Closer or Further? You Choose!

Good relationships form the basis of a satisfying life according to Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory. Take a look at your own experience: Are you happier when you are getting along well with the people you care about? Or are you happier when there’s fussing and fighting? For most people, getting along is better.

So why can’t we just get along? If you choose a certain outlook, you’ll always be able to find someone who needs fixin’. You might even conclude that if only the others in your life (spouse, children, boss, cat, etc.) would change and behave as they are supposed to, then everything would be perfect!

Whether it’s children, spouses, co-workers, politicians, teachers, or others, there’s a world full of people who could be improved. And how will they ever do what they are supposed to unless we criticize them? Complain about them? Nag them? After all, we can see so clearly what is wrong. Isn’t it our responsibility to tell them? And when they don’t get it, tell them over and over. And over.

Dr. Glasser also says that the only person’s behaviour that you can change is your own.  The beautiful thing is that as you change your behaviour, those important people in your life may begin to change their behaviour as well. (No predictions about the cat, however!)

So, what works? Here’s a simple question you can ask yourself, “Is what I am about to say going to bring me closer to, or drive me further away, from this person?” If you recognize that it’s going to drive you apart, then is it really helpful to say it?

For example, your son, Stan, comes home from school, slams the door, and announces that his homework assignment is a stupid waste of time. What are your choices?  You could say, “I agree, Stan. You’re absolutely right.” However, that response will likely not help in getting the homework done, which has its own consequences. And will it really bring you closer together?

Or you could say, “Stanley, I’ve told you a hundred times not to slam that door! Now get in your room right now and get started on that homework or you’ll never get through school. We have enough problems without you flunking out!”  That response pretty clearly drives you further apart, and it probably won’t help get the homework done either.

How about something along these lines, “It’s true that sometimes in life we have to do things that seem stupid at the time. Would you like to talk about your homework with me as you work on it while I’m making dinner?” Here, you acknowledge to Stan that there’s a possibility that his perception may be valid; however, the homework still has to be done. And while he’s doing it, you are prepared to listen as you do your own work.

Dr. Glasser has identified important habits that are often used in relationships; he calls them the seven caring habits and the seven deadly habits. The seven caring habits are listening, supporting, encouraging, respecting, trusting, accepting, and always negotiating disagreements. The seven deadlies are criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing (rewarding to control).

Let’s take a closer look at just one of the deadly habits: criticism. People often offer criticism because they think it’s good for the person who is receiving it. If we don’t criticize, how will they learn? The concept of “constructive criticism” is particularly insidious. Glasser’s take is that even well-intentioned criticism isn’t helpful as it’s not likely to lead to a closer relationship with the person being criticized.

Replacing criticizing behaviour with honest, supportive behaviour does not mean being untruthful or giving undeserved praise; that’s condescending and ultimately not helpful. If an employee performs poorly or a student does shoddy work, pretending otherwise doesn’t make anything better.  A supportive behaviour helps to make it possible to do good work: work that’s truly worthy of praise.

You might be thinking that this is fine in theory, but it’ll never fly in the real world.  Would you like to give it a try?

For example, let’s say your relationship with your daughter is becoming more distant and you’re having trouble communicating with her. Think of one interaction in that relationship where you use a deadly habit…you might tend to say something critical when you see how she’s dressed for school. Instead, offer a comment that fits the caring habits: supportive, encouraging, whatever, as long as it’s true.  No sarcasm, no implied criticism, just a caring comment about any small thing. “Your hair looks nice today.” Omit the part about how it would look so much nicer if it didn’t clash with that awful tattoo. After all, she’s already pretty clear about your thoughts on the tattoo, isn’t she?

Your daughter may be puzzled! If this is unusual behaviour for you, she may even respond with an unkind remark. No matter. Resist the temptation to engage in one of the 7 deadlies and just like water on a duck’s back, let it go.

You may not see an instant improvement in the relationship (although it’s possible). If you’ve spent lots of time building a pattern of criticizing, it’ll take time to change it. Carry on, consistently, with your one small change and observe. Does the relationship improve?

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