The scenario outlined in my recent column on people-pleasing prompted comments from readers who agree—in that situation, it would be helpful if the people-pleaser made some changes.
When we’re in a relationship where one person attempts to control the other, changing our behaviour might improve things. We might become happier! The other person might be happier too, if they realize that they’ve been relieved of the burden of making sure that we’re behaving properly.
Even though “change what we’re doing” sounds like an obvious solution, changing is hard. It’s a venture into the unknown. What will happen? Will things be better or worse? We don’t know for sure. Even if we were sure that a change would help us, once we’ve built up a habit, it’s hard to break free of it. What will people think if we start acting differently?
Let’s look at Marti and Mike, who have a history of interactions that go like this: Mike criticizes Marti. Marti blows up. Mike responds similarly. Doors are slammed, hostile silence results; the original issue is never addressed. Both know this is a problem.
Marti perceives Mike to be intelligent, but also an arrogant know-it-all. Mike perceives Marti to be reliable, but a little misguided and lacking knowledge.
Marti and Mike could be spouses, co-workers, friends or family. This pattern of interaction shows up in many kinds of relationships, unfortunately.
Marti has decided she wants the pattern to change. What to do? We only control ourselves, so that’s where Marti needs to begin—with what she is doing.
Marti can’t stop Mike from criticising, but she can choose how she’ll react when it happens. She has lots of options, some more effective than others.
Among those options: She could walk away without saying anything. She could say, “I’ll discuss this with you in half an hour.” She could say, “I will check what you are suggesting with someone else and get back to you.”
However, Marti is afraid that if she starts responding differently—calmly—Mike will take advantage of the change and become more controlling. Mike might even think he’s won. We wouldn’t want that!
My suggestion for Marti is to let Mike know, in advance, that she will be trying an experiment. How? She could say, “Mike, these fights we have aren’t good for us. I’ve decided to try a change. When you criticize me, I’m going to respond differently than I used to. It’s an experiment. You don’t have to do anything different unless you want to. I’m not sure how it will go, but I wanted you to know that I’m trying to improve things.”
You might have noticed that this suggestion didn’t include defining exactly what changes Marti plans to make. Mike is now primed—and probably curious—to see what will be different.
Declaring an experiment which doesn’t place blame on Mike (or Marti) could open the door to improved interactions. How?
Even if Mike doesn’t move an inch in his behaviour, at least Marti will become more conscious of her responses. She’ll be more in control. That alone could be helpful.
But it’s also possible that Mike will start responding differently as Marti’s reactions change. Often what we get back from people depends on what we put out, doesn’t it?
The process of consciously experimenting can be fascinating and even fun. What do you think of this experiment?
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
- Choosing Behaviour
- Choosing Perspective
- Control and Choice
- Develop Understanding
- Doing, Thinking, Feeling, Physiology
- How it is sometimes
- Love & Belonging
- Perception & Reality
- Personal Freedom