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  #136  
Old Jul 18, '17, 10:51 am
UbiCaritas UbiCaritas is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

I know I'm a bit late to the party, but I've been thinking about both this and the spanking thread, and about the discipline I experienced in my childhood vs how I discipline my kids.

One thing about the way that parents discipline their children is that it teaches kids about the norms of parent-kid interaction, and gives them a guideline for forming an understanding of what is and isn't appropriate in adult-with-authority/kid interaction situations. Kids, being the self-centered little critters that they are, usually consider their experiences with their families to be the standard and what Other Families do to be a deviation in some way from that norm.

As an example, my parents, my mother in particular, yelled and screamed a lot at us. Mother also hit me a lot, often without warning or explanation even in the case of spankings. I remember once or twice when she explained "you did X wrong, so I'm going to spank you," but it was far more common for her to catch me unawares and hit me. I learned pretty quickly to stay out of her reach and not turn my back on her if I could help it because something I did, however unconsciously, could make her angry enough to hit me.

For much of my childhood, a guy lived with our family. He'd been down on his luck thanks to a combination of alcohol abuse and a nasty divorce, so my parents invited him to live with us. He never had a steady job--just handyman odd-jobs here and there--and he and my mother would spend most of their evenings drinking well into the night.

Stan had a seriously nasty temper. He knew better than to express it at me when Dad was around, and I instinctively knew I was safe if Dad was around, but Dad was gone from the house a lot of the time and at odd hours due to his job.

I remember Stan getting physical with me a few times, including, when I couldn't have been more than 10, slamming me up against a wall, screaming and threatening to kill me. Why? Because I had walked through the kitchen, seen the fridge door standing open, and pushed it closed with the tips of my fingers as I walked past. Stan had been crouched behind the door where I couldn't see him, so the door bumped him.

I never mentioned this to Dad. You see, I thought it was a normal and proportionate response. It was equivalent (minus the death threats) to how Mother had reacted to my behavior in the past, so I considered it the norm. Only as an adult did I realize just how messed up that whole situation was.

Point being, though it took me a while to get here: parents, your behavior and standard of discipline sets your kids' norms for adult/kid social interaction. Doing something to your kid that shouldn't be done by any other authority figure is a bad idea for many reasons, not least of which that it teaches them that it's okay for that kind of thing to happen. Part of the reason I try to discipline as I do (in the above case, I would have left it at "hey, I was back here. I know you didn't try to hit me, but please check to make sure someone isn't behind the door before you close it,") is to increase the likelihood that a kid will think "hey, that's not right" when something unacceptable does happen. I would have no problem at all with a substitute caregiver (babysitter, teacher, etc) saying what I just wrote to my kid. If the kid did it intentionally to be naughty, I'd also have no problem with the kid or a toy going to time-out as a result (another common discipline method around here). I would be contacting law enforcement if someone slammed my kid into a wall and called her a "stupid little brat" and then threatened to kill her.

*name changed to protect the less-than-innocent
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  #137  
Old Jul 18, '17, 11:05 am
EasterJoy EasterJoy is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by kptrs View Post
So, in light of the recent spanking thread, I thought I would start another thread about something just as controversial: the line between verbal abuse and discipline. What is acceptable, what isn't, and when does the line get crossed?

For example - I personally don't think there's any difference in saying, "You're an idiot" and "you're acting like an idiot". Either way, I think the child just hears the word "idiot" and associates it with him/herself.

Another example - I also don't think there's much difference between blatantly saying, "You're dumb" and "You should have known/been smart enough to know that". I think the latter implies "you're dumb".

Also, subtle manipulation can be the worst thing of all for a variety of reasons...

Opinions?
You are right that "You should have been smart enough to know that" is essentially the same as "You aren't smart, after all, are you?" Both remarks are personal remarks. They aren't speaking to an action, but make a judgement about the person who acted.

There may seem to be little difference between "You are an idiot" and "I have a legitimate problem with how you acted," but marriage researchers would beg to differ. Expressions of contempt (sarcasm, eye-rolling, ridicule, name-calling, unflattering mimicking), personal attacks, refusal to talk to someone you're angry with, and defensiveness (meeting a complaint with a counter-complaint) are major predictors of divorce. Merely complaining or having a dispute is not.

Here are examples that the marriage researcher John Gottman gives (examples he learned by observing couples and then comparing those who stayed together with those who went on to divorce).

Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”
Note that the legitimate complaint leaves room for an explanation, and doesn't put the person fielding the complaint automatically on the defensive. It also leaves room open for an apology that isn't a humiliation for the person who needs to apologize.

To the question: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
Defensive: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”
Not defensive, but giving the same information: “Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.”

If you model the kind of communication, including the kind of complaining, that takes place in a healthy relationship and do not allow the kind that takes place in a toxic one, you give your children the kind of habits that will help them to have healthy marriages and a secure feeling within your own family.

CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE
Dorothy Law Nolte

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.
If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.
With what is your child living?


I think that healthy discipline helps a child to learn strategies to do better with things they have trouble with. "You have a hard time remembering, but it is important that you remember these things--here are some things you can try to help you remember. Which ones do you want to try? We do need to improve on your record, because you will need to learn to be reliable. This is easier for some people than it is for you, but you don't have to be born with a great memory. With some help, I think you can learn to remember a lot more of the time, and not to forget at all when the thing you need to remember is really important."

One form of unhealthy discipline compares everyone with person in the family who does things the best, just assuming that anyone who falls short of that performance level simply isn't trying hard enough. This is far more likely to cause resentment and/or embarrassment rather than improvement.

Last edited by EasterJoy; Jul 18, '17 at 11:16 am.
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  #138  
Old Jul 18, '17, 11:10 am
Xantippe Xantippe is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by UbiCaritas View Post
One thing about the way that parents discipline their children is that it teaches kids about the norms of parent-kid interaction, and gives them a guideline for forming an understanding of what is and isn't appropriate in adult-with-authority/kid interaction situations. Kids, being the self-centered little critters that they are, usually consider their experiences with their families to be the standard and what Other Families do to be a deviation in some way from that norm.

[snip]

For much of my childhood, a guy lived with our family. He'd been down on his luck thanks to a combination of alcohol abuse and a nasty divorce, so my parents invited him to live with us. He never had a steady job--just handyman odd-jobs here and there--and he and my mother would spend most of their evenings drinking well into the night.

Stan had a seriously nasty temper. He knew better than to express it at me when Dad was around, and I instinctively knew I was safe if Dad was around, but Dad was gone from the house a lot of the time and at odd hours due to his job.

I remember Stan getting physical with me a few times, including, when I couldn't have been more than 10, slamming me up against a wall, screaming and threatening to kill me. Why? Because I had walked through the kitchen, seen the fridge door standing open, and pushed it closed with the tips of my fingers as I walked past. Stan had been crouched behind the door where I couldn't see him, so the door bumped him.

I never mentioned this to Dad. You see, I thought it was a normal and proportionate response. It was equivalent (minus the death threats) to how Mother had reacted to my behavior in the past, so I considered it the norm. Only as an adult did I realize just how messed up that whole situation was.

Point being, though it took me a while to get here: parents, your behavior and standard of discipline sets your kids' norms for adult/kid social interaction. Doing something to your kid that shouldn't be done by any other authority figure is a bad idea for many reasons, not least of which that it teaches them that it's okay for that kind of thing to happen. Part of the reason I try to discipline as I do (in the above case, I would have left it at "hey, I was back here. I know you didn't try to hit me, but please check to make sure someone isn't behind the door before you close it,") is to increase the likelihood that a kid will think "hey, that's not right" when something unacceptable does happen. I would have no problem at all with a substitute caregiver (babysitter, teacher, etc) saying what I just wrote to my kid. If the kid did it intentionally to be naughty, I'd also have no problem with the kid or a toy going to time-out as a result (another common discipline method around here). I would be contacting law enforcement if someone slammed my kid into a wall and called her a "stupid little brat" and then threatened to kill her.

*name changed to protect the less-than-innocent


I agree very strongly with the part in bold.

Also, the parent-child interaction style is going to flavor interactions with siblings, peers, and future spouses.

The last year or so, I've been realizing that my parents' style of interaction with each other and my mom's style of interaction with me set me a really bad example to me with regard to future adult life. I was poorly equipped with regard to being able to speak up to adult authority figures in a polite and constructive way. It also has taken me a really long time to figure out how to go about disagreeing with my husband politely and constructively, because I literally NEVER saw that at home.

Even under the best of circumstances, with perfectly sweet obedient children--that's not a preparation for independent adulthood. Adults have to be able to speak up for themselves and amicably resolve differences. They can't just be sweetly obedient to everybody they meet out in the adult world--that would be a disaster.
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  #139  
Old Jul 18, '17, 11:20 am
UbiCaritas UbiCaritas is offline
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Join Date: May 31, 2010
Posts: 1,966
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xantippe View Post


I agree very strongly with the part in bold.

Also, the parent-child interaction style is going to flavor interactions with siblings, peers, and future spouses.

The last year or so, I've been realizing that my parents' style of interaction with each other and my mom's style of interaction with me set me a really bad example to me with regard to future adult life. I was poorly equipped with regard to being able to speak up to adult authority figures in a polite and constructive way. It also has taken me a really long time to figure out how to go about disagreeing with my husband politely and constructively, because I literally NEVER saw that at home.

Even under the best of circumstances, with perfectly sweet obedient children--that's not a preparation for independent adulthood. Adults have to be able to speak up for themselves and amicably resolve differences. They can't just be sweetly obedient to everybody they meet out in the adult world--that would be a disaster.
Yep.

I remember that when I started working Real Jobs in the Real World I was absolutely terrified of my bosses and supervisors. In my experience, authority figures were often totally unpredictable and capricious in their expectations, and these authority figures literally had the power to make me homeless and on the streets if I did something wrong. So I'd set impossibly high standards of behavior and professionalism for myself, quake in terror anytime a boss walked past because I was sure they were going to start screaming at me for something, and generally made life way harder than it had to be. (Example: one of my personal rules was to never socialize with colleagues off the clock, so I never made friends at work and probably missed out on the occasional promotion because I had this idea that it was unprofessional to, say, go to lunch as a group.) I also had no way of expressing "back off, that's unacceptable" when a supervisor groped me, much less reporting her to a higher company authority, because in my experience might=right, no matter what.
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  #140  
Old Jul 18, '17, 12:23 pm
DarkLight DarkLight is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xantippe View Post
Even under the best of circumstances, with perfectly sweet obedient children--that's not a preparation for independent adulthood. Adults have to be able to speak up for themselves and amicably resolve differences. They can't just be sweetly obedient to everybody they meet out in the adult world--that would be a disaster.
A lot of us learned habits that were less than "sweetly obedient" too. I'd say what I learned how to do was more "passive-aggressive." Because directly trying to talk about differences didn't do anything except get you yelled at and told how rude and entitled you were (and probably punished for backtalk), but being annoying enough that the other person gave up got results.

This is actually a pretty common result for children who learn that any open expression of negative emotions (or at least any not approved of) is deserving of punishment. The emotions don't go away, they just sublimate those feelings into other methods of coping - which may very often be destructive ones.
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  #141  
Old Jul 18, '17, 1:24 pm
EasterJoy EasterJoy is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkLight View Post
A lot of us learned habits that were less than "sweetly obedient" too. I'd say what I learned how to do was more "passive-aggressive." Because directly trying to talk about differences didn't do anything except get you yelled at and told how rude and entitled you were (and probably punished for backtalk), but being annoying enough that the other person gave up got results.

This is actually a pretty common result for children who learn that any open expression of negative emotions (or at least any not approved of) is deserving of punishment. The emotions don't go away, they just sublimate those feelings into other methods of coping - which may very often be destructive ones.
We did teach our boys "it isn't just what you say, it is how you say it." As in: "What you're asking for is not the problem. How you are going about getting it is the problem. That is not how you talk to authority in the real world. Try again." We also taught them to think about whether they are asking at a good time, to look at what the authority figure is going to want out of the interaction, how to ask for something you ought to have gotten in the first place (without asking) while avoiding putting the other person on the defensive and so on. Empathy is a good habit in general, but empathy with authority figures is a very valuable skill.

People sometimes forget that authority figures have feelings, personal goals, anxieties and lives outside of work. They forget to think what it is like to have people wanting something from you, sucking up to you or maybe hiding things from you. They forget that people in positions of authority still like to feel they are likable quite apart from what they can "do for" those they lead or that they worry about their performance and appreciate it when they have some room to make mistakes. They forget that authority figures appreciate those who are gracious with them, who express appreciation, who make room for their human weaknesses in a way that doesn't call attention to them.
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  #142  
Old Jul 18, '17, 3:43 pm
DarkLight DarkLight is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by EasterJoy View Post
We did teach our boys "it isn't just what you say, it is how you say it." As in: "What you're asking for is not the problem. How you are going about getting it is the problem. That is not how you talk to authority in the real world. Try again." We also taught them to think about whether they are asking at a good time, to look at what the authority figure is going to want out of the interaction, how to ask for something you ought to have gotten in the first place (without asking) while avoiding putting the other person on the defensive and so on. Empathy is a good habit in general, but empathy with authority figures is a very valuable skill.

People sometimes forget that authority figures have feelings, personal goals, anxieties and lives outside of work. They forget to think what it is like to have people wanting something from you, sucking up to you or maybe hiding things from you. They forget that people in positions of authority still like to feel they are likable quite apart from what they can "do for" those they lead or that they worry about their performance and appreciate it when they have some room to make mistakes. They forget that authority figures appreciate those who are gracious with them, who express appreciation, who make room for their human weaknesses in a way that doesn't call attention to them.
The key here is that the parent should probably also have an idea of what that request should look like, and should instruct the child on it.

I was always told the same thing. The trouble is I could never tell what the right way to approach my mother was. (I'm 29, and I still can't figure it out.) Every attempt I made was rebuffed in the same way - by being told it was totally ok to talk to my parents about things, but that how I had approached it was rude and disrespectful and now I would be punished for that. When I asked for guidance I was pretty much just told I was smart enough to figure it out. Unsurprisingly, I came to the conclusion that the stuff about being able to talk things over with her was all smoke and mirrors and I was best served by keeping my emotions to myself.

I would also say there's a certain uniqueness to the parent-child relationship that is not there with other authority figures. The parent has a lifelong relationship with the child that other figures do not. When I had a boss at work I found unreasonable, I responded by keeping my head down, and putting in for a transfer so I didn't have to keep dealing with him. That simply isn't something you can do with a parent.
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  #143  
Old Jul 19, '17, 10:45 am
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kptrs kptrs is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

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Originally Posted by UbiCaritas View Post
Yep.

I remember that when I started working Real Jobs in the Real World I was absolutely terrified of my bosses and supervisors. In my experience, authority figures were often totally unpredictable and capricious in their expectations, and these authority figures literally had the power to make me homeless and on the streets if I did something wrong. So I'd set impossibly high standards of behavior and professionalism for myself, quake in terror anytime a boss walked past because I was sure they were going to start screaming at me for something, and generally made life way harder than it had to be. (Example: one of my personal rules was to never socialize with colleagues off the clock, so I never made friends at work and probably missed out on the occasional promotion because I had this idea that it was unprofessional to, say, go to lunch as a group.) I also had no way of expressing "back off, that's unacceptable" when a supervisor groped me, much less reporting her to a higher company authority, because in my experience might=right, no matter what.
Thank you for sharing, Ubi.

I can relate well to this. As a young adult, I had terrible people skills. I'm getting better with it but am still not great. I did not do well in the workforce when I was working. All I knew about conflict resolution was what I learned from my parents. When my parents had a legitimate complaint against each other or me, they either yelled and/or used insults and threats, or went about things passive aggressively (i.e. the cold shoulder treatment, acting grumpy, etc. without really giving an explanation as to why). I simply didn't know how to tactfully and productively resolve conflict. I still shudder to think of a time when two of my coworkers did something that greatly offended me. I passively-aggressively gave the two of them the cold-shoulder treatment for a relatively long period of time. To this day, I look back on that and am horrified by my actions. If not for the fact that I was literally the *only* person who could do the job I was doing, I'm sure there's a decent chance I would have gotten fired. I quit the job due to getting married and relocating, but I still look back with horror on those times.
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  #144  
Old Jul 19, '17, 10:46 am
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kptrs kptrs is offline
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by EasterJoy View Post
You are right that "You should have been smart enough to know that" is essentially the same as "You aren't smart, after all, are you?" Both remarks are personal remarks. They aren't speaking to an action, but make a judgement about the person who acted.

There may seem to be little difference between "You are an idiot" and "I have a legitimate problem with how you acted," but marriage researchers would beg to differ. Expressions of contempt (sarcasm, eye-rolling, ridicule, name-calling, unflattering mimicking), personal attacks, refusal to talk to someone you're angry with, and defensiveness (meeting a complaint with a counter-complaint) are major predictors of divorce. Merely complaining or having a dispute is not.

Here are examples that the marriage researcher John Gottman gives (examples he learned by observing couples and then comparing those who stayed together with those who went on to divorce).

Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”
Note that the legitimate complaint leaves room for an explanation, and doesn't put the person fielding the complaint automatically on the defensive. It also leaves room open for an apology that isn't a humiliation for the person who needs to apologize.

To the question: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
Defensive: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”
Not defensive, but giving the same information: “Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.”

If you model the kind of communication, including the kind of complaining, that takes place in a healthy relationship and do not allow the kind that takes place in a toxic one, you give your children the kind of habits that will help them to have healthy marriages and a secure feeling within your own family.

CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE
Dorothy Law Nolte

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.
If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.
With what is your child living?


I think that healthy discipline helps a child to learn strategies to do better with things they have trouble with. "You have a hard time remembering, but it is important that you remember these things--here are some things you can try to help you remember. Which ones do you want to try? We do need to improve on your record, because you will need to learn to be reliable. This is easier for some people than it is for you, but you don't have to be born with a great memory. With some help, I think you can learn to remember a lot more of the time, and not to forget at all when the thing you need to remember is really important."

One form of unhealthy discipline compares everyone with person in the family who does things the best, just assuming that anyone who falls short of that performance level simply isn't trying hard enough. This is far more likely to cause resentment and/or embarrassment rather than improvement.
Great post, EasterJoy. Thank you.
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  #145  
Old Jul 19, '17, 10:46 am
kptrs's Avatar
kptrs kptrs is offline
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Posts: 751
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Default Re: The line between verbal abuse and discipline

Quote:
Originally Posted by EasterJoy View Post
We did teach our boys "it isn't just what you say, it is how you say it." As in: "What you're asking for is not the problem. How you are going about getting it is the problem. That is not how you talk to authority in the real world. Try again." We also taught them to think about whether they are asking at a good time, to look at what the authority figure is going to want out of the interaction, how to ask for something you ought to have gotten in the first place (without asking) while avoiding putting the other person on the defensive and so on. Empathy is a good habit in general, but empathy with authority figures is a very valuable skill.

People sometimes forget that authority figures have feelings, personal goals, anxieties and lives outside of work. They forget to think what it is like to have people wanting something from you, sucking up to you or maybe hiding things from you. They forget that people in positions of authority still like to feel they are likable quite apart from what they can "do for" those they lead or that they worry about their performance and appreciate it when they have some room to make mistakes. They forget that authority figures appreciate those who are gracious with them, who express appreciation, who make room for their human weaknesses in a way that doesn't call attention to them.
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