I’ve written in the past about how some aging parents can become manipulative; appearing to be more “helpless” than they actually are. Interestingly, reader responses to those articles were 100% in agreement. But many questioned how they could verbally approach the issue.
Quite simply, it’s all in how you say it. For example, “Why are you sitting there all day? You can get around! Take a walk and do something for yourself!” As opposed to, “You say you want to be more social. Why not spend a little time at the Cheer Center and meet some new people? It might be fun.” The first one sounds kind of insulting – the second one – not quite so bad.
When you bluntly tell somebody what to do, you’re implying that they don’t have a mind of their own. This applies not only to adults, but also to kids — especially teenagers. Lecturing or ordering a teenager around isn’t going to work. You have to invoke facts and explain the consequences if he doesn’t do what you ask. If those consequences are important enough to him, you’ll usually get his cooperation.
Interestingly, research from the Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis suggests that lecturing to students in large classroom settings is not the most effective method of instruction. Findings indicate that whenever students are actively engaged in their learning, i.e., experiencing the consequences first-hand, they learn better and faster. This makes sense, because people don’t learn unless they apply their minds to the facts.
Lecturing has its place for a motivated audience, but it’s not the way to approach personal or business relationships. Of course there are exceptions: You hire an expert to fix your car, build your house, or perform surgery, and you want someone who’s in charge and knows what he/she is doing. But even then, it’s valuable to have things explained to you. In fact, one of the biggest complaints that I hear about some doctors is that they don’t take the time to explain what they’re doing. Even an expert should have a method of reasoning that a non-expert can understand. No matter how accomplished he or she might be, no one is above showing respect and consideration.
Of course, there are those who have a need to tell others what to do. These authoritarian personalities have an inflated sense of importance and the role they play in the lives of others. More than a few of these types end up in positions of power, but many more show up in the personal lives of everyday individuals. The authoritarian is more than just a control freak. Control freaks are driven by an anxiety to get things done “right” – for better or worse. The authoritarian, however, believes that people are incompetent, and that he or she must take over for them. When a compulsive authoritarian and a depressed, dependent person find one other, the resulting combination can be sicker than either of the two alone.
No one person knows everything, but we’re all able to think. Needing to be told what to do stems from a mistrust in your ability to think things out. When you’re confident in that ability, you recognize your capacity to investigate and form responsible conclusions on your own. You can then make decisions based on your best judgment. All the talk of self-esteem really boils down to this: A belief in your ability to figure out what’s going on around you and to take responsibility for making judgments about it.
Healthy people look around the world and form conclusions carefully and objectively. As a result, they have no desire to tell others what to do. They know that it just won’t work.
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