In the 1970’s a pop-psych book called Games People Play by Eric Berne, was in. One of the games described was “Yes, But.” This game is often played in families, under the guise of looking for advice. You know you’re in a game when you keep getting sucked into giving advice that is ignored. When a conversation – usually about “fixing” somebody else or some situation – keeps getting recycled, somebody’s not getting real. Maybe neither one of you.
For instance, an adult daughter often complains that her live-in boyfriend is not paying his share of expenses. He is chronically unemployed and not looking for work. She says she’s tired of paying his bills. But she keeps paying them.
“Well,” you might sensibly suggest, “You could give him an ultimatum: get a job or get his own place.” To which she responds, “Yes, but he’s an artist! It would kill him to work for someone else!” You think his art stinks and he needs to join the real world. She needs to wake up. But if you actually say this, the game will change to “Uproar.”
But because you read our blog you look for a way to keep the conversation going. One way to stop the game and have a real conversation is to switch from “yes, but” to “yes, and.”
“Sounds like you want to encourage his artistic spirit [that’s the “yes”]. And you’re feeling weighed down by taking responsibility for all the bills. “Is that right?” [Pause for her response, if any. You are showing you’ve heard and understood. You are NOT telling her what to do or judging her in any way. So you are keeping the conversation safe and thus open.]
Then you ask an open question: “How would you like it to be?” or “Have you thought of anything you might do to change the situation?”
You don’t have the “right” answer. (You really don’t, even if you think you do.) You may be surprised by her answer. This is not manipulation. But it will end the “game” and get her thinking more creatively – even if her answer is to honestly acknowledge that she isn’t ready to do what she already knows she needs to do. That’s the start of a real conversation.