I co-authored a self-esteem program called Project Self-Esteem, and one of the lessons was about the importance of focusing on a person’s behavior rather than their being. We had a brown bear puppet, Harmony, who showed up in the lesson saying he hated Yogi. When asked why, he said that Yogi stepped on his new shoes, made fun of him and told lies.

The teacher’s response was, “If Yogi didn’t step on your shoes, make fun of you or tell lies, could you like him, then?” Harmony nods yes. Teacher continues, “So it’s Yogi’s behavior you don’t like, right?”

Many year ago, I was driving my son, Scott home from his father’s home. We were divorced. Suddenly Scott blurted out, “Dad’s an ***hole!” I responded, “Sometimes, your father’s behavior is annoying to you.” He repeated his statement. I reminded him that it is important to focus on someone’s behavior and dispense with labeling or name calling. He was quiet for the whole trip home. As we entered our garage he said, “Dad has ***hole behavior.”

We have derogatory words or statements we tend to use when we are angry. Those words don’t communicate what the person is upset about, what the details of the rift are. Instead, when we focus on the behavior, the issue is something that can be dissected into acceptance or solvable separate issues.

For example, You laments, “He/she promises to do something and never does it.” A positive response can be, “Since we can’t expect someone to change, what could you do differently when a promise is made?” (Not expect it to happen, tell the person you can’t trust that will happen, etc.) You are not responsible for other people’s part in your life’s play. You can change your part so your life has boundaries and is strong, or blame others for nor doing their part your way. Once again, stay in your own lane. (Sandy’s Wisdom #4 & 17; parentingsos.com/blog.)

“I wish you would stop interrupting and just listen to me,” focuses on the behavior and clearly articulate the issue, “Please listen until I am finished, this is important to me!” Switch labeling and name calling and focus on a person’s behavior. Doing so builds bridges instead of walls between you and other people.

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Scott A. McDaniel photo