Reflecting on his previous military experience, a man relates: "While awaiting shipment overseas from a southern Arizona Army base, our group was assigned a number of what we considered degrading duties for combat soldiers. The crowning indignity came on the day before we were to ship out - we were assigned to seed the lawn in front of the general's quarters. All morning we worked, spading, hoeing and sowing grass seed."
He continues: "During our lunch break, several of us made a visit to the post exchange. That afternoon we finished seeding the general's lawn - with turnip, pansy, spinach and watermelon seeds."This story of the soldiers' silent rebellion points to an important truth regarding the human condition - that people forced against their will to do things will find subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - ways to resist, for to bow to control is to lose precious autonomy and to lessen one's respect for self.
Control tactics never inspire in other people any motivation or interest in pursuing the controller's objectives or designs. Rather, such tactics serve to stir rebellion and steer others toward behavior and attitudes directly counter to those being imposed. For this reason, as in the above instance, rather than getting what they want, controllers often end up getting what they deserve.
In achieving vested objectives, we have only one viable alternative in human relationships - to invite, rather than demand, what it is we would like from others. In essence, we choose to operate from an "influence base," that is, a position to which others are attracted, and thus motivated, to fulfill our needs or even espouse our precious values. These others do so because they love and respect us and want to freely offer us "gifts of self." In long-term relationships, such an influence base is not easily earned, but necessarily emanates from many small encounters over time in a relationship with another that is based on trust and goodwill.
So how do we then garner influence in relationships? Perhaps by adding some of the following to our armamentarium of appealing and inviting behaviors:
- Use humor. Mother Teresa, known as a devout and serious person, also has a good sense of humor that aids her in her work with others. Once she was asked if she objected to being constantly photographed.
"I have made a contract with God," the nun said, smiling. "Everytime someone takes a photograph, a soul from purgatory must go to heaven." As numerous cameras clicked in succession, she added, "So purgatory must be empty today."
- Be workable. A senator once said something regarding political pragmatism that also generally applies to human relationships. "Some people throw up their hands when they see a train bearing down on them. But I believe it is better to jump on the train and try to guide it than to be run over. That's why I vote as I do on a lot of things I never would have started in the first place."
- Help people save face. At a dinner for Commonwealth heads of state some years ago, the chief of protocol saw a guest pocket a gold saltcellar. He asked Winston Churchill what he should do. "Leave it to me," said Sir Winston, and proceeded to pocket a gold pepper-shaker. He then turned to the guilty party and whispered, "Oh dear, the chief of protocol saw. We'd better put them both back."
- Be positive. A story regarding Flora Isabel MacDonald, Canada's minister for external affairs some years ago, serves to illustrate. Once, when she was taking part in a public debate involving all the candidates in her district, one of her supporters, obviously intoxicated, so persistently heckled the other candidates that they had difficulty speaking a complete sentence. The audience openly fidgeted, but no one wanted the fight that would be entailed by ejecting the boisterous booster.
Seizing a convenient moment, MacDonald, smiling as ever, climbed down from the stage, greeted her supporter and, wrapping her arm around his shoulders, charmed him from the auditorium through earnest discussion. He did not return. But she did - to applause.
- Show respect. To the point is a story of the legendary Gen. George S. Patton, who paid a visit to the 15th Army's officers club in a town in Germany one night shortly after taking command of that unit in October 1945.
At his entrance, everyone, including three other generals present, jumped to his feet - except for one recently discharged enlisted man making his first visit to the previously off-limits establishment. The silence was deafening as "Old Blood and Guts" strolled to the young man's table and stared down at the offender. The obviously shaken but determined young man blurted out, "I'm not in the Army anymore, general. I'm a civilian now!"
The room braced for a sample of the notorious Patton temper, but the general's reply was soft. "Son," he murmured, "don't you have any respect for an old man?"
The new civilian rose quickly to a rigid and respectful attention.