Updated: Feb 16, 2021
I studied creative writing for many years. After thousands of hours and dollars, it all boiled down to one simple thing: SHOW, DON'T TELL. Every teacher said it, every class incorporated it, every story detail was picked apart to ensure it. Describe it to readers, make readers live it, help them feel it. Don't just tell us about it. Let us experience it. Every. Single. Time.
It is funny how this rule of good writing still burns in my brain. And how much it pertains to life in general! As a coach, I say it ALL the time. Show people how you want to be treated, don't just tell them. It is NOT effective to tell someone a boundary and then undermine it with inconsistent behavior. And you will NEVER achieve the goals and relationships you seek if you aren't able to SHOW WHAT YOU WANT through your actions instead of just speaking your desires.
Check this out. I had a client who had difficulty coparenting with her ex for many reasons. One of their struggles was the terrible dynamic between her older children and their father. Her kids saw their dad as a failure and an irritating nuisance and barely gave him the time of day. Guess where they learned that from? Yup. From HER. Sure, she gave positive guidance to her teens in words. Be kind, your father is doing his best, he loves you, maybe try to connect with him more this time you visit, blah blah blah. She said all the right things. ALL. OF. THEM. But when she was around him, her own disgust was palpable. She barely engaged in conversation, and when she did it was stilted and her facial expression showed how unhappy she was. She rolled her eyes and avoided him whenever possible. Family get-togethers did nothing to help her kids see the good in their dad, they just continued to reinforce her own personal feelings. And being kids, they followed her example, whether out of loyalty for Mom or just because it seemed like the right thing to do since Mom did it.
For months she complained about how challenging it was to support her kids in trying to create a positive relationship with their dad. Until finally, a family reunion for his side came up and helped us push through the issue. I challenged her to put a smile on. A REAL smile. And share one small but public laugh with her ex and a brief but engaging conversation with his new girlfriend (Awkward!)
Well, she did it. And once she did it, she realized it wasn't that hard! She went above and beyond and mingled with the couple several times throughout the afternoon. The day started uncomfortably for everyone including peripheral family members who had not been around the crew since the divorce and hence had never met ex's new friend, but once my client acted on our intentions here the rest of the family followed suit. His mother even took my client aside to thank her and point out how gracious she was being. And the kids? For the first time since the split, the kids had nice things to say about their father that evening. One even asked about his girlfriend (what does she do for work? I like her hair, I wonder if she dyes it...) when they had NEVER expressed any interest before.
The whole thing was maybe four hours of her life and required next to no energy after
the internal build up. It took no parenting pep talks or lectures, no forced and uncomfortable family decompression afterward, and for the first time EVER was not followed by a barrage of hateful or sad texts from her former husband. Instead, she received just one. "Thank you."
Folks, THIS IS HOW IT IS DONE!
Show, don't tell. Every. Single. Time.