How to Get What You Want (Without Being a Nag)

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to TalkRx with Doctor Neha. Today I have a special guest Pat who is willing to share a sneak peek of her coaching session so that all of you can learn. Welcome Pat.

Pat: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: Tell me what communication question I can answer for you.

Pat: My big question is, when you’re communicating an issue or a problem how do you avoid sounding naggy, complaining, whining?

Doctor Neha: Do you mind if I work with you right away on how you worded the question?

Pat: Sure.

Doctor Neha: Flip that around by using “I.”

Pat: How do “I”?

Doctor Neha: Yes. Pronouns are important, and this is going to help in the question you’re asking me. A lot of people tend to use “you” and ask, “How do you not sound whiny and complaining?” meanwhile you’re thinking to yourself. I thought, “What’s she’s really saying is how do I bring up a difficult discussion?”

When something is uncomfortable you actually say “you” instead of “I.” Sometimes people say this, “Don’t you hate it when the clerk at the grocery stores rude to you?” Meanwhile you’re thinking to yourself, I didn’t go to the grocery store this week and no one was rude to me. It distances you from somebody else when you use a different pronoun. If I flip that around and say, “I went to the grocery store today, and I was astounded at how rude the clerk was to me,” do you see how different it is?

Pat: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Let’s start over; ask your question again.

Pat: How can I ask questions that avoid making me sound whining or complaining or nagging?

Doctor Neha: You’re bringing up something that feels a little bit like an uncomfortable conversation. What would you bring up a conversation about?

Pat: I want my granddaughter to clean her room. I asked a dozen times and it hasn’t been done.

Doctor Neha: How old is your granddaughter?

Pat: Seventeen.

Doctor Neha: Tell me why you want her to clean her room.

Pat: Because it’s a disaster—dirties mixed with clean.It’s a mess.

Doctor Neha: Let’s take a nice deep breath in,then I want you to tell me what the physical response is in your body the moment when you look in the door to her room. What happens in your body? Even as you’re talking about it right now, can you feel any physical signal?

Pat: Just a disappointment, kind of a letdown.

Doctor Neha: Show me where it is in your body.

Pat: It’s in here [points to her chest].

Doctor Neha: The emotion is disappointment. You feel let down and right through your chest is where it goes. Is it like tightness? Is it a moving of energy? What kind of sensation?

Pat: It’s almost like a lightweight lump of failure that I wasn’t able to get the point across. I wasn’t able to motivate her.

Doctor Neha: A few things are happening. The first one is your body is giving you that lump that feeling right in your chest. You get this discomfort inside you when you see a mess outside you. Then that has you creating thoughts about what it means: Somehow I’m not being effective. Somehow I’m not doing my job and getting the point across that my granddaughter needs to have her room clean. Tell me why it’s important that she has cleans her room.

Pat: One thing is that it makes her father very happy. I like to see him happy and not have to deal with the messy room.

Doctor Neha: Is this your son?

Pat: Son-in-law.

Doctor Neha: It makes her father happy. Now tell me another reason.

Pat: It would be more comfortable to live in, and she’d be able to accomplish her homework and things that she likes to do much faster.

Doctor Neha: You think it would be good for her. What does your room look like?

Pat: Pretty clean and organized.

Doctor Neha: What you’re saying is she doesn’t think a messy room is a problem?

Pat: Evidently not.

Doctor Neha: You’re getting this lump in your throat and this chest discomfort and then you’re trying to get a 17-year-old to clean her room. One thing we know about teenagers is they like to sleep in late and they don’t think it’s important to clean. Tell me what it means about your influence on her and who she becomes as a person in the world? What does it mean about the job you’ve done in raising her and influencing her?

Pat: I don’t actively raise her, but I do like to help out the family because they’re so busy.It just seems like it’s just frustrating to not see any results. You’re right that she’s not concerned.

Doctor Neha: No she’s not, so this an important point. You actually can’t want for another.

Pat: You can, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to deliver.

Doctor Neha:True! It’s a frustrating experience. Tell me what having a clean and organized home or room gives you. What does it give you?

Pat: It gives me some peace of mind. I don’t have to clutter my mind with things that need to be done because I know they’re done and I can go on to something else.

Doctor Neha: What you’re doing is saying that cleaning works in my life, therefore, it should work in your life?

Pat: It should work in most people’s lives.

Doctor Neha: But it’s not working in her life. In fact,I would imagine that what it’s doing is making the two of your less close.When you tell her I want you to clean your room, what does she say?

Pat: “Yeah, okay.”

Doctor Neha: She says, ”Yeah, okay,” almost get a passive aggressive answer.She is 17, and she is right on time.

Pat: Will she ever clean her room?

Doctor Neha: There may come a day where she finds it valuable and important. Right now, if you’re not living in that room, that’s her space. There might be rules, but you want to put your energy and your attention toward creating what you want with her. If you can give me three words, what would your ideal relationship be like with your granddaughter? What are you really aiming for?

Pat: I like doing things with her.

Doctor Neha: Connection.

Pat: Some conversation, which is still connection. She’s always busy on her electronic devices and it just seems like she’s not taking care of things that should be taken care of in life.

Doctor Neha: I’m asking you what you want, not what you don’t want. Is it love, connection and conversation?

Pat: Meaningful conversation and not being ignored with devices.

Doctor Neha: That’s what you don’t want. You’re going back to what you don’t want. What do you want? This is an important point. When you’re ready to create a relationship with somebody or you’re struggling with it in certain areas, you want to get a real clear vision of what you want.

Pat: I want her attention.

Doctor Neha: You want her attention. Well, then it’s time to engage with her in a conversation that would get her attention. Would asking her to clean her room get her attention?

Pat: It’s not working.

Doctor Neha: What would get her attention? Tell me some of the things she’s interested in.

Pat: If I said, “Here’s $50 for you to clean your room.”

Doctor Neha: Bribery? How about this? You already said you want shared experiences with her.

Pat: Should I clean it with her?

Doctor Neha: I don’t think that’s really a shared experience because it’s your intention not hers. The most important thing is that if you want love, connection and conversation, ask yourself, “Is this something I want or is this something that’s a shared value between the two of us that would help the two of us create love, connection and conversation?” The beauty is when you’rea grandmother, you did your life work. It’s now time for you to have fun and play.

Pat: I should just back off and go.

Doctor Neha: You get to keep your room and your world the way you want. And then connect with her. It’s time for you to have shared experiences with her. But pay attention to when it’s more about your intention for her rather than something she would want.

For example, I have a little niece, and I think I know what’s right for her. But boy, oh boy, does she let me know by body language whether what I just said aligned with what she wants. So I’ve shifted from making statements to asking questions.

“I’m really interested in spending some time with you. What are some things you feel like doing today?” Then she gives me a few options, and I pick the one that also aligns with me. She wants to color. She wants to go out and play in the park. I say, “This one sounds fun to me too. Let’s do that.” I shift to being curious and engaging her. It is so fun to be an aunt, and I wonder if that’s the same thing about being a grandparent, which is all the fun and less of the responsibility.

Pat: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Do you have any takeaways?

Pat: Well I’m going to approach her a little differently and ask her questions. She’s been asking for new curtains in her room. Maybe I’ll say, “Have you thought about the curtains that you want? You want to change your room around?” I’ll talk about that a little bit with her.

Doctor Neha: If she wants to make her room more beautiful, that’s something you can engage with her on. That might be something that gets her interested in…

Pat: Organizing.

Doctor Neha: Organizing—but if that’s your ultimate intention or background motivation, you’re going to feel disappointed again.

Pat: We’ll just focus on curtains.

Doctor Neha: Focus on curtains and beauty and joy because what you really want is connection, conversation and love. Her parents get to deal with the rest.

Pat: Okay.

Doctor Neha: For all of you out there who know that you’re trying to control how somebody else shows up because you think it would be good for them, the truth is your desire is what works in your life. It might not work for a 17-year-old. It might not work for my little niece who’s 5 or 6 years old. My job is to make sure that I pay attention to the role I’m in, whether grandmother or aunt.Identify what role you are in and match that with what you’d like to create in that relationship. It looks like today Pat got clear that what she really wants is conversation, connection and love with her granddaughter. So it’s time to start asking what color curtain her granddaughter would like and go shopping with her. Do you like shopping?

Pat: It’s okay. She loves shopping.

Doctor Neha: Maybe there’s a way to figure out how to help her enjoy her room and do it in a way that you enjoy.

Drop me a tweet @drnehasangwan or #AskDoctorNeha. Thank you for tuning in.

Awareness Prescription

  1. You can’t want for another. Get clear about what you want (not what you don’t want).
  2. Try asking questions, instead of making statements. Curiosity builds a bridge.
  3. Find common ground by listening deeply to discover what will create joy for both of you.

To getting what you really want,

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