Ep 165: Secrets to a Better Connection

Episode Summary

David Bradford, PhD, co-author of Connect, shares his insights for how to create a deeper, more meaningful connection with your teen by tweaking communication.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

We often hear that the secret to a healthy relationship of any kind is communication…but what does that really mean? Does it mean apologizing when we feel we’ve messed up, or daring to discuss uncomfortable topics? Are there certain things we shouldn’t say, and how do we know when we’re communicating too much? How do we get teens who are checked out to actually hear what we’re saying? These questions and more are keeping us from having an open, communicative relationship with our teens.

But when bad communication causes so many problems, it’s understandable that you might be hesitant. When you’re feeling frustrated or upset with your teen, certain ways of communicating can deepen the divide between the two of you instead of building a bridge. Teens who are dealing with pressures from every side of life can sometimes drive us up the wall–and despite our best efforts, we too often let our communication fall into a pattern of yelling, nagging and not really listening to what they have to say. 

This week, we’re helping you fight the tendency to slip into all the fussing and fighting. By giving you the guidance to create a healthier, more communicative relationship with your teen, our hope is to bring some harmony to your home. Our guest is David Bradford, professor at Stanford’s graduate school of business and author of Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues. David’s been teaching a seminar at Stanford on interpersonal dynamics for two decades, and he’s here to share some of the most valuable insights from his work with us.

David and I are discussing why teens often refuse to hear anything we have to say, and how we can open up a stronger, more positive channel of communication between us and them. We’re providing alternatives to giving advice, which, according to David, in’ts as effective as we think! Plus, we’re discussing what David calls the “three realities of communication” to uncover why our misunderstandings can so often lead to hurt feelings or accusations.

When Teens Won’t Listen

Teens love to breeze through the front door and right into their rooms, giving you little more than an “mhhm” or a “yeah sure.” And although you might want your teen to have autonomy, there are still things you need to talk to them about! As a parent, there’s so much wisdom you can provide to protect and guide your teen–and there are likely rules that need to be followed under your roof! So how can we get through to a teen that doesn’t even seem to hear a word you say?

Say you’ve noticed your teen vaping once or twice, and you want to have a talk with them….but they keep slamming the door in your face. David explains how hard it is for teens to open up about these kinds of sensitive subjects, especially when they feel cornered. The issue lies in the power dynamic between parents and teens. In many situations outside the family, those in lower status positions almost always experience difficulty being vulnerable with their superiors, says David. Although you aren’t “superior” to your teen, you are older and likely control their finances, living situation and transportation! This makes the power dynamic a bit uneven. 

To help level the playing field, David emphasizes the importance of not responding to conflict with a show of authority. If you can make it clear to your teen that you want to talk about the vape without declaring punishment or dictating rules with an iron fist, you’re more likely to have a productive conversation that they’ll actually sit through!

In our discussion on how to engage teens, David and I talk extensively in the episode about why you should stray away from giving avoidant teens advice–and ask open ended questions instead. 

The Pitfalls of Giving Advice

As parents, it’s our natural urge to meet every one of our teen’s obstacles with some sage wisdom from our wonder years. If we can offer anything as a parent, it’s some meaningful advice about picking a college or surviving a breakup…right? David actually argues otherwise. In his eyes, giving advice is just another way parent’s tend to push their own beliefs, views and opinions onto kids, telling them what to do instead of prompting them to think critically and find their own solution.

Instead, David suggests asking open-ended questions. Let’s take our vape example. Now that we’ve decided not to be authoritative, say we choose to give advice. We tell them that we tried cigarettes back in our teen years, but we stopped because we didn’t want to get addicted or have serious health issues–and they should do the same. Not a bad piece of communication, but it totally neglects the fact that kids are living in a different era where even their cigarettes are electronic! Plus, it doesn’t provoke any discussion or thought on their end. 

Let’s say instead we ask open-ended questions, as David recommends. Questions like, what motivated you to start vaping? How does the experience make you feel? What are some other ways of getting the same sort of feeling that might be healthier? What comes to mind when you think about throwing the vape away? Now notice, these aren’t answered with just a “yes” or a “no”. They encourage kids to really process and think critically about why they’re engaging in a particular destructive behavior, and how they might discover a better way forward.

Now, no matter what you say to teens, there will always be some difference in your intention and their interpretation. David and I are tackling that discrepancy with an idea he calls the “three realities of communication.”

Why Communication has Complications

So you decide to ask your teen some open-ended questions about the vape, questions you identify as non threatening. But they suddenly blow up, claiming all you do is try to control them and restrict their freedom. You can’t see the way they arrived at this conclusion, and try to dispute them, until the whole thing turns into a full blown argument. Now the two of you aren’t talking, and the vape situation hasn’t been discussed at all!

David breaks down this process into the different communication “realities.” The first is the intent behind the message, or your attempt to simply learn some more information about the vape. The second is the communication itself–objective details like where it happened, when it happened, and the question that was asked. The third is how the message was interpreted by the recipient–not well, in this scenario! Even though sometimes we get lucky enough to have all three fall in line, they’re never exactly the same. This can often lead to confusion, mixed signals and even hurt feelings.

To try and navigate this nuanced world of communication, David suggests a commonly used tactic you may have heard of before: using “I” statements, especially “I feel” statements. In doing this, you are making an effort to describe your subjective experience and avoid telling anyone else what their experience is–because how could you possibly know? In our interview, David elaborates on this further and shares tons of other tips for making communication more cohesive.

In the Episode…

The topics mentioned above are just the tip of the amazing iceberg of knowledge that is this week’s episode. David also helps us gain some clarity on:

  • How we can bring uncomfortable topics out of the “zone of danger”
  • Why mutual agreements are much more valuable than mandates
  • How anger often acts as a cover for other emotions
  • Why the “compliment sandwich” method doesn’t work

If you enjoyed this week’s episode, you can find more of David on his website, www.reflectandrelate.com. Don’t forget to subscribe, and we’ll see you next week.

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Parenting Scripts

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

1. When your teen makes an angry accusation: 

“That feels to me very provocative and I’m trying not to get hooked into an argument with you because that doesn’t help either of us. But, what’s going on that you would want to say that?”

-Dr. David Bradford

2. If your teen reneges on an agreement, try: 

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3. Empathically probe for more information: (1 of 5)

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4. Empathically probe for more information: (2 of 5)

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5. Empathically probe for more information: (3 of 5)

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6. Empathically probe for more information: (4 of 5)

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7. Empathically probe for more information: (5 of 5)

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8. Talk through solutions: (1 of 2)

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9. Talk through solutions: (2 of 2)

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10. Empathize and then bring in solutions:

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11. Let your teen know you have confidence in them:

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12. Approach problem solving together: (1 of 2)

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13. Approach problem solving together: (2 of 2)

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14. Disclose your feelings before asking for more information:  

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15. Check in when your teen is upset:

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16. Let your teen know how you feel: (1 of 2)

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17. Let your teen know how you feel: (2 of 2)

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18. When your teen complains you’re being controlling:

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19. When your teen complains you’re being controlling:

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20. When your teen complains you’re being controlling:

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21. Dish out compliments without any qualifiers:

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22. If your teen lags behind in school, use their own desires to motivate them:

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23. Do a quick check in when discussing consequences:

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24. Empathize during friend troubles:

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25. Drop some knowledge about feelings: (1 of 2)

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26. Drop some knowledge about feelings: (2 of 2)

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Wow. Okay. So I have been reading through this book of yours called Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues, and this is not something that you just came up with yesterday. This is based on a course that you design and have been teaching for decades at Stanford Business School. And I’m curious, where did this come from? How did this begin? What was the impetus for you to get into this? I guess the course is referred to as touchy-feely.

David:  That’s right. That’s what the students call it. It’s not the official title. School wouldn’t like that, but that’s what the students call it. Well, I got into it actually as a teenager.

Andy: Wow. Okay.

David: This is an interesting methodology in which students or participants, 12 of them, are a group and meet and they look at their interactions with each other.And it’s a whole notion that although you know the effect of my behavior, so I need to hear that in a way that I don’t feel attacked. It doesn’t make me defensive and so on.

David: So, one of the people, one of the three people who developed this methodology in the 1950s was my father. I grew up with this.And I think it helped the relationship with my parents. We probably could have done it better, but one could always do it better. So I knew how to run these groups and I was recruited by Stanford to develop this course. So they reached out to me and being in the Bay Area isn’t a bad place to be. So I came out here and as they say, the rest is history.

Andy: Well, it’s very robust. I mean, there’s just so many years’ worth of wisdom, I can tell, that are crammed into this book and it’s really fun to read. There’s lots of great examples. You have these different stories throughout the book that you keep coming back to and showing how the concepts can be applied in different situations, and it just makes it really, really easy to follow and easy to see how these things are applicable in your life. One of the first concepts in the book that really stood out to me is this idea of the 15% rule. And you have a diagram in here with these three circles, you call the zone of comfort is the center of the bullseye. And then right outside of that, there’s the zone of learning. And then outside of that is the zone of danger. And what are we talking about here? What do those represent? And what is the 15% rule?

David: Sure. It’s a very useful concept. The students love it. There are things that we will share with anybody. I’ll share that I’ve been married actually 56 years. I have two kids and three grandkids. I can talk about Stanford.Those are safe things that’s comfortable for me.

David: And then outside of that is another zone that I may want to share, but I may have some concerns with.

David: And then there’s the outer zone, the zone of danger where I know that if I share that, you may not like me, you may reject me, you may misunderstand me. I want to avoid that.

David: So the students say, “Well, how do we share things?” And we say, “Take 15% risk out of your zone of comfort into the zone of learning.” It’s unlikely to be a disaster. You can probably recover. But if you do that, you’re being better known and you’re building conditions where the other person will share a little bit more.

David: So if we apply this to parent-teenage relations: the teenager may be thinking about a different college or a different experience as parents want.

David: Or maybe bothered about some pressure he or she is feeling by the parents. And it say, well, should I raise it? Should I not raise it? Well, what’s 15%? And the nice thing is that if you raise that, as I said, unlikely to be a disaster, your parents may say, “Well, this is why it’s important to me,” so they share more. And now, the zone of comfort increases, it grows, and we now have more in common and that’s what helps to build the relationship.

Andy: Yeah. Because if you share some, if you go out of that 15% zone and then the other person accepts that and you feel safe there, then it starts to expand. And now, you can go a little farther next time.

David: Correct. You take another 15%.

Andy: Right. So how do you know what’s 15% or what’s too much to share with your teenager or how you tow that line?

David: Well, again, it’s a risk you don’t know, but you say to yourself, “Look, I don’t want to really do a full thing, but this is I think I could share,” so you test it out. And that’s why we like the notion of a 15%. Now, one of the clues to use is to listen to your feelings.

David: So, I would listen to what’s important to me. Gee, I’m thinking of sharing that and my feelings say, “Oh no, that’s too far.” I would listen to those feelings, but the feelings might say, “Oh, let’s try it. Just a little scary, but let’s try it.” So our feelings give us a good clue as to what it might be useful to share.

Andy: And you talk about also how just sharing your feelings can be a way of venturing out of the zone of comfort a little bit and talking about how something is making you feel. You make an important distinction in here because we’ve had people talk about using “I feel” statements before, but you point out that sometimes we do this wrong. Sometimes we say, “I feel,” but, really, we’re not talking about a feeling. We say, “I feel like you want to dominate this conversation.” That’s not really sharing your feelings. That’s just making an accusation towards a person. But sometimes it’s hard to tell or sometimes you think you’re using the words “I feel,” and you think you’re sharing a feeling but you’re actually not. How do you navigate that as a parent? How do you make sure that what you’re sharing is really a feeling and it’s not making a judgment about your teenager.

David: Yeah. It’s the English language we use I feel in two different ways. They’re both legitimate. We just need to know the distinction. There’s two clues. One is, if you say, “I feel that, like or as” it’s unlikely to be an emotion.“I feel that you want to dominate” has some emotions behind it, but there’s not an emotion in that statement.

David: The other cue is, could you substitute think for the word feel? I wouldn’t say, “I think angry.” We would say “I feel angry.” But if I say, “I feel that you want to dominate,” I could say: “I think you want to dominate.” So those are two cues.

David: And the wonderful thing is that when you share your feelings, it tends as you’re saying to be less accusatory, and it’s also more disclosing because you’re saying what’s important to me. So a teenager could say, “I’m feeling bothered, dad, because when I say something, you talk over me.” That’s behavioral, that’s a feeling and it’s less accusatory than saying, “I think you want to dominate. I feel you want to dominate.”

David: So start with your feelings and stick to the behavior.

Andy: Yeah. Also, because a lot of times we get into those conversations with teenagers. “I feel like you don’t trust me.” “I feel like you’re not being honest with me.” And we’re trying to express our feelings, but really actually we’re making assumptions about what’s going on in their head, instead of actually disclosing something about ourselves—it’s dangerous ground block on.

Andy: What’s wrong with offering advice? Isn’t it a good thing? Isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? Give your teenagers some great advice when they’re struggling with something or when they’re having an issue or a problem. Isn’t that your job as a parent? Sit them down and give them some good fatherly or motherly wisdom on what they should do or how they should think about it in a different way.

David: Well, there are ways to do that and ways not to do it. The trouble is that advice tends to be what the parent would do and fits their needs and may not speak to what the teenager wants.

David: So, it can be more useful to really understand the teenager and what we stress is exploratory open-ended questions where you’re really curious where I could say, I think of when my son was a teenager, I could say, “Well, Jeff, you’re sounding bothered about that. Can you tell me more what’s going on for you? What are you concerned about? What options have you thought about? What are the pros and cons of those options?”

David: Note those are all open-ended questions. A close-ended question can be answered yes or no. Have you thought of doing that?

Andy: Right. Yep. Yep.

David: Yes or no. And that’s more directive.

Andy: You’re really just telling them what to do. Yeah.

David: And I think that people want to be understood. And I think the teenager wants to know that my parent wants to understand me. And it also might be that what the teenager wants is different than what the parent wants.

Andy: Sure. Yeah.

David: And that happens all the time. Can we understand what the concerns are of each and speak to that? So now, when we talk about advice it could be that the parent would say, well, here are two or three options. I wonder if you’ve thought about which is very different than saying you ought to do X.

David: Advice can so quickly get into being a directive, and if there’s anything teenagers don’t want is to be directed because they’re striving for their independence and autonomy.

Andy: Yeah. I love that. And there’s a research showing teenagers a lot of times when they’re making decisions, they tend to get focused on yes or no kind of thinking. Should I do this or should I not do this? Is this a good idea or is this not a good idea? And instead of jumping in and saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t do this,” or “Oh yes, you should,” just trying to help them widen that scope like you’re saying, and saying, “Hey, you know, I don’t know what’s best for you. You have to make this decision yourself. But maybe, if it’s okay with you, maybe I could help you just think of a few more possible options you could consider,” something like that.

David: That’s right. And I think also that the parent is going to have some feelings, and this was about, “Gee, I’m concerned if you do that because I worry about you. I think that feels a little dangerous.” And “I worry if you do that, and I would prefer you not do it.” I mean you could have preferences.” The teenager is going to know that you have feelings and is going to why read between the lines when you can be explicit.

Andy: Well, a lot of examples in this book come from the business world which I know is where you are teaching in business school, and you talk about higher-status people often being unaware that their role makes it hard for people to disclose to them. A lot of the book focuses on disclosure and disclosing things to other people and making them feel comfortable disclosing things to you, and they’re not going to be judged. And I feel this plays out a lot in parent-teen relationships as well because there’s such a power dynamic there. And it does feel as a teenager like, “Wow, I don’t know if I feel safe disclosing a lot of stuff because I might get in trouble. I might be judged. My parents might then limit my freedoms and not let me do things if I tell some of these things that might worry them about what’s going on with my friends or what’s happening with me.” And I wonder what we could do about that or how we could address that status issue, make them feel more comfortable disclosing more things to us.

David: Yeah. That’s a hard one. And remember that parents withhold information as well to protect the kid, and sometimes it’s necessary to withhold that. It may be more than the teenager can handle, but there’s a mutual protection going on that may be, in part, necessary but might be more than as necessary.

David: Again, we gave the example of the teenager not sure sharing what friends are doing. It may be actually reassuring to say, “My friends are smoking a lot of marijuana and I’m getting pressure to do the same.” And if the parent cannot freak out…

Andy: “Oh my god! I never want you to see those kids again. You’re forbidden from hanging out with them. Oh…this is terrible.”

David: Well, that’s a wonderful opportunity for the teenager to say “When you respond that way, that’s so controlling. That feels controlling. I don’t want I feel controlled. I don’t want to share more. I’d rather have a relationship where I can do more disclosure. Could we replay that one, Dad? And talk about ways that I can share that and talk through what I’m going to do?” So things can go south, but you can point out the cause of the parent acting that way and say, “Do you really want me to withhold all this information?” Well, I would rather share it so we can talk about it because each parent and teenager can work on defining what the relationship is going to be like.

David: And I think that you don’t want to share everything. I’ll never forget the time my 15-year-old daughter said to my wife, “I’m going to tell you everything I do.” And my wife said to herself, “I’m not sure I want to hear that.” And we didn’t hear everything just as well. But we heard some things. And we were able to build a good relationship.

Andy: Because I think also, sometimes as parents, we worry about disclosing too much to our teenagers about what we did when we were their age or even in our 20s and 30s and things like that because we don’t want to feel we’re endorsing certain behaviors or like we’re going to influence them or make them feel it’s more okay for them to do things. And so I guess sometimes it feels a difficult balance to tread between how do I disclose enough things to make my teenager feel comfortable while also disclosing to me, but not feel I’m endorsing certain behaviors.

David: Yes. And again, that’s a 15% rule. We’re back to that again.

Andy: I see.

David: But there’s also something interesting, Andy, in what you said that the parent is withholding because I’ve got a concern. So there’s two things to share. One is, well, this is what I did and I’m concerned about sharing this.

Andy: Yeah. I feel conflicted about whether I should even tell you this.

David: That’s right and that’s being more open and is encouraging the teenager to also be more open.

Andy: Yeah. And you’re sharing your feelings and worries. That’s really strong. And then also it does counteract that effect a little bit of it doesn’t feel you’re so just, “Oh, hey, when I was your age, we used to smoke pot every day,” or whatever, you know?

Andy: You’re being open about your reservations of sharing that sort of tempers, that effect a little bit. Continuing in this vein a little bit, you have a diagram in here of high versus low influence people and the costs of those discrepancies. And I guess the larger the discrepancy gets, the more some of this cycle, this dysfunctional cycle starts to play out where the low influence person becomes passive, emotionally withdraws, resist being influenced and withholds information about what’s important to them. And then the high influence person believes they’re always right, devalues what the other has to say, and tends to dominate the situation. And I think a lot of parents and teenagers can find themselves caught in this cycle. I wonder what you can do to put the brakes on that or start to bring each other back together or meet in the middle somehow.

David: Yeah. There always will be a power discrepancy. What that is referring to is when there’s a wide, wide gap and when there’s a wide gap, we don’t listen to the other person. We don’t think they have any value and so on. And I think one of the ways for a parent to handle that is, are you really interested in your teenager? Are you curious? Do you want to find out what’s going on with them? Now, it may be that often teenagers want to have their privacy and you’ve got to be careful that you’re not infringing on their privacy. But again, you want to share your intention and your wish. “Gee, I want to understand your world and so on and hope you understand mine.” “Gee, it sounds you’re having some issues with some of your friends. Will you share what’s going on?” And the trouble is the parent often jumps in with advice.

David: Rather than with understanding of saying, “Well, that must be hard. What have you thought about doing?” And also to say, “Have confidence. I’m sure you can handle it,” because I think that teenagers are pretty resilient. We, in a sense, want them to take risks. We don’t want them to play totally safe, but we also are worried about that and can we share all of what we want? “I want you to live your life, I want you to have a full life, and you know that I’m concerned about you.”

Andy: You talk a lot in this book about something called a pinch or pinches. What’s a pinch and why is it so important?

David: Well, even if we love each other, we do things that inadvertently annoy. I do that with my wife. I’m sure I know I do it with my kids. There were small things.

David: So we have the example in the book that I was making coffee and Eva, my wife, was down the kitchen and I left the dirty spoon on the counter.

Andy: Oh.

David: Well, that’s not a capital crime.

Andy: Right.

David: Kids may not put away their dishes all the time.

Andy: They leave them on the coffee table in the living room.

David: Yes. And…

Andy: Dirty laundry, they just leave it in the hallway after practice and it smells.

David: That’s right.

Andy: You told them so many times and they just keep doing it.

David: And that becomes a pinch. And if we don’t deal with it, it becomes what we call a crunch.

David: So we’re often in a dilemma of do I raise it? Do I not? I don’t want to be seen as nagging. But that becomes something to talk about. You see, again, we’re talking about the dirty laundry. We tend to give directives. “Don’t do that.” Could we define that as a problem for us jointly to share?

Andy: Yeah. Instead of saying, “Hey, there’s a new rule. You have to clean up your laundry. Otherwise, you don’t have TV privileges.”

David: And there are many solutions. That’s one solution.

David: We also had an issue with laundry with our teenage daughter. And we made the agreement that she could keep her dirty laundry in her room, but she had to keep the door closed. Well, that helped us because we didn’t have to look at it. And it helped her because she had control over what she did.

Andy: Now, that’s her problem. Yeah.

Andy: So how would you bring that up with her or how would you start that conversation?

David: I would first just start with my feelings. I would say, “Gee, Kendra. I’m bothered that when you come home there is this line of dirty clothes from the front door up to your room. I find that bothering. I don’t like it. What can we do about it?” And rather than telling, “Can we sit down and talk about it?” –

David: And as I vaguely remember the past, we talked about it for a while and Kendra said, “Well, I don’t want to keep everything so neat all the time. And anyway, it’s my room.” So I think we said, “Okay, what if you put all your dirty clothes on the floor that you want to, but we keep the door closed?” And it turns out there was an interesting benefit from that, that our house got broken into. And when the police came and saw her room, they said, “Oh my goodness, the burglars really made a mess here,” and Kendra said, “Oh no, that’s the way it always is.” But the fun thing was all of her electronics were under her dirty clothes. So there was a humorous outcome from her point of view, but that was a resolution. We could live with her room being a mess if the door was closed.

Andy: And then, so what happens if she doesn’t do that? You have a conversation. She said, “Okay, yeah, yeah. I’ll put them in my room, I’ll close the door,” and then you come home the next day and there they are in the hallway again just like she said, she wasn’t going to do. Now you’re pissed.

David: Well, hopefully you’re not far that extreme.

Andy: Oh, okay.

David: I would go back and just say, “We had an agreement. What happened to it? You want to be treated like an adult. I want to treat you like an adult. Adults hold to agreement. What are we going to do?” See, we often determine, dictate the solution. Can we sit down and say what works for both of us? What do you suggest?”

Andy: You have a very helpful model in here that I really like. You call it the three realities you’ve got. Yeah. The first reality is the intent of the person who’s doing the thing, and then the second reality is the behavior, the actual thing that they do. And then the third reality is the impact that it has on you. Why are these important and what do we need to know about these three different realities?

David: Well, what you’re talking about is in any interpersonal situation, I only know two things. If I’m the actor, I know my intention. We can see the behavior. But I don’t know the effect.

David: The other person sees the behavior and knows the effect on them, but doesn’t know your intention.

David: Now, where we get into trouble and we have the image of these three realities of a tennis net between the first and the second reality. And we say, as you can’t play any other person’s back court, you got to stay on your side of the net but most feedback is, as we say, over the net. So if I say, “Well, you just want to dominate.” I don’t know that. That’s my attribution of your motives.

Andy: Right. Yeah.

David: And then it gets us into an argument. “No, I don’t. You’re just irresponsible.” Well, then it goes south even more.

David: So what we say is if you stick with what you know, it’s indisputable. So if I’m doing something that’s bothering you, if you were to say, “David, I’m really bothered when you interrupt me,” that’s indisputable. I can’t say, “No, you aren’t” because I’m over your net. But that’s different than saying you just want to dominate when you interrupt. You don’t know that, and that’s what causes problems. We need to be in touch with our feelings and separate those from thoughts and stick with what we know.

David: And we say you could raise almost anything with almost anybody if you stick with what you know and you get into trouble when you go over the net and we do it all the time.

Andy: Don’t we? Yep.

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About Dr. David Bradford

David Bradford, PhD, is the Eugene O’Kelly II Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he helped develop Interpersonal Dynamics courses as well as much of the School’s leadership curriculum. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently Connect, co-authored with Carole Robin.

His research interests have led to six  books, numerous articles, three training programs and a MOOC on leadership, team performance, and the influence process. He also has consulted and conducted executive programs to a variety of organizations in the for-profit and not-for-profit sector, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Cisco Systems, Levi Strauss & Co., Roche Pharmaceutical, Raychem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Additionally, Dr. Bradford has been involved with educational innovation at the college level. He was the founder of The Organizational Behavior Teaching Society and the first editor of their journal. He received the Exemplar of Excellence in Education award from The University of Phoenix. Dr. Bradford is on the editorial board of The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, The Journal of Management Education, and The Academy of Management Learning and Education.

He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife of more than fifty years.

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