Since I recommended Crucial Conversations but didn't really talk much about what it taught, I thought I'd share how I'm trying to apply it in my life.
The authors of Crucial Conversations recommend practicing your new skills with your kids because they are always lots of opportunities. They were right!
Last night I practiced my new skills on my 8 year old and to my surprise it actually worked. (Some day he's going to read this blog and realize what I've put him through!)
I find it really frustrating that you can ask a kid how his day at school was and in spite of the fact that he just spent seven hours there, he'll say "good" and when you ask "what did you do?", you get "I don't remember."
So we usually play 20 questions. (Did you do math? How did that go? Did you read? What did you read? Did you go to art? What did you make? …)
Yesterday on the way home from school (which is a 30 minute drive) I asked how his day went. And predictably, it turned into 20 questions.
When he started yelling "GOOD!" back at me, I realized I'd hit a "Crucial Conversation". One of the three signs of a crucial conversation is when emotions get involved. So I started applying my new learnings.
- What did I want from this conversation? I was trying to "hang out" with my eight year old. Find out about his day. Talk to him. Build our relationship. What I was not trying to do was get him trouble. This is key because usually when he acts like this, he's hiding something bad that happened and I usually drill him until I figure out what it is. But that's never my original intent, it just comes out. This time I decided I didn't really care unless he wanted to talk about it. Learning why he got in trouble was derailing me from my intent of building up my relationship with him.
- Make it safe. When people's emotions run high they often don't feel safe. (And the signs are that they turn to "violence", perhaps yelling like my 8 year old, or they "withdraw".) So I told him that it looked like he was getting upset and asked him why. That didn't work – he got more upset. "NOTHING! MY DAY WAS GOOD!" So I backed up and told him I was just trying to talk to him, not get him trouble. (With a lot more words.)
- Establish common goals. I told him I was just trying to "hang out" with him and talk to him. And I told him that if something I'd done upset him, I wanted to know what so that I didn't do it next time. Because I wanted to talk to him. (I don't think he was upset about something I did in this conversation but rather something I'd done in lots of previous conversations! Also, there was probably a good chance that he was upset because he'd done something wrong, but discovering that wasn't our goal in the conversation.)
And what do you know? It worked!
I got to hear all about his day. The friends he played with, the marbles that sounded like a machine gun, the general assembly where they learned that their school is going green, …
Photo by T.SC.