What Is It Like To Be You?

Here’s what I know happens whenever I come at someone with my point of view rigidly holding me hostage: I become nervous—will I be able to convince them of the validity of my position?; forceful—do I have the strength to get them to see things my way; and/or passive—defeated before I begin. (And yes, I suspect my punctuation in that sentence was lacking…)

Here’s what I know happens when I come alongside someone with a flexible mindset and willingness to understand the situation from their point of view, or at least consider that they have one equally dear to their heart:  I listen with what I call a quiet mind. And most importantly, I come across as genuinely wanting to know: What is it like to be you?

For those of you familiar with my work, you’ll recognize this as Act I. It’s the essential pre-cursor to offering our advice to our kids (or anyone), and our best shot at actually activating their willingness to hear what we have to say, whether it’s a suggestion about how to approach a difficult friend, a critique of their history essay, or an expression of concern about their withdrawal.

When we feel heard and understand, we humans lower our guard and become more receptive. Conversely, when we smell someone’s agenda and their need to inflict it upon us, our guard goes up and so does the wall that prevents us from taking in whatever they’re trying to lay on us.

The next time you have something important to say to your child, your teen, your spouse or your neighbor, try giving them the chance to describe to you the planet they live on. Ask the question, “What is like to be you?” and then keep your lips together and listen. Encourage them to keep talking with, “Tell me more” or “Gosh, that sounds like it was pretty hard when your teacher told you to sit back down just as you were coming to ask for help. What happened then?”

When we give someone we love the chance to show us reality from their vantage point, we offer them the opportunity to be seen and accepted as is. From there, we have a chance of sharingour thoughts, ideas or opinions, without coming across as shoving it down their throats, or correcting their “faulty” thinking or behavior.

Consider this the next time you prepare for a difficult conversation—or when one lands unexpectedly in your lap. Start with the mindset: What is it like to be you? Chances are, the conversation will go in a new, healthy direction.


Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, credentialed teacher, learning specialist, and parenting coach with a private practice in Malibu, California. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected reflects her work with children and their parents for over thirty years. Susan frequently offers parenting advice in publications and interviews, having recently been quoted in the Boston Globe, Parents magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. Susan offers a free newsletter, The Passionate Parenting Minute, which is full of simple and practical ways to be your best parenting self. To subscribe, or for more information on Susan and her work, visit www.parentingwithoutpowerstruggles.com.

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