The 2008 Toastmasters International Speech Contest Winner for Northern California.the-upside-of-downs-final
Avoid connection crushers
“Stick and stones can break my bones,
but words can break my heart.”
When verbal garbage gets dumped, it causes a cesspool of negative reactions. Put-downs, sarcasm, accusations, and other verbal barbs stir up energy as egos jockey for respect. Verbal attacks usually deploy self-defense mechanisms and obliterate positive connections.
Certain words or phrases block connections cold, and make us steamed simultaneously! (They kick up a whirlwind of emotion, just like in weather patterns, when cold and warm conditions combine to form a tornado!) Connection crushing communication usually brings out the beast, rather than the best in others. This includes: (From the book, “Get Along with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere … 8 keys to creating enduring connections with customers, co-workers … even kids” by Arnold Sanow and Sandra Strauss, www.getalongwithanyone.com
· Blaming and accusations
“If you hadn’t screwed up, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
“How could you ever . . .?”
· Sarcastic remarks
· Discriminatory remarks or insults about age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation
· Denial statements
· “It can’t be that terrible!”
· “You’re telling a bunch of lies!”
· “You shouldn’t say those things.”
· “You’re wrong!”
· “That’s not true.”
· “I don’t believe you.”
· Name-calling, put-downs and anything that makes someone else feel inferior or stupid:
· “I told you so!”
· “How many times have I told you (or gone over this)?”
· “What an absolutely stupid thing to say!”
· “I can’t believe how unprofessional you looked!”
· “What an idiot! How could you do such a thing?”
· “Can’t you ever do anything right?”
· Ultimatums and threats
“If you don’t, then . . .”
“You better or else!“
· “Do it now!”
· “Do as I say!”
· “That’s the end of it. I don’t want to hear another word!”
· Gross generalizations and exaggerations
“You never do what I ask! “
“You always say that!“
“Everything is always such a crisis with you.”
“All you ever do is complain!”
“You’re always late!
“I’ve told you a million times to clean up your room!
“Why don’t you ever . . .?”
· Emotionally loaded responses
“Here we go again!”
“Oh, brother, I can’t believe you!”
“I know exactly what you’re thinking!”
“That’s not how it happened!”
· Impatient remarks
“Keep it short.”
· Especially for parents: Unfortunately like verbal DNA, the least favorite phrases of childhood are often passed down to the next generation, only to get on the nerves of their offspring. This cycle continues, as they in turn, repeat the same unproductive and disempowering statements. Here’s a sampling:
“How many times do I have to tell you . . .?”
“If you do that one more time, I’m going to . . .”
“What did I just say?”
“When I was your age, I always . . . “ (Beware! If you use this phrase, just watch their eyes roll!)
Most of these responses invite escalation or discourage communication—they cause resistance, resentment, and reactivity. Although it might be very tempting to litter your language with “zappers,” it’s better to refrain from engaging in any verbal artillery. Verbal blows cause massive damage to relationships and crush your chances for keeping quality connections. To create good connections, make a commitment to consistently choose your words wisely.
Avoid going to extremes
Using extreme statements (never, always, everyone, all, everything) are exaggerations and bound to trigger some extreme reactions; they’re unfair and accusatory. The attacked instantly begin scrolling through their experiences, recalling when their actions proved otherwise, and hurl back the facts in self-defense. Unfair judgments generally fire up defenses!
Focus on the desired action by requesting information, “When can I expect the final report?” Ask questions, i.e. “What needs to happen on Tuesday evenings?” instead of blasting accusations, i.e. “You never remember to take the trash out!” Nudging with a simple one-word reminder, “Trash” also makes the point. Nudge rather than nag!
When inflammatory, extreme remarks are unfairly lobbed your way, reverse them with a question that refutes their unfair claim. Let’s say, you’ve been accused of never being on time. You know that statement is simply not true. It’s fair to repeat the statement as a means of discounting its validity, “I’m never on time?” Spoken in a dubious tone, with facial expressions to match your disbelief, makes the point. This repositions you in a fair light and demonstrates that you do indeed act responsibly; your actions speak louder than words.
This is a true story of our beloved son, Gabriel.
It all started with the ultrasound at Mad River Community Hospital. The ultrasound revealed the possibility of Down syndrome. Gabe had a 1 in 3 chance of having Down .
That question haunted us until Gabe’s birth.
My wife Joni was assigned a month’s bed rest and then gave birth to a mostly-healthy
baby boy. They were then flown overnight to UC Davis Medical Center in
Sacramento, where Gabriel was to have surgery to correct an intestinal blockage. After the surgery, both mother and son were fine!
The two dollar question was, did Gabriel have Down syndrome?
Meeting with the doctor, she assured us that he did have Down syndrome…and that we had less than one year left in our marriage. Her point was that parents of special needs kids have marital challenges. She was not very delicate. What a great nugget to drop on a couple in a vulnerable time!
The proceeding questions, heartbreak, prayer, and walks around the UC Davis campus crying out to God will always be etched in my memory.
I decided to dedicate Gabriel (and our raising him) to the Lord, and trust that, although he
would never be a football hero or a brain surgeon, his life would be both personally fulfilling and enriching to those around him. We were ready to move on and raise our son no matter!
The shame, embarrassment, and guilt that parents of children with special needs
children share is one of life’s dirty little secrets. Although not
rational, logical, or reasonable, these feelings are very tangible.
The feelings of sadness and gloom often come at unexpected and strange times.
Perception is reality. The pain is real.
The times of denial, reality hitting home, and the Costco gawkers staring at our Gabe, only serve to remind us at times of our frustration, pain, and anguish.
Every so often, the reality check of Gabriel’s special needs of
autism and Down syndrome come crashing in on us. Gabe’s episodes of dysfunction or meltdowns pull us out of our times of denial, where we have to admit, acknowledge, and again decide to go forward as parents.
We have learned to be honest with our feelings and with reality. We’ve chosen to redeem gain from all the pain as a couple and as a family to love regardless of “return on investment”.
· Some of the lessons learned include:
1. There is no one-time fix.
2. This is a long-term issue, challenge, battle, and journey requiring a long term mentality and approach.
3. A positive mental attitude and my positive confessions are not enough to get me through.
4. There is no “Bible bullet “or quick fix that is adequate to address my pain.
5. Whereas Gabriel may have retardation of his intellect, there is none of the spirit.
6. His worth has very little to do with his intellect or ability to contribute to society.
7. Societal worth is indeed a relativistic concept.
8. We’ve learned to give without expecting anything in return
The lessons learned have to do with my deciding to have the right perspective, attitude, actions, and behaviors.
The decision to love unconditionally is mine alone.
This unconditional love, stemming from the decision to love Gabriel, has transferred some of my pain into a long term perspective which is surprising, refreshing, and very interesting. He has taught us many lessons.
I’m learning to love freely regardless of the payback.
I’m learning to value all people.
I know that everyone has special needs.
Some of us just hide them better!
This unconditional love is a decision that begins in the seat of my will.
I must decide daily how and whom we will love.
My commitment as a father begins with loving my son and resourcing him
in every way to maximize his potential. I also need to maximize my
potential to love, accept, understand, and help Gabriel where
possible. My commitment is also to help my family to love Gabriel, to
be patient with him, and to see past his challenges to his many positive attributes.
My Mission Statement is this: “To personally and practically love, accept, and
go forward in raising my son to his fullest potential with God’s help”.
As I do this, I know that Gabriel has the potential to teach us to look for the things in life that are truly important. May I be as good a student as he is a teacher.
Scott Hammond is a professional speaker, trainer, writer, and father of 9 kids. He lives in McKinleyville (Humboldt County), California, with his wonderful wife, Joni. Scott can be contacted at scott@BecomeaBetterFather.com or 707-616-7665.