David Cunningham Discusses Effective Communication in Families, Part 2

Charlene Murphy: You know, David, with today’s families, the way we have so much going on with our kids, especially when they start getting into pre-teen and teenage years, all of us are going in so many different directions; I wanted to know what ways that we can create a family plan that includes goals for both the parents and the children so that we can keep our unit cohesive and on the same page?

David Cunningham: Well, I think the most important thing here is that when you do a family plan that you say “Ok, here’s what were out to accomplish, this month or this year”, it’s that every person in the family can see that there’s something important to them is included in that plan, that nobody’s left out. You’ve got Mom and Dad and two kids, that all four people can see, “There’s the thing that’s important to me”, and everybody is for that. So that there is nobody that thinks that their priority or what really matters to them got left out, and you just keep working on the plan until you find out a way that everybody has the experience that something really important to them is going to get accomplished and everybody else in the family is for that, behind them, as committed to that as they are their own thing. So that’s one really important thing in making a family plan of any kind is that something important to everybody is included in it. That would be one thing.

Charlene Murphy: Right, and you at Landmark Education, you actually have courses, right, that help people, help families create these goals together?

David Cunningham: Yeah, in Landmark Education, one really important aspect of the work we do with people is creating new possibilities for themselves and others. So a really important aspect of that is to keep expanding what people think is possible for them. Do you know that by the time we’re teens, Charlene, there’s so much that we’ve decided is out of reach, there’s so much we’ve decided we can’t do? Or so much we’ve decided, that we’re not the kind of person that will do that? Or so much we’ve decided that other people won’t let us do that? Or we already missed the opportunity?

So an important part of the work we do at Landmark Education is to really clean the slate for people so that the past is complete and where they end up in the conversation is that anything and everything is possible for them. There’s nothing out of reach. And when people really have that kind of clean slate, and really what’s real for them is that anything and everything is possible for their life. Then when they go to say, “Here’s what I want to accomplish this year.” It really is something that will fulfill them. It’s something that will inspire them, inspire others, and it’s actually something that you’ll find is also almost always a contribution to others, and people are really free and anything is possible for them.

Almost every time people say here’s what they want to accomplish it’s not only great for them but it’s great for others. So yes, an important part of the work we do for people is to clean the slate from the past and to give them the opportunity to really invent new, what we call, breakthrough possibilities for themselves in their lives.

Charlene Murphy: That’s exciting. So David, if somebody wanted to take Landmark Education course where can they learn more?

David Cunningham: Well, the easiest way is to go right on our website, Charlene. It would be www.landmarkeducation.com. So again, www.landmarkeducation, all one word, landmarkeducation.com, that’s the best place to go. If they wanted to, Charlene, on that website, we actually have what’s called an online introduction they could go and really in a very short period of time, just a few minutes, about 15-20 minutes, really could get a very good sense of the work we do and an introduction to programs. And then they could find out all the different locations it’s in and the dates, everything right on that website.

Charlene Murphy: That’s wonderful. I actually saw the introduction and I’m in Denver and you guys have quite a few courses around Denver all the time so that’s real exciting stuff. I plan to be registering here very soon for class, and I wanted to get into some of the things for kids. Now I’ve got two of them, one’s 23 and one’s 13, and so far life has been pretty easy for us but now my 13 year old is kind of transitioning into, I would call attitudinal behaviors and I wanted to know what three tips you can provide to our listeners when disciplining children?

David Cunningham: When disciplining children? Three things, I think. No. 1, this is just in the domain of discipline right? No. 1 is, the most important thing is that when you make up rules for kids, the most important thing is applying them like gravity, in other words, gravity always works, right?

Charlene Murphy: Right.

David Cunningham: Gravity, you step off a roof you go down, every time, doesn’t matter. Gravity’s inescapable. And a lot of times the mistake we make as parents is that when we make up a rule we apply it sometimes and sometimes not. And if you make up a rule and you apply it sometimes and sometimes not, then your kids are always out to have this be one of the times you don’t apply the rule. And they’re amazing at how they get us not to apply the rule; everything from a temper tantrum to a slammed door to coaxing us, to bribing us, to bagging us; to telling us they’ll never do it again. But if you’ll notice that if you make up a rule and then you sometimes apply it, sometimes don’t, your kids are forever now in a game called ‘can this be one of the times you don’t apply the rule’. So I think the first thing and most important thing about disciplining kids is that when you make up rules apply them like gravity every time. That would be one.

Charlene Murphy: Okay, and I will take that one to heart, because I call my son the negotiator and if I even open that door of negotiation it’s over.

David Cunningham: It’s over right, that can go on for hours, days.

Charlene Murphy: Exactly, and then he ends up winning, basically because I get frustrated and tired of the negotiation so ok; I will just apply it and negotiations are not an option.

David Cunningham: They’re just not, right? Now, lets say something also, Charlene, really radical okay, about discipline. And here’s what it is, it’s that most of the time if you look at most of the rules we make up for our kids they’re to protect our kids, right? Simple things like look both ways before you cross the street, don’t talk to strangers, eat your vegetables. All the rules that we make up, most of them are to protect our kids. I’m gonna say something really radical. I’m gonna say those are great rules and you need those rules, but there’s a whole set of rules missing, and the set of rules that are missing are the ones that protect us from the kids. Now, I’m being a little bit silly but let me tell you what I mean by that.

There’s, again, remember those three domains of life I talked about, what you have, what you do, and who you be? If you watch people, and especially if you watch by the time we’re teens, people are really, the main attention we got is what are we gonna have, what are we gonna get, and then what are we gonna do? But really, the quality of our life, Charlene, comes from who we be as human beings, as I said before. So, if you make up a set of rules, that really, is very simple rules, like you’re having a good time or the action stops, because your kids always love to play with you; they always want to be with you, kids will do, if you’ll play with them, if you’ll spend time with them that’s like golden for them. So if you make up a very simple rule that you’re having a good time or games over and you really just stop playing, then your child has to start dealing with not what are they getting from you, but who are they being and what is happening to the people around them given their behavior.

So you start drawing their attention to who they’re being as people and boy, that is something that really has kids grow up like, really begin to consider the other people in their life and actually be engaged in developing themselves as great human beings. So, you’re shifting your child’s attention from what are they getting out of life to who do they get to be in life and they actually start paying attention to being a great human being.

We had a Mom recently in the Landmark forum, the main program we do at Landmark Education and she tried this out; she said she went to the grocery store, and she has five kids. She went to the grocery store and it started just like every other day in the grocery store, going down the aisle, the kids were pulling things off the shelves, begging her to buy this, getting upset if she told them to put it back on the shelf, fighting with each other about who was gonna get what, all of it. And she says she simply stopped, looked at her five kids and said “I’m not having a good time, so we’re going home” She started walking out the door, just left the basket right there in the aisle, and said “Come on, we’re going, I’m going home, I’m not having a good time”. She goes; her oldest child, she heard her oldest child go “Huddle” and all the kids got in a huddle and then they were very smart, they said, the youngest one, they said “Mom, we promise you’ll have a good time if you stay”. And just like that, the whole thing turned around and they actually had a great experience at the grocery store.

Even if the simplicity of life, Charlene, if you make up that rule called ‘you’re having a good time or the action’s over’, you’ll find that you’ll be surprised at how much your kids start dealing with how are they being and are they being great for the other people around them. So that’s number two.

Then the third one, I think the third and final one, what I’d say about discipline is, for parents sometimes there’s just that flash of anger and irritation and if you can just let that flash of anger and irritation go by, just like, okay, your kids do something and there’s that flash of anger. If you can just somehow wait a minute until that flash of anger is over before you speak, before you say something, I think you’ll be able to really say what you really want to say. Sometimes in that flash of anger we say things we don’t wanna say. So I think the third thing and final thing I’d say about discipline is just if you can let the flash of anger pass, and then really say what you really wanted to say versus what you might have said in that flash of anger, you’ll be really much more satisfied with the way you disciplined your kids.

Charlene Murphy: I like that. So, I’m a single mom, so it’s easy for me to apply all of these things with my children because I don’t have anybody to negotiate with or talk about these things with. What would you say to a couple, a married couple, parents, to use mutual goals and rewards? How can they be on the same page with all of this stuff?

David Cunningham: Well, I think that’s a really important point isn’t it? And Charlene, I think when there’s two parents that they’re on the same page, as you said, that the kids aren’t getting mixed signals from the two parents is as critical as anything. So, how do parents really work that out together? What if they did have, if they didn’t even know it ahead of time, but all of a sudden when they’re rearing their children they find out they have different points of view about how to raise kids? Well, two things are really important.

No. 1, I’m going to repeat something I said earlier which is that each person’s point of view is valid. So as parents, and you’ve got two parents and they’re listening to each other, and they’re listening to each other at different points of view about what needs to happen with the kids is the first and foremost that they get is that each parent’s point of view is a valid point of view. So as they listen to them, there’s not one’s right and the other one’s wrong. There’s something valid about what both of them are saying that’s really critical to get.

Second thing would be is as they’re listening to each other, the thing to really pay attention to is what really matters. What really is important to the other person? So if you and I were co-parenting and I had a different point of view than you did, I’d want to be listening for what is important to you and why is it important. Suppose it was important to you that the kids really finished their meal, or was important to you that the kids had great table manners; or it was important to you that the kids went to bed at a certain time. And it might not be important to me. It really could be for one parent it’s important the kids have a bedtime and for the other parent, that’s not important. The question as I’m talking to you about that and working that out with you as a co-parent, the question is why is that important to you? I’d say there’s always some way, even if we don’t, suppose we end up going, good, we’re not going to impose a bedtime, whatever was important to you about a bedtime I could get honored. In other words, there’s something, there’s the thing that we would need to decide, like are we going to impose a bedtime or not? But behind what we have to decide is what really is important, what’s the commitment behind that? And even if we end up disagreeing on, or can’t come to a resolution on the thing to do, like impose the bedtime or not, I bet we can always find a way to honor what’s important about it to each other. And if you get everything that’s important honored, then you can almost always work out any difference of opinions about what to do.

Charlene Murphy: Now I’ve heard people say that they’ve learned to refrain what they’re saying to their spouse and children while taking Landmark Education coursework. So what are they being taught?

David Cunningham: Well, Charlene, the main thing that happens for people in the Landmark forum is that they actually find a way to really be responsible for themselves and their lives. So the thing that really is crippling for couples and families, that just gets in the way, is all the blame and all the fault that goes on between people. And so, when something doesn’t work, the question is who’s to blame. That’s just a question that society’s always asking; that society, everybody is dealing with. If something doesn’t work, well the question is, who’s to blame?

We ask a different question at Landmark Education. We have people ask a different question, and the question we ask is not who’s to blame but what’s possible? What’s gonna work here? And if you just ask a different question, not ‘who’s to blame’ but, what’s possible here? What will work and how can I be responsible for having this work? It has people. People then don’t need to argue with you, do you understand? So if I go ‘you’re to blame’ immediately, what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna be defensive and you’re gonna argue with me, anybody would. That’s just human. So if instead of saying ‘somebody’s to blame’ and asking that question and debating ‘who’s fault is this’ if you and I could have a different question together; what’s possible here? What will work here? What will make a difference? Then we won’t need to be in that debate, that argument. So that’s a key thing that happens for people in the Landmark forum; the fundamental question they ask in their life shifts. And the question that they start with is ‘who’s at fault, who’s to blame’ and they all of a sudden, people out of the Landmark forum are really engaged in a new question in life, and the new question they’re engaged in is ‘what’s possible here and what will work and how can I make a difference?’

Charlene Murphy: Well, that’s so much more productive and such a better use of time and of your life.

David Cunningham: And more fun too!

Charlene Murphy: Definitely. Now David, you’ve talked about listening being the first of key components for effective communication in families, and you said listening was as important as speaking in a family setting, actually you said it was more important. And I heard about a listening exercise people experienced in the coursework that you teach. Can you tell us how that exercise helps families learn to communicate effectively?

David Cunningham: Well, we do a few different exercises in listening, but one of the exercises we do is first we have people, one exercise we do is we have people talk and we have the other person purposely not listen, purposely not listen. And only for a moment, Charlene, literally one minute; and do you know what happens in that minute? It’s amazing. If I’m talking to you and you’re not listening, and in this exercise we have them do it on purpose, don’t listen, we say. Clean your pocket book, file your nails, talk to somebody else but while this person is talking to you, don’t listen to them.

Charlene Murphy: That would be hard to do, especially when you’re told not to listen.

David Cunningham: I know.

Charlene Murphy: Rebellious natures would kick in and listen just because.

David Cunningham: That’s right. But people actually do have fun with it and it’s amazing. If you just do that for one minute the person that’s talking, you’ll find out something. The person that’s talking literally starts to stutter and stammer. The person that’s talking will literally lose interest in what they’re saying. And we tell them, talk about something that really matters to you. Talk about something you’re really interested in. Talk about something you’re excited about. Within the first minute of not being listened to, they’ll lose their own passion, they’ll lose their own interest in what they’re talking about. And in that first minute when the person’s not being listened to, a lot of people will literally either go silent, they’ll just stop, or they’ll start talking about something silly, like something they don’t really care about. And even though they know it’s an exercise, even though they know the other person was told ‘don’t listen’, what happens in just a minute of not being listened to is they actually do have the experience of being either hurt, disappointed, angry, disconnected, and that’s just in one minute.

So then we flip it over and we go, “Okay good. Talk again for a minute and this time the other person really listen and give them your undivided attention.” And, Charlene, in that next minute the most amazing thing happens. The person talks about the same thing they were talking about before but this time the person really listens.

First off, they find out they had more to say than they thought they had to say. Second, their own passion for what they’re talking about grows. Third, they have a deep experience of appreciation for the person listening to it. So, what you learn really quick and what families can learn really quick out of an exercise like that is that just by listening to the other person, if you want somebody around you that’s alive and passionate, then all you gotta do is listen to them. If you want somebody around you that’s brilliant, good, listen to them. If you want somebody around you that appreciates you being there, listen to them. And I think we can all reflect in our lives and see we have people in our lives who are quiet and we end up thinking that they don’t have anything to say. Or we have people in our lives that never talk about anything that we consider important and we think, well it’s because they don’t have anything important to talk about. Or we have people in our lives that repeat themselves or people in our lives that are angry with us and what we never noticed is that that is often and foremost a result of simply they didn’t get listened to. And if they just get listened to, sometimes just for a few minutes, it makes all the difference in the world.

Charlene Murphy: Yeah, that’s kind of sad to think that some people go unlistened to for quite some time.

David Cunningham: It is, right? I think if we look around the world, Charlene, I think you see a lot of that quite frankly. If we could cause a breakthrough in people listening to each other, I think we’d watch – if you just go to your office and somebody in your office is really, if you go to a staff meeting and somebody in your staff meeting is really listening the other people start generating ideas that they wouldn’t have generated if nobody’s listening. Same thing happens at home; if somebody’s really listening, people start generating ideas they didn’t even think of generating before.

Charlene Murphy: Right, and then they feel safe to share.

David Cunningham: That’s right, that’s right, ‘cause everything is listened to as a possible valid idea, right? So it’s a safe place to share. And then when that happens, people really are connected, Charlene. It leaves people connected and creative. If you can have a family where people are connected and creative, you really are gonna have a family like you love. That’s exactly what were committed to out of our programs at Landmark Education.

Charlene Murphy: That sounds wonderful; I think that should be all of our goals for our families, and I think they are. But consciously, sometimes I don’t think we are aware of that so it’s nice to have you in place to remind us of our intentions and to actually bring it to the forefront of our consciousness, to make that a life living, active goal. That would probably save quite a few families from going down the divorce aisle.

David Cunningham: Well, Charlene, I think that’s the thing. I think you just said something really important, which is at Landmark Education, we don’t try to change. Our work is not about changing people or anything like that. It’s what you just said, it’s what people really want in the first place. Then over the course of our lifetimes, things get on us, things get annoying. Points of view, opinions, judgments, concerns, failures. Things happen to us and it’s not just that things happen to us, when they happen, we decide things. We decide things about us, we decide things about other people, we decide things about what’s possible, not possible in life. By the time we’re adults we have a pretty limited view and we have a pretty limited range in which we’re really able to be creative. And so the work we do at Landmark Education is based in those two things, A, that fundamentally what people want, people want to be connected, they wanna love, they wanna create. And stuff got on them. So we don’t try to change people or turn, it’s not the turn somebody into a loving person. No. It’s just get rid of whatever happened over the years, complete the past so that whatever got on you over the years, whatever stopped you, whatever suppressed you. When that gets complete and falls away, then there you are, ready to connect and ready to create. So that’s really the premise of our work at Landmark Education. It’s why it’s so powerful.

Continue on to part three of David Cunningham discussing communication in families.

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