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In 1969, I did my big 6th-grade project on Switzerland. Little did I know, more than 50 years later, I’d be saying this:
Sometimes, ‘ya just gotta be Switzerland, the country whose official position in wartime is … neutrality.
Do you carry a “Should Gun”? You know, that weapon we fire when telling people they should do this or that?
“My son should listen to me.”
“My boss should coach me better.”
“My spouse should help out more.”
“My employer should raise my pay.”
“My neighbors should clean up their place.”
“My daughter should speak to me respectfully.”
It’s human to hold opinions on how others “should” live — and tempting to share them. Once in a while, in the right moment and setting, we might pass those opinions on and be heard.
However, more often than not, it’s good to put away our Should Gun and go with a softer, gentler approach — especially when people are hurting, frustrated, or fearful.
One of the Millennial couples in our large Miller family system was going through a rough patch. Don’t we all? So, the morning after what we knew had been a tense and difficult evening for them, Karen and I gave this advice by text:
Today, we want you BOTH to practice making neutral, safe, nonjudgmental statements to each other. If one wants to express hurt and frustration about Topic A, the other will say this:
“I get it.”
“I know it’s hard.”
“I’m sorry this is happening.”
“It’s frustrating, for sure.”
“Tell me more.”
When the other person vents on Topic A or new Topic B, the same neutral words will be offered.
We all know the QBQ! book, right? Then we know we can’t change each other and arguing isn’t gonna solve problems. There’s no shame or embarrassment in this struggle … you’re both carrying a lot right now. We’ve been there, too. What we’ve learned is this: be there SAFELY for each other.
Over and out, Bop and Nonnie.
Yep, we signed with our grandparent nicknames. ?
What’s so valuable about utilizing The Power of Neutral is it’s the antithesis of the dangerous Should Gun.
Should Gun: “You should think, feel, and act as I say!”
The Power of Neutral: “You’re safe here. When you talk with me, I won’t add to your pain. You can tell me anything.”
Shoulds hurt, they escalate a conflict. Neutral deescalates, heals.
It can be truly painful when we emote and vent to another only to receive a message of shame in return. Nothing shuts dialogue — and the healing that can occur from it — down faster than shoulds.
In the end, our counsel is to be Switzerland, be neutral.
Consider the last time someone came to you at home, work, or in friendship to express deep feelings. How did you handle it? Did you make it worse by should-ing on him/her? Or make it better by covering that person with a blanket of emotional safety?
Only you—and they—know how that moment went.
PS: If you’re wondering, I got an A- on that 6th-grade project. 👏🏻