The Behaviour, not the person

I was explaining to a young relative the technique first introduced over four decades ago by Thomas Gordon P.E.T (Parent Effectiveness Training).

The conversation had come about because of their comments about people being dumb or stupid. I had explained it can be useful to separate the person from the behaviour. I said the behaviour might be dumb or stupid, however attaching it to the person limits them, and makes it harder to see them as a person instead of their behaviour or actions. When explaining it I used an example of driving a vehicle and observing dangerous driving, saying the behaviour of driving very fast was stupid, instead of the person being stupid. It is more effective to name the action rather than the person as being stupid.

We also discussed  making assumptions for the reasons why someone might speed or overtake in a dangerous place.  There was some discussion, debate and disagreement before the conversation ended.


I got ‘schooled’ by my young relative the next day as I observed in the rear vision mirror someone  overtaking a truck on a bend which had double yellow lines. Automatically, from my mouth, came out  “you bloody idiot!” From the back of our car  a voice pipes up with “remember it is not the person it is the behaviour!”

 It was a great reminder about how instinctive it is to attach the behaviour to the identity of the person and how  easily it is to fall into the trap of the behaviour not the person!

Not forgetting also how quickly young person learn! 


Fine, I will just do it all myself!

“Fine, I will do it all myself”, “Fine, I will I never ask you for help again”, “Fine, I will contact the CEO then!” or “Fine, I will move out then!” are classic ‘dead-end’ statements.

Whether its in business or personal life, it is useful to have strategies in your head to assist if you want to maintain the relationship.

It is fairly common to respond to those sorts of statements with “Fine!” or “Whatever” which is a sure fire way of tipping the conversation closer to the precipice of no return.  Tammy Lenski suggests a better response is “That’s an option we can consider”, or “How can we figure a less extreme solution?” These responses acknowledge the reaction without getting positional or caving to their words.

The key is embedding in your brain, to respond with a “How can...? to encourage problem solving without getting into yes and no responses. 

What it does require is an awareness of own reaction to the words being said, and the ability to create a space between reaction and action. 

Tammy Lenski is well worth following and has some other great times for situations where a person is being defensive, uncommunicative or they are simply unloading a lot and leaving you feeling overwhelmed.




Storm in an egg cup


How quickly things escalate. My partner said she wanted a bit of the soup I had made myself for lunch, which I took literally, and put soup in the smallest glass dish I could find.

Her humorous retaliation came shortly after with the making of a cup of tea for an egg cup!

I could tell this was not going to end well...

I joked with her that I was so looking forward to cooking her dinner that night!

While the above was very much done in the spirit of fun for both of us, it is a good metaphor for how quickly something can escalate because people have taken issue with something someone has said or done. Phrases such as below are often the 'road to escalation'

 "I am going to win"

"I am not going to back down"

"I am going to make sure that person pay for that..."

"They need to be taught a lesson"

When this thinking or language start being expressed, it can be a good indicator that the issue is on the 'road to escalation' and whatever the original issue was, is at risk of getting lost somewhere along the way.

It can be useful if you hear yourself using 'road to escalation' expressions and reflect on the needs or or values that underpin that position.

David Rock's SCARF model is a really useful tool to help work out what needs or values might get triggered leading to an escalation of an issue.

You might be interested to know, I was sensible to not carry on the humour with the egg-cup. Mainly because...I know I would lose that game!

Problem...not the person

big red button.jpg

"That person is a...." or  "That (insert expletive) person is incredibly difficult" are statements which are commonly made and at the same time incredibly unhelpful.

While it is recognised as a way of expressing an opinion or feelings about a person, focusing on the person can create a significant barrier to changing or influencing an outcome beyond confirming a view that "this person is and always will be "difficult".

Basically, they have pressed your button. They have said or done something which is contrary to your needs, wants and/or values. If your  perspective is that the 'person' is difficult', then it is much harder to resolve, or have a meaningful conversation about the issues,  because it is now tied with the person's character, instead of some behaviour.  You may even find yourself in the heat of the conversation questioning their parentage!

If you chose instead to focus on the "It" - that is, what specifically it is that the person has said or done,  then the options to resolve the situation  greatly increase.  Sometimes a useful strategy can be to note in some way what the behaviour was that triggered the "that person is xxxxx difficult"

Increasing our own awareness of the reason why 'it' (x's behaviour) pressed our button, will minimise the chances of the situation escalating and of us over-reacting.

A focus on the  person and not their behaviour creates for us a fight, flight, freeze response because the brain perceives an attack from a person, whereas if it's a problem, we know how to sort those...we are naturally good at that!

Getting rid of the "That person is difficult..."type language is not easy. I would be interested to hear from others what strategies they use to help them change the focus to be about the problem and not the person.


Lydia Ko - reflecting her values

Lydia Ko, World Champion golfer, was interviewed  after day three of four in  her bid for a Rio Olympic Games golf medal. Going into the third day she was well off the pace and not really looking like a medal contender. After a great round of golf on day three, this is what she commented to reporters.

"I've just got to stick to my own gameplan. I think that's really important. Sometimes you can get carried away about what somebody else is doing. I'm just going to focus solely on me. Try and play some good golf, just stay patient but at the same time have fun. I'm having this opportunity at the Olympics to maybe stand on the podium and that itself I'm really grateful for that. Either way I'm just going to enjoy it. The other girls are playing some great golf and hopefully I'll be able to do the same."

In her response she reflected some incredible wisdom, depth of character and values.  Respect for others, humility, passion, drive and gratitude  are implicit.

Great example of living her values day-to-day.