Q: Al, my son's father is very frustrated because our son is not doing as well in school as he would like for him to. Because of this he feels as if he's not making an impact and is just ready to give up. I'm frustrated because I think it's very narrow minded for him to assume that the only way to see if he's having an impact is through our son's grades. What can I do to help my son's father see things differently?
A: Based on the limited info you've given me, I'd say that the issue boils down to competence. In an article that I wrote called The Elements of Self-Motivation I explained that in order for self-motivation to last a person has have a sense of competence.
In this instance it seems that you son's father isn't feeling very competent about his efforts so he has lost his self-motivation and is feeling like he should just give up. In order to help him you have the challenging task of instilling in him a sense of competence.
The reason I'm saying this could be challenging is because in this context he appears to be operating in an external referencing program. In plain English that means he's judging his level of competence according to an outside criteria- your son's grades.
This is something that he doesn't have complete control over, but like most people who operate in the external reference meta-program, he can probably be easily influenced IF you have the patience. Are you really up to building your son's father's confidence and sense of competence or are you just venting? Think about that.
I'm sure that if I asked what happened in the conversation between you two, you would tell me that there was some type of tension in air and that you had a disagreement or argument, right?
This is what usually happens when you just can't understand how in the world someone came up with the craziness that they're thinking. But please understand it's only crazy to you and not to the other person. Think about that too.
So, catch up with your son's father when things have cooled off and ask him-
- How do you know when you're making the type of impact in ______'s life that you want to?
This is where you BE QUIET and LISTEN. Nod your head every now then. Acknowledge and validate what he's saying, without talking. He will probably say some things that you don't agree with. So what? This ain't about right or wrong this is about your son and keeping his father in his life.
When he is finished talking, in a couple of sentences sum up what he said and ask him-
- What's most important to you about____? (whatever he said previously) or you could also ask- Why is that important to you?
If you choose the why question be careful not to sound like you're challenging him, got it? Do the same thing you did previously- be quiet and listen. When he's finished ask-
- How do you know when you have _____? (Whatever his answer was from the previous question)
Now you know what he needs in order to feel like he's making an impact in his son's life and you can begin to help him find ways of seeing the results. If you want to make sure that you've gotten to the bottom of things you could ask-
- Is there anything more important than that?
If he answers yes then ask-
Be quiet and listen then ask-
- How do you know when you have that?
If he's still sticking with the grades thing and totally driving you bonkers then ask-
- If you could imagine or pretend that there was another way to have the type of impact on _____'s life that you want to, what would it be?
Take him through the other questions using what he imagined. The main thing that you'll have to be on the look out for are emotional reactions. Yours and his.
In the words of Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity."
Fixing miscommunications and promoting self-motivation is a simple process but...it ain't easy!
Be prepared to be the one who doesn't have to be right and things will begin to improve as long your son's father really wants to make a positive impact.
One last thing...keep your head up, okay? I'm sure your son appreciates everything that you're doing for him and he will appreciate it even more as he gets older.
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