When I have a problem that concerns one of my kids... I could visualize my child standing on the other side of a line, next to "The Problem", with me yelling across the line, "Hey, you better solve "The Problem." Instead, I get myself to stand next to my child, with "The Problem" alone on the other side of the line, with me putting an arm around my child, saying "Hey, you and me, we're gonna defeat "The Problem" together."
Then Patri moves on to a great lesson in how to win friends and influence people:
This cognitive reframing doesn't just apply to parent:child relationships, but many other places such as husband:wife, manager:report, and worker:coworker. Basically, anywhere that you need to bring up a problem that someone else is causing or contributing to, where there is enough shared interest that the "same team" model is reasonable.
It does not always work - your bid for connection may be refused, with the person insisting that The Problem is yours to deal with. But by setting things up so that The Problem is separate from the person, you avoid the mistake of making the person feel attacked or criticized, which usually puts them on the defensive and makes them less likely to do what you want.
Besides the short-term benefits, the person is likely to feel better about whatever it is they do, even if they would have done it anyway, because it's always more pleasant to choose to do something that to be told...
How did Patri figure this out after being raised by a pack of Chicago economists? Trick question: He learned it from a pack of Chicago economists:
This notion of separating the idea and the person is old hat to many economists, of course, who can smilingly shred each others theories without anyone ever imagining it was personal or getting defensive. But in many situations - with kids, in close relationships, when there is a power imbalance, when the issue lies close to someone's identity - academic detachment is less natural, and so this technique can help. While I find the economist's way quite natural in some situations (like work), in my home life I get defensive far more easily, even about minor topics. This technique (used on me) helps reduce the defensiveness I feel as well as (used on others) that which I cause.