By Laura Harley
Note from Bill and Jean: One of our daughters, Laura Harley, is sharing a guest post here today. Laura has her own life coaching practice and helps her clients practice the concepts in our books. This post is one in a series in which Laura shares examples of how her young family uses Compassionate Consultation (which is the subject of our second book, TRANSFORMED) to solve problems and make decisions. We know many families are striving to do the same and hope examples like this are useful!
In my last post, I shared a brief introduction to the process of using Compassionate Consultation (CC) in the family. It is very important to my husband, Teddy, and I that our children see us using CC as a couple; and that they also experience the four of us using it regularly as a family to solve problems. It’s been amazing to us how the process can work beautifully even with children as young as ours participating (our son is 7 and our daughter is 4).
Following the steps of the 6-Step Model of Compassionate Consultation introduced in TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life has really helped us understand the process and made it easier to apply in our daily lives. We don’t always follow all the steps, and sometimes we change the order of the steps, but having them as inspiration and guidance is very helpful. The steps of this CC model are as follows (click here to get a free printable of these steps):
The 6-Step Model of Compassionate Consultation
1. Pray for divine guidance
2. Identify and agree on the facts*
3. Identify and agree on the issue*
4. Identify and agree on the spiritual principles involved
5. Identify and agree on the solutions
6. Identify and agree on the implementation steps
*Steps 2 and 3 may be reversed as needed.
Here’s one recent example of how our family used this process.
My husband sustained a foot injury that left him very sore and limping. This happened at a time that was sub-optimal: while we were on our once-a-year vacation with two small children in a place that required LOTS of walking. My husband and I were feeling stressed about this (and all the other little things that are stressful about vacations with young children) and we were being impatient with each other. When we tried to talk about how we should deal with his injury, we kept getting into an unhelpful cycle of him telling me what he planned to do, and me saying I felt worried that maybe he should have a different approach.
He said this injury felt a lot like one he’d had in the past and he wanted to do what helped him in that situation: getting compression therapy. I felt worried about this as he seemed to be in worse shape than last time and I thought he should go to a doctor and get an x-ray before proceeding. I was also trying to picture how I could handle two small kids on this vacation without his help if he got worse due to us making the “wrong” decision. As often happens in relationships, especially when we are stressed, each of us kept holding to our viewpoints harder while getting nowhere in terms of a solution we could both feel good about. We had one of those moments where we stopped, looked at our kids, and realized they were watching us with wide eyes, sensing our tension.
Thankfully, we realized this would be a great time to use CC. We told the kids we needed to work together to solve a problem and explained we’d be using CC.
Since Step 1 is to pray for divine guidance, I explained it would be helpful to first ask God for help as we worked together, and I recited a short prayer from the Bahá’í Writings. Our children listened and afterwards we got out some quiet things for them to play with; our son played with Legos and our daughter played with Play-Doh. We knew that at their ages (4 and 7), the CC process can sometimes feel long (even if it’s only 20 minutes total) and we’ve learned that it’s helpful to have them occupied with something while we talk. This allows them to listen and participate here-and-there while also allowing my husband and me enough time to really talk without constant interruptions.
When everyone was settled, we jumped to Step 4, identifying and agreeing on the spiritual principles involved. I said, “Hmmm….well, I think one of the spiritual principles involved is Daddy’s joy. We want him to have a nice time on our trip. And we want him to heal and feel better.” The kids nodded and continued playing and listening. They didn’t add anything here, they really just listened. This is still a new process for us as a family, so a lot of what we are doing is just modeling us attempting the process and learning as we go. My husband and I mentioned some other spiritual principles, too, such as being kind to each other and finding a solution everyone could unify behind. After our prayer and talking about spiritual principles, we all felt considerably calmer about our challenge. The energy in our family system had really changed.
Then we moved back to Step 2, identifying and agreeing on the facts involved. I said, “Well, we know Daddy’s foot is hurt and he is in pain. We also know it feels a lot like an earlier injury he had. Another fact is that Daddy wants to try compression therapy.” My son (age 7) said, “What’s compression therapy?” And then my husband explained it to him. During his description of the process, I also learned some new things! Now that we weren’t in a state of tension and conflict, my husband was able to share more objectively about the process and I was able to really hear him better.
This approach of identifying the facts in a calm and dispassionate way feels VERY different than the tension and “stuckness” of an argument. As we talked about the facts, I realized what was bothering me most about the idea of compression therapy: it sounded painful, and I worried that if Teddy did have a bone break, compressing the foot could be dangerous. When I explained my concerns to him in more depth, and without a lot of stressful emotion behind them, he was able to really hear me and respond to my concerns. He explained more about the process to us and we did some quick online research. I realized my concerns were actually unfounded----the therapy would not harm even a bone break. We continued to talk about facts for a while.
At this point, I felt like I really understood more about compression therapy and how it could help. I also felt understood---I’d been able to share my concerns and instead of feeling unheard and brushed off, I felt like Teddy really heard me and addressed my concerns directly. All the while our kids listened and played, and occasionally asked questions. Of course, there were also periodic exclamations of totally unrelated things (“Mom! Look at what I made!” or “Daddy, where did my blue Lego go?”) ☺. But this set-up and process helped us have enough time and space to really talk and deepen understanding.
Next we were able to quickly move to Steps 5 and 6, identifying and agreeing on solutions and implementation steps respectively (we skipped Step 3 because we assumed we knew what the issue was). At this point, it seemed like we were all on the same page about the solution. To check that out, I said, “After learning more about compression therapy, I understand the reasons it could help, and I think it would be good for Daddy to give it a try. What do you all think?” All four of us agreed. Next we moved on to implementation steps. Our plan was for me to play with the kiddos while Teddy researched and called clinics to make an appointment for as soon as possible.
In case you are curious, the compression therapy did help a lot, although we still had many adventures along the way since injuries take time to heal. Let’s just say I learned how to push my entire family in one wheelchair, as it often doubled as a stroller! All in all, we had a great time on vacation and Teddy’s foot is much better now.
Some of my key learnings from this experience include:
- Although it is important to know the steps in the model and strive to include them all, it is OK when we are unable to do so. Even doing the steps out of order or leaving some out entirely gets better results than not using any at all.
- Even when we use CC in a hurried manner, even when we feel as if we are doing it very “messily”, it is still very effective and helpful. It helps us step away from tension, operate from a respectful and more peaceful place inside, and communicate in a more unifying way.
- Even when we think our kids are not paying attention, they absorb a lot and learn a lot when we use CC. They can feel the peaceful atmosphere and learn that, even when things are stressful, there are tools to help us work through challenges respectfully and in unity. Developing these skills prepares all of us to be better family members and citizens.
I hope this example of how CC can look is useful. We’d love to hear how the process is working for you and your family. We welcome your questions and stories! Feel free to comment below.
You may also be interested in my post about using CC when siblings have a conflict.
For more examples of CC applications with couples, families and other groups, read TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life