Dear Crucial Skills,
How can I nudge my partner to start using some GTD® skills?
Dear Losing Patience,
Consider what nudging looks like in practice. To verbally nudge someone is to volley hints or suggestions but without directly addressing the issue or revealing how much you care about it. A nudge may get someone to wash the dishes, finish that report, or do a back handspring, but it’s not likely to change behavior.
It may help you to think of nudging in the physical sense. Physically, a nudge may be less aggressive than a shove or a push, but it’s more aggressive than an invitation or a helping hand. It implies prodding or pricking, which imply leading from behind. And leading from behind is an oxymoron. To lead, you must be in the lead. The only sustainable way to move another along—into GTD, healthy communication, handwashing, or any other behavior for which you’re an advocate—is to bring them along.
Here are a few ideas. I share them on the assumption that you’ve already extended a friendly invitation that hasn’t been received.
Set the Example
If you want to lead someone into new behavior, you should be a living example of that behavior. Aristotle wrote, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”
Character may not only be the most effective means of persuasion, it may be your only means. If in the end you fail to persuade your partner into adopting GTD skills, your example will continue to influence. You don’t have to be a perfect example, but it should be clear by your living, not just your talking, that your moral compass encompasses the behaviors you advocate.
For this conversation to go well, you’ll need to convey respect, and to convey respect you must feel respect.
Even with a partner or a spouse, it’s easy to lose sight of respect in the face of disagreement or irritation. Here’s what I do to regain my sense of respect when I’ve lost it.
First, recognize that the problem is your problem. Even if your partner’s behavior is leading to negative outcomes, you must acknowledge that if you have a problem with his or her behavior, it’s your problem. When we recognize that the problems we have with others are, in fact, our problems, we switch from trying to change the other person to trying to communicate why we find the behavior problematic, which is far more effective. This is largely how I think of Master My Stories.
Second, recognize the other person’s autonomy. If you approach the conversation with a do-or-die mindset, you’ll provoke resistance and get frustrated. Don’t raise the issue until you’re at peace with the fact that your partner is an autonomous agent and may choose contrary to your wishes.
Third, identify why the new behavior matters to your partner’s wellbeing and growth. Easing your irritation, for example, is not a compelling cause. Wider social consequences or personal values, however, are great motivators. So, is your partner’s lack of GTD skills affecting the kids, friends, family, their wellbeing? Sharing this information will help you not only convey respect but also care and concern. I think this is the essence of Start with Heart.
Be Bold as Love
When you feel you are ready to speak respectfully, speak directly. No nudging needed. Convey your respect and intent, then point out a few of the problems arising in your partner’s life, your life, or the lives of others because of your partner’s behaviors. If you’ve done the internal work, your feedback should come across as courageous concern, not coercive criticism.
Over the years I have developed my own scripts for preparing someone for feedback based on the skills taught in Crucial Conversations, and they look something like this:
“What I’m about to say may feel confrontational. Please know that I’m speaking up because I respect you enough to be honest with you, and because I care about you and our work.”
Then say the hard things.
With those who can be sensitive to feedback, I have said something like this:
“I know this may be hard to hear, but I want you to know I’m telling you this because I care. We can’t always see our own shortcomings and mistakes, and we all depend on feedback from each other to become better versions ourselves. That’s how we grow. And this is only my perspective—you’re free to disagree. I only ask that you thoughtfully consider it.”
Then say the hard things.
I have watched defensiveness dissolve in seconds with the sincere expression of respect and concern. Reflect on these principles and examples and come up with your own approach.
Keep the Dialogue Going
After you’ve shared your perspective, ask your partner, “How do you see it?” Then listen. And be open to a later discussion. Feedback, no matter how well it’s delivered, often takes time to process (learn more in this article). Wherever the conversation goes, make it clear to your partner you respect them and ongoing dialogue more than getting your way. If your partner responds to the feedback, it will be evident with curiosity and questions. You’ll now have a partner receptive to suggestions. Share why you think the GTD skills can help.
Find Joy in Their Strengths
Finally, find joy in your partner’s strengths. In the end, your partner may not be open to the behaviors you suggest. They may disagree with your perspective. Don’t get hung up on this. Each of us is comprised of many qualities, some bad, some good. Try to focus on your partner’s good qualities and continue improving your own.