By Mike Green
Business management guru Stephen Covey identified “seeking first to understand” as one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The principle is that when you are facing conflict with someone, the best approach is not to make a case for your perspective, but to try hard to understand why the other person has a different perspective. Now, I can surely see the incredible benefits of this approach in a work environment, but if I could give only one piece of advice to the parent of a teenager this would be it…
How different would your relationship with your child be if you had the power to read their mind? If you not only knew what your teenage son or daughter thought, but why they thought it. Unfortunately, we have not been given such mystical abilities, but we have been given the amazing ability to ask questions and listen. Now this, as you know, is not as easy to do as those without teenage children might assume that it is. Listening to ideas and opinions that we don’t agree with, where we can easily see the illogical conclusions that are being drawn, takes superb patience. But the goal here is not to listen to your child’s ideas so you can correct them. No, the goal is to listen so you can understand your teenager.
So, let give me you an example of how this might work, and I will use an analogy from my work environment. A colleague and I had a significant disagreement over an issue. Neither of us was willing to budge. But then, my work associate began to work hard at understanding why I was so adamant about my perspective. The harder he worked to understand the more willing I became to give a little. Eventually, we chose a compromise that looked very much like his original idea. Why? I felt like he valued my opinion. He valued me as a person, so I worked harder to find a solution with which we could both live.
Does this always work? Of course not. Not every strategy for growing healthy and happy teenagers works every time. But I hope this new twist on Mr. Covey’s habit gives you another tool in your tool belt. I think you would agree that we need every tool we can find as our youth navigate their teen years.
Mike Green is Executive Director of Tuscaloosa Youth For Christ. He and his wife, Laura, have two grown children.