When You and Your Parents See Things Differently August 3rd, 2007 | No Comments

5 Steps to Bridging the Gap between Different Perspectives

Just last month I was in Chicago at a conference of 7,400 teens-whew! It was fantastic! In one of my sessions a young woman asked a really interesting, important, and pertinent question-in search of how to approach her parents about their perspective on the “best” college for her…

Are you having any differences of opinion with your parents-I hope so! Different viewpoints are GREAT-it’s handling them that can be challenging, I’m a firm believer in planning for healthy conflict.

Here was the scenario presented to me: The young woman wants to attend a small, private college and her parents want her to attend a large, state school (and finances are not the issue here). The parties in this situation have reasons to support their viewpoints.

I believe there are ways to navigate these difficult waters…

1. Think through what matters most to you and be able to describe it.
What kind of college/university setting do you want and need: location, size, core values of the college/university, nature/diversity of student body, residence halls, extracurricular activities, the list goes on… Be prepared to clearly articulate why the college(s) of your choice is the best for you. (Remember, with 4,400 colleges in the US, there must be at least half a dozen that would be a great match for you.)

2. Be clear about communication styles-how you approach people and situations and how your parents do too.
Reflecting on and understanding how people come to conversations (both everyday conversations and those that get complicated/heated) can give you time to think through how you will approach the discussion, and how you will respond (not react) to differing perspectives. The goal is always for every participant in the discussion to feel heard/understood – and that only happens when we start from a position of respect, are open to learning more, and demonstrate that we value the relationship.

3. Listen to your parents’ perspectives and ask questions.
What are all the issues involved and the values behind the statements they are making? Where are they coming from, what’s the reasoning behind their thinking ? (Do your parents want you to have the same college experience they had? Do they want you to have a completely different experience? Do they want you to be near home? Do they perceive certain environments to better than others – and what does that mean to them?)

4. Find areas of agreement.
What points of agreement exist between the differing viewpoints? Are there ways to weaken areas of disagreement? Is it possible redefine the issues to support a creative solution or a compromise?

In the scenario above, the disagreement initially appeared to be about one college versus another. After I asked the young woman a few questions it became clear that her parents wanted her to have the “full college experience,” as they had done. What appears to have been lost in the conversations was what the young woman defined as a “full college experience”-her vision was very different from her parents (she wanted a small, private college vs. they thought a big state school was best). The larger question is, where will she do her best work and have the most fun? College is about doing the work and enjoying the experience-and getting clear about what that involves is critical. Delineating what you need in an environment is central to making your case.

5. Work to develop a creative solution (the best!) or a compromise.
What’s the creative solution, one that both parties will support? How do you begin to figure out the creative solution? Thinking about what’s most important to you, talking through the desired results, looking for areas of agreement… those are the first steps.

In the scenario above, perhaps the first step is to take a deep breath and start the discussion at the very beginning, in an effort to focus on what all parties wish to achieve in making the decision: such an approach can lead to a discussion about choosing settings that will support the young woman’s best work. She could take the lead and describe that environment clearly to her parents and also ask questions of them, to better understand their perspectives – and then search for areas of agreement.

A compromise that suits both viewpoints seems unlikely-as in this situation, because no one can’t be in two places at once-so a creative , thoughtful response is required.

Choosing colleges and universities is a BIG decision: it requires using your head and your heart. (And, if you decide that you need to change your decision/change colleges, remember, while it may not be simple, it is usually possible.)

What’s your take on this? I’d love to hear your solutions-ways you have found to navigate the tempestuous waters when you and your parents are thinking and feeling differently about BIG decisions.

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