Monday, May 20, 2013

"What we have here is a failure to communicate" Prison guard to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke

Joe worked hard to help his 14-year-old son find the right baseball team. He took him to tryouts, spoke to the coaches, compared costs, and matched game schedules with his son's other activities. He did it all and he did it well.  And his son was super-excited about the team they chose.

Then Joe approached his son's mother, Linda, about paying half the sign up, travel, and uniform costs. She replied: "You've got to be kidding! No way!"  Joe was hurt and angered: "What else could I have done? I did all the work, saved you all the hassles. I thought you would be happy that I took on the responsibility."

What had Joe done wrong?  As far as working relationships go, he failed to do the most important things of all: communicate, consult, and listen.

Consider Linda's point of view:

"I don't like surprises."  
Joe startled Linda with a "done deal" that incurred significant costs.  She resented not being asked for input and worried about the long-term financial commitment. And now Joe wanted an on-the-spot decision.  Thus, she made a hasty emotional decision: "Forget it."   In short, Joe had not provided her time to make a reasoned decision.

"What in the world were you thinking signing him up for such an expensive program?"
Good question. Joe may have sound reasons for choosing an expensive program, but how would Linda know?  He hadn't informed her along the way as to the options and why he eliminated less expensive alternatives.

"Don't my thoughts count for anything?"  
Apparently not. If Joe wants her to share the cost, he better learn to share decision-making. Without a request to be involved, Linda feels her viewpoint is not just unwanted, it is without merit -- at least from Joe's perspective. Linda wants Joe to solicit her views, not ignore them.

"What choice do I have? Pay up or look like a jerk to our son? What kind of choice is that?" 
Linda feels coerced. Joe has created a wonderful opportunity for their son to enjoy a sport -- and an equally wonderful opportunity for Linda to look like a spoilsport. Of course, she can go along with Joe and pay a portion of the fees--but at the cost of feeling trapped into a plan she does not endorse.

Before deciding: Inform, ask for advice, listen. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another exchange, same old mistakes

For one divorced couple, it's deja vu all over again.  Mom didn't want to drive the children to Dad's home; Dad didn't want to drive to pick them up.  The subsequent exchange, when it finally occurred, was accompanied by such acrimony that the police came, yet again.  This isn't the first time. In fact, the children and the police are on a first name basis.  What's going on?

First, each parent applies a double standard, saying and doing things that they accuse the other of doing. Mom, for example, complains to anyone who will listen that Dad is a fat slob more interested in watching football than being with his children.  But just last week Mom was outraged when Dad accused her of being more interested in dating "whatever guy is around" than spending time with the children.

Second, they expend excessive energy questioning one another's motives and preciously little on the facts.  Dad complains that Mom tries to control him by making him look bad in the eyes of the children. He perceives that she will stop at nothing to make his life miserable: "She's all about making me look like a jerk to the kids."  Mom, for her part, says that Dad's primary motivation is to leave the hard work of raising the children while taking credit for their good adjustment: "He's a free-rider, has been all his life."

Third, neither one accepts responsiblity for their part in the debacle.  Rather than quickly acknowledging mistakes and moving on, both rationalize, obfuscate, and deny.  Time and effort that could be better spent -- and enjoyed -- with the children is spent on tit-for-tat accusations and denials.

What Mom and Dad need to do is simple--but hard to carry out: admit their mistakes.  On this occasion, it was Mom's turn to drive the children to Dad's home but she had forgotten about her  doctor's appointment. She would have done well to say she was anxious about the appointment, irritated with herself for creating the scheduling conflict, and regretted over-reacting when Dad wouldn't help her out.  Dad, who really wasn't doing anything important that evening, could acknowledge that he refused to help out of pique and over-reacted when she over-reacted.  Both could improve matters by simply saying: "We screwed up, we can do better."

Don't let your standard be a double standard.