#1 Rule of Neutrality

March 10, 2008 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Rules of Engagement | Leave a comment

You cannot have a neutral impact on someone that you see on a regular basis- be it your child, a young person on your social work or youth offending caseload right through to the person that you rub shoulders with at work every day. If you are a ‘regular’ in their lives then you are having a regular impact. You might think that they aren’t listening to you, you might not speak to them much, but by virtue of the fact that you are there- you are making a difference. Thinking, “it doesn’t matter what I say they will do their own thing”, or “what I say or do won’t make any difference” is dangerous thinking. It’s hiding behind the idea that your involvement with that person is neutral and therefore that what you say and do isn’t really all that important. After thoughts come actions, or inactions and if your thinking is wrong then so will your actions be- sloppiness, limited effort and a gloomy sense of pre-determinism. At this point you are nowhere near neutral- you are having a negative impact.

Young people can smell you a mile off. Particularly those kids with behavioural problems, or those who have had a rough start in life and are vulnerable- 9 times out of 10 the reason they have their problems is because they have been failed by adults- parents and all too often professionals. If they see another one coming then the barriers will come up. They will be thinking, “Here comes another one, God help me!”. Given half a chance they will run (not turn up to your appointments or if at home will run off to their rooms) or they will put the barriers up verbally and tell you colourfully to get lost.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you have had the worst haircut of your life, the next time you walk into a barbers / hairdressers, sit down and get yourself comfortable and then see in the mirror the incompetent hairdresser walk towards you, you don’t just sit there. You run, you run like the wind, or tell the hairdresser in no uncertain terms that if they put a pair of scissors anywhere near your head that you might do them some damage.

Always go into a new relationship with the expectation that the young person sat before you is going to sniff you out, put you to the test. If you have even a whiff of negative determinism, or a sloppy ‘can’t be bothered’ view, then you can only expect a poor level of engagement. In professional terms this will manifest either through non-attendance, non-cooperation in sessions, or faked engagement that just gets you off their backs.

If you are trying to get your child engaged with you at home after a rocky spell they will sniff you out too and may respond with disengagement (doing anything to avoid being with you), argumentativeness (“What do you know you crusty old fool”) or fake cooperation (“yes Mum I’ll never smoke again”, while smoking out their bedroom window every night). Young people can and will forgive you if you have made errors in the past, are upfront about them and show them that you are genuine*, but it will come undone if you don’t operate from the base principle that you can make a difference in their life.

If you get through the test period and you have not given up on them, even when they have pushed you to the edge of despair with their non-engagement, their negativity or their fake cooperation then they will come to believe that you genuinely care. Knowing that someone cares is the base need that every person has, and most of all young people. The test period might be short or it could be painfully long, but the end result is ALWAYS the same and on that hard won foundation a great building will rise.

Entering the test zone with the belief that you are going to have a neutral impact will end up in failure- a pile of rubble from which nothing can rise. Entering the test zone with a belief that you are going to have an impact, motivates you to do your best and exponentially increases the chances of success.

To think your attitudes don’t affect your behaviour is as stupid as suggesting that a young person’s attitudes don’t affect their behaviour. If you want to get real with them, then you’ve got to get real with yourself.

You do make a difference and will always have an impact- believe that and success moves closer.




* ‘The Rule of Redemption’, that you can turn an ongoing relationship around is a blog for another day.



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