How many times have we been in situations where we think, “if this person would just . . .” It doesn’t matter if it is a coworker or a spouse we know the issue at hand could be easily addressed if the other party would just do something different. Our frustration rises as we look to the other person for the solution to our problem—when, in fact, we are the only person who is capable of ensuring our needs are met.
One need look no further than the headlines to see the lunacy of insisting the other person change while keeping our own behavior and attitudes locked under a veil of supremacy and rightness. How much longer are we going to debate the issues of the budget from dogmatic positions where each side precludes the notion of the validity of the party’s position and the possibilities of some flawed thinking in their own? While the fact that this behavior exists and continues surprises no one, what does it say about the public’s willingness to allow our elected officials to “lead” in this way? And does anyone feel good about where we are heading?
If we were managing our household finances with the same acumen as the experts in Washington we not only would be in serious financial shape, the civility within the family would be abysmal. Solutions are not created by looking at the other person and telling them they need to change—true change evolves from all parties willingness to look honestly at themselves and the other and to respectfully address issues. One of the very best methods for developing these high quality interactions comes from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication. The following are the four steps he outlines:
1. State an observation. Create a neutral statement that both parties can agree to: We need to reduce the deficit.
2. Express a feeling. Share an honest expression of how you feel about the statement: I am worried that by not addressing the deficit our future fiscal health is imperiled.
3. Express your need. Be clear about what is it that you need in the situation: I need people to cooperate with me to develop a strategy for deficit reduction that best balances the needs of the public with fiscal responsibly.
4. Make a request. Directly ask the other party for what you need: Are you willing to cooperate with me on this issue?
Obviously this is a simple example and yet it shows how a continuing dialogue where neutral statements are made, genuine feelings expressed, needs clearly articulated and action requested not only moves people forward it opens them up to genuine connection—which is the only time when forward progress can occur.
Every time I hear an interview with an elected official they spend the bulk of their time talking about why the other side is wrong and how they are doing what they can to “protect” their side. SPOILER ALTERT: this strategy doesn’t work. Not only does it insult the public’s intelligence, it is guaranteed to keep real solutions from ever being created. No one wants to work with people who have no respect for them, their feelings or needs and that’s exactly the space where Washington is operating from at this point in time.
What to do? Be open, be honest and recognize that as elected leaders they have a choice between more of the same or choosing to let go of their egos and electoral aspirations and actually do the work they were elected to do. The other option is for the public to understand that if we keep rewarding this behavior by re-electing those entrenched in it—then perhaps we do have the government we deserve and a future that is not what the Founding Father’s would have envisioned as we celebrate our nation’s birth.