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Learn how to get your child to follow instructions using tools and techniques from the NLP communication model.
(Abby Eagle) In 2012 I was waiting to catch my plane at KL Airport in Malaysia back to Australia. It was late and the plane had been delayed for two hours. The lights were turned down low in the airport lounge; it was crowded, some people gathered in the restaurant, others browsed the duty free shop; some people sat around in those uncomfortable plastic chairs, some did their best to rest. A woman accompanied by her husband and two young girls struggled with managing some suitcases and bags.
The woman turned in frustration to the ten year daughter and shouted, "Well don't just stand there. You can see that I need some help with these bags. Why don't you help me?"
Taken back the girl replied, "I didn't know".
The mother shouted with anger, "Well you could see that I needed some help, now carry that bag for me!".
The girl was visibly upset as the family joined the cue behind me to exit the departure lounge. Both mother and father kept up the negative attention on the child. As an observer the tirade of the mother against the child was clearly unfair and to make it worse the father backed up his wife against his daughter who was visibly traumatised by the the treatment.
The statement, "You can see that I need some help.", is a 'Mind Read', that is the mother assumes that the child should know what she is thinking and feeling.
The question, "Why don't you help me?", is the type of question that can only generate a list of 'because's'. For example, "I don't help you because 'x, y, z'. The girl replied honestly, "I don't know".
Asking "Why", about the present situation will just get you a list of reasons that justify the present state. The solution is to shift the focus onto what you do want. So if the mother needed some assistance all she needed to do was to think in terms of what she needed at that moment. That is shift her mind from the present situation to the desired outcome and what would be required to get the outcome.
There are a number of questions that she could have asked instead of the why question. She probably had already asked herself, "How can I manage these suitcase?" Then she might have thought, "Who can I get to help me?" Both good questions but in communicating that to the child she stuffed up by asking, "Why don't you help me", to which the child replied, "I don't know."
Then the mother finally managed to say what she needed to say, "Carry that bag for me", which is not a question but a command.
I am certain that if the mother had just told the child in an even tone, "Here, carry that bag", then there would have been none of the drama. Or she could have asked the question, "Can you carry this bag for me?"
"Can you help me?", is not a good question in that context because it does not specify what she wants help with. The child still needed to know, "What do you want help with?"
The lesson from the above example is that, 'The meaning of your communication is the response that you get'. This is a principle that we work with in NLP. If what you are doing is not working then try something else. If that does not work then try something else. Most importantly we take responsibility for the response that we get from our communications.
Another NLP principle, 'The law of requisite variety states that the part with the most variability controls the system'. So the person who has the most flexibility in their thought processes, language patterns and behaviour will be the 'top dog' so to speak. That means the person in charge needs to have more variability in their behaviour than the subordinates.
The following is a transcript between a parent and child. The parent gradually amps up the volume, getting more frustrated and angry. As she does so the child's emotional responses intensify - frustration, anger and tears. The parent has a positive intention in trying to be nice to the child. But in fact what they really want is the child to carry out an order. Instead of giving a command they make a polite request. No wonder the child gets confused.
Parent: "Johnny can you please go and clean your room?"
Child: "Later mum."
Parent: "Johnny can you please go and clean your room?"
Child: "Oh mum I am watching TV."
Parent: "John I just asked you to please go and clean your room."
Child: "Mum I am doing something."
Parent: "John how many times do I have to ask you to go and clean your room?"
Child: "But I don't want to."
Parent: "I want you to go and clean your room."
Child: "But I don't want to."
Parent. "Well I want you to clean your room."
Parent: "Will you please go and clean your room!"
Child: "You're always shouting at me."
Parents typically get frustrated when the child does not follow instructions but in many cases the child is following the instructions precisely. For example.
1. "Johnny would you put your shoes on please?" This is posed as a question with ‘would’ and ‘please’.
What does the parent want the child to do? If the parent wants the child to put their shoes on then use a statement or a command, for example. "Johnny go an put your shoes on!" Note that we removed the, 'would' and the the 'please'.
If you have rapport with the listener or are in a position of authority (parent/child - employer/employee - police/citizen) and you want the listener to follow your directions then make a statement or give a command - there is no reason to ask a question as it just confuses the listener. For example, when the police stop a driver do they ask, "Could you please show me your drivers licence?" Or do they say, "Show me your drivers licence"? Do the police say, "Would you mind not waving that gun around and put it down please? Or do they say, "Drop the gun, now!"
2. Continuing our example with John. Five minutes later the parent says: "Why don’t you have your shoes on?" This invites the child to respond to the ‘why’?
3. When shoes have yet to be put on the parent asks, "How many times do I have to ask you?" This gets the child to wonder how many times they should wait before taking action.
4. Still no sign of shoes on feet so the parent asks, "Why are you playing with your toys when you know that you have to get ready for school?" This just further confuses the child. If the parent wants the child to get ready to go to school then say, "Go get dressed, pack your school bag and be ready by 8.30am". All the parent needs do is to be specific about what they want the child to do, and the child will follow the instructions because it is in their nature to do so, that is at least until they reach the teenage years.
As stated before the meaning of your communication is the response that you get. If you are not getting the desired result then it is up to you to make some changes. For example, if I said to you, "Don't think of blue.", what colour would arise in your mind? Unless you mismatched you would probably think of the colour blue.
How many times have you heard a parent say to a child, "Don't run.", and what did the child do? Run! Then the parent smacks the child and says, "I told you not to run". I remember being in a furniture store and as the family walked in the mother said to her children, "Don't jump on the furniture.", which the children proceeded to do.
Whereas another mother said to her child as they entered the shop, "Put your hands in your pocket.", which the child dutifully did. Another parent said to their child, "Hold onto that table.", which the child did.
The child's behaviour is a direct reflection of the parenting skill of the parent. Children don't have learning disabilities - teachers have teaching disabilities. To blame the child is a gross injustice.
I received the following in an email. "To stay tuned with LoginRadius updates, we highly recommend you to please connect to us on: Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn"
What is the reader meant to respond to? The command, "Connect to us on...", or the request, "Please connect to us on..."
What is their intention? Is it that the customer gets the software update? If so, then why not send an email and give the information? Or is the intention to get people to link to the company via social networking sites so that they get link juice from the search engines and increase traffic to their site? If that is the case then why not make a direct request? Hmm? Is it because they are not sure of the relationship they have with their client?
The problem that some people experience in their communication may be from an ill defined relationship structure.
Who are you and who is the other person(s)? How many people are involved in the communication? What is your relationship with the other? What is the age of each person, their gender, values, religion, health, ethnicity, nationality, occupation, education, generation? What is the 'face', the identity, the public image that is mutually granted by each person in the communication?
Is the relationship hierarchical or lateral? That is, is it an up/down relationship where one person is in a position of authority over the other? Or is it an even playing field where both people are on an equal footing? Are there rules to the relationship?
Fundamental to every communication is rapport. Rapport is the establishment of trust and harmony in a relationship. It is the key element in the art of obtaining the support and cooperation of people.
To establish rapport we need to demonstrate that we are like the other person in some way. In some way we need to match the other person's body language, the way that they speak and the words that they use. Other key elements of rapport building are the way that we dress, key words used, accent, values and group membership.
Do you know how to get people on side so that you can deliver your message successfully? Do you know when you have rapport? Do you know how to break rapport?
Every communication requires at least some rapport. On a scale of zero to ten where zero indicates total lack of rapport and ten indicates deep trust then the rapport that a Policeman has with an uncooperative offender when the arrest first occurs might be around zero. If the Policeman can not establish rapport then it is unlikely he will get any useful information.
At the supermarket checkout, the context provides just enough rapport to do the transaction. In another sales context like in buying a house the sales person will need a high degree of rapport. In the armed forces, even though the commander is in a position of authority he still needs rapport to get full cooperation from the soldiers.
For there to be harmony in a family there needs to be deep rapport. If the children are treated in an authoritarian manner they will rebel around the teenage years, if not sooner.
Parents may think they have rapport but it is easily tested when it comes time to ask the child to make their bed or put out the rubbish. In a personal relationship the rapport will shift depending upon the activity. Love making requires a lot of rapport. Arguing and telling people what to do loses rapport. Listening, acknowledging, validating, celebrating, supporting and asking questions that invite the listener to engage with you deepen rapport.
The problem in some families is that there is just too much going on. Each person may have their mind elsewhere and focussed on a different task. Television, radio, Internet, phone calls, text messages, friends, work, school work, meals, housework. In a typical family household there are many things occurring simultaneously. Start by defining boundaries. When you eat just eat - turn off the television and make it a rule to turn off mobile phones. When you watch a television program just watch that program with an intention then switch off the television. When holding a conversation turn off the television or radio so that you can focus in on the conversation. Set boundaries for different tasks - give them a beginning and an end. Define topics of conversation such that you will know when the conversation is finished.
What is the reason for the communication? What is the tone or mood of the communication? Are there rules to the context?
Where does the communication occur? What is the proximity of both speaker and listener. What is physically at the location? When does the communication occur?
What is the transmission medium? Is it face to face, telephone, email, text message, website forum, webinar, radio, television?
Language is ambiguous by nature. We are the meaning maker - we give the meaning to the communication.
What is the content of the communication? What are the words that are used? What is the meaning of those words? How were the words delivered - that is tonality, volume, tempo and body language? What meaning does the tonality and body language bring with it?
The body language transmits 38% of the communication; the tone and tempo 55% and the words 7%. This means that 93% of the communication is non verbal. Perhaps this is why people will follow a charismatic leader? Not because that person says anything of real importance, just that the way the message is presented makes the listener feel a certain way. Because the words only carry 7% of the message then we need to choose them wisely for them to have the greatest impact.
The communication can be delivered as a question, statement or command. There are three parts to the communication: 1. The words that are used. 2. How you say it, that is the volume, tonality and tempo. 3. The body language.
The words should be specific enough for the listener to create a cinematic representation in their mind in pictures, sounds and feelings. When you deliver a message think in terms of writing a film script. What do you want the other person to see, hear and feel in the cinema of their mind?
How you say the words will colour the meaning. With a question the pitch tends to be higher and the tonality rises towards the end of the sentence. A statement is delivered in a matter of fact even tonality. A command is delivered with a lower pitch and the tonality dropping towards the end of the sentence.
The head being lifted up and back, the eyes wide, and the eye brows and forehead raised indicates to the listener that you expect them to answer a question. One or both hands may be outstretched, palm up in front of the body.
A sombre, flat, relaxed, even expression on the face, and hands that are neither directing nor questioning indicates a matter of factness about what is being communicated.
The eye brows may be furrowed, the eyes small and a stern, tense look. The hands might be on the hips or giving gestures that indicate a direction or a task the speaker wants the listener to follow. The body posture might be weighted down in the look that you might see in a boxer, martial artist, policeman or commanding officer in the armed forces. The body language indicates a high degree of expectation that the listener will follow the instructions. There is a waiting and holding of the body posture until the listener takes action.
So how do you know when to ask a question, make a statement or give a command? This will be determined by the relationship and by the context.
Believe it or not but training materials are freely available. Most television programs and films that we watch gives us an opportunity to learn something that can be used to improve our lives, for example.
On the Ellen DeGeneres Show you can clearly see that the body posture of both host and guest are similar - they have physical rapport.
Most interviews will start with a statement about the topic of discussion followed by a question.
Every film should provide something of value, otherwise why watch it? Watch and listen as the characters make statements, ask questions and give commands. It is true that dialogue for a film is much more succinct than we would use in real life but even so we can learn a lot from it.
When I watch a film I watch it with the clear intention to learn something. In some cases I will pause the video and ask myself, "What can I learn from this?" Once I have identified a learning I then ask myself, "Where can I apply this learning in my life? How could I apply this learning tomorrow?" Sometimes this is not an easy task so I might have to sit there for ten minutes concentrating and holding my head as I activate my creative faculties. But I tell you it works and it is worth the investment in time.
So now we finally get to the purpose of this article.
If the parent wants the child to take out the kitchen rubbish is this about the parent's needs and wants or about the child? Think about it - what interest does the child have in kitchen rubbish? Probably zero interest, that is until you invite them to think about it in a profoundly different way.
So rather than telling the child what to do we ask questions but a different type of question. Here we ask questions that invite the listener to think in such a way that they develop an interest in the activity.
First get clear on what your desired outcome is. Do you want to have to tell the child every day to put the rubbish out or would you like them to take responsibility for it? Wouldn't it be nice if the child put the rubbish out because they wanted to and not because you told them to?
So the communication could go something like this. John have you ever wondered what happens to the rubbish that we throw out? Wait for John's response then continue. You know, we buy stuff from the supermarket. Then we get all these empty tins and jars and empty boxes and food scraps and plastic bags. Have you ever wondered where all this rubbish ends up? So you invite John to get involved to think about the rubbish in a new way. Some of the jars and plastic and metal ends up in landfill but wouldn't it make sense to recycle it? And then the food scraps also end up in the landfill - wouldn't it make sense for the organic scraps to be composted? And what about the plastic bags? What happens to the plastic bags? Did you know that the plastic bags can end up in the ocean killing marine life?
So you start to build a connection between buying items from the supermarket, using those items in the kitchen and then disposing of the waste. Some kitchens have a food waste disposal unit on the bench top. So you ask John. Have you ever wondered where those food scraps go? Do you think that is the most environmentally sensible way to dispose of those scraps or are we mixing good compost material with toxic sewage? Have you ever wondered what chemicals get dumped into the sewage and where the sewage ends up?
So once we have John's interest we then shift the conversation onto our desired outcome using the pronoun 'we' which invites his participation. What do you think is the best way for us to dispose of our rubbish? Should we throw it all in one bin or should we separate it? I need your help on this because I am unclear on what goes in the green rubbish bin and what goes in the yellow recycle bin. Can you help me with this?
Then bag up the kitchen rubbish and carry it out to the rubbish bin area, inviting John to come with you. Make sure that you have two bags so that you can ask John to matter of factly carry one of them. Once you get to the bin area you ask John for advice on how to separate the rubbish. You may need to repeat this process a number of times until he becomes conditioned to the process. (If you need an analogy think of dog training.)
On another occasion you could ask John about the rubbish bin smell? What causes the smell? Is the smell healthful or harmful? Do we need to clean the bins? How do you think we should do that? Do we use a poison or do we use an environmentally friendly process? How do we know when to clean the bin? Is it by the way that it looks or by the way that it smells?
As you continue conversations like this then John should by inference come to understand that you want him to play an active part in rubbish management. When you need to reinforce the behaviour start by establishing rapport then engage him in a conversation that piques his interest and then ask him to help you put the rubbish out together, in doing so you build a team work mentality. Remember we gain compliance first by getting attention, then by establishing and deepening rapport through building frames of curiosity and fascination - most importantly we need to act out of integrity and invite participation on an even playing field.
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