Frustrated by problems that seem to crop up again and again? Tired of saying, "How many times have I told you…"? Wondering if anyone listens to a single word you say?
The answer just may be that you're talking too much.
Please, don't be offended by the idea that you might be talking when you should be acting. It's just that people can learn to ignore our words when we say them over and over.
They begin to think we're just making noise, rather than making a point. And they think that, after we've had our say, the subject will be dropped. They don't really have to change their behavior if there aren't any meaningful consequences for ignoring us.
How can you get folks to take you seriously? Let's look at some everyday examples:
n You want your 3-year old son to eat his dinner with his spoon, not his hands. He continues to stir his mashed potatoes with his fingers, and you continue to reprimand him. Soon you are shouting, and he is crying.
New solution: Remove your son's plate and say calmly, "I see you're finished with your dinner."
Will the 3-year old protest? Probably — and loudly. No matter how many times your toddler complains, simply repeat, "When you put your fingers in your food, I know you are finished with your dinner."
n You and your mother speak on the phone every week. You want to stay in touch but are troubled by the way your mother frequently criticizes you for minor things. You feel picked on, and you often say how this hurts your feelings.
Or, perhaps, you find yourself defending the decisions you have made or the actions you have taken. She minimizes your discomfort, saying, "You're so sensitive. I was just joking. Can't you take constructive criticism?"
A sense of resentment is building in you about how you are being treated.
New solution: Next time your mother starts to criticize, tell her, "Mom, I like our weekly talks, and I want to keep them positive for us both. Let's not criticize each other."
If she continues, simply say, "Mom, I'm going to hang up if you criticize me again."
You'll have to follow through, and you may hear criticism of your refusal to be criticized. If this is the case, just repeat that you want your conversations to be positive ones.
n Your spouse frequently drinks too much when you are at social events. This is embarrassing for you, and you've expressed your unhappiness about it many times. Regardless of how many arguments you have or the promises your spouse makes, the same behaviors continue.
New solution: Rather than discussing this one more time, start taking your own car to social events. When your spouse becomes inebriated, you can leave the party at your convenience.
Taking action rather than arguing has several advantages.
Your actions eliminate the need to raise your voice or repeat yourself. This restores your sense of confidence by helping you behave in a reasonable way rather than losing your temper.
Your actions take care of your feelings by ending your exposure to unacceptable situations. Your equilibrium and calm are restored because you are no longer trapped by another person's inappropriate behavior.
You'll probably be nervous the first few times you act instead of argue. All new behaviors make us a little anxious.
However, once you have seen how effective action can be, you'll find yourself thinking of effective action solutions to other problems, too.
Will the people around you protest your new action orientation? Very possibly. No one really likes change, and your family and friends are accustomed to ignoring your verbal protests without consequences to themselves.
It's OK if they are uncomfortable with your behavior. After all, you have been uncomfortable with their behaviors for a long time.
The most important element in guaranteeing that your actions are effective is the attitude with which you implement them.
Stay focused on taking care of yourself. If you snatch up your toddler's plate yelling, "OK. No more food for you, you little terror!" the power struggle will continue. If you shout and slam down the phone when your mother criticizes, the argument has just taken a new form.
Practice what you want to say ahead of time so that you can state your position calmly.
You may want to read up on taking action by finding a book on natural and logical consequences. Check in the parenting section of your bookstore, keeping in mind that this way of handling conflict works with people of any age.
Toni A.P. Brown, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a speaker, trainer and psychotherapist in private practice in Brandon, Fla.
This column is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation's largest organization of counseling professionals, and with the support of the American Counseling Association Foundation. Additional information for consumers and counseling professionals is available through the ACA Web site at www.counseling.org.