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Not Wanted

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

Lectures usually don’t inspire — they backfire

Wednesday, January 23, 2019




hen he told me that, yes, he forgot to file the insurance claim, I was devastated. But I didn’t say anything. I held my tongue. All I did is look at him and then he started screaming at me, ‘DON’T GIVE ME A LECTURE! THAT’S THE LAST THING I NEED FROM YOU RIGHT NOW!’ ”

Why shouldn’t this woman give that fellow (husband, son, brother, or other loved one) a lecture? He did something reprehensible — why shouldn’t she share her disappointment and outrage? Why should she bite her lip and keep her feelings inside, where they can fester and poison her body? If he’s going to wreak havoc on her life then surely she’s allowed to protest and yes, lecture, all she wants!

But no. The gentleman involved doesn’t want to hear a word. He’s got his own lecture rolling around inside his head. Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could you do this again? What’s wrong with you? You really needed that money, and now for the whole next year, whenever things are tight, she’s going to remind you of what a loser you are. Why didn’t you stop yourself? Why do you keep doing this?

His inner critic insults him, shames him, rubs his nose in his mess. No, he doesn’t need anyone else to add to the harangue.

But what about that woman? When he’s careless with financial matters, she’s the one to pay the price, on multiple levels. Although it won’t help to add her mad face to the face of his inner critic or her speech to the rant already occurring in his brain, she needs to express herself and her needs.


Timing is Everything

“My daughter is looking for ‘Mr. Perfectly Right’ and she’s never going to find him. Of course I want to set her straight — I want her to get married, for goodness sake! But I know from experience that I can’t share my thoughts with her when she’s just said no, when she’s agitated and upset about a date that was, in her words, ‘a waste of time.’ Nothing I say to her then will be well-received. I need to wait until we’re having a nice moment together and then carefully raise the issue.”

Parents have so much wisdom to offer their children. Spouses have valuable insight to share with each other. But timing is everything. When a loved one’s brain is flooded with emotion, cognitive processing (thinking) becomes muted. Wise words will not be internalized at this time.

Instead, feelings of judgment and rejection register in the threat-regulating sections of the limbic system. People react with fight-or-flight-induced fear and anger, vehemently pushing away well-intentioned advice. The more words, the more agitation. Lectures not only fail to inspire but they tend to backfire completely.

“I reacted instinctively — how could a child of mine speak to his teacher like that?! I gave it to him: ‘How could you say that? What were you thinking? Is this the way we raised you? Your father and I are totally ashamed of your behavior!’ and on and on. I couldn’t stop myself — I was so upset with him.”

The parent’s fight-or-flight response often generates a surplus of rapidly fired words, a lecture filled with hyperbole and rhetoric. It’s the parent who isn’t thinking clearly, while accusing the child of doing the same. A barrage of insults gets burned into the brains of developing human beings, causing them to repeat the tirade in their own heads forever after. The parent has to learn to remain silent until the right moment.


The Right Words, The Right Way

When the right moment arrives — once everyone is calm — technique still matters. Sensitive subjects remain sensitive even when emotional intensity has receded. Fewer words, carefully chosen, will have greater impact. Acknowledge the “offender’s” position first by summarizing his or her point of view as you understand it. Then, in just a few words, say what you feel and what you need.

For example, “I know you didn’t want this to happen. But I still feel devastated and I need you to take the following steps to prevent this from occurring again.”

Of course, each situation is different and will require a different prescription. However, the core strategy of speaking at the right time, in a calm and brief format, will always have a better effect than a passionately delivered lecture.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 627)


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