18 Aug 2010

Flavors of Directiveness

Posted by eranmagen

We’re very good at telling other people what to do. “Why don’t you just talk to her about it?” is a personal favorite of mine, as is “don’t make such a tragedy out of it.” In fact, being directive comes to us so naturally that we do it even when it’s not really helpful – which is most of the time. There are, of course, times in which being directive is appropriate and even morally imperative.

Nevertheless, we are often directive at inappropriate times, without even realizing that we are being directive. Directiveness is sneaky, and comes in many flavors. Different people have their own favorite ways of being directive, sometimes without even realizing that they are being directive. Here are a few examples of ways we can be directive – do you recognize any of these as things that You do?

Directing Action: This is probably the most obvious, blatant form of directiveness. “I think You should quit your job” and “have You thought about telling her how You feel?” both qualify as examples of directing someone’s actions.

Directing Thinking: This is a more subtle form of directiveness, which attempts to guide someone else to focus on something they weren’t paying attention to, or to change how they evaluate something. Telling someone “let’s think about what can go wrong if you do that” is a pretty clear example of directive thinking. Another example is “do You think this has something to do with how your parents treated You when You were little?”

Directing Emotion: This is another subtle form of directiveness, which aims to change how the other person feels. “I would be really sad if that happened to me” could be a way of influencing another person to feel sad. “Well, at least nobody got hurt” is a way of trying to make someone feel better.

Non-directiveness: This happens when You provide the other person with the space, time, and support to guide their own thinking, feeling, and action.
Non-directiveness can be achieved by relating to the other person’s present experience, without adding advice and without trying to change what they are thinking about or how they are feeling.

There is nothing inherently wrong with directiveness, and nothing inherently right with non-directiveness. Each has a place and time, and each can be helpful or damaging.

However, it is important to be able to choose how directive You want to be when talking with someone You care about, so that You can control your level of directiveness, rather than being a slave to your habit.

– Eran

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