THE ABCs OF POWER AND THE GUILT CONDITION
For the past few weeks I have been discussing personal power. Power is the skill to achieve your desires. To help people to come up with plans to achieve their desires, we have been constructing a list, in alphabetical order, of sources of power. We are calling this list the ABCs of Power. So far, the list looks like this:
THE ABCs OF POWER
A=Advancing Skill (see The ABCs of Power: The letter “A”)
B=Breaking Down a Conflict into its Three Conditions: Desire, Interference and Guilt (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “B”)
C=Coalitions (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “C”).
Each of these sources of power do not instantly provide us with a plan that is specific enough to achieve our desires. Rather, when we feel stuck in coming up with a specific plan, these sources of power can guide us along a path that leads us to discover a specific plan.
As I have already mentioned, the best way to learn how to use the sources of power is to look at a variety of examples of people using the ABCs of Power. To that end, we have recently looked at an example of someone who had a desire to feel less lonely, and found utilizing the sources of power led to a plan that successfully achieved his desire. We also looked at an example of someone who was being bullied when he went for a drink at a water fountain.
Today we will look at a fresh new example.
Eugene and Doreen (Illustrations by Eric Sailer)
Eugene and Doreen recently divorced after ten years of marriage. They have three children. Doreen takes care of them during weekdays, and then, according to a legal agreement, she is to bring them on Saturday morning at 10 to Eugene’s house. Eugene is supposed to return them by eight PM on Sunday evening. Over the past two months, Eugene was late in returning the children to Doreen’s house on three different occasions. After the first time that Eugene was late, Doreen said nothing. “Better to keep things cool for the sake of the kids,” she thought. After the second time, she still kept quiet, but inside she was fuming. On the third occasion, Doreen blew up at Eugene as he was retuning the kids.
“How dare you bring the kids back an hour late? Can’t you tell time? You’re always late. It’s just like you!”
“You dropped them off late in the first place!” he yells back. “You can’t take my time with the kids and then not expect me to bring them back late. I already see them way less than you!”
“The kind of father you’ve been to the kids you shouldn’t get to see them at all!”
The two end up storming away from each other, leaving the children distressed.
Eugene recognizes that this conflict is not good for the kids, and it’s not doing him a whole lot of good either. But he has been unable to come up with a resolution that he likes. Even by focusing first on the desire component of the conflict and then on the interference component, he has met with absolutely no success. His mind keeps thinking about all of the wrongs that he believes Doreen has done during their relationship, and he ends up obsessing on all of these wrongs. Now he decides to spend some time focusing on the guilt component, which is kind of what he has been doing when he spends time obsessing over these wrongs. However, when he decides to focus on the guilt component, he understands he is to do this in a very specific manner.
To focus on this component, like focusing on any of the other two components, he must first use the DIG pattern to describe the conflict. The letters in the word DIG remind him to describe first the desire, then the interference, and then the guilt. He says to himself, “I desire to have a full weekend with the kids, and interfering with this, Doreen has been regularly bringing them to me on Saturday morning over an hour late. I believe she is guilty of being wrong for being angry when I bring them back on Sunday at a time that makes up for her lateness.”
After describing the conflict from his perspective, Eugene tries to describe it, as best he can, from Doreen’s perspective. “Doreen,” he says to himself, “desires that I always bring the kids back at 8 PM Sunday evening, but interfering with this, she perceives that there are times when I will bring them back late. She believes I am guilty of being wrong for bringing the kids back late even when she has been late dropping them off on Saturday.”
As he comes up with this description, Eugene realizes that Doreen has other unresolved conflicts with him that involve her angry memories about mistakes he has made in the past, and he has additional unresolved conflicts with her. By using the DIG pattern of describing his conflict, he has come to better understand this. He had seen all the other conflicts with her as all one big amorphous conflict. This made it much harder to figure out any reasonable resolution. He now realizes that perhaps it will be much better if he focuses just on one conflict at a time, a conflict that can be clearly stated.
“Now, not only am I going to just focus on this one conflict, but I’m also going to just focus on the guilt component of the conflict. This requires that I ask myself the following question— Can I do something so that the guilt part of the conflict will be reduced or eliminated?”
As Eugene ponders this question, he finds himself saying, “What can I do so that I don’t view Doreen as guilty of being wrong in this situation, and what can I do to convince Doreen that I am not guilty of being wrong?” Suddenly, Eugene remembers that the issue Doreen felt he was most guilty of throughout their marriage was that he didn’t listen to her. “Whatever I do to resolve this conflict, it would be best if Doreen ends up feeling that I really listened to her. Otherwise she will remain so angry that she will refuse to do anything to resolve the conflict.”
As Eugene crafts his plan, he realizes that when he calls her to discuss this issue, she will view it as a situation in which he is providing criticism to her. “I better review the providing criticism level 5 description. And at some point in our conversation, Doreen will be criticizing me. To prepare for our conversation, I better review the level 5 description for responding to criticism.”
After studying those two descriptions, he starts to imagine different ways he can respond to Doreen so that she clearly feels he is listening to her and that he is using skills consistent with the highest levels of maturity. Some of the comments he imagines Doreen will make anger him so much that he has to spend a few days utilizing the anger techniques that we discussed earlier. Finally, he believes he has come up with a plan that’s worth a try.
“Hello,” says Doreen answering her phone.
“Hello Doreen, it’s me, Eugene.” He had to practice making sure he could say this without bitterness in his voice.
“What do you want, Eugene?”
“First, I want to say I’m sorry about how I spoke to you in front of the children last Sunday. I know that wasn’t helpful at all. I would like to get together with you sometime this week without the kids around so that we can discuss how we can better deal with the lateness problem we’ve been having.”
“Is that Daddy?” their daughter asks Doreen. Eugene can hear this on his end of the phone line.
“Yes,” answers Doreen. “Now be quiet. I’m trying to talk.”
“I hear the kids are in the room,” says Eugene. “Let’s set up a time when we can talk without the kids overhearing us. I don’t think it’s good for them to hear us quarreling.”
“I don’t know what there is to talk about!” says Doreen sharply. “Just bring the kids back when you’re supposed to. I can’t believe you have the nerve to complain about my being a little late on a few occasions when you didn’t even show up half the time for the kids’ big events when we were married. There was Judy’s play, Mark’s little league games, I can go on and on.”
This is extremely hard for Eugene to hear, especially because he knows the kids are in earshot. But he has prepared himself well, and he manages to keep listening to Doreen without interrupting. When he is sure she has finished with all that she wants to say, he summarizes her key points, agrees that there is much merit in what she has to say, and then he adds, “You are right that I was far from an ideal dad in the past. I’m sorry that I disappointed you, myself, and most of all, the kids. I really do want to try to do better. That’s why I’m asking you to meet without the kids to discuss our latest problem. Please tell me a good time for us to do this.”
“I think it’s a waste of time, but how about next Sunday, when you bring the kids back. I’ll have my mom here to watch the kids and we can go for a walk. Is that okay?”
“Thank you, Doreen. I’ll see you then.”
That Sunday, Eugene returns the kids a few minutes early in an effort to make certain he would not be late.
“Thank you for setting this up with your mom,” Eugene says in a pleasant tone as he and Doreen begin their walk. He is making an effort to start their conversation on a positive note. “I know how busy you are.”
“A full time job and raising kids is pretty exhausting,” she replies sounding a bit harried.
“Yes it is, Doreen.”
Doreen then launches into her outrage that Eugene has the nerve to make a big thing about her coming late a few times. “If you bring them home late, it messes up our whole routine and the kids don’t get the sleep they need, and the next day at school they’re wild.”
“I can see your argument is a good one, Doreen. If you bring the kids to me late on Saturday morning it’s just me that loses out. If I bring the kids home late on Sunday, not only are you put out, but the kids get messed up too. What I did without discussing it with you clearly isn’t an acceptable solution to my problem. I should have discussed this with you first. I know I was wrong and I apologize.”
“Well I’m glad you understand,” Doreen replies, her tone beginning to sound a little less angry.
“I do treasure my time with the kids, Doreen. Is there anything you can come up with that you think would be fair when you come late on Saturday morning?”
Doreen again goes into how often he was late in the past. “If I’m late a few times it serves you right for how many times you were late in the past!” she concludes.
As Doreen speaks, Eugene makes sure he does not interrupt her and that he makes it clear he is listening and trying to see the merits and legitimacy in her point of view. He attempts to communicate his understanding of her viewpoint by checking his understanding every few minutes. This involves summarizing what he has heard her say and then pausing to see if she is satisfied with his summary.
As he listens to her list of criticisms, he is tempted to say that she deserves to be punished for all the things she’s done wrong, but he realizes that providing negative criticism to her now would not be a productive approach. Doreen would start to go down her list of all the things he did wrong in the past once again, which he is already well aware of. He could then go down all the things she has done wrong over the years, something he’s already done with her on numerous occasions. In the end, they would end up getting nowhere on the conflict he came to discuss.
“Doreen, I understand why you feel I should be punished for the many mistakes I made over the years. In my mind, I am being punished for them. For example, you got the house, and you know how much I love that place. And I only get to see the children two days a week. Going through the divorce was hard on both of us. Please suggest another way we can work out this lateness problem.”
“Don’t you understand, bringing them back late on Sunday is out of the question.”
“I understand that, Doreen. Can we make up the time some other way?”
“Well, how about this? If you feel I’m dropping them off too late on Saturday morning, tell me and we’ll figure out together when you can make up the time. The kids have some Monday’s off from school every now and then, like Presidents day. Maybe you can make up the time on a Sunday when there’s no school on Monday.”
“I like that idea, Doreen. So, when I feel that I want to make up some lost time I should contact you and arrange a time to make up the time.”
After this issue is agreed upon, Doreen talks a little more about some difficulties she’s having with the kids of late, and Eugene uses his best listening skills. As they return to the house, Eugene again thanks Doreen for agreeing to discuss this problem.
Afterwards, Doreen is much less likely to bring the kids late on Saturday mornings, and when she is late, it’s just a few minutes. Eugene never bothers to ask to make up the time, for it really hasn’t amounted to anything significant. He too, on occasion, has brought the kids back a little late but Doreen understands that this will happen from time to time. Both he and Doreen are pleased with how this conflict had been resolved.
Notice that Eugene, upon focusing on the guilt component of the conflict, came to realize that Doreen not only thought he was wrong for bringing the kids home late on Sunday evening, but also about not listening to her whenever she spoke to him. By improving his listening skills and by apologizing for his mistakes in the past, including bringing the kids home late on a Sunday evening, this helped to reduce the intensity of the conflict. Once this occurred, Doreen became more open to working out a resolution with which both parties felt comfortable.
In sum, the source of power that we have been discussing encourages you to break down the conflict into its three conditions, then to come up with an idea to make a change in just one of them, and then to see if the change might lead to the rest of the conflict becoming easier to manage.
To be an effective source of power, we found that it must be coordinated with the other skills we learned. For example, utilizing the knowledge about the Responding to Criticism Rating System and the Providing Negative Criticism Rating System helped Eugene resolve his conflict with Doreen.
The source of power that has you breaking down a conflict into its three conditions, like all sources of power, cannot immediately provide a specific plan that will resolve a conflict. Nevertheless, when you are having difficulty resolving a conflict, the perspective that occurs when you focus on just one of the three conditions will often help you to create a valuable plan that might have otherwise been overlooked.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.