Recently my wife, an analytical software engineer, complained to me for the umpteenth time. Our eleven-year old son was again fighting her tooth and nail to avoid doing simple math homework.
Math is his best school subject. He loves it. But it quickly becomes the hardest one in the world if his mother sits him down to do it, when he’d rather play video games.
As my wife grumbled, I suddenly remembered to ask the solution rather than state it. “Why do you think that is?” I said, quizzically.
She named three reasons for the boy’s stubbornness:
• Our sons respond with more nerve and defiance to women than men
• Kids in general prefer screen time to homework
• She has trouble changing her way of speaking to them
I paused, waiting to create a smidge of tension. Then I said, “Of those three things, which one do you believe is the easiest to change?”
You could hear the logical wheels turning as she pondered the question.
“Obviously, you’re not interested in getting a sex change, so we’ll have to adjust for the fact that you’re a woman,” I joked. She relaxed a little.
“Then of course, there’s no arguing taste,” I mused, as the dominoes began to fall.
She finished the quiz: “I suppose the easiest thing for me to change is how I speak to them.”
TEACH APPLICATION, NOT JUST INFORMATION
Have we ever had so much free access to information? Yet it’s clear – we are more invested than ever in learning everything except what matters most.
How to effectively, lovingly communicate with each other.
As the priest and shepherd of your family, you have to show people the way things work … often without telling them you’re showing them.
(Pay attention here, guys … it’s very reassuring and attractive to wives if men can calmly demonstrate how to solve a problem without lecturing, complaining or criticizing).
I called in our son and sat him down. I sat between them, with his math homework in my lap.
“Grant,” I said to him, “here you have a zero with three digits to the right of the decimal. Are those digits tenths, hundredths or thousandths?”
“Thousandths,” he answered, with zero hesitation.
“Ok, so how do we express that as a fraction? What is the denominator?”
“One thousand,” he said.
“Ok, so if the number is 0.048, what is the numerator? How many thousandths is that?”
“Forty-eight,” he replied.
“Correct. But is that fraction in its simplest form?”
“No,” he said. “It can be reduced.”
“Twenty-four over five hundred.”
“Is that the lowest it can go?”
We continued down the line until he’d finally calculated the right answer. I turned to my wife.
“How many statements did you hear me make to him?” I asked. She shook her head and said, “None.”
NOT MUCH HELP
You may say, “That’s all very nice. But our problem is not the same as yours. We can get our kids to do homework.”
I hope you have a child who easily receives this kind of information without resisting. However, their resistance will come up elsewhere.
The problem may even be between you and your beloved. “Yeah,” you might sneer, “my wife would never admit she’s the problem.”
To that I would respond, “I don’t think my wife to be ‘the problem.’ I think how she handles communicating to my son is the problem.”
It’s hardly a stretch for most women to concede that they misinterpret (or correctly reject) poor communication from their husbands.
If your wife survived teenage intra-female relationships, she can almost certainly concede that even her clearest sentiments are subject to misunderstanding … or worse.
None of this changes another reality: even the best communicators in the world get no further if they resort to spouting information. Neither will you.
You won’t get there by being authoritarian, intimidating people into fearful obedience.
Nor will it profit you or those you lead to become supple and let them get their way all the time.
In this moment, I had to question both my son and my wife to get them to invest more than defiant tones, white noise and empty words.
We want buy-in. Cooperation. Proper, balanced alignment of priorities.
Strong leaders know this. The best ones hardly ever bark orders like a military sergeant – including those who wear military uniforms.
They want subordinates who are invested in good outcomes. Asking intelligent questions is among the world’s best and most reliable vehicles for developing them.
When your children are grown, don’t you want them to ask the same kind of questions you’ve learned to ask yourself, before making a decision?
Then learn to ask questions. Intelligent questions. Irresistible ones, which compel the people you’re asking to think.
GOD ALSO ASKS
Our Lord provides excellent, traditional, Jewish rhetorical examples of this …
“The LORD God called to Adam, ‘Where are you?’”
“The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Is anything too hard for God?’”
“There the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
“The Lord said to Jeremiah, ‘What do you see?’”
“Which one of you, if your son asks him for bread, will give him a snake?”
“What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?’”
“What does it say in the Law and the Prophets … how do you interpret it?”
“John’s baptism … was it from heaven, or from men?”
We don’t read these questions and think God asked them because he didn’t have Google and needed information!
We should notice, however, that every time he asked them, even to opponents, no one could argue or offer alternatives.
God always teaches us answers he already knows, which our silence and/or answers confirm.
As fathers, I believe it’s a great way for us to elicit and enjoy the respect of our wives and children.
THE CHOICE OF A NEW GENERATION
This is a huge component of the true path of godly leadership. It always gives the person beckoned to follow the choice to accept or reject.
“Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua told the Israelites … and God has always presented his people with choices.
We too must choose … to lead the people in our care by asking them to follow. Not by saying, “Will you follow me?” That’s too obvious.
“Which path do you think is the right one?” is a better way of asking. Because ultimately you’re supposed to point them down God’s path, not yours.
As an epilogue, both Mom and son are working just a little harder at trying to communicate better … and that is the choice God wants us to make, because it pleases Him the same way it pleases us.
Guest Discerning Dad
Paul Edwards is the international bestselling author of “Business Beyond Business,” host of the “Influencer Networking Secrets” Podcast and a strategic connector and mastermind facilitator. You can learn more about him at https://www.thepaulsedwards.com
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