There is a story I hear all too often. It is how some people try to get what they want from other people. It can be partners, parents and children, co-workers or friends. It doesn’t matter. What they do is demand things. They try to use guilt and shame. They maneuver and cajole. What people use too seldom is an invitation. A simple, heartfelt invitation to do something meaningful.
Here’s what I mean. I recently watched an episode of Mad Men where a mother was trying to shame her adult daughter into going to church. She tried all kinds of tactics to make the daughter feel bad about not going to church. Interestingly, I had a client tell me an almost identical story about his parents trying to use guilt and shame to get him to attend church with them.
In the real life situation their efforts didn’t work as the client declined to attend church and, in fact, felt anger and resentment towards his parents for the way they tried to get him there.
I asked him this question. Would it have felt different and would you have at least considered responding differently if your parents had said this – “It would really mean a lot to us if you would attend church with us. We would enjoy having you there, participating in something that is very meaningful to us. We know it isn’t your preference and will respect your decision if you say no. Will you come?”
He said absolutely. He still might not have gone but he would have sincerely considered it. He recognized the huge difference between trying to be coerced and being invited.
If invitations are so powerful, why don’t we use them more? There are probably many reasons, but one big one usually is the culprit…vulnerability. Extending an invitation requires us to be vulnerable. It means exposing our own feelings that we want something. And risking that the other person will know that and turn us down. It feels bad to express heartfelt emotions and have the other person say no.
It is much safer emotionally to put the burden on them. Make them feel like it is something they should do. Then, if they don’t do it, it isn’t a rejection of you, but rather them not living up to what they “should” do.
While it might be safer some ways, it isn’t a very successful strategy in the long term. Using guilt and shame means you aren’t getting the satisfaction of someone doing something for you out of love and connection. They are doing it because they feel badly about themselves. If they comply it will not hold nearly as much meaning as if they’d done it because of their connection to you.
The other drawback is that you run the risk of people being angry or hurt in response. They may not like the feeling of being shamed and recognize it as the manipulative action it is. That isn’t going to help you build a good relationship.
Try more invitations. It may feel risky but it opens the door to getting what you really want. It feels better for everyone involved. I invite you to try it. It would mean a lot to me…