We tend to do what is most familiar rather than what is best. It takes emotional discipline to break new behavioral pathways, learn new ways of thinking, speaking, seeing, and being.
A father and son sought out counseling to help with a deteriorating relationship.
From the father’s point of view the problem was simple: “lies, mouthing off, plunging grades, sneaking out, brushes with drugs’.
In turn, the son felt: “My dad – he just doesn’t get it. I mean, I’m a good kid. He doesn’t give me a chance… He is on me all the time. Nothing I do is right.”
A break through moment occurred when the therapist ask the dad “How did your father talk to you?” The dad initially responded that his father never took any nonsense. The therapist gently replied “That is not what I asked.”
The dad paused, went deep and the mood in the room changed. His son looked up to hear his dad’s response:
“Pretty bad, actually. Pretty bad.
He criticized me constantly.
He wanted me to be tough and strong and he never stopped letting me know.
I guess he thought by pointing out my faults that I would get better.
It didn’t work.
It made me stop trying… at anything I guess.”
Unconsciously the dad was repeating dysfunctional patterns from his childhood; passing on the pain he had learned as a kid. To his credit, he apologized to his son and began the hard work of learning new patterns, checking his anger, his knee jerk responses, ceasing lectures, instead, he started listening, listening, listening.
The specifics of this story are about a father/son relationship; the lessons are universal and apply to any communication issue and to all relationships.
“The truth is most sons already know the point a father or mother wants to drive home. We speak or lecture too soon. No son wants his father’s advice if he is repeatedly interrupted or criticized.” – Meg Meeker, M.D.; Boys Should Be Boys, p. 21
“Time, attention, affection and approval: they are what every boy needs in abundance from his parents…if the majority of parent-son interactions are focused around these four things, then correction and discipline will work when they are required. Sons try to please their parents when they know they CAN please their parents. Without balancing love and discipline, boys are lost.” ibid, p. 24
From “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz