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Give, Not Get

Danny Raede


This is a paradigm shift that changed my life, so I'd like to share it with you: When we want to change something about a person, place or thing, it is very common in our society to ask "How can I get X to...?"

"How can I get my daughter to do her homework?"

"How can I get my husband to finally pick up his socks?"

"How can I get my computer to stop freezing on me?"

Yet when we ask "How can I get?" there are some hidden assumptions there that can be very dangerous and damaging to the relationships we've built in our life. When we ask "How can I get?" it implies that we need to exert force and control on someone or something in order to bend it/them to our will. The natural answer to "How can I get?" is to use some sort of force, manipulation or coercion in order to achieve the end result.

How do you get your daughter to do her homework? Threaten to take away her phone or computer of course! How do you get your husband to pickup his socks? Bribe him (or threaten to not do his laundry anymore). The problem with "How can I get?" is that the use of force has the unintended consequence of eroding trust and damaging good will. No one likes to be forced to do something, and the more you force, the more trust is eroded. This is why websites that constantly use clickbait articles tend to be more hated. Their business model is all about manipulating you and tricking you into clicking, instead of just stating "This happened" and relying on a solid relationship they have built.

The good news is that there is another way to achieve the same result, without the use of manipulation or force! Instead of "How can I get?" ask "What can I give?" 

Here's an example: "What can I give my daughter in order to help her do her homework more easily?" Does she need a calmer environment? A snack? a back rub? You to sit and help her do her homework and explain the concepts again? Help researching? A new pencil? 

"What can I give?" assumes that the problem isn't a lack of force, but a lack of resources. Our core philosophy, and the basis of Emotional Resource Theory, states that people do the best they can with the emotional capacity they have. If they aren't doing a great job, its because they are missing one or more resources, not because they are being a willfully defiant mastermind.

And if they are being a willfully defiant mastermind, they are doing THAT because they are lacking one or more resources and cannot think of any other way to change their situation.

How to help someone out of Defense Mode and give them the right resources is well beyond the scope of this article, but fortunately we have a whole separate article detailing that process here.

Finally, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment and share your story. I read all comments posted here 🙂

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Katharine Zink


I'm going to share this concept with my husband who really struggles with having a positive relationship with our adult son. He is always wanting something more and wants to coerce our son into being more productive. I love the notion of "what can I give" because, not only does it recognize a lack of resources, it also works to establish a partnership and helps us think of our relationship with our family members rather than just our own personal wants and desires. Thank you! 

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Jennifer Nguyen


I really really loved this article. It has really helped me. Thank you!

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Grandma 2 Kai


I recently realized this with my 5 yr old grandson  but it's a concept that's hard to really get your head completely around all the time.  Thank you for this article as it helps a lot. The way you explain it is going to help my husband understand what I've been trying to say.  

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I’ve read similar articles but that was years ago, and like Grandma Kai, it is often very difficult to remember in the moment of frustration and struggles.  I am a single parent of five adopted children through the foster care systems, they all come with their own loss, abandonment issues.  All but one of mine falls somewhere on the spectrum, each presenting with different challenges and strengths.  Two are still living at home, I believe although they are wonderful, smart creative young adults they/we struggle to find and keep being productive members of society, both for different reasons.  I have been raising my granddaughter whom I’ve had since birth and I have no doubt she although not diagnosed is also on the spectrum.  My house clearly runs the gamut of challenges, I need the tools to help me help two adult children find their strength and be happy healthy members positively contributing to society, as well as help me help my granddaughter as she is really just starting to be a participant of the world.

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I had this same idea "parallel epiphany" yesterday when communicating with my adult son by text from a distance. He has must-do time-bound tasks to accomplish that are critical for his ongoing well-being, yet he shuts down at any mention of them. I consciously keep references to these tasks at a minimum, making sure 80% of our conversation is positive and non-threatening. I realized that rather than asking for a status report (my typical response), I needed to ask if there was anything I could do to assist. And he actually told me his plan to move forward and that he would give me a list of what I could do. Not as much as I would ideally like to hear, but sure as heck better than the response I usually get. We assume our kids know that we'll "give" what we can to assist them, but they assume that we're just bugging them about the obvious.

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