Whoever Yells the Loudest

In the middle of a lesson on interpersonal communication skills, a sophomore boy asked me, “Why are we having to learn all these communication skills? Everyone knows the person who yells the loudest gets what he wants.” 

Now, I knew this was his experience because I knew his father. The way parents talk and solve problems with others — the words and manner we model — is what kids believe is normal and what they’ll do as well.

We all knew the rules for fighting before we were three. Just watch youngsters playing and witness what happens if one grabs the other’s toy.  The one who lost the toy will either grab it back, hit, or just cry. Once-in-a-while, we’ll hear a problem-solving response, “let’s share” or “Let’s take turns.”

The rules for fighting and those for problem-solving are very different, and most of the behavior being modeled for children and adolescents today exemplifies the rules for fighting rather than those for solving a problem.

When I teach educators how to use Cooperative Learning Groups in their classrooms, most come into my course reluctant to put their students in groups, “because all they do is fight” or “one person does all the work.” This is true, but there are two major reasons this happens, and today’s blog is going to present one of them; students haven’t yet learned the interpersonal skills for working cooperatively. These skills are seldom modeled and usually aren’t taught.

 When I taught high school students, I was teaching them to work in cooperative groups as they completed projects and as they gave one another feedback on their writing drafts. For students to become successful in group interaction, they have to be taught how to deal with the common group problems of conflict and of one person taking over and doing the work for the group.

To learn how to talk to one another, they first learn to avoid, “fighting statements.”  Here are some common ways untrained students talk to each other:

  1. You’re not doing the work, and I don’t want a bad grade.

     Just let me do it. (Taking over)  

2.  Let Brad do it. He knows what he’s doing. (giving in, ordering)

3.  That was bright!”  (sarcasm)

4.  If you don’t change that part, I won’t work with you again.

             (threatening, warning)

5.  You’ve got a lot of mistakes in here. First of all you need to….

      and then in here change the wording to… 

                    (“correcting” another’s work, judging and ordering)

6.  Here, you do it if you don’t like my ideas! (giving up. quitting)

7.  Stop being an idiot!  (Ordering and name calling)

8.  Ok, I guess you’re right. I’ll change it.  (going along, hoping to

             keep peace)

There are many others, but looking over the above list again, we see that each is an example of the types of things we hear every day – ordering, warning, name calling, judging, etc.  Sadly, they’re also examples of what we teachers, parents, and other authority figures learned as kids, and most likely continue to model for our kids.

So, what can students learn to do instead?

  1. Instead of “taking over,” the communication skill students learn to use is the I-Message. “I feel like I’m doing all the work…” and then asking for what you want, “I’d like everyone to help me out here.”
  2. Instead of “giving in” or “ordering,” students learn to paraphrase another’s message. “I can understand your worry over a bad grade.” And maybe follow up with a question, “Can we divide up the work so everyone has a part? Then we can come back together with what we did.”
  3. Instead of sarcasm, students learn to check their understanding of what another said and then ask for what they want, “I think what you’re saying is…. Am I understanding you correctly?” Then,  “I see the solution a little differently.” or “I have another idea.”(and then explain the idea)
  4. Instead of threatening and warning, students learn they can use the I Message and ask for what they want.
  5. Instead of “correcting” another’s work, students can again use an I message to express their confusion, “I don’t know what you mean in this part.” Then the other can judge their own work. The same skill is powerful when giving a compliment, “I really like what you say in this paragraph. I completely understand your point.” or “I love this word you use here.”  Such responses avoid judgments, so the other person is less likely to respond with defensiveness and embarrassment.

 6, 7, and 8. Instead of quitting, name-calling, or giving up, students learn to eliminate the “fighting” language and use any of the cooperation building ways of talking.

Why do we even want students to work in Cooperative Groups?

Two Major Reasons:  1) learning increases, and 2) respect for others who are different from ourselves greatly increases. And the research has shown these outcomes for over 100 years!

     P. S. One more reason — today, more and more jobs require employees to be able to work with a team, and many businesses have asked educators to teach students the skills for doing so successfully.

How do we educators, parents, and others learn the skills so that we can be modeling them?  There are many great books that teach these skills, and I include a short list below. In addition, there are courses that teach these skills, including my own zoom course, Mindful Communication, Listening, Responding, and Sticking up for Yourself — a six-week course that I teach through Flagler College’s Life Long Learning Program (St Augustine, FL). Because it’s on zoom, it’s open to people here in the States, and also to those in Canada. The next 6-week session begins Monday, October 24, 6:30 – 8:00.

Partial List of Books:

By Adelle Faber and Elaine Mazlich

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk 

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk

By Joanna Faber and Julie King

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen and Listen So Little Kids Will Talk

By Thomas Gordon

Teacher Effectiveness Training

Parent Effectiveness Training

And my own book,

RESPONSIBLE KIDS: 6 Steps to Creating Them in an Irresponsible World


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