first one can involve some of the ignoring--waiting for the other person to decide they really do want help, like Janet's example. The second choice puts the responsibility on the other person to come up with a solution themselves, rather than relying on you.

I used the second option once in a very intense argument (I admit I hadn't realized I was playing the game until 5 or 6 "yes buts" had passed). He responded "there's nothing I can do to change the situation." I replied that if there's no solutions, then he'd have to get used to things the way they were. He didn't like it, but it avoided me being continually drawn into those arguments.

Short-circuiting the game won't make the other person magically be ready for positive change, but it helps keep you out of unproductive conversations. In personal or business relationships, sometimes I find I just need to have that way to get out of those conversations so I can do something more productive.

If you're interested in reading more about the games, this site has good examples. (Language warning--SOB is in the name of a game.)

This post reminds me very much of the conclusion I have come to. People know what I am doing and they know theory can come to me if they want help/advice, whatever. In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away, doing my thing.

Kia ora Michele!

Chirsty beat me to it! Another, similarly outdated book worth a look at is I'm OK - You're OK by Thomas Anthony Harris.

I agree with the 'yes but' possibility. The attention seeking plea may be an indicator though. Possibly attention is what's needed, and not just looked for.

My own children don't use this tack, but I have a few students who do. They phone me with a lame problem which I quickly find no solution to! They often just want to talk and I find that their particular attitude, which is endearing to a parent, often just dissolves when the appropriate attention is proffered.

A sympathetic or (what's more likely) an empathetic approach works wonders. It makes the person feel good about themselves and is less frustrating for the sympathiser to pursue than a problem-solving wild goose chase!

A metaphor for this approach would be a long hug, which with students is less fraught with problems on the phone than in reality contact! But with a son or daughter it is entirely approriate and often accepted. I hug all my kids, even the over 25 year olds - I've got 3 of those - and they all respond favourably.

Ka kite

So the problem is that your daughter has a complaint about a babysitting client, and she isn't interested in your solutions to the problem? And you believe the solution is to wait until your daughter finds the situation too painful to take, is ready to change, and is willing to use your solutions?

When I talk to friends and family, despite knowing better ways of communicating, I often fall into the trap of suggesting solutions. The difficulty always is, however, that what may seem simple from the outside is actually a problem fraught with complex emotion.

When I help to tackle a problem, providing solutions is usually not a good idea unless a person asks for them. Even then, the first step in effective communication is to establish rapport. I try to always be sure that the person I am communicating with believes I understand what he or she is saying, particularly if that person has a complaint. The two reasons this is important is to grasp the problem in my own mind, and to demonstrate to the person I'm trying to help that I grasp the problem. The latter is exceptionally important to get any kind of cooperation.

I always try re-present in my own words what the complaint is until the person agrees I am describing the problem properly.

Generally, the next best step is to build on that rapport, by relating a similar problem I've had. I don't describe how I solved it unless asked (the idea is to build rapport, not come off as having all the answers).

Next, if the problem is another person (e.g., a babysitting client) I try to get the person to empathize with the problem person (e.g., how would your daughter behave if she were the babysitting client). I try to keep it realistic, and positive, but some humor is ok.

I then ask what the person thinks might be a solution. I try summing up aspects of the situation that suggest possible solutions, with the idea being that I want the person to put the pieces together and realize the possible solution on her own. That way she understands the nuances of the solution better, AND because the solution is something she formulated (with subtle help), her buy-in will be all the greater.

Now I'm not exactly following all my own advice here in writing this out, but I wanted to sum it up, as this method, while effective, takes time. Although it takes far less time than continually having my solutions rejected, and having people get mad at me for being a know-it-all who clearly doesn't understand what is really going on. =)

Christy, Ken and James--thanks for the great ideas! I think all of these apply to working with people to help them adopt social media, too. And Sarah, I know that you've been struggling with getting people to come along, but I think that your example is a great one for people to follow when they're finally ready. So maybe that's all you can do at this point.

This entry really resonated with me from two different standpoints: dispute resolution and personal. I learned years ago as a dispute resolution trainee that, as we all probably know already, people just talk to be heard sometimes, and if you can acknowledge that you've heard them, that's enough to make them feel better, no action plan necessary. Likewise, if you try to problem-solve before the other person feels heard, they'll resist because you haven't established that you understand their perspective. That training made a lot more sense when I would call my parents and complain about something, only to resent the unsolicited advice they offered. So sometimes, maybe, it's not a matter of being ready for change, but recognizing whether your goal is change or just understanding.
Thanks for such a thought-provoking post Michele!

Elizabeth, you're right that sometimes the goal for people is simply that they feel heard. This may actually be the first step toward change because they feel that their concerns are being validated, which then opens them up to considering another way. Usually I'm pretty good at just listening, although I admit that if I'm feeling impatient, I will often move directly to problem-solving, which, of course, can often make the "problem" even worse! :-)

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