PNDC Stories from Individuals & Sharon's Comments

When we remember the story, we recall the lesson . . .

. . . and so story has always been a profound vehicle for learning. I believe that a crucial way for people to begin to take in what it means to use Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is to read stories about how people have actually used it in their own lives. I built my book around stories, even to the extent of putting in an index that lists every story in the entire book. Unless permission was given to use someone's real name, names have been changed to protect individual privacy.

1. A Friend Complains about Health Concerns

2. A Visit to a Doctor Who Is Disrepsectful of the Patient

1. A Friend Complains about Health Concerns

By Miranda

Miranda had a friend, Jacob, who would regularly bring up a health problem he had and then resist when she suggested he seek treatment. It had become a sore spot between them. Miranda decided to plan out how she could respond more non-defensively, so the next time Jacob brought up his worries about his health issue, she started by asking, "Do you think you will decide to see a doctor or not?" He seemed to be a little jarred by the question, then said, "I don't know." She asked him, "Do you resent it when I encourage you to go?" He replied, "Yes." In response, she told him her own reactions, saying (pretty much word for word as she reported it to me), "When you talk about your fears about your health and at the same time angrily resist my suggestions about getting help, I feel helpless and worried, then I get frustrated and angry at you for not taking care of yourself." She told him, "If you want my support in getting help, then I'll give it to you. If you feel resentful when I encourage you to see someone, then I won't mention it again." Miranda told me, "I felt so much better, dealing with it that way. And to my shock, the next time I saw him he told me he had made an appointment!"

Comments & Tips

Miranda did a great job of using—very non-defensively—what I think of as all three forms of communication: questions, statements, and predictions.

Asking Questions: When a person brings up a complaint and then does nothing about it, we often make repeated suggestions trying to "convince" the person to take action. We can be left with resentment, feeling captive to their complaints and/or burnt out, listening to the same gripes again and again. Instead, we can ask the person a direct question about her/his intentions regarding solving the problem and/or regarding her/his reaction to our attempts to help, just as Miranda did. If you ask someone if they intend to do something about an issue and he/she says no, then continuing to try to convince the person only deepens the power struggle. Plus, asking a question instead of just telling the person what you think he/she should do, often prompts the person to think through her/his own motives for complaining and take more accountability.

Stating Your Own Thoughts & Feelings on the Issue: When Miranda told Jacob how she felt when he brought up his worries about his health over and over but wouldn't do anything, and resented her for trying to get him to take care of himself, she did not try to convince him. She just said what was true for her.

Predictions: When we predict for someone how we will respond, depending on what choice they make, we create our own boundaries. When Miranda said that she wouldn't make suggestions if Jacob didn't make it clear that he wanted her support, she let him know that (a) If he wanted support, she'd give it and (b) if he didn't she wouldn't. Now Miranda is released from trying to push her friend to get help when he is unwilling, but there for him if he is willing to get help.

Conclusion: When Miranda used all three forms of communication without getting defensive or trying to get Jacob to change, she moved out of being in any kind of power struggle with him. It freed him so he could more clearly evaluate his situation instead of being resistant to feeling controlled.

2. A Visit to a Doctor Who Is Disrepsectful of the Patient

by Helen, a nurse

I saw a doctor this week for some recent health problems. In the past he has made assumptions that seemed premature to me regarding my symptoms being caused by stress when he could not find any other causes during a short appointment with me. His behavior and assumptions infuriated me at the time. (One has to wonder why I came back, especially since I am a nurse!) I had to see him again this week about some abdominal pain I was having. He asked me just a few questions about my symptoms, but did not appear to listen to what I said and did not look at me when I pointed to the places which were causing me discomfort. Then, while I was lying on the table and he was palpating my stomach, he asked me questions which were obviously trying to identify emotional causes for my physical symptoms. "So, what else is going on in your life?" "How's your relationship?" "How's work?"…

He seemed dissatisfied with my answers, unable to accept that I was not confessing to being under huge ammounts of stress. I had already decided before going in that I was not going to get defensive and give my power to him. At some point, while I was lying on my back and he was poking away at my abdomen, continuing to ask me questions about my personal life, I asked, " Doctor, are you trying to ask me if I'm under stress?" He literally fell backwards two steps, dropped his pen (disarming his weapon) and started nervously laughing, stumbling over his words, saying "Well, yes… um … well … I guess that's what I was trying to do." I can't cop to being totally non-defensive, as I took great pleasure from his reaction. But it was amazing to see the power of the question in action. He remained somewhat undone for the rest of the visit, but he actually starting looking me in eye, listening to what I was saying and staying more focused on my symptoms.

Comments & Tips

Martha's comment about not giving her power away by getting defensive is very important, because I think that whenever we get defensive, we are more likely to freeze up and feel powerless and/or get angry in a way that allows the other person to blame us for overreacting or acting inappropriately.

Martha noted how powerful the non-defensive question was. Initially, it often seems almost too simple to people when they ask such questions. People comment, "Why would I ask if he thinks I'm under stress? Isn't it obvious that that's why he is asking those questions?" The reason such simple questions are so powerful is that they give the other person the chance to affirm, deny or qualify his/her intentions and meaning. It also holds the person more accountable for what he/she is saying. Hence, the doctor acted surprised, taken back by the question, as if he thought his motives and actions were a secret, and he had just been found out. Once he owned his intentions, he shifted spontaneously, and treated Martha with more respect.

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"This work is a map. It gives me new direction, and I hope that my life in this world can become more worthwhile, and human."

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