Do you feel like the world is crushing down and it’s out of your control?  Your boss imposes too long working hours?  The sound of bickering children is more than you can bear?.

How to get unstuck?

Step out of the Power Struggle.

What does you feel in your body when your soul feels under pressure?

Here is an activity from Positive Discipline workshops that makes that connection.

One person (let’s call him Andy) sits on a chair.  His job is to get out of the chair.  Two people (we’ll name them Beatrice and Clark) stand on either side of Andy with their hands on his shoulders.  Their job is to make sure that Andy stays in the chair.  Ready. Set. GO!

How EVERYONE struggles!  Andy tries to get up.  Beatrice and Clark push down harder.  This resistance gets Andy annoyed and determined.  He struggles even harder.  Beatrice and Clark reposition themselves to glue Andy into. That. Chair. No. Matter. What…

This activity generates loads of laughter. Everyone looks ridiculous.

All agree on the verdict: control begets control.  Power struggles, by definition, escalate.

So, how does one step out of a power struggle without appearing to “lose the battle”?  Can one “win” power-struggle free?

1. Decide which Battle to Fight

Boxing girl by Frank deKleineWhat’s your goal?  How will you define “winning”?

Your and my time and energy are finite.  Consider them as treasures to invest, not commodities to spend.

As a young employee, I did speak up when my male colleagues cracked sexual jokes.  One-to-one with my boss I mentioned that I felt uncomfortable with that kind of humor and wondered if our meetings were the appropriate place for it.  I got so much flack for that!  Yes, they stopped those jokes within my earshot…instead I became the laughing matter.  “Sh!! Denise’s sensitive ears are around.”

I may have “won” one battle but it turned into another conflict zone, and a more personal one.  I will not spend my energy on that battle again. Now, if someone gossips or speaks disrespectfully, I simply get up and leave the room.

Which battles do you want to fight at work or at home?

Here’s another common area of differing opinions:  the family dinner.  My idea of a great dinner is when we all converse and find out about each other’s day.  My French husband insists on table manners.  Conversations, if you can call them that, can go like this:

Me to son: “Honey, tell us something interesting about your day.”

My son opens his mouth to speak.

Husband to son: “Chew with your mouth closed.”



2. Reframe Issues to Create Multiple Winners

reframing with for win-win solution

Previously, I had felt hampered by my husband’s interruptions which put a dead halt to conversation.  I chose to focus on the larger and more appealing issue for all of us: to connect with each other at least once a day.  Mealtime still remains the most convenient time for that.

We worked together to set ground rules. 

“What do we need to do so that dinner time is enjoyable for everyone?”  Everyone contributed ideas which we summarized into the following

  • The dinner table is a place for pleasant conversation AND good manners.
  • Good manners include good listening AND table manners.
  • No snacking after 5:30 pm so that we are hungry for dinner at 7:30.

3. Use Humor Instead of Fighting

Funny glasses

Ah! Then, unwittingly, I used these collaboratively build rules to control my kids!

One son explicitly recounted a swear-word exchange during school recess.  I reprimanded, “The table is a place for pleasant conversation and good manners!” Another child complained that he never gets enough pasta and reaches for his brother’s plate to serve himself.  “Darlings! The table is a place for pleasant conversation and good manners!”

One evening a friend visited from out of town and joined our family meal.  When the kids went off to sleep, she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and exclaimed, “THE TABLE IS A PLACE FOR PLEASANT CONVERSATION AND GOOD MANNERS.”

How embarrassing!  And how liberating!  Through humor she showed me how I had been putting pressure on the kids.  Yikes.  I was the crusher!!!

Humor can be delicate since many people experience it in different ways.  The process my friend used is simple and helpful: to mention the obvious with a smile. Several times.

Maybe you feel like your boss treats you paternalistically when he insists on correct spelling.  You are an adult and yet he tells you how to do your work in minor detail!!! Be a step ahead of him with a smile.

“Oh! And maybe I should check the spelling on the Power Points before sending them over…What do you think of the utility of going through spell check on the documents?… I wonder if someone thought of proof-reading.”  Smile.  Wink.  Smile.

Humor can remove a burden from oneself without crushing others.

4. Acknowledge that You Cannot Force Someone Else to Change

Have you tried to diet?  Or start an exercise program?  Or stop watching Netflix series?  Changing is TOUGH.  That’s why there is an $11 billion self-improvement market in the US and it’s growing 5.5% annually.

We cannot force change on others.  By adding pressure, we can affect change…until we stop pushing. Disengagement results.  Over time, we apply increasing pressure which render poorer results.

Why not admit our inability and transform a command into a request.

“I can’t force you to brush your teeth.  I’m asking you because I love you and because I don’t want you to be hurt by having cavities. Sweetheart, they are YOUR teeth.”

5. Choose How You Will Act and Do It

I love this story shared by a professor at INSEAD Business School.  How to balance the pressure to be present at work considering a one hour commute which doubles during rush hour?

As a Parisian mother of a school aged child, this professor wanted to respect her work commitments AND enjoy time with her kid.  She investigated among her other commuting colleagues how they managed the schedule.

“Do you come early and leave early?  Come late and leave late? Or do you come early and leave late?”

One colleague suggested she follow the example of the man in the group. “Come late and leave early.”

“He does?!!”

He strategically scheduled his classes and meetings and consistently performed well at work.  And, he kept a low profile about this schedule, reorienting discussions towards the work to be done.  He just did it.

What does “Choosing what I do and doing it” look like at home?

Many parents idealize about having a regular family dinner…and yet it rarely occurs especially when one spouse has unpredictable work hours.  Will they be home for the meal?  Or for the kids’ bedtime?  Or will the arrive in time for your night out to recharge?

Uncertainty can be a burden; it restricts the options for decision-making.

The parents who navigate with the most peace of mind the pressure of reconciling career and raising young children are those who decide on their own schedule and organize accordingly.

Dinner will be at 7:00 pm.  Food will be left aside for the late arriver.  The babysitter comes on Thursday evenings (zumba class) regardless.

Decide what you will do…and do it.  You can choose your actions.  And they speak louder than words.

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