DrDeb’s Book Review: Difficult Conversations

“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen are from the Harvard Business School, of all things! But that is precisely why we can benefit from listening to what they have to say. Let me explain. We can be sloppy with how we talk to our loved ones. We feel we have to be “honest,” right? And then what happens? Well, I don’t have to tell you: It generally doesn’t work out so well. But business! Ah, that’s a different thing. When money is on the table, everyone wants to be careful. Not only careful as in “diplomatic,” but careful as in “getting the outcome that I want.” Yeah, in business, we are usually smart. If we want to make a sale, we nurse the customer. But with our families, we are just as liable to shoot ourselves in the foot, unfortunately. So what can these three people tell us about conversations that we didn’t already know? A lot, apparently. I have to tell you *I* was impressed because they break down conversations even more than I thought I did. (Yup. That’s right. I don’t have to have a big ego about this.) As a manual of how to work with people — or your family — it is great. Let me give you a bunch of great examples, pages I dog-eared just for you. “When Blame Is the Goal Understanding Is the Casualty” (p. 64) “Even in situations that require a clear assignment of blame, there is a cost. Once the specter of punishment – legal or otherwise – is...

You Can Control Your Emotions!

  I was on the main avenue in my neighborhood a few years ago after I’d moved in looking for a store. Not being from here for very long, I just didn’t know all the shops and where they are located. I crawled along riveting my head from the road to the store numbers when that old familiar, grating noise intruded: beep-beep-BEEP!! And I had that urge that I always get – to rush out to the the beeper and ask, “So…I’m looking for an address and I’m a little confused….How, um, how, exactly, does your beeping help me find my address better so I can get out of your way?” Of course, I never do ask that question. For one thing, I don’t want to be shot because who knows just how irritated and aggravated that person is who is behind that steering wheel? And that really is the second and most important reason why I never have done this and never will: It’s because I know that the beeping comes from the emotional place in the brain and rational questions can’t “reach” an emotionally overwrought person. People use their horns as an expression of emotions that have gone out of rational control. In fact, people often use their mouths as an expression of their emotions when they ought not to. It’s those darn emotions that get in the way of brains that work so very well otherwise. Think about all the emotional things that deter us from living happy lives: Worries over what is beyond our control like someone who is sick, fears of failure when failure really...

What The Narcissist Needs

  I was shocked. This guy was giving me the missing key, the key to why some people’s marriages get better and some people’s don’t. Why hadn’t I thought of this? One simple, not so easy, but simple, nevertheless, solution. I was telling him, “Think about it. Think about how your wife would feel when you say those things to her.” And he said, “I usually don’t think about things like that.” “Yes, I hear you. You don’t usually think about people’s feelings and how they would react to things. I get that. But you want things better in your marriage, so I’m asking you to think about it.” “Well, what am I supposed to think about?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “You’ve told me it hurts her feelings and I don’t see why it would. What else should I think about?” Now, I was puzzled. He is obviously not one of those people who loses sleep at night worrying about what other people think of him or his deeds. He doesn’t lose sleep at night saying to himself, “If I had done this, then maybe they would have done that.” He doesn’t wonder what will happen going forward, either; he doesn’t toss different scenarios around in his mind at 3 AM thinking that what he really needs to do is X. Or maybe it should be Y. Or maybe Z. He doesn’t worry. Well, that’s good, right? Not to be a worrier? Well, sure, but… There are extremes of everything. Worrying about the future when it’s basically out of your control is a foolish expense of psychic energy. Worrying in...

Why “Communication” Doesn’t Work

The caller had that dull tone in her voice that comes from having gotten to the end of her rope. “My marriage is at the end. Basically, it’s over,” she explained, “because I can’t take another day of the way I’m being treated. We are strangers. And I’ve told him over and over what needs to change and it is not happening.” “I understand,” I said. “Why did you call me, then?” “Well,” the caller sighed. We have children. I – I could never forgive myself if I didn’t at least say I tried everything.” “You know,” I replied, “I could see you for a time or two to see if there really is hope, but, honestly, if you don’t re-commit to the idea of your marriage before you come in, it will be wasted effort.” Now it was my caller’s turn to put me on the spot. “Why should I?” she asked. “So as to come crashing down all over again? Get my hopes up and then – splat! Down they go!” “You’re right,” I said, nodding although she couldn’t see that. “You don’t want to be emotionally vulnerable and then get hurt; you don’t want to pile disappointment upon disappointment, and I understand that. But a lot of times, there really is hope. That’s what my specialty is: putting marriages back on track that were on the brink of divorce. I don’t advocate divorce no matter how many “experts” have told you it’s the way to go. “You can go look at my blog for all the reasons why even divorce attorneys don’t recommend it. A lot...

You Think You Can’t Change?

If I hear another person sitting in my office say, “I can’t change!” or “He (or she) will never change!” I am going to scream. No, I won’t scream. Don’t worry. But I do not get how people can make statements that are directly against everything science has shown. Of course we change. We also learn. We grow. What you really mean when you say that you can’t change is that you don’t want to. Fair enough. That is at least an honest statement. But then what are you doing in my office?! Oh, oh, I get it. You can’t (don’t want to) change, but you want to change HER! Ha. I see. No, I don’t see. People “can’t” change, so how can she? You are sighing. “You’re right, Dr. Deb. She can’t change either. I don’t know why I’m here. I guess I’m depressed about the whole thing.” Uh-uh. You’re not allowed to be depressed either; that’s not living a “good life.” You chose this partner for a reason. What is it you will learn from this mate of yours? What will you learn about yourself, your choices, your style, your attitude, the things you have taken for granted as true that may not be true? Is there something you’ve learned that may help you face tomorrow? Can you make a plan for doing things differently? You can? Well, guess what? If you can do things differently or at least see them differently, that’s change. That is the very change you said you can’t do. “But it is so hard, Dr. Deb.” Yes, it is. I will be the...

Why Divorce Is Worse Than The Alternative

Someone asked me recently if I believed in pre-marital counseling for young couples with strife in their relationship. I said, “Absolutely not; they should break up.” If they are in pain and they have not yet gotten married I can only assume that one or the other does not have the tools to get along. The tempers, the blame, the second guessing, the lack of patience, and other behaviors like that are not good. Why should a young person start a new life with pain? Why should a young person introduce a child into a home of hurt? And most important, why should a young person be responsible for correcting the flaws in another person who is a stranger? But once people are married, everything changes. One does become responsible for the other; one is the friend of the other. If you are on the end of receiving pain from a spouse, then you have two reasons to help this spouse: first, to stop your own pain, and second, to encourage this other person to take steps to be a better person. “But, Dr. Deb,” you want to ask, “can anyone really change another person?” Here’s my answer: The myth is that we can’t change others, only ourselves. Our own stories tell us the opposite. Have you not been affected by a good article? A mind-opening discussion? Music? Prayer? Of course we have! Once years ago, when I was going through a long period in which I thought I was too busy with children to pray, I went to a tea during which some women spoke. One recited a poem...

Why Bad Things Happen To Good People – Another Thought

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Why would a perfectly innocent little child be born into a house where she is put down, beaten, or worse? Not only don’t I know, but this particular problem has brought me to tell people that this is a difficult and painful world. I don’t like saying that. Okay, it’s true. But I still don’t like saying that. I want to believe that this is a good world. I believe people are good. And I believe God is good. So it seems very contradictory to say both God is good and the world is bad. It makes no sense. And I’m tired of being caught in this particular place. Yet it comes up so often in my work that it seems like I ought to have a better answer. That’s what I was thinking recently when this idea hit me. When I look at my own life, the bad that happened in it makes perfect sense to me now because I learned so much. What I learned, I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m awfully sorry I was such a slow learner, but ’tis what it ’tis; no sense beating myself up over it. Besides, it’s really a good thing that it took me so long because that way I can tell clients, “What are you complaining about? Look how long it took me to learn what I learned.” I can be a wonderful example to them of being slow to “get it” and yet, here I am, having finally made sense of my life and my place in...

What’s Love?

How is it possible to love someone you never met, never saw, and know nothing about? It happens every day to hundreds of thousands of people. Just ask a pregnant woman how she feels about her unborn baby. Even more strange is how is it possible for a couple who is adopting a child they did not know to love that child? But they do. Why do grandparents fall madly in love with babies that they did not carry for nine months and do not get up to feed in the middle of the night? All the answers are the same: Beyond being a feeling, love is a decision. And just what are you deciding about when you decide to love that baby? Obviously, you are not governing your feelings by the loudness of the crying, the night’s sleep lost, the colic or the colds. Actually, some people are governed that way. They don’t react well to their babies’ cries; they take it out on the children and are called abusers. Which proves my point even more: You can focus on the good or focus on the bad. The choice is yours and the feeling follows. Take that and apply it to any close family member. Do you focus on the things that annoy you or the things that charm you? There are pitfalls and positives with both. Pitfalls of Focusing On The Good You would think that we ought to always focus on the good. That’s what giving the benefit of the doubt means. And that is absolutely correct. What’s more, we should overlook the injury our friend...
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