Q. Dear Vital Smarts,

My fourteen-year-old son seems to be addicted to electronics. If we let him, he will spend ten hours a day on his tablet, computer, or XBOX. I want him to choose to do other things, and to do something worthwhile over the summer. Is there a better approach than “cold turkey”?


Parent of an e-addict

A. Dear Parent,

I like the way you framed your objective: “I want him to choose to do other things.” That’s a completely different influence problem from “I want him to stop.” As a father of six children, I have often been tempted to go for the quick fix of the latter rather than the steady influence of the former.

change anythingThe latter could be accomplished by simply spilling iced tea on the problematic devices, then feigning remorse as they short out in a puff of smoke. The former will require not only more thought, but more patience and character on your part.

1. Is the problem the problem? :–

Before you decide that electronic games are the problem, do your best to determine whether games are a way of medicating against or isolating from some other problem—like bullying, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or other social or emotional problems.

2. “Addiction” isn’t a metaphor:–

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry . . . . This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” Some evidences that a behavior has become “addictive” include: “inability to consistently abstain, feelings of craving, and diminished recognition of negative consequences of one’s behaviors.”

You don’t need to ingest a substance to develop addiction. Behaviors alone can similarly contribute to brain reward circuitry impairment. My personal belief is that many of us (including myself) have unhealthy relationships with technology that create negative emotional and relationship consequences. So let me applaud you for your sensitivity to the potential developmental damage technology can do to your son.

3. Interview, don’t lecture:–

Don’t begin the conversation with your son using conclusions and wisdom (e.g. “I think you’ve got a problem” or “Reading is better for your brain”). Instead, come in with curiosity and a desire to connect. Trust is permission to influence—and he controls the granting or withholding of trust. Show an interest in his interests. Spend time with him. Affirm him. And when sufficient safety exists, broach the topic. “Hugh,” you might say, “on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with the way you spend your time?

How confident are you that it is taking you where you want to be and creating the life you want right now?” He might be defensive when you first ask this. He may suspect it is a manipulative tactic to open the way for your judgment or lecture. If so, reassure him it isn’t. Be honest that you have feelings on the topic, but push your agenda aside, and sincerely open yourself to his feelings. If he answers, “Well, okay, I guess. Maybe a six,” you now have some common ground to discuss. “Wow. Really?

I would have thought you’d say a ten. What makes you less than perfectly satisfied with how you’re spending time?” Your only hope of helping him make different choices is to honor his feelings and autonomy from the first conversation. Interview, don’t lecture. This does not mean you can’t express opinions at times, but keep your airtime in careful balance with his interests.

4. Wake him, don’t make him:–

In order to sustain bad habits we must maintain ignorance of their consequences. If you want to help him “choose” differently, you’ll have to help him experience the downside of his habit as viscerally as he now experiences the upside. What he knows today is that grabbing a controller and logging into a game is associated with feelings of engagement, enjoyment, social connection (if he plays online games), mastery, and perhaps safe solitude.

If he is to choose something different he will need to feel that other choices will create better consequences. This is tricky. But it’s also a fundamental problem you need to solve. The first step is to help him engage in experiences that will awaken him to either the negative consequences of his current choices, or the positive consequences of other choices. For example, you could ask him to conduct an experiment to help him become more mindful of his experience.

Electronics AddictionEmotion tracking. See if he would be willing to keep a simple journal of how he feels before and after playing games for long periods. Be prepared in advance that some of his journal entries will confirm the positive emotions he feels while playing. Have him similarly experiment with other activities (some enjoyable family activity, an outing with friends, etc.) and report how he feels during and after. Talk openly with each other about this data as a way of helping him make more conscious choices.

Abstinence Test. Share the definition of addiction. Invite him to experiment in discovering his own way to discern healthy gaming and unhealthy gaming by attempting a brief abstention experiment and recording his feelings during it. Discuss openly how it felt and what that means to him.

What could be better? Invite him to think of activities that might create more enjoyment and health that could be far more fun for him than gaming. Encourage and support him in experimenting with a single attempt at an activity, then discuss his experience.

5. There’s a difference between forcing him to change and refusing to enable:–

Realize that you are an accomplice in his choices. You are subsidizing his choices by maintaining home duties for him, providing the equipment, providing the comfortable environment, etc. You need to accept responsibility for how you are providing a structural influence that makes gaming easy by providing devices. You don’t have to do this. In fact, you shouldn’t.

You should have boundaries with everything you offer. Just because you provide a bed doesn’t mean you have to consent to him lying in it twenty-four hours a day. Providing food doesn’t mean you have to serve up Twinkies every time he wants them. You get to say, “Here’s what I’m willing to offer—and no more.” Now, since your objective is to influence his choices, not control his behavior, I’d suggest you strike a balance by differentiating between boundaries and advice.

You might say, for example, “I think it would be wise to limit your use to an hour or so per day. That’s something you’ll have to decide. However, I am willing to provide the opportunity for you to play up to three hours per day—and five on weekends—provided your grades are good and your homework is finished.” I offer this as an illustration, not as a sound position to take.

I admire your desire to think about long-term influence rather than short-term compliance. My worst moments as a parent have been when I was more interested in behavior than growth. I believe that if you reflect on some of what I shared, and keep an eye on what you really want, you’ll find a way to help him grow in the way only a loving and discerning parent can.


About Author:– Joseph Grenny is an acclaimed keynote speaker, four-time New York Times bestselling author, and co-founder of VitalSmarts. A consultant to the Fortune 500, Joseph has designed and implemented major corporate change initiatives on every major continent.

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Q. Dear VitalSmarts,

My husband was terminated from his job last June because he was told it absolutely was “not an honest match.” He worked from home and I could tell that during conference calls he was usually either blamed for not getting a job done on time or was defensive concerning the work he did. It’s now March and still no job prospects. He is very defensive when I suggest job opportunities, networking, or re-training. I am to the point where I am shutting down because of his attitude, but finances are becoming critical. How do I discuss with him about real solutions for job hunting and networking without him getting so defensive?



A. Dear Amal,

Thanks for asking a tough question. The sad truth is that time doesn’t invariably heal all wounds. Sometimes a personal calamity such as termination, death, divorce, financial loss, etc. creates a vortex that grows with time—engulfing the person, and consumption their favorite or loved ones into a growing spiral of failure.

It sounds as if your husband is caught in this kind of vicious cycle, and it’s reaching into your relationship. Take heart. There are ways to break free, but it will take effort on your part—and some of this effort might seem counter-intuitive at first.

Crucial conversations

Painful stories. Consider of your husband’s termination as a strong blow that left bruises. These bruises are painful realizations or stories your husband is now telling himself. The stories we see most often are helpless, victim, and villain stories.

• Helpless Story:– Your husband could be thinking: “I’m a failure,” “It’s hopeless,” or “I’ll never succeed.” These stories can undermine his mood, shallowness, and motivation. These thoughts usually become automatic, entering his head every time the topic is touched, and create humiliation and pain. They could justify why your husband is avoiding everything related to the topic.

• Victim Story:– Your husband could be thinking: “The system is rigged,” “It’s all political,” or “People don’t respect me.” These stories would make him feel put upon and oppressed. They might also explain why he resists your attempts to assist.

• Villain Story: Your husband might be thinking: “My boss wasn’t fair to me,” “The company shouldn’t have fired me,” etc. These stories would lead to ruminating on and revisiting the blow. People who tell villain stories often reactivate the personal calamity instead of grow beyond it.

Master these stories. In an ideal world, your husband will come to realize that these self-defeating stories aren’t the whole story. Sure, he might not be as skilled, as politically savvy, or as appreciated as he assumed he was, but he’s not a failure either. He will put this blow into perspective. However, if he hasn’t come to this realization on his own, then there are actions you can take to help.

• Use Direct Experience:– Your husband desires proof that the unsuccessful stories he’s internalized aren’t the complete truth. You can help by focusing on his successes, rather than his failures. However, words alone aren’t likely to be enough. Look for ways to use direct experience. For example, how can he help others during this time between jobs? The best way to recover from a blow to your self-esteem is to earn it back. He can do this by making a challenging and meaningful contribution to others.

Focus on the purpose, not the strategy. One among the challenges we tend to face as family members is that we’re seen as nagging, rather than helping. The solution is to back away from the specific requests we’ve made, and focus on the broader common purpose that unites us.

You say your husband gets defensive when you suggest jobs, networking, or re-training. Try backing away from these specific strategies. Instead, ask for your husband’s help with the broader mutual purpose: managing your family’s critical financial decisions.

Remember, respect is in danger. Your husband’s self-respect has taken a beating. He’s likely to be extra sensitive to any sign of further disrespect. In fact, he may take your well-intentioned suggestions as a sign that you don’t trust or respect him.

Take extra care to avoid being directive or controlling during the oral conversation. Emphasize exploration, visioning, and personal choice and control. Remember that requests may feel like demands.

You might open this conversation with: “I’d like us to set aside a time to explore our goals together. My main goal is for us to build a happy or cheerful life together. Everything else is open to change. Maybe it’s time to jump off the rat race. Or maybe it’s time to double-down. Can we set aside an hour or two to talk about what you’d like to see happen?”

Explore barriers, instead of advocating for actions. There is a common mistake most of us make when we’re in your situation. We advocate for actions we believe in instead of exploring the barriers that make these actions difficult. When we take it as our role to advocate, we force the other person to argue the other side. We argue for, they argue against, and guess who wins?

It works better if we begin by acknowledging that the action will be difficult. This shows respect for why they are stuck. Then explore the barriers one at a time, in bite-sized chunks. Brainstorm solutions, while continuing to emphasize personal choice and control.

De-escalate your finances. My suggestions so far have focused on process—how to have the crucial conversation. I’d like to end with a piece of substantive recommendation. I’ve been in your husband’s position and I recommend cutting back on expenses before you get too far into a financial hole. Find a way to reduce your predictable expenses. For example, rent a smaller apartment, sell your home, stop your cable TV subscription, etc.

Know that you are not alone. Many families are facing your situation. The news describes people dealing with this as “discouraged workers.” I hope I’ve given you some ideas for addressing this discouragement, while pulling your family closer together.

Best wishes

About Author :–

DavidDavid Maxfield is a leading researcher and speaker on topics such as dialogue skills and performance improvement. Coauthor of three New York Times bestsellers Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Crucial Conversations Question:– Dear VitalSmarts,

Several of my coworkers sit and face each other in the cubicles next door to me. They’re good friends and it seems, especially lately during our slow season, that they spend the majority of the day chatting about anything and everything. Most mornings, the first hours are nothing but chatter. It’s terribly distracting. I’ve tried to plug in my earphones and listen to music to help me focus but it doesn’t drown out the noise. Any tips on asking the “chattaholics” to turn it down and minimize the disruptive discussion without seeming rude or snobby?

Answer:– Dear,

This sounds like a classic case of being stuck. I define “stuck” as not getting results you want, getting results that you don’t want, failing relationships, recurring problems, or being frequently bugged. Our Crucial Conversations book and training contain a set of skills that helps you get unstuck. These skills help you solve situations characterized by high stakes, opposing opinions, and strong emotions. Before I offer some advice, I want to take a moment to suggest how these situations generally develop, and hope this note will motivate everyone to speak up early.

Here is the main point. Chattiness, like tardiness, or sloppiness, doesn’t happen suddenly—it sort of sneaks in or evolves. No one or no team starts the day by saying, “Look we have typically been getting eight hours of effective work done every day, but now I suggest that we chat for three hours and work for five. Won’t that be fun?” And I doubt any group started chatting three hours the first day. Social time most likely increased by a few minutes every day. Lower standards creep in little by little, here and there, which can make the problem hard to notice.

With that background, my first bit of advice is to catch problems early. When you catch them early, it’s easier to speak up. Early on, you might have been able to say something like, “Hey team, I have a lot of work to do, and it’s hard to get it done when we talk this much. I can be chatty myself; however, I’m wondering if we could chat during breaks and lunch and focus on work when it’s work time. That would really help us all out. What do you say?” Early on, you are not dealing with a long pattern; there is no new, lower norm. It’s just easier for anyone to speak up early. Even if you have let the problem grow over time by remaining silent until now, the sooner you choose to say something, the easier the crucial conversation will be.

Remember that when any of us see that we are stuck, we have three options.

We can stay silent. Often we don’t want to speak up because we feel it’s not our job, we don’t want to make waves, or don’t want to lose a friend. But I would caution you—silence is the petri dish upon which lower standards grow.

We blow up. We’ve had it “up to here.” So we explode with something like, “Give me a break! Shut up, you gossip mongers, will you??? I can’t get my work done.” Again, be careful. Leading with emotions and labels is the dynamite that weakens relationships.

We speak up with candor and courtesy. When we do this, we show that we value both the standard and the relationship and that we are speaking up to maintain both.

If you try the third option, you should be prepared with what you’ll say or do next. Often, people are silent, not because they don’t think they can bring up a topic, but because they are fearful they won’t be able to deal with the response. The key to preparing is to assess the situation and relationship and think about what might happen if you speak up and then get ready with some responses.

As an example: You begin the conversation as stated above and someone responds with one of the following statements.

• “Who died and left you in charge?” :- This is an opportunity to share your intention with what you are and are not trying to do—otherwise known as contrasting. You might say, “I’m not trying to be bossy here. I value you as friends and we all have a lot of work to do. I’m just trying to solve a problem I’m facing and asking my coworkers for help.”

• “Since when did you become Captain Perfect? You’re just as bad as I am.” :- Again, share your intention. “I realize that I’m part of the problem. That’s why I used the word we. I don’t want to come across as a perfectionist; I’m just trying to find a solution to a situation that is affecting all of us.”

The other person simply nods and rolls his or her eyes:- You can tell that right at this moment he or she is thinking statements like the ones above or worse. You might say, “I realize this is a tough subject. It was very hard for me to bring this up because I’m part of the problem. I still want to talk and visit with you. I also want to get a lot of work done. It looks like I’ve bothered a few of you by bringing this topic up. I’m asking if we can find a solution that will help us get the work done and still be friendly.”

Of course there are no “ideal” scripts to use in situations like this one. It’s hard for me to offer options when I know so little about the details or circumstances. But I assure you that you will find your own, more effective scripts if you prepare and have the purpose of finding a solution while also maintaining or strengthening the relationship.

Remember to speak up early in a candid and courteous way and to prepare for responses that will help clarify your intentions.

I wish you the best

About Author:– Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Question:– I have been at my organization for more than thirty years and am the most experienced colleague in my department. I have mentored others and taught them the job functions. I am able to function in various roles when needed and my opinions and suggestions are often sought by others. I consistently receive “exceeds expectations” in my job evaluations.

However, I recently discovered a misplaced document that identified all of our salaries; I make less than everyone! I reported this to my manager and she acknowledged that I am a valuable asset to our department that the salary discrepancy was wrong. There are several “novices” who make more than me; a few males in particular. She notified HR and Employee Services and the response was “we will put her on the list.” I would like to meet with HR to discuss this issue personally. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach this?

Best Regards,


Answer:– Thirty years of loyalty, mentoring, exceeding expectations, being an opinion leader, and getting paid less than some of the male novices…ouch! I can certainly understand the sense of unfairness you are experiencing as well as the frustration of not being able to get the situation rectified immediately. You wrote that you would like to discuss this with HR personally and asked for suggestions on your approach. I have a few that might be helpful.

1. Master your Stories.:– First, do your inner work. Get your head right. In cases of unfairness and injustice, it’s almost automatic to assume the worst about people’s motives and the causes of the unfairness. It’s easy to see yourself as a victim of evil bosses who make their budgets and bonuses by holding your salary flat. Remember to Master Your Stories by asking “Why would reasonable, rational, and decent people not increase my pay—especially relative to lower performers or newer employees?”

It could be that the powers that be are evil and selfish. That’s one possibility. Are there others? Based on your manager’s response, it seems they were unaware of the unfairness and when alerted, your manager called it “wrong” and contacted HR. Perhaps you are not fighting evil people, but rather an unfair system. Edwards Deming famously said, “Good people and bad systems produce bad results.”

It’s likely the pay system in your organization does not make adequate adjustments for pay inequalities and the people who manage the system are not making the appropriate fixes. It is in these instances that interpersonal conversations become so crucial. People who encounter problems must make those who are responsible for managing the system aware of the problems as well as of the consequences.

2. Start With Heart:– Having got your head right, now work on getting your heart right. Start With Heart by asking yourself “What do I really want?” Do you want: revenge, justice, back pay, an appropriate increase going forward? Unanalyzed motives can derail you and defuse your energies. Get clear on the results you want. For the sake of our discussion, I’m going to assume that you want to receive a fair increase in your pay beginning now. I will also assume that you want an appointment with the most helpful person in HR right away.

3. Next, gather the facts.:– Gathering the facts is the homework required to have a crucial conversation. Use the information in the document for comparison purposes. Include your performance appraisals, ratings, and the comments of your manager as to how valuable you have been to your department. Remember: no exaggerations, no embellishments, just the facts.

Ask your manager for help in getting an appointment with the most appropriate person in HR. It concerns me that you will be put on “the list.” Apparently there are so many people seeking help that they cannot be handled by regular scheduling; or, the HR group is understaffed. Either way, ask around and have your manager make inquires. Rather than being lumped in with everyone who has a reason to talk with HR, find out who is the right person to help you with a pay inequity problem. This can often save your time and theirs.

In requesting a meeting, follow appropriate protocol to demonstrate Mutual Respect. Make sure to include information about the purpose of your meeting. Identify the pay inequities between you and several “novices.” Also, be sure to emphasize that there are men in your department being paid more for doing the same work that you, a woman, are doing. This is important information to include in your request because it would be easy for someone in Human Resources to assume that you have a gripe about not being paid enough and relegate your request for an appointment to the “business as usual” file.

You need to help them understand that yours is an issue that’s important to the organization’s values, pay, and benefit system, and falls into the category of “needs attention now!” By doing this, you are establishing Mutual Purpose because you want the pay inequities and unfairness addressed; they want to make sure the pay and benefit system has no bias based on gender and that it rewards good performance. You are providing important feedback to help the managers of the pay system to identify defects and fix them.

An important caution— In arranging this appointment, don’t preach. Don’t express righteous indignation. Don’t berate or belittle. Don’t threaten or give ultimatums. The Human Resource Specialists are not your enemy. They are there to help you. Make it easy for them to do their job. Be respectful and helpful to them.

Another caution— Don’t get sidetracked with questions about the salary document you were not supposed to see. The issue is not about you inappropriately poking into privileged information. Don’t let that become the issue. Upon finding the document, you did not show it around or post it on the Internet. You reported it to your manager, as you should have. You handled the situation correctly. Keep the conversation focused on the pay inequities problem.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. You are right to help solve this problem for your sake and the sake of others. As you are successful, the whole organization will be well served.

About The Author:– Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Individual department or functional managers need to embrace ownership and responsibility for success achievement and accomplishing outlined strategic initiatives. However, to maximize the effectiveness of the organization, managers should be able to work with one another to achieve common goals.

To be effective team management the following tips apply:

1. Accountability should be at the forefront of every initiative. Employees do want to be held accountable and they willing accept responsibility given the necessary training, information and the organization encourages empowerment.

2. Minimize oversight through confidence and empowerment. Workers will accept more responsibility if management isn’t constantly looking over their shoulder. This encourages innovation and creativity but it needs effective communication.

3. Managers need to perform more as facilitators and leaders. Coaching is a skill set that should be required training for all managers to improve team management. Regular performance discussions should be scheduled and strictly command to.

4. Performance management & performance measurement are key contributors to improved team management. Goals should be measurable and specific. Creating score cards is an effective tool to improve team performance.

5. Information sharing and effective communication are critical. Teams must have unrestricted access to all relevant information. If you can’t trust somebody on the team then they shouldn’t be on the team.

6. Manager team management skill sets must be continuously reviewed and upgraded to permit them the opportunity to adopt new skills specifically related to coaching and mentoring. The manager’s role should be redefined for the team environment and an emphasis on the servant style of leadership is essential.

Organizations that maximize success embrace the concept of “Team Leadership” and their managers are skilled at leading group problem-solving sessions maximizing collaboration across all functional units. A forum exists to educate and train managers on the problems and concerns of other functional departments. Communication is kept at the “Adult” level and an explicit understanding of respect exists throughout the culture of the organization. This feeling of mutual respect, trust and maturity becomes the foundation for teamwork and problem solving.

About Us:– We are a brand that aims at outsmarting everyone else in the business of soft skills training and development. An innovator in corporate training, organizational performance and team management, VitalSmarts has driven results in the world of corporate training, across the globe. To know more about our training programs visit us at http://www.vitalsmartsindia.com

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