Polyamory Success Skills #3: Being Responsible
The more I write these polyamory success skills, the more I realize they are essential ingredients to a successful life in general. It’s just that being polyamorous has a much lower tolerance for not having these skills: the repercussions of not handling something well are amplified by the more intense emotions that come up, combined with exploring a non-traditional relationship style.
This week’s skill is typically one of the first skills taught in many self-development courses and programs: Being Responsible.
“Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving… credit for everything that goes well.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
Usually when the phrase “Being Responsible” comes up, people tend to think of taking the blame, being at fault, being the one that caused everything bad to happen. This is not how I’m using it here.
Being responsible, the way I’m using it, is a certain perspective from which you can see actions to take. It doesn’t mean it’s all your fault, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it just means you’re looking for actions you can take so that whatever happened doesn’t happen again. After all, one of the main tenets of personal development is that you can’t control other people. As accurate as it may be to observe that somebody else was the source or cause of everything that happened, this gives us no handle on what to do about it. Further, you can’t even control your own emotions. You can control your actions and reactions. Sometimes that action is a request to have somebody else do something. I know a lot of people that struggle with making requests and take it all on themselves, and subsequently turn bitter and resentful.
The common denominator in all your failed endeavors is you.
This quote is designed to be harsh. It’s intended to wake people up from a deep slumber of deflecting responsibility and being blind to their impact on the world around them. Since you are reading this on my web site or in my newsletter, I doubt that you need this kind of harshness to wake you up. Still, it’s a sobering reminder to turn our thoughts inward.
What’s the structure for being responsible? It’s been known for a long time. It’s been written into religious texts, it’s taught and practiced in preschools. It’s time it became common knowledge.
Step 1: What happened?
Example: “I said I’d meet you at 6:00, you arrived on time and I arrived 20 minutes late.”
First thing to do is to state simply what happened. Do not include any narratives about how you felt, how they felt, the thoughts going through your head, or any reasons or justifications why you did it.
NOT: “I told you I’d meet you *around* 6:00, not *exactly* at 6:00, so I didn’t think it was necessary to tell you that I was going to be a little late. I didn’t know you were going to be right on time, because in this day and age everybody runs a little bit late for everything, unless you’re just a complete nutjob.”
What was your experience with even reading that second one? It’s an invitation to start an argument. Narratives, reasons, and justifications are like handles that the other person can use to throw the arguments back at you. Don’t put any handles on it, and they can’t throw it back at you.
Step 2: The Impact
Example: “You took time out of your day to arrive on time. You got here a few minutes before 6:00 and had to wait for me for 20 minutes. I’m guessing you also said no to other plans so that you could meet up with me.”
This is where you state what you see is the impact of what you did. Please keep to real-world, observable impacts, and resist the urge to go into feelings and emotions. You can guess at what the impacts are. If you do, state that it’s a guess.
NOT: “I’m so sorry I’m late, you must be so mad at me. I’m such a terrible person, you must never want to see me again.”
Once you’ve said the impact, observe their reaction. Do they appear more relaxed? That means you got it right. Are they tense? There’s probably another impact that you missed. Keep going, or you can ask them. Whatever they say, paraphrase it back to them so they know you heard it. (Paraphrasing is part of listening skills. I have workshops that introduce this, and I also bring it up in 1-on-1 coaching.)
“Is there anything/something else I missed?”
Hint: use “anything” when you expect the answer to be “no.” Use “something” when you expect the answer to be “yes.”
Step 3: What You’re Going to do Next Time
This is a step that a lot of people either skip altogether, or don’t see it through to completion.
NOT: “I’m so sorry, what I did was wrong. I’ll never do it again.”
This one is incomplete, and is where most people would stop the conversation. What’s missing is specific actions to ensure it won’t happen again.
Example: “Next time I’ll set an alarm 30 minutes prior to when we’re supposed to meet up, so I have enough time to get here even if there’s traffic.”
Specific. Actionable. No guilt, no blame, no narrative. Just a structure for what you’re going to do next time.
Also, it may not work next time. You may still be late, maybe by 5 minutes, maybe by 20 minutes again. But this time you have a structure to modify.
“I’ll set an alarm 40 minutes prior.” or even something like “I’m not going to promise a certain time any more.”
Now that second one is not very workable for the other person, but it does give them something to say “yes” or “no” to.
Eventually you’ll develop a set of structures that works for you and the people you want to have in your life.
Altogether, this is what the “Being Responsible” conversation sounds like:
“I said I’d meet you at 6:00, you arrived on time and I arrived 20 minutes late.”
“You took time out of your day to arrive on time. You got here a few minutes before 6:00 and had to wait for me for 20 minutes. I’m guessing you also said no to other plans so that you could meet up with me.”
“Is there anything/something else I missed?”
[listen and paraphrase]
“Next time I’ll set an alarm 30 minutes prior to when we’re supposed to meet up, so I have enough time to get here even if there’s traffic.”
It’s very short, to the point, and has a clear resolution at the end.
As with any skill, you may feel awkward when you begin practicing it. You may feel like you don’t want to do it. That’s ok, it’s part of the learning process. Just like any skill, it will get smoother with time and practice. Keep practicing.
Something else you may come across is complaining about being the one to take responsibility. Those thoughts sound like, “Why do I have to be the one to take responsibility? Why can’t they take responsibility? I’m always doing it.”
Remember that it’s your choice. You don’t have to take responsibility for everything, only in those situations that you want to reclaim your power. If you don’t want power in that relationship, or you don’t want that relationship at all, you don’t have to take responsibility.
What did this blog bring up for you? Are there relationships where you’ve lost power because of a lack of being responsible? What will you do about it now?
Please tell me, I’d love to know!
You can email me: Steve@CoachSteveYang.com
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