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Dr. Gordon’s “Dirty Dozen”

Part of my job as a financial planner is to help clients change behaviors that aren’t serving them well. I’ve tried to do that in many ways. Some work, and some don’t.

The late Thomas Gordon, author of Parent Effectiveness Training and Leader Effectiveness Training, created a list of common methods we use to try to influence one another. Most of these are so ineffective that Ted Klontz, Ph.D. renamed them Gordon’s “dirty dozen.” They are:

1. Ordering, directing, commanding. Nike ads notwithstanding, “Just do it!” isn’t a very good motivator. Neither (as most parents have learned) is “Don’t do that!”

2. Warning or threatening. “You’re asking for trouble if you keep doing that.” All this usually does is dare listeners to prove you wrong by continuing exactly what they are doing.

3. Giving advice, making suggestions, providing solutions. “If I were you, I would . . .” “Why don’t you do this?” Telling people what they “should” do is usurping their power to make their own choices. It’s even dicey to give advice when asked and much more powerful to say, “I don’t know what is really right for you and when I was faced with a similar situation this is what I chose to do.”

4. Persuading with logic, arguing, lecturing. This is the one I have the most trouble with and that I still find myself doing unconsciously. I’ve learned that when someone can’t seem to make a decision, quite often the problem is more emotional than logical. The person simply can’t take in a logical argument until he or she has dealt with the emotion that is blocking the decision.

5. Moralizing, preaching, telling them their duty. To understand why this doesn’t work, just think about how you react when someone tells you what you “should” do. Motivation by guilt is manipulation, not leadership.

6. Judging, criticizing, disagreeing, blaming. Telling people they are wrong, selfish, or caused their own problem doesn’t help them change; it merely makes them feel stupid or defensive.

7. Agreeing, approving, praising. It might seem odd that this is considered a negative motivator. Yet it can be. One reason this doesn’t work is that it tends to take away the person’s power to decide whether his actions or decisions are the right ones for him. It also can be received as condescending.

8. Shaming, ridiculing, name-calling. This method is not much different from number six, except that it is bad manners as well as poor communication.

9. Interpreting, analyzing. From the outside, you aren’t in a position to know what someone really means or what the real problem might be. It’s best to ask the person to come up with possibilities to consider rather than you listing them.

10. Reassuring, sympathizing, consoling. Again, it may seem odd that this approach is not helpful. Yet telling people, “Things aren’t really that bad,” or “You’ll be fine,” can minimize what they are going through. It also can encourage them to feel like victims and thus discourage them from actively seeking solutions to their difficulties.

11. Questioning, probing. The word “Why?” seldom helps people change. If they knew why they were doing what they were doing, they could probably take steps to do something different.

12. Withdrawing, humoring, distracting, changing the subject. This approach merely helps someone avoid or postpone a problem.

After reading this, your response may be similar to my first reaction to Dr. Gordon’s work. “So what’s left?” The answer truly is, “not much.” His approach was based on a simple but powerful concept—effective listening. When people feel heard, they are often quite capable of talking their way through to their own solutions.

I have found Dr. Gordon’s work extremely valuable. For more information about his approach, you might check out www.gordontraining.com.

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