I do a lot of work with adolescent clients on how to communicate effectively and recently I had to draw on this for myself. Believe it or not, this is another story about bookshelves, but without the crafting!
In case you missed it, I have been waiting on bookshelves to be installed since January. And it has still not happened.
I have tried the patient thing, I have tried the humour thing, I have even tried the getting-someone-else-to-also-put-pressure-on thing. And yet I am still waiting on bookshelves. Now the problem with all of these things is that underlying all of my behaviours is the thought that ‘he must be really busy’. This goes back to a little bit of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as described here. In reality the diagram is a little bit more complicated than shown previously…
This figure is taken from Dummet (2010) in the Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Journal and is a nice, clear way of seeing how our thoughts are triggered by early experiences, conditional assumptions and core beliefs. Now, I’m not going to give you a free psychoanalysis of my own core beliefs or assumptions. But I did come to the realisation after 8 months that my thought ‘he must be really busy’ comes with an underlying conditional assumption that ‘his busy is more important than my busy’. I too am busy, but if I failed to deliver a report after 8 months, the client would (rightly) walk away. Additionally, I have a (reasonable) expectation that if someone agrees to do something they will follow through.
This led me to think about how I teach communication styles to adolescents.
There are three communication styles (I tend to teach ‘Passive Aggressive’ communication as a type of ‘Aggressive’ communication):
Back to my assumption that ‘his busy is more important than my busy’. This clearly fits right in to a passive communication and thinking style. And it wasn’t getting my anywhere. Because passive communication doesn’t tend to get you anywhere (incidentally, nor does aggressive communication, as people tend to put walls up).
Once I had realised this, I was able to challenge my thinking. Are his needs more important than mine? If he is too busy to do this, why hasn’t he told me he can’t? Is it reasonable to expect this to be done?
Once I had challenged my thinking it was time to change the behaviour! So I sent an assertive email stating what my needs and expectations are and that if these could not be met I would need to find someone else who could meet them. It was obviously important to include assertive messages, not aggressive ones. My message was short, to the point and used the following guidelines:
- Try using a no-blame approach. It is important not to start out by flinging accusations or opening with grievances. Allow yourself to feel anger at the situation but don’t expect the other person to carry this for you.
- Make clear, assertive requests. It is important you let the person know exactly what it is you expect or want. Don’t hide this in ‘aggressive’ language (e.g. ‘if it’s not too hard for you…’ or ‘It’s obviously too much trouble, but….’)
- Include a ‘why’ or a ‘because’. I can remember a study from my undergraduate days that showed that people are more likely to comply if you include the word ‘because’ in your request. This worked even when you did not include an actual reason (i.e. ‘can I please use the copier first because I need to make some copies’ was just as effective as ‘can I please use the copier first because I am in a rush’).
- Validate the other person’s feelings and efforts. Make sure you acknowledge that their needs are as important as yours, tell them you appreciate the effort.
- Be willing to negotiate. If the person cannot meet your expectations, be willing to negotiate with them. If needed you can always find another person to do it, but they are more likely to be helpful in the future if you do this in a respectful way.
These tips worked for me! And I have an installation date for the bookcases one week!