Who's In Control?

October 21, 2010
Hands clasped together

I always like to share things in this blog that I see make an impact on participants in training. One of the things that makes an impact is the story I tell when talking about the Directive approach.

The definition of the Directive approach is "taking control of a potentially escalating situation by setting limits." Now, there are a whole bunch of ways to take control of a situation—ways  that don't involve the typical giving two choices and explaining consequences. If we remove some of the scaffolding around limit setting, what we're really talking about is simply empowering individuals to consider the results of their actions, and knowing what to enforce and what not to enforce. This approach usually has a calming effect on people.

The story I tell involves a little boy who tried to bully his way into my classroom. Yes, even six-year-olds can be bullies. His method of intimidating me and seeing how far he could push me entailed bursting into my classroom and running around screaming like a chicken with his head cut off. There were no learning disabilities, developmental issues, or chemicals involved. Just a rambunctious little . . . angel. After meeting his mother, I realized that the Precipitating Factor for his behavior was the absence of parental authority, including at home. How cute. His mom used to drop him off for English lessons while she went shopping with the girls. No problem there. But could you please set a few limits with your son before you leave him with me?

The first time he stormed into my classroom ranting and raving, I was completely taken aback. He was the Tasmanian Devil with an agenda. What do I do with the little hellion on wheels? My gut told me to scream back at him. But then I had a moment of clarity. I walked over to the door he had just burst through, motioned for him to follow me, and then directed him out of the room while I shut the door behind him. Buh-bye! I didn't even touch him. I just pointed to the hallway and smiled.

After I tell my participants that story, I always follow it with the question, "Whose behavior did I have to control first?" The obvious answer is my own behavior. Then I tell the group that a Directive approach begins at home. Defensive behavior can get ugly. "You suck! I hate you! What are you going to do about it?!" These and all the other colorful things people say to us can make managing behavior very challenging. But we have to conquer those inner demons if we want to have any hope of managing the behavior that’s in front of us.

I always see a lot of light-bulb moments for participants when I say these things, and I see the participants actively jotting down lots of notes. This story seems to be something that really registers with people. I hope it provides some additional talking points for you when you discuss the Crisis Development ModelSM and Rational Detachment.

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