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Monday, January 16, 2017

On Coping With the Obstinate Human

We have at least one obstinate child in our house, and I am was as a younger person perhaps a smidge on the stubborn side myself. So I feel somewhat authoritative on the subject of dealing with a creature whose heels frequently dig themselves six inches into the unyielding earth.
I hate, loathe, detest, and am unwilling to submit to external pressure. If you Nudge me on Words With Friends, I will do my best to trounce you, then block you like a foul-mouthed troll if you ever send me a “Let’s Play!” message again. But even when the thing being asked of me is something I actually want to do, if it smells one whiff like I’m being coerced, good stinkin’ luck, friend. You’ll have a better chance prying open a clam with a pair of wet Q-tips.
But at the risk of shooting myself in the foot (hopefully those who regularly have to deal with me are not reading my blog this week), I want to share—in the way of a public service message—a few secrets about getting the pigheaded mule in your life to concede to your will.
Give Up the Notion that You Know What’s Best for Him
This will get you nowhere. No. Where. At all. The obdurate person, by the time he has set his parking brake, has already prioritized his unwillingness to perform as The Most Important of All Important Things. Giving in would be traitorous to his sense of self and free-will. Acquiescing is akin to selling out your countrymen from the front lines in order to secure a safe desk job at enemy headquarters. Save yourself a lot of time, breath, and energy, and move on to a more practical strategy.
Don’t Assume You Know What She Wants
You may think you understand what’s going on inside the brain of the person whose lower jaw is now jutting out half a foot, but you likely do not. My older daughter was willing to stand facing a wall all day long—and I know from experience that she has the stamina to do it—rather than give her younger sister a hug of apology. Her father figured she was just being contrary. But when I asked why she didn’t want to hug her adorable little sis, Older Sister answered, “Because she’s gross.” Then she cited a couple of examples I couldn’t really contradict. (All people do gross things, if you observe them long enough.)
Ask the Person of Stiff Neck What Could Change His Mind
It’s useful to recognize that stubbornness is a often a reaction to a perceived sense of lost control. One of the quickest ways to deactivate the Shields-Up mechanism is to return some sense of control to your adversary. I asked my daughter, “Is there anything your sister could do which would render her less gross?”
The answer was, “No.” But it did open up a dialogue…
Turn the Situation Into a Problem-Solving Conversation, Rather Than a Confrontation of Wills
Again, intractability is typically the response to a high need for control. While you may want to address your intractable person’s overreaching control issues, in the middle of a battle for control is almost certainly the least effective time to do it. Deal instead with the present issue and bring up the larger problem in a less volatile moment. (Like after a nice meal followed by a rich dessert. People with happy tummies don’t usually get into knock-down-drag-outs with each other.)
Older Daughter couldn’t come up with a way that she could power through Younger Daughter’s grossness, so I offered a suggestion, wrapped in empathy: “I really hate for you to waste your whole day standing here. You have better things to do. What if you gave her a quick hug, then immediately changed your clothes and washed your hands?”
She left the wall, found her sibling, and the episode ended within sixty seconds.
(I may, however, need to do some research on germophobia.)
In Conclusion
As with most episodes of human conflict, understanding why someone behaves as they do goes a long way toward figuring out a resolution or workaround. Once I understand a person’s motivation, I can address the need behind it, rather than beat my head against the brick wall of the behavior I don’t like.
Hey, I wonder if this strategy might work in the political or national arenas?
Pfft. Where’s the fun in that?

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