Ep 111: Want Accountable Teens? Ask the Right Questions

Episode Summary

John G. Miller, author of five books including Raising Accountable Kids and QBQ!, shares his expertise on how to get your teenager to be responsible for their own actions. Plus, the ultimate question to ask when it feels like nothing is working.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

When your kids are refusing to listen, staying out past curfew and ignoring your repeated attempts to establish control, some serious questions come to mind. Questions like: When will they start respecting me? How can I get them to listen to me? What is it that causes them to act this way?

As frustrated as you may feel–and we know, teens can be frustrating–it turns out that you might be asking yourself the wrong questions. Even when it feels like your kid is single-handedly instigating  disagreements and causing turmoil, there is a more effective approach than simply imploring them to end this behavior, an approach that requires you to reflect on your own actions.

What is that approach, exactly? Glad you asked. This week I’m sitting down with John G. Miller, author of the classic book QBQ!: The Question Behind the Question and the recent Raising Accountable Kids:How to Be an Outstanding Parent Using the Power of Personal Accountability. John has been speaking and teaching workshops on leadership and management for over twenty years and is also the father of 7 kids! He’s here to share what he’s learned from years of mentoring clients and raising kids, and talk all about how you can practice accountability to become a better parent.

In our interview, John covers the basics of the principle of accountability, and the questions you should be asking yourself if you want to improve your parenting powers. He also identifies the qualities that, in his eyes, make a weak parent, and how you can strengthen your approach to ensure your kids become the best people they can be.

How To Practice Accountability

Although you may be familiar with the term ‘accountability’, John clears up what he means when he uses the word and how his definition can be harnessed to create a more fulfilling life. In defining accountability, John seeks to define the opposite first. He focuses on three behaviors–victim thinking, blaming others, and procrastination. People tend to embody these traits when they reject accountability. They ask, why can’t others behave the way I want them to? When will people start doing what I need them to do?

Instead of engaging in this type of thinking, John encourages you to do the contrary. He asks you to stop focusing on outward factors and instead focus your energies inward. His approach endorses asking questions about how you, yourself can improve your situation, instead of relying on others.  In John’s eyes, accountability is not just about keeping others in check, it’s about reflecting on your personal behaviors and practices to see where you can make positive changes.

This is especially true for leaders, managers, educators, and for our purposes, parents. Being an authority figure that emphasizes accountability means holding yourself to high standards, and modeling responsible behavior for those who are watching you. In the episode, John dives deeper into the importance of accountability in leadership. Specifically, he talks about how parents can use accountability to create stronger relationships with their teens

Parenting with Accountability

When it comes to parenting, John talks about how practicing accountability can be a game changer. He shares an anecdote about a woman he got to know through his work, a woman who found herself bickering with her daughter day after day. The woman had repeatedly implored her daughter to change her behavior, but their relationship had only gotten worse.

It wasn’t until the woman worked with John to grasp the idea of accountability that things got better. She decided to ask her daughter how she could be a better mother, which allowed her daughter to express the various ways she had felt disrespected or held back by their relationship. The two established a dialogue, and through this channel of communication, they were able to mend their broken relationship.

This idea of mutual communication and respect–enabled by accountability–is central to John’s work. He believes that if we  ask ourselves what we can do to create compromise, instead of yelling or relying on punitive measures, we can become better parents and build stronger bonds with our teens.  In the episode, John gets into this idea further, even sharing a personal story about when he and his son faced a critical disagreement over his son’s path in life.

Although John speaks to the importance of listening, he also believes parenting is a very complicated, multifaceted endeavor.  While patience and understanding matter, there’s another important practice that he believes should be implemented–discipline.

How Accountability Relates to Discipline

In order to be an accountable parent, John stresses the importance of understanding that your child’s behavior is a reflection of your own parenting. He dispels the notion of blaming your teens issues on current political leaders, the media, or the people they hang out with, and instead implores the parent to focus on how they’ve shaped their child’s behavior.

A lot of this comes down to making sure you discipline your child effectively, says John. He believes there’s been a general trend of parents who are afraid of disciplining kids in recent years. This leads to parents continually allowing their kids to misbehave. When parents don’t step in to stop bad behavior early on, they allow it to become a pattern. John stresses that parents should be quick to act on attitudes they don’t approve of, and be unafraid to talk to their kids about how and why certain behaviors are not appropriate or acceptable.

For example, parents often find themselves in a situation where the success of their teen is more important to them than it is to the teen themselves. For example, a parent might be spending a lot of time worrying about their child’s academic success, while their child is more concerned with beating their high score on Mario Kart. John expresses the importance of holding yourself accountable for this behavior as a parent, and teaching your teen what happens when they don’t take their responsibilities seriously. If they’re going to get an F for not turning in work they haven’t done, don’t do the work for them–allow them to get an F, and understand what it means to fail.

In the end, if you want your child to be a functional, thriving, positive force in the world, John believes you are also accountable for modeling that same behavior. He expresses his belief that humility is the cornerstone of leadership, and by constantly reflecting on how you can be a better individual and a more effective parent, you will be able to raise a happier, more intelligent teen.

In the Episode…

John’s spirited and humorous character shines through in this very entertaining and interesting episode! He’s got a lot to tell us about, and this episode is jam packed with advice until the very end. In addition to the ideas discussed above, we also talk about:

  • How changing our thinking can change our reality
  • Why we have to continue to grow up, even as adults
  • What to do when it feels like your teenager runs your house
  • How to let go of things you can’t control

If you like what John has to say, check out his website, qbq.com, where you can learn more about his books, his speaking, and his training. Don’t forget to share the episode, and as always, subscribe. Happy listening and we’ll see you next week.

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. When your teen is frustrated their friend or sibling doesn’t ‘get’ what they’re trying to say: 

“Communication is not about being understood; communication is about understanding the other person.”

-John G. Miller

2. Be honest about what your teens needs to do to get to the next level of privileges:

(Members Only)

3.  When your teen is regressing, bring it up right away:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: This book here, QBQ, has been around for a while, has sold a ton of copies, is a self-development, especially in business, but for all areas of life, a classic at this point. So how did this come about? Where did you get this idea for the QBQ and how did that turn into this huge thing?

John: Well, thanks for asking, Andy. A classic, I guess. I hear the word classic and I think old, but then I think, “Okay, classic means timeless.”

Andy: Timeless. Exactly.

John: Yeah. Our message of personal accountability is absolutely timeless. Here’s the story. I came out of Cornell in 1980 and joined a big company and worked at a desk for five or six years, didn’t really enjoy it much. One day a friend said, “Why don’t you get into sales?” I said, “Oh, Whoa, not me. I’m not a salesperson.”

John: Well, didn’t know I had the God-given ability to sell. So I ended up getting into sales and started selling leadership and management training in Minneapolis, St. Paul. For the next 10 years, from ’86 to ’95, I called on thousands of executives, Andy. I ran thousands of workshops on management skills. I was using my mentor’s content. I was only in my late twenties. Yeah.

John: I started listening to the clients and I started hearing people ask dangerous questions, like, “When is someone going to support me?” “Why don’t we get better people around here?” and, “Why do we have to go through all this change?” “When is that department going to do its job right?” One day in 1994, I taught a group. I said, “Hey, let’s not ask why is this happening to me? Let’s ask, ‘What can I do to move forward?’ Let’s turn the question around.” I called it the question behind the question.

John: So I taught it and I came back to that group a couple of months later, and they were using it. Andy, if you know anything about the training business, most stuff is never used, but they remembered it.

Andy: In one ear, out the other. Yep.

John: Yeah. Right. Right. In one ear, out the other. They remembered it, it stuck with them. So about 1995, I left my mentor to go off on my own. I started teaching this QBQ thing and wrote my first book in ’98. Then we came out with QBQ after that. That’s the book that really took off, mostly because people wanted short books. It’s about an hour, an hour and a half read, good content, fun stories, easy reading. So that’s how it all came about. I started speaking on personal accountability and the QBQ message. Here we are. All these years later, I get to talk to you.

Andy: Well, it’s simple, it’s basic on the surface, but there’s a lot involved with QBQ and there’s a lot of application, I think. Once you start, once you get into the method and learn how it works, then you start seeing, “Wow, that would apply here. I need to apply that here. This is important here.” You start noticing questions that are coming up in your head throughout the day and throughout the week and seeing when you can change those. So what is a QBQ and how does it work?

John: Yeah, sure. If you look at the material and you look at human nature, we tend to ask outwardly-focused questions, questions that lead to three traps: victim thinking, blame and procrastination. So victim thinking could be anything like, “Why don’t they support me more? Why don’t I get more help around here?” Notice that question started with a why and it has a “poor me” tone. The blame questions sound like, “Who made the mistake? Who dropped the ball? Who missed the deadline?” Those are the questions where we look for a culprit. We seek culprits. The third kind of question is the when question. “When will someone get back to me? When will they give me the support I need? When will somebody tell me what’s going on?” That’s procrastination.

John: So what we do, we look at those three traps, victim thinking, procrastination, and blame, and we take those why and when and who questions and we say, “Okay, let’s build a better question.” In the QBQ book, as you know, in the Raising Accountable Kids book, as you showed earlier, we teach learners to ask the questions that begin with why, what, or how and contain an I and focus on action. So instead of asking, “Why do we have to go through all this change?” we should be asking, “What can I do to adapt to the changing world around me.” Instead of asking, “When will that department do its job right?” how about asking, “How can I be my best today?”

John: So changing the question, here’s what it does, Andy. I’m not a psychologist, but I tell you, you need to be a psychologist to be an effective salesperson. I’ve been selling since ’86. Psychology says when we change our thinking, everything can improve. So instead of being angry because the world isn’t supporting me, I could pause and not play victim and say, “Well, what can I do to move forward today? How can I contribute to the world?” I think it’s ironically, Andy, we are different generations. I’m a boomer and you’re not, but the message of personal accountability is so timely.

Andy: Yeah. I think it’s fundamental. It’s so automatic, those questions just automatically start popping up in your head. This brings awareness to it, I think, which is so important, to start noticing those automatic thoughts that just creep in. I think this happens a lot in the family environment, which is why you have a whole book on it, that I think is great.

Andy: So, it sounds simple. “Oh yeah, just take those questions. Just replace them with one that’s got the I in there, and it begins with a what or how, contains an I and focuses on action.” Can you just explain a little more about how that might look or what you look for in terms of how to notice a question that you’re asking that’s not helpful and change it into a QBQ?

John: Sure. Sure. What’s interesting, Andy, is once people learn this material, to be honest, initially they start hearing other people asking lousy questions.

Andy: Well, sure. That’s the first step is, “Oh man, all these–Oh, yeah, I know. My friend does this all the time. One of my kids just really needs this method.”

John: Everybody else needs it. So the minute you start hearing or learning that why questions take us to victim thinking and when questions take us to procrastination and who questions take us to blame, and we get really excited over the content, we say, “Yeah, yeah. We need to get rid of the blame in the world. We need to get rid of the victim thinking.” Then we leave that training session, or if the family is doing it together, we connect with the family. We used to teach the kids the QBQ and parents to model it. We go out in the world and we go, “Whoa.” Like you say, my friends, my boss, my colleagues, my coaches, my peers on my soccer team, they’re all asking these IQs.

John: We call an incorrect questions, IQs. Why, when and who. But that’s where the discipline comes in. That’s the core message of QBQ is everybody needs QBQ, including the author, John Miller. But when we read QBQ and Flipping The Switch, and this is the sequel, Flipping The Switch. When we read these books, we need to discipline ourselves to say, “Okay, yes, my boss needs this. Yes, my friends need this. Yes, my 16 year old needs this, but I need it first.” In both QBQ and Raising Accountable Kids-

Andy: What can I do in to apply this in that relationship?

John: Yeah, what can I do?We talk about modeling as the most powerful of all teachers, so whether I’m a mom or a dad or a manager at work, or even a friend… You can be hanging out with your friends and they can all be whining and bemoaning and complaining about what the world isn’t doing for them. You can say, “Well, I’m going to ask today what can I do to improve and how can I be more productive?” You can walk away from the whine fest. You don’t have to stay in that circle of victim thinkers. You can break out of it.

John: Even at work, people go over to the water cooler and they complain about management. You don’t need to take part in that. You can walk away and say, “Well, I’m going to go back to my desk and I’m going to be my best today.” So again, QBQ initially sounds like it’s for someone else, because everybody else needs accountability, but it’s always for me.

Andy: So you then talk about how there’s two myths of accountability. I thought this was really interesting. The first one is when we believe that it’s about holding others accountable, a manager in setting standards, helping goals, defining consequences, and coaching people toward agreed upon levels of performance. I think yeah, you think of accountability, it’s like, “Yeah, if I’m going to work out, I need a personal trainer who can hold me accountable. If I’m going to try to approve as a manager, I need to get a consultant who can come in and set me some goals and hold me to those things.” But what you ultimately point out is that’s not personal accountability.

John: Not really.

Andy: Personal accountability is being able to hold yourself accountable. Yeah. Right.

John: Let me tell you how I came up with that. I sold that management training for 10 years and I’ve probably sat in 10,000 hours of workshops over 10 years with managers of all industries, all levels, from VPs and CEOs down to frontline supervisors. If I heard this once, I heard it a hundred times, “I’m going to call my people in on Tuesday, John, and I’m going to have a hard meeting with them, a tough meeting because I’m going to hold them accountable.”

John: Don’t worry. I understand management. We do need to set standards, coach people to higher levels, confront them when they’re off track and sometimes terminate. But that’s not what QBQ is about. QBQ is about me as a manager saying, “What can I do to be a better coach for my people? What can I do to be a better manager? How can I learn new skills?” Then of course you’re going to hold your people accountable, but first, everything leadership begins with me.

Andy: Well, yeah, you have a great chapter in this book on the power of one. It’s really tempting to learn this stuff and start saying “we.” I think this is big with parents, too. We don’t want to make it feel like we’re singling the kid out and saying, “Hey, you really need to change.” So maybe we try to use some more “we” inclusive language. “We as a family really need to work on this, this and that. So what can we all do to get this, this and that fixed?” But that’s a QBQ, really. That doesn’t have an I.

John: “We”s protect us. It’s harder to pull aside a… Let me give you some background. We have seven kids, and they range in ages from 37 down to 21. Karen and I have been married for 40 years. The three younger ones are all adopted. So parenting adopted children is different than parenting birth children. We won’t get into all the details there, but we still were able to apply much of our parenting beliefs. The parent is in charge. Too many homes today, you’ve got child in charge instead of the parent in charge.

John: Yes, feelings are important, but it’s not all about the child’s feelings. That’s a new mantra of young parents today. So we end up explaining and talking endlessly with our children instead of just telling the six-year-old, “Stop doing that now.” So we’ve got a lot of experience with parenting, and we’ve evolved. Parenting has changed. But in the end, good parenting is one-on-one. You’re going to deal with Tara differently than Kristen. You’re going to deal with Kristen differently than Michael.

John: Now, you’re going to have overall family parenting philosophy and culture. Absolutely. But you don’t gather a family meal and bawl out all seven kids just because Michael, the only son, is acting out or something. So you’ve got to work with kids one-on-one. Of course you knew that before I got here. Parenting is individual, and yet it’s group. So you’ve got to make sure you’re not hiding behind the we. You’re mad at one child and you call everybody together and say, “We need to change things around here.” Well, wait a minute. Who’s acting out? Who misbehaved? Just go talk to that child.

John: Anyway, parenting is so critical. Probably 80, 85% of people have kids. So when I go out and teach QBQ… My daughter, Kristen, just so you know, she’s the oldest, she’s 37 now. She goes around the country teaching QBQ What we find is people will come up and they’ll go, “Oh, I can use this at home with my family. I got to get rid of the blaming, the whining, the victim-thinking, the procrastination.”

John: Just take the procrastination piece, Andy. As we say in the Raising Accountable Kids book, really effective parents deal with most stuff now. Now, once in a while, there’s a reason to not deal with something today. Maybe your emotions are inflamed and it’s the wrong day to deal with something. But parents don’t let molehills become mountains. They deal with stuff when they see it.

John: That principle applies with managers. You’ve got an employee who’s late to work? Talk to them the first time, not the ninth time. So you’ve got a child who’s being disrespectful, you don’t let it go and go and go. You deal with it early on. So you’ve got to deal with stuff now. So that’s the opposite of procrastination. So the QBQ is all about, “What can I do to address my children’s behavior right this minute?” Not, “Oh, well…” “I’m not going to hide from it or hide behind the we or run away from it. I’m going to take care of this now.” That’s accountable parenting.

Andy: You’ve got a great story in this book, Raising Accountable Kids, about someone named Sherry who did some personal accountability QBQ training at the office. So she learned all about QBQs at work and how it worked. So then she went home and she said, “Hey, wow, this would apply to my relationship with my daughter as well.” So she went home and said to her daughter, “Well, how can I be a better mom for you right now?” Which is a powerful question, I think.

John: A very powerful question.

Andy: Then you said it led to a really deep conversation. So why was that the right question to ask? How did that change that relationship?

John: Well, as I recall, Sherry was a single mom. That’s a tough job. We all know that she worked all day, she comes home. The 11 year old is not doing her homework or the 11 year old is doing this or that. Sherry, as she told me the story, she said an argument began and at some point, because Sherry had just heard and learned about the QBQ, she arrested her own thinking and she said, “Wait a minute,” to herself. “I got to ask a question. What was that QBQ? Oh, wait a minute. Hey, how can I be a better mom for you?”

John: What came out was the child said, “Stop criticizing my friends and stop doing this and that. Please just listen to me.” So because Sherry paused, and Andy, I don’t know your background, but you see, in some homes, there’s the yelling. Yelling happens, right? As long as the parent is yelling, there’s probably not much communication going on.

John: I never said there’s no time to raise your voice as a parent. I never said that. Sometimes you got to raise your voice, and we all have done that. But if you’re yelling at your 11 year old, you’re probably not communicating. So Sherry just arrested her thoughts, shut her mouth, paused, and then ask the question, “How can I be a better mom?” That just changed everything and they had a great talk. Sherry, the mom, came away with better understanding of her 11 year old. I wasn’t there, but I bet it was a very good moment.

Andy: Yeah. You said she was really surprised by that answer, too, that she could stop dissing my friends all the time. It makes her think, “Well, have I been critical of my daughter?” So maybe, “What do you mean by that? Let’s talk about that further,” where you never would have uncovered any of that if you would’ve just gone into, “Why aren’t you doing your homework? What’s wrong with you? How…” Bad questions. Right?

John: Yeah. Well, those kinds of questions just push people away. True that we don’t… Communication is not about being understood. Communication is about understanding the other person. So until we pause and ask these good questions, it’s pretty hard to understand the other person.

John: It’s funny. In my family with all the kids, and of course, we’ve had QBQ around all the years that the kids have been raised, sometimes if I’m acting out as a dad or I’m whining about something, my kids will say,” Hey, wait a minute, Dad, isn’t there a QBQ here for you to ask? Shouldn’t you be asking a better question right now?” Of course, my daughter, the 37 year old who works with me and teaches QBQ, if I ever start to border on any blaming or whining, she’ll text me and say, “QBQ.” She’ll remind me.

John: See, life is a journey, as you know, Andy, and we’re still growing. I put on the blog at QBQ.com just the other day that the key question is, “Am I growing up?” I’m 62 and I’m still not grown up, because I still fall into these childlike habits of wanting to complain or whine or point fingers because it’s human. So what the QBQ does for me is it’s a tool I keep handy. So on this day when I’m frustrated, angry, disappointed, or hurt, I can pause and say, “Wait a minute. What can I do to let go of this? How can I move forward today?” Those are QBQs. That’s personal accountability. That’s what this message is all about.

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About John G. Miller

John G Miller is the founder of QBQ, Inc. and author of five books: QBQ!, The QBQ! Workbook, Flipping the Switch, Outstanding!, and, most recently, Raising Accountable Kids.

Throughout a decade of selling and facilitating training for executives and managers, John discovered the incredible need for personal accountability. He turned to speaking to spread the message of personal accountability, a necessary core value for organizations and individuals. He is regularly featured on national television and radio and has worked with hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, as well as with governmental and nongovernmental organizations. John also serves on the Board of Directors of the Denver Rescue Mission.

John and his wife Karen live in Denver and are the proud grandparents of 11 and counting.

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