It appear that a common occurrence both in our business and professional lives is that someone keeps bringing up a perceived injury from the distant past and chastises us with it – even if we were not responsible for it. An example of this might be a client who, every time we see them, insists upon telling us about something that another employee of our organization did to them XYZ years ago – they actually appear to be reliving the incident and all the emotions that they felt at that time. Another example might be that of a family member who continually reminds us of the time when we were 5 years old and we pushed them off the swing which resulted in them breaking their arm and having to go to hospital.
Years of observation and experience indicate that arguing with people in this context serves no useful purpose. Their logic seems to be common to that found in many other contexts: If you argue with them, there must some kind of reason for you to so, so by arguing with them you are validating their argument. If you do not argue with them, you are accepting and validating their argument! Basically, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t! I have always believed that it is better to do something different to avoid this situation.
Having suffered this situation personally for many years, I finally decided that I was fed up with always being the guilty party in the other person’s drama so I developed this brief and simple model to deal with this specific problem. The great news is that it worked and has been tried, tested and worked for many clients who followed the steps indicated below.
So here is how I resolved the situation for once and for all….
Step 1. Recognize what has happened in the past: “I realize that we have had a problem in the past”
It appears that many people who use this type of communication to blame others feel that their interlocutor does not really understand that the problem was a serious one for them and that subconsciously they want some open recognition of this “fact”. By using this structure you are:
1. Personalizing the roles: “ I realize that we...”
2. Providing the desired recognition that a problem existed (for them!).
3. Contextualizing it into a past event which is now finished by the use of grammar and choice of vocabulary (“have had a problem…in the past”).
Step 2. Apologize for what happened: “For the last time, I want to apologize for what happened”.
Linguistic note: When using this phrase, it is vital that you have a short pause between the words “time” and “I want…” and that there is a stronger stress on the word “last”. In this way we are marking out these words for processing by the subconscious mind through the use of an embedded command which are great at bypassing the conscious mind to place ideas directly into the subconscious.
For many people, all they really want is a sincere apology from someone – not necessarily the person who caused the problem – so that they feel that finally, they have been vindicated for their hurt feeling. By using this structure you are:
1. Indicating directly and elegantly that this will be the last time that this matter is raised by them.
2. Personalizing the apology…”I want to apologize…” WITHOUT going into details of the what was done or why!
3. Providing the (generalized) apology that they think they deserve.
Step 3. Recognize the emotions related to what occurred: “I understand how you must have felt when this occurred”.
Often people appear to feel that nobody understands or appreciates had badly their feelings were hurt – often by a person (or organization) that they loved, trusted, respected, etc. The stronger emotional link with the person or organization responsible, the greater the perceived injury!
By using this structure you are:
1. Indicating that you “understand” (on a logical & unemotional way) their feelings. This does not mean that you accept that their feelings were correct or that you are empathizing with them…only that you understand!
2. Limiting you acceptance of their feelings to only that specific incident & moment and nothing else.
4. Equal the emotions: “I am sure that I would have felt the same as you”.
In general, it appears that most people like to feel that other people are just like them and that if someone else had experienced the same situation, they would have felt exactly the same way.
By using this structure you are:
1. Indicating what your probable response would have been in a similar situation.
2. Showing that their response was not incorrect…then!
3. Using the past tense to indicate that the activity is over.
5. Lead the person into the future: “Let’s go forward and see how we can make sure that this never happens again. Will you work with me on this?
With this part of the intervention, we are taking the person’s mind set from the past into a joint leap into the future together and creating a mutual search for solutions to ensure that there is no repetition of this event in the future which should proved psychological security for them. We then ask for their active collaboration in this task and the usual answer is an affirmative.
By using this structure you are:
1. Changing the roles involved in the situation from individuals into a joint shared task by using phrases like:
– “Let’s go….”
– “See how we…”
– “work with me…”
2. Offering to accompany the person towards a more productive & useful future.
3. Asking them to contribute their ideas about how to avoid the same situation in the future.
– In this model, we are taking control of the situation & communication from the very beginning of the interaction.
– This is NOT a dialogue. It is NOT a discussion. NOR is it an argument. It is a continuous flow of content with one objective: to resolve the situation elegantly and permanently. The moment you start a question / answer session, the intervention becomes a discussion. See the drawbacks outlined in paragraph # 2 above. Also, asking questions is a great way to ensure that the person starts to relive the incident and all the attendant feeling and emotions of that particular moment. Do you really want to throw more fuel on the fire by getting the person to relive everything again?
– The structure used has been found to be the most effective one to ensure that the information is processed subconsciously so that the desired result is achieved. We go from the past to the present and then forward into the future.
– This technique uses the idea of the primacy and recency effect. The first sentence uses primacy to mark the context & topic of the conversation. The last part of the model uses the recency effect to take the person from their past orientation into an improved future where similar situations will not happen again.
– Occasionally, if there is a long period of time between seeing the person, you might have to repeat the intervention or, alternatively, draw the person’s attention to the previous time they had started the same conversation. My usual response is something like: “Remember the last time we discussed this, we agreed that it was resolved so … (+ change of subject)”
The complete uninterrupted text.
“I realize that we have had a problem in the past. For the last time, I want to apologize for what happened. I understand how you must have felt when this occurred. I am sure that I would have felt the same as you. Let’s go forward and see how we can make sure that this never happens again. Will you work with me on this?”
While this technique might appear to be too simple and easy to be effective, you could consider it to be an “Aspirin solution”! Why continue being on the receiving end of these comments when you could try something that works? If you have tried to end this situation before and have not been successful, why keep doing the same thing? A presupposition of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is that “if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten!” Another of the key concepts of N.L.P. is “When you see it, you’ll believe it and when you believe it. you’ll see it!”
As Richard Bandler once said “The human brains works much better than you think” after he had removed a phobia from a patient in trance with one simple order: “Phobia, be gone!”
Remember: The Aspirin Solution is often the best!
Your feedback on this technique would be gratefully appreciated.
© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, Madrid, Spain, October, 2013.