family focus >> family counseling
How You Doing?
Getting past automatic responses.
ith the pace of everyday
life, it's easy to fall into
tion patterns. Even with those we care
about, we talk more and say less than
we wish. We all too frequently suc-
cumb to saying what we think others
expect to hear.
In different situations it may be
more expeditious to think and speak
as others do, lessening
the chance for disagree-
ment. How do we get
beyond these artificial
constraints? How do we
let others know we care
about what they say and
are committed to actually
One common example
happens when we greet
each other with the classic
salutation, "How are you?"
In the years before texting,
Facebook or Twitter, we
asked this because we truly wanted to
know. Today, we have little interest in
the actual response.
Of course, we do not simply ignore
the person when asked how we are.
Instead, our few, often rote, responses
range from the positive "doing great"
to the unanticipated "bearing up"
or "chillin'," culminating with the
negative "Don't ask. You don't want to
If someone offers an honest answer,
we aren't sure how to respond. Is this
a violation of protocol, an attempt at
a deeper social contact? Do we feign
interest to avoid appearing rude?
Just the other day, I was surprised
when an acquaintance responded
with a long description of a recent
incident and then ended by saying
"thank you for asking." This indicated
to me that doing so was considered
unusual. As a result, I have decided
to listen more when given detailed
responses. Try this; you may be sur-
prised at what you hear or learn.
Why Did You Do That?
Another example of formulaic inter-
action can be seen when a child does
something wrong. True to form, the
parent asks: "Why did you do that?"
The child's answer is the predictable:
"I don't know."
Many parents find this answer
unacceptable, reacting to what
appears to be an all-too-casual reply
by berating, ridiculing or making
I~ elpir.,c Me
unfounded assumptions (reactions
that may originate in the parent's own
But rather than exacerbate the
troublesome situation, parents can
use the child's misdeed to teach him
or her how to think beyond "I don't
Children often are oblivious to
the link between prior events and
acting primarily on
impulse or opportunity.
How parents respond can
teach them how to assess
potentially risky situa-
tions and steer them away
from future difficulties.
Successful application of
this learning may take
time, increasing with a
child's levels of maturity
Another example is
— when someone holds so fast to
hardened views and demands that
you accept them without debate. The
weakness of these arguments is evi-
dent when they are repeated over and
over again as if doing so will make
unacceptable ideas convincing.
When you hear a premise that can-
not stand on its merits, how do you
respond? Do you offer a polite non-
response? Do you divert the discus-
sion? Or do you become angry, blurt-
ing out rejoinders, raising your voice
or gesturing wildly?
It is necessary to break through an
impasse by interrupting any attempt
at confrontation. To do so, lower your
voice, smile, focus on the person and
remain calm. This makes it easier to
stand firm for your own beliefs while
reducing the possibility that tensions
will build. The goal is to encourage
a mutual consideration of ideas that
Both children and adults can take
on new strategies to improve how
ideas are exchanged. If you can infuse
discussions, even heated ones, with
new ideas, the result will be increased
knowledge sharing that thwarts
unproductive standoffs. You can't
argue with that.
Dr. Daniel Rosenbaum is a clinical social
worker at Counseling Associates Inc.
in West Bloomfield, where he counsels
children, teens and adults experiencing
family or personal psychological
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