The words you use to state your rules supply important directions for how to get somewhere. When someone gives you driving directions, can you get there with: “To get to my house go west and turn right in about 15 minutes”? Too general. Too many possible choices. Vague. A well-stated rule is clear in its directions, describing exactly where you want a behavior to go.
Do your Rules Inspire Action? A rule answers the question “What is expected of me?” A well-phrased answer turns your rule into an action that can be clearly seen or heard. As an example, let’s explore a very short important rule, posted in every classroom and found in some way everywhere we go in life.
Listen to some of the many variations of how “Listen!” can look or feel when the message is put into the clearest of choice of words:
- “Have your eyes looking at me when I am talking.” (Be socially appropriate.)
- “Do what you have been asked – right away!” (Sense of urgency)
- “Be silent while I am speaking.” (I feel disrespected.)
- “Close your books and look up to the front.” (Take an immediate action, please.)
- “Put the game back into your backpack.” (Remove the distraction and give your full attention.)
Now you may say that we just know from the context of a situation what behavior is expected. True, for most…
A Case Study: What Does “Be Nice” Look Like for this Man with Autism?
For the first time in his life, Thomas at 35 was attending a Saturday night social for adults with developmental disorders. Thomas had High Functioning Autism. Upon arriving at the club, Thomas would quickly gravitate to the types of people who would be his perfect audience. He loved the limelight and good listeners who were not inclined to interrupt his long tales about his fascination with horse movies. If the ‘ wrong ‘ person wandered over, Thomas would protect his center stage by abrupt comments such as “Go away, you will interrupt me.” Or “You won’t be interested in this.” From his own experience, Thomas knew what it felt like to be treated unkindly and he did express genuine sadness when we pointed out how he hurt people’s feelings. Tacked up in clear view on the club house wall was a poster: Ground Rules for Making Friends, and the first item was Be Nice to Others. Thomas made no connection between that rule and the screening process he created in his determination to share his fascination. Thomas truly did not know what ‘nice’ and ‘not nice’ meant in such a situation. To him, he was just ‘saying it like it is’ and to others it was crushing. Thomas was baffled about what corrective action to take when his peers complained to program supervisors.
To help Thomas with his social skills and interpreting rules, we created a two step Action Plan.
1. Thomas was given this question to explore:
What do I need to do to be nice to others at the club?
Together we came up with:
Include everyone who wants to be in the group.
See if new people are interested in famous movie horses.
Think about how I would feel.
Stop at the decided upon time.
Self-monitor by looking at my watch.
2. Thomas helped to craft a statement for himself that would give him the words to create his ‘audience’ and also practice ‘nice’ behaviors.
“I am talking about famous horses. Would you be willing to listen for a few minutes?” When he began to feel territorial about his social circle, this question helped Thomas to handle his anxiety and get assurance that he would have his limelight time. It worked well – Thomas had plenty of time to talk to his satisfaction. We also set a time limit, which he would monitor himself, and step out of the limelight and practice his ‘audience’ skills. A support person would monitor this and in a matter of time, Thomas was able to estimate for himself when to call it quits.
To get him reflecting on the payoff of his new behavior, Thomas was asked the question: How does this new plan help you have a better time at the club? Thomas answered, “People invite me to sit at their table when I invite them to listen to my horse movie stories.” Thomas was able to connect how ‘being nice to others’ brightened up life at the club.
Remember to choose your words so that they vividly teach the how-to’s of being social.