One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

December 20, 2008

How to Influence People Making Difficult Decisions

How do you tell someone what the answer to their difficult situation is when they won’t listen?


Let go of trying to sell your own Stuff. Seriously, this is my wisdom. Let it go. This is the surest way to influence people – by letting go of your agenda and being a human being for a couple of minutes.

Everybody has Stuff to sell. Even if you don’t consider yourself a salesperson, even if you’re a complete introvert and recluse. We all have Stuff to sell – ideas that are important to us and it therefore becomes important to us that others see things the same way.

You might have a certain narrative that you have about yourself, like, “I’m a very gregarious person,” “I’m very logic-driven,” “I’m one of the intelligent ones” or whatever. And you probably have certain value-oriented narratives, like, “Social programs lead to bloated government,” “marriage is sanctioned prostitution,” “Unions are crooked,” etc. Okay, and when someone else is making a difficult decision and you have a stake in it, then you have something to sell.

I’m going to use my son as an example.

Just about everything my son does is a difficult decision because he’s an intense kid. And I have a stake in just about every difficult decision he makes, because it’s usually about how he’s going to treat others, and I want him to grow up to be a good person. But the key (and this is important) is to back off and have faith. Key.

When I went to pick up my son at daycare the other day, I found him in the director’s office. Apparently he and another child had a disagreement about some lego. My son put his foot over the lego and dragged it away with his foot, he ended up dragging it under his foot discretely until he had walked around behind the other child, then left it there, and moved to taunting the other child about how he couldn’t find the lego. Then the other child lost his temper and jumped my son.

The issue was that when the two boys went to the director’s office to work out their part in the fault of the situation, my son wasn’t ready to admit any fault. He takes a long time to get to being ready. And if you try to hustle him along, he’s a ridiculously clever child who will talk circles around you until you’re frustrated, then, when you make the mistake of jumping in to short-circuit his lawyering, he will lose his temper because you keep interrupting him to try to sell him this “you are to blame” narrative. And that is what happened between him and the director.

People always have Stuff between them and the solution. Otherwise they’d be at the solution already.

The fact is, whether he’s in the wrong or not, what the adults need to do is help him grow to the point where he can recognize and admit and repair when he has done something wrong. And interrupting, jumping in, lecturing and contradicting will not work.

That’s not something particular to my son. Many children would respond to those tactics by issuing the apology – but it’s either because admitting fault is not as much a difficult decision for them (they don’t have so much self-narrative tied up in never being wrong) or, it’s because they have a personality more open to being trained to short-circuit their own narrative and jump right to the adult-sanctioned apology.

Because so many children do seek adult approval, and therefore so many children will respond to lectures and guilting by learning to short-circuit their own “it’s not my fault” narrative, we expect that this is the normal part of growing up, the training that we need to impart to all children. But I don’t think that’s so.

I think that a little backing off, a little faith (and a LOT of patience in his case) is in order. If I tell him he’s in the wrong, he is instantly in resistance. He’s more focused on his persecution and on how to evade it or how to show me he’s right. If I leave the ball in his court – give him space, but let him know that the agenda is for him to decide how much of the blame he owns and then I take a deep breath, and I let go of my agenda of selling him on apologizing, it works out much better.

I need to remind myself (a LOT) that I am there to help him reason it out. That doesn’t mean asking leading questions and approving of or disapproving of his answers (like the teacher who smugly asked him, “well how would it work if *I* decided not to do my work like you have decided not to do your work. Do you think I’d get paid? Do you think that would work?”). It just means listening, asking questions, hearing him out, offering suggestions only if he seems like he’s stuck and HE’S looking for more information.

Pushing someone to pass on working it out themselves is not helpful

When we push kids to just drop their own sense of outrage, to abandon their personal narratives in the pursuit of getting along, we teach them that they can either take care of themselves or be a good citizen. We raise children who are either self-sacrificing and can never say no or stand up for themselves or we raise children who are always holding on tight to their sense of self because everyone was always trying to take it way from them.

When we step them through reasoning their own emotions out, letting their reactions be valid and then helping them to deal with those reaction, to go through them instead of around them and then to reason what the next step is based on the kind of person they want to be, then we raise children who can attend to their needs and then attend to the world’s needs. And the more they do it, the better they get at it. They even learn times and ways to put their needs off when the situation calls for it, but then to come back to their own needs instead of perpetually burying them.

« Previous post

Leave a Reply