Most people don't like to be told what to do; it robs them of their personal power. Some people like it because they don't have to take responsibility for making choices or their actions (I'd vehemently argue they are still 100% responsible for their actions, but that's another blog post. ) Anyway, for many of us being told what to do is a "Hot Spot." For me, it's nuclear. I have to restrain myself at four way stops when people next to me graciously waive me on. Seriously, every cell in my body wants to scream and use hand gestures, "I'll go when I'm dang well ready! Don't tell me what to do!!!" And, I'm even more volatile when people tell me I can't do something. Nothing gets me to do it faster. My mind starts to race, "Well, we'll see about that." "Oh yes I can! Who says I can't do that, you and who's army?" " You aren't the boss of me!"
My point here is twofold. One, we need to recognize and own (take responsibility for) our hotspots. Two, we need to be conscious in our communication and intention to share power so as to avoid the unintended reactions and consequences of telling someone what to do.
Practice getting to know your hot spots, and in longterm relationships begin to recognize and respect others' hot spots as well. When a hot spot gets tapped, it's like a trigger that sets off a chain reaction of internal events. We then begin to react to our internal experience rather than acting in response to what is going on externally. So, take a moment when sparks start to fly and stop, look and listen before taking any action. Situations involving threatened personal power can soon become power struggles when we are engaged with others. So, remain calm, investigate what's triggering your internal experience. Use your manners and your I messages. Then, make requests instead of demands.
One of my favorite parenting books is, "Kids, Parents and Power Struggles." by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Whether you have kids or not, the underlying dynamics of power struggles are the same. And the author does a fantastic job of explaining these dynamics and how to deal with them effectively. For instance, if you tell a toddler not to kick the dresser, or their brother, tell them something they can kick - maybe it's o.k. to kick the bed. This gives them a suitable outlet for their energetic expression and allows them to retain some personal power in the situation. If you tell a child they have to do something give them some choices within that directive. Maybe they can choose the timing or the way it's done. The key is to share the power in the situation and allow the other person to maintain their personal power. This avoids a power struggle erupting and strengthens the relationship. There is always enough power to go around in every situation, so don't let your interactions become fights over who owns it, controls it or exerts it. Think collaboration rather than competition. Everyone wins when each individual maintains their personal power and acts from it.