“Buddy, I need you to make sure the burners are turned off when you’re done cooking. This morning there was a towel on the burner and it almost caught on fire.” I hold back the wave of anger rising up in my throat as the words spill out of my mouth. This is not the first confrontation about the stove.
“MOM! STOP TRYING TO CONTROL ME! I know how to turn the stove off! I am not an idiot! “As he rolls his eyes and stomps around.
“Bud, I didn’t say you’re an idiot, I just ask that you don’t burn the house down. It isn’t that hard.”
“You’re always nagging me! I know how to turn the freaking stove off! I do it EVERY TIME!”
“Hey – now you’re just getting upset because you know you’re wrong. I am simply..”
He interrupts, “Ya I know you’re always right and I am an idiot.” He grabs his board and heads outside to skate it off.
Here we are… classic conflict with a teenager. When we think we are being nice about parenting them it kicks back faster than the speed of light. I tried so hard to communicate in many different voices and tones to show him how to handle conflict. It just wasn’t getting through to him how much I care.
So what is the fundamental problem? Communication in conflict is tough, but how is it my teenager thinks my parenting makes him feel dumb? First of all – hormones are the enemy but I do believe that there is a way around them. We all have people in our life that the moment they hear a criticism or correction they get defensive and fight back. These types of people often struggle with a power imbalance and a need to be in control, teenager or not – they need love.
The balance of power is a tricky relational aspect to manage. I believe that when you show people that you genuinely care about them and have their best interest in mind there are fewer power struggles. Silencing the massage running in their minds that ‘You’re always right and I am an idiot” leads us to healthier less stressful relationships where conflict is an opportunity to grow together.
So, how does one go about balancing out the power?
Keep Your Cool
You are the only person you can control. When you are in a conflict with someone that is getting big and
scary take some deep breaths and remember that all you can do is control you. Stay centered showing that you care by using calm and direct language. Reflect back that you care about them and show your love.
Example: “Buddy I am so sorry you felt I was treating you like an idiot. That is the last thing I want you to feel from me.”
Often when someone kicks back with angry words the last thing you want to do is open your heart to them. Your mind and heart goes into alert saying, “You are scary and I need to protect myself.” Most of the time people reflect back to us what they perceive they are being treated. Breaking the cycle starts with you being loving and accepting. Powerful people do not need to put walls up because they know their love for themselves is unconditional with complete acceptance. Show your heart for them and your intentions.
Example: “Mom I HATE YOU! You are the worst Mom ever and I can’t wait to leave this hell hole!” “I am so sorry to hear that you feel that way. I adore you and think you are a great kid.”
Learn Their Language
One of the biggest communication faux pas that we think we are communicating but the listener is not receiving it. We are stuck in cycles of repeating it to exhaustion with no luck. We need to learn the listener’s language. How do they receive information? How do they need it to be presented? Sometimes people are aware of how they receive communication best and other times we need to pay attention to how they communicate. Reflect back to them the same way they present information. This information is often collected in non-conflict based conversations. Instead of telling them what you didn’t say, reframe it in different language that they can accept.
Example: “Buddy I really want you to know that I love you and teach you how to do things. How would you like to hear feedback?
“Buddy I hear you when you say you feel like an idiot when I correct you. How can I teach you things without making you feel that way?
Healthy communication takes time and patience with yourself and your listener. Balancing the power by allowing feedback and learning will greatly improve your relationships. Be kind to yourself and others – it just makes life easier.
Also published on Medium.