Pick Your Battles with POWER
I am often amazed that we, in our families and social relationships, actually don't end up arguing with each other more. But somehow we get by. And I don't know about you, but some days are definitely better than others. I try to pick my battles carefully. Battles are arguments, large and small, from the minor disagreement to the raging, curse-hurling event that lasts for hours.
Battles are a whole class of problems we encounter because we encounter each other, every day. How could problems not occur? After all, we are all different. We have different things we care about, different things that trigger strong emotional reactions, different things that we just can't find a way to let go of in order to move on to something else.
How can we do a better job of picking those battles in the first place? Use your P.O.W.E.R. It is my acronym for effectively picking your battles when they inevitably rise. Take a deep breath and go through the following list before you engage:
1. What is the PROBLEM? What is the real problem? My son refuses to clean his room after I have repeatedly asked him. It is escalating fast as I raise my voice and my son repays the favor when he responds. Initially, it seems obvious - the messy room and my son's lack of action is the problem. But taking a closer look, the problem is neither of those things. Prior to my decision to ask him about it, my son had no issue whatsoever with his messy room. He was happily playing in the living room. He is unaware of the fire hazard that is now his sleeping quarters. I have the problem. I don't like the room being messy. I don't like that he doesn't want it tidy like the rest of the house. And I certainly don't like his attitude when I have asked him to fix it. The problem is mine. And I picked a battle with someone who actually doesn't want to fight. With the real problem identified, proceed to step #2
2. Is waging this battle OPTIONAL? This one is too easy. Probably. Most disagreements in which we engage are, fundamentally optional. We can always opt-out. See previous blog post about choices if you don't believe me. We ultimately decide when to engage and when to walk away. And if walking away feels like some sort of surrender, it absolutely is! And surrender is powerful in its own right. We decide what we do, how we feel, how we behave. Few things are as powerful as that.
3. Is it WORTH it? Will having this disagreement or battling with this person make it better for anyone in the end? Will you feel lighter, smarter, happier, settled, more content, etc, because of what happens in this situation? And will that feeling last and be more profound that any feelings of animus or anger that might result? Is it worthy of your precious time and limited energy? Only you can identify if something is worth it. You know what makes you feel better. You know what works for you. Just be sure that your commitment to the argument is worth the consequences. Consequences can be good - like a solved problem. But consequences are often not of the good variety. Hurt feelings, a damaged relationship, words said that cannot be put back in mouths. Lasting consequences. Think about those when determining what worth it means for you.
Parents beware: much of what we end up arguing with our children about is indeed about us, not them. We want them to dress a certain way, act a certain way, be and do something other than what they are being and doing. Make no mistake - that's on us. Most battles with our children are just not worth it. I can do a better job of dealing with a messy room from my otherwise cheerful, pleasant, loving son. But let him hit his sister, be disrespectful to his teacher, or do something illegal? Let the battle begin. We can still be a strict parent with non-negotiable behavior standards without battling our kids at every turn.
4. How is the ENDING going to serve you? Will it be to your benefit? Are you going to get what you need if you battle? I won't use the term "win" because arguments and disagreements really should not be about winning and losing. We either resolve it or not. When we speak in terms of winners and losers we set the conditions to "other" the person's feelings or needs. They are less important when we are trying to frame it as our way of beating or besting them. So think about what it means for it to end in a favorable way before you engage. Keep that in mind as your use your words to work towards that goal. If you have no goal, then what exactly are you arguing about?
5. Is it the RIGHT time, place or conditions for this particular battle to play out? We see it when we watch others, on television or in real life. There is a time and a place for everything. Just at the moment of intense emotions may not be the best time to bring up something that is on your mind. In front of others in a public setting might not foster the best reaction. When you are feeling extremely vulnerable and attached to a particular outcome makes it impossible to stay focused. If you choose to battle, be ready by making sure the conditions are right for the best possible outcome.
Check yourself. Check your P.O.W.E.R. - the Problem, the Options, its Worth, the Ending, and the Right timing. Choose all of your battles wisely. You might find that you battle less. And as far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with that.