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How to Open Up Safely After The Lock Down: Tips from a Certified Forensic Interviewer

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Michael Reddington, CFI

I believe board service is an important part of community involvement. It requires a commitment of time, energy, financial resources and demands a strong personal belief and interest in the organization, its mission, and its vision. It means more than just showing up at meetings and events. It means sharing insight and guidance that supports the strategic direction of the organization. And, it provides a platform for developing relationship, problem-solving and leadership skills while benefitting the community. Board service means you show up and you do something!Supporting Students and Encouraging Educators. It’s a simple mission, but one with great purpose and meaning. I’m glad I showed up and had a little part in helping this awesome Foundation.

Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but quarantine fries the nerves faster.  Families had enough stress to balance prior to this pandemic.  Changing routines, lost opportunities and conflicting needs caused by being quarantined have elevated stress levels well beyond previous thresholds.  Restrictions are beginning to lift, life as we knew it will slowly resume, and new stressors will emerge as parents and children learn where their new boundaries are – and how to push them.   

Without doubt, parents and children view this situation as unfair; life experiences have been taken from them, they are unable to do many things that make them happy and there is no clear end in sight.  They may even feel alone in their emotions, even with millions of people worldwide sharing this experience.  Below are five communication tips for leading family conversations during these unprecedented times of uncertainty. 

Be a secure base.  To summarize George Kolhrieser’s words, a secure base leader provides protection and safety while simultaneously providing inspiration and energy for seeking challenges.  During times of stress and uncertainty it is important to remember “If you’re ok, they’re ok.”  When your family perceives you to be calm and making strides to stay positive they are likely to follow.  If your family perceives you to be panicked, their panic levels will match or surpass yours.  Being a secure base for your family provides them the foundation for stabilizing their responses to crisis. 

Demonstrate authentic vulnerability.  As levels of uncertainty rise, stress levels also rise.  When stress levels rise high above normal levels it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to trust others.  For your family to trust you, they must be comfortable being vulnerable in front of you.  Often the best way to help others accept feeling vulnerable in front of you is to demonstrate vulnerability first. Authenticity is critical. If your family perceives your vulnerability as fake, forced or fabricated, it will likely shut them down.  Once you open up in front of your family, they will have a much easier time opening up to you. 

Let the conversation come to you.  There is often an inverse relationship between stress levels and patience.  Uncertainty can erode our patience and drive us to quickly seek answers. When people feel they are being forced into sharing feelings or decisions their resistance may increase. It’s a natural defensive response. Additionally, people are very likely to shut down when they’re interrupted while sharing vulnerable messages.  Truly connecting with people in crisis means listening to the totality of their message, refraining from interrupting or cutting them off, and listening for unexpected nuggets of value which may allow you to establish new, comforting bonds. 

Be aware of your own emotional shifts.  There is a dangerous time lag between when our emotions shift and when we recognize that we can control them.  This gap in time is when you are most likely to say or do something you may later regret.  It is absolutely ok to walk away when our emotions flare up.  Use the break in the conversation to separate how you feel, consider the stimulus that upset you and why you reacted the way you did.  This process will allows us to reel in our emotions, develop empathy for our family’s perspectives and focus on how to productively re-engage in the conversation. 

Focus on what matters most.  It is easy to get caught up in the immediacy of any crisis no matter whether it is major or minor. For many parents it is important to raise their children to embrace their values, enjoy life, chase their passions and participate in a loving family environment.  Every conversation parents share with their children sets the tone for future conversations.  When in the heat of the moment try to focus on what matters most for you and your children for the long term. Strive to solve the current issue in a manner that will make it easier to resolve future issues.   

(*Bonus*)Don’t argue with people, accept their points of view.  Contrary to Newton’s third law of motion, in family relationships, every action does not have an equal and opposite reaction.  People commonly try to provoke a reaction from others to justify their own escalations.  Parents can stop a conversation from escalating when they calmly accept their child’s provocations.  As an example, the next time your child tells you “You don’t understand” look them right in the eye and say, “You’re right, I don’t.”  Then pause for a second or two and ask them to help you understand.  This response defuses their opportunity to escalate the argument and gives them a way to “save face” while sharing a response that may be productive for you both. 

Yes, this pandemic has undoubtedly created many new challenges for most families.  But, it has also created new opportunities.  One of these opportunities is to leverage the increased volume of shared time and communication to improve how we listen, support and motivate our families.  The investment you make now, can pay off for generations.  We wish every family health, happiness and quick return to “normal.”

Michael Reddington serves on the Union County Education Foundation board.  Professionally he is an executive resource, Certified Forensic Interviewer, creator of the Disciplined Listening Method and President of InQuasive, Inc.  Michael is passionate about taking care of children and teachers, and teaching people how to activate the truth with strategic, ethical persuasion techniques.  You can learn more about Michael on LinkedIn, twitter and