A Simple, but Profound, Principle for Effective Change
The worst advice I ever received when working with challenging youth in difficult and emotional situations was “Know what you want the kid to do and don’t relent until he changes his mind.”
What I wasn’t told, however, was that in order to change someone else’s behaviour I would need to start by changing my behaviour. This is a powerful principle that has applications at home, at school, at work, and in our relationships.
It’s like a ‘dance’ … when you introduce a new step, your dance partner needs to learn how to respond to this dance step – to do otherwise would lead to a clumsy and awkward display.
In your next confrontation with a misbehaving child, take a closer look at how you are responding to the behaviour. See if you notice how your actions (and reactions) are actually contributing to the ongoing conflict. If you want to be able to change how this plays out, start by changing your responses. Respond differently and a different response will follow. And, if you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry – children tend to follow the same patterns of behaviour and you will undoubtedly get another chance to practice!
Schools are expert at actualizing the principle “Behaviour change begins with ME”. Teachers and child care workers are constantly studying their own behaviours by asking themselves questions such as: “Am I using effective teaching techniques”? “Do I understand what is the function of this child’s behaviour?” Am I relating to this child in a way that matches how he/she learns best?” The ‘big’ person in the relationship is examining their personal responsibility in the relationship.
This principle of ‘change’ also applies in personal relationships. As an experiment, during a disagreement with your partner, assume that the current ‘dance steps’ that seem to define your relationship are flawed. You want to correct the flow of your movements. The old way was to try to change your partner. This assumes that you are right and that you somehow have the power to change some else. Sorry, but the only person you have the power to change is yourself.
By refusing to take the position of power (which often limits the relationship) and taking a stance that is different and unexpected, we could anticipate a novel response from the other person. In addition, by not reacting in our usual way, we can take a respectful and thoughtful stance that continues to contribute to change.
Just a Thought…
From Willow Grove Counselling, Inc.