If you have been following this blog for the past few weeks you have been encouraged to list those character traits you desire in another as well as those you would not want to put up with.
We are drawn to individuals who possess the characters we desire but tend to either pull away from those possessing the undesirable characteristics or find ourselves in an ongoing conflict because of them.
The problem is, we all express good and bad character traits. Though we each have to determine which character traits we must have and which ones we cannot tolerate in a relationship we must learn to make an evaluation before we throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.
It is important to remember that people can and do change. Much of what people say or do is a learned behavior, adopted from parents, culture, religion or one’s overall environment. So, if one’s thoughts and attitudes are learned they can be relearned.
The relearning process typically occurs as one grows through life’s experiences or is confronted with the thoughts and attitudes of another. Each and every encounter serves to change or affirm the way one ultimately expresses himself.
When we accept that, we can learn how to deal with those unacceptable character traits we encounter in others. Learning how to communicate, in such a way that influences another towards positive change, helps them and the relationship. Not to mention that this example will teach those who observe.
So, how do we communicate to another in whom we have observed an unacceptable character trait? There are many ways to communicate such hard things to others but we will address only one this week.
Declarations vs Questions
Let’s say that the other in your life is expressing a character called lazy. You observe that he sits glued to his phone for hours while you and others work hard to clean up the surroundings.
You can make a declaration by saying something like,
• “It is pretty lazy of you to stay glued to your phone while everybody else is working!”
• “Looks like you are too lazy to do any real work!”
Or, you could ask questions to get an understanding about his behavior.
• What were you doing on your phone for so long?
• Who were you speaking to?
• Why was it important for you to be on the phone at that particular time?
When we ask a what, when, where, why, or how question, in the right spirit, we offer an opportunity for the one expressing himself to explain. Some times when a person hears his own reasoning he may get convicted over his actions and change his mind about what he should have been doing.
But, there are times when the other is asked questions that we gain information that could change our minds about labels we have assigned to their behavior.
For instance, the other answers, “I was on the phone trying to get some information about my niece who has been missing since the hurricane. I spoke with one agency giving them all kinds of information only to be transferred to another agency where I had to do the same thing. I must have been transferred 6 or 7 different times. The problem is that her parents were killed in the hurricane and the authorities need to know who to connect her with as soon as they find her so that her trauma can be minimized. I also made a few calls trying to get a ticket to go get her as soon as a flight is available.
What label would we assign to his behavior now? Would we be happy that we didn’t begin with a declaration or two?
Let’s say that the other you observe speaks disrespectfully to you.
“Don’t you know how to cook woman? This stuff doesn’t have any taste to it at all!”
A typical response in the form of a declaration would sound like,
• “Then do your own cooking!”
• “You are not an expert here!”
Asking a few questions could change an attitude of either the question asker or the one answering.
• Who do you compare me to?
• What kind of seasoning do you like?
• Where could I go to learn more about cooking?
The humility it takes to ask questions rather than to make declarations potentially provides information that could change a mind and also prevent unhealthy conflict.
Next week we will look at another communication strategy that will help us address character issues without using unacceptable character traits to do so.