Offense is defense
Almost everything that occurs to us as offense is just another form of defense. "I'm getting back at them for what they or their kind did to me or my kind." Or, "We need to hit them before they hit us."
A truly unique offense
My client Jack was near the end of his rope. His grandparents, in their nineties, took care of him when he was young. And he cares for them. But every time he's with them, they drag him down into a lose-lose conversation where they complain about their miserable lives, stuck in a big house that's got stuff everywhere, sometimes to the ceiling, because of their lifelong pack-ratting habit. They are wanting Jack to somehow take the time to sort through everything, keep or sell whatever, and get them moved into a smaller place. Then, they think, they won't be miserable any more.
Jack feels defensive. He cares for them and he would like to do what he can, but their demands seem unmanageable. He never looks forward to visiting with them.
Taking the offense
I said to Jack, "Forget for a moment about what you think they want. Ask yourself what do you want? If you could spend some enjoyable time with them, how often would you want to visit with them and for how long each time?"
After a moment to switch gears from feeling defensive and put upon to thinking proactively and considering what he wanted instead of what he didn't want, Jack replied, "If it were possible to have an enjoyable time with them, I'd like to visit them once a month for about four hours."
With that as the context and framework, I suggested, "Let me lay out a possible scenario. Hear me out and then tell me what you think."
"First you'll check your calendar and choose a date about four weeks out from the last time you saw them. Choose a day and block out the time that would work for you. Then you call them. Say, 'I'm really looking forward to the next time we can visit together. After checking my calendar, I think I could arrive at your place at about 4:00 pm on Tuesday the 12th of next month and stay for about four hours. I've been thinking about you and I've gotten curious about several things I want to ask you two about. Could we plan for that?' After they agree, you add, 'I'll also pick up a light dinner we can enjoy together over conversation."
People who've lived a full life are eager to share their stories with anyone who is a rapt listener
"Arrive prepared to lead your grandfather and grandmother into a yesteryear heartfelt sharing and reminiscing with their grandson, eager to discover all those things about them and their lives that he never knew. You can create your own questions and you can select from over 150 juicy questions detailed in How to have a great conversation with anyone. Make sure any questions you ask are open ended and invite a full story. As they're sharing about their lives, respectfully interrupt sometimes to ask for more detail or a better understanding of what was going on. Also, practice reflective listening. Check out the links Listening and Listening to listening."
"Although you're leading the conversation, Jack, you can let it flow and take on a life of its own if that feels better than jumping in and asking another question. Keep them sharing more and more openly about themselves and their amazing lives."
"If they try to side tract the conversation back into their packrat dilemma, you can allow that, if you want. But stay in the position of a listener and sympathizer, not someone who thinks he needs to fix them or fix the problem. Or, you could just side track them back to, 'But I have this other question that I've been dying to ask you.' And then you ask it. What do you think, Jack?"
Jack exclaimed, "This gives me such a feeling of freedom and excitement. I'm going to call them this afternoon after I look at my calendar. Thank you, Dwight."