‘Not who we are’ or ‘Not who we want to be'

As I reflect on the terrible tragedy from March 15, 2019 which has impacted on our Muslim community, Christchurch and wider New Zealand society I am proud of the leadership response shown by our Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern and the government to this incredibly sad and devastating event.

My thoughts went out also to the parents of those children in Christchurch who have had to explain to their children why there was a lockdown and ultimately give them an age appropriate understanding of the tragedy. The educators on the Monday afterwards who also were tasked with the unenviable and incredibly important task of assisting children of all ages to understand and move forward.

There are some helpful resources out that I would refer you to:

Madeleine Taylor has written a blog https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-children-watching-raising-resilient-through-tough-taylor

The Parenting Place also has this piece: https://www.theparentingplace.com/how-to-talk—about/world-trauma/

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As adults we want and need to see some good come out of tragedies such as this. We have already seen it in the form of generosity of people donating money, attending vigils, standing in solidarity and support of our Muslim community and importantly, a conscious turning away from giving the perpetrator a voice.

Jacinda’s words of ‘not who we are’ need to be grounded in an understanding of what our values are as New Zealanders. It is a chance for us to challenge and make clear what is and isn’t acceptable in our society.

The level of casual racism, sexism, lack of acceptance of gender diversity, and high levels of domestic violence in New Zealand society is not markedly different from other Western cultures. It was only a few months ago that I attended a vigil about domestic violence (Grace Millane) and the plea was for our country to do better.

I recently spoke with someone who was, with their partner and daughter going to attend the PRIDE parade in Wellington, they were relieved that it was cancelled because of fear that they would be targeted by hate. Part of the reason it was cancelled was because it was a celebration at a time of mourning, and it also would have stretched police resources.  If we truly were an inclusive society which accepted difference would we even need a police presence for such events?

While I absolutely agree with the Prime Minister’s sentiment that extremism has no place in Aotearoa, New Zealand, I prefer to see it as ‘not who we want to be’  as it allows for the reality that we are an imperfect society and sets up the question of ‘how then do we want to be?’

What changes do we need to make to be able to stand up and protect any human being who is being treated differently because of their religion, culture, colour, sex or gender and possibly even more importantly what changes need to occur so the need to protect is gone?

 

 

Why did you do that?

How often do you catch yourself asking someone, “Why did you do that?” and then getting into a situation where things have escalated?

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A number of years ago,  I ran a Hall of Residence for University students. It was both an incredibly rewarding and  incredibly challenging role and experience. The majority of students were in their late teens and in the main impressive, engaging and respectful.  On occasion I also dealt with students who made errors in judgement and the responsibility fell to me to deal with such things.

One particular incident I had to deal with was when a dome security camera had been ripped off a ceiling. I had a conversation with the alleged vandal and in response to my asking him about what he had done, he folded his arms and said in a somewhat defensive tone,  “How do you know it was me?” 

At this point I asked him whether he wanted to think about that question for a nanosecond, or would he rather just see the last 30 seconds shown on the video feed?  After a couple of minutes he twigged and realised the video feed probably had a brilliant shot of his face and hands reaching up and ripping the camera off the ceiling. 

I then proceeded to ask the most useless question of all, “Why did you do that?” and I got the predictable and unhelpful response, “I don’t know”. In doing this, I had created a situation of escalating the incident.

Flight, fight or freeze.  As my question started with a ‘why’ it is more likely to be perceived as accusatory, and increases the chances of them going into a ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response,  which subsequently makes resolving the issue that bit more difficult. 

If I had framed the question differently, using open questions which were less threatening, such as, “Help me understand what was going on for you at that moment?” or “What questions might I have about what happened?” or “What can you tell me about what happened?” or “How can we resolve what has occurred?” or “What information do you need to know from me at this point?” the conversation may have opened up and the situation may have been resolved much more quickly.

The outcome of the conversation with the student was a requirement for them to pay for the replacement of the dome camera. Incidentally, the parent also got involved and demanded they be allowed to keep the damaged camera, seeing they had paid for it... However, that is another story!

 

 

 

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.

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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

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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 me...in 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

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"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.