THE STRATEGY OF ROLE-REVERSAL
The only way to get them to come to you, is to let them go.
Imagine: your teenage son comes downstairs on in a terrible mood. As a 16-year-old he needs plenty of sleep, but today you’ve asked him to get up early. Tired and grumpy, he shuffles to the breakfast table. “GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE!!!” you chirp sarcastically, hoping to jar him out of his mood. It doesn’t work. Your attempts to cheer him up have only made the situation worse. He throws on his headphones and slouches into a chair, making eye contact with nobody. You meant well, but it didn’t help. This pattern, which we call “contrasting”, is familiar to all of us. When confronted with another person’s negative behavior, we act in the opposite way in an attempt to stop them. Unfortunately, as you read in the example above, it rarely works. In fact, it creates the opposite reaction.
Omdenken’s Strategy of Role-Reversal is a good way to combat contrasting. How does the strategy work?
It’s pretty simple actually: figure out how the other person is acting and act the same way. In other words, take over that person’s role. In doing so, the other person will most likely take over your role in return.
Check out these examples of role-reversal:
Kids and Tantrums
A child throws a fit in a music store because his parents refuse to buy him a drum set. He hollers on, begging for the drums. His parents hold their ground and refuse. A salesman at the shop observes the child’s behavior. He mirrors the behavior of the child and scolds the parents for being a horrible mother and father. He blames them for neglecting their child and sympathizes with the kid by saying, “Wow! Your parents are awful!” The kid immediately changes his tone, stops hollering for the drums, and comes to the defence of his parents, saying to the salesman, “My parents are really sweet!”.
The sound of the police
An Englishman, Tony Gladwell, looks out his back window before going to bed and sees that someone is breaking into his shed. He immediately calls the police. They respond by saying, “we’ll send someone by when an officer is available.” The cops never come. Gladwell changes tactics. He calls the police back and says calmly, “You guys don’t need to come. I shot the robber dead.” Within minutes, the police arrive en masse, sirens blaring, lights flashing, helicopters and everything. “I thought you said somebody had been shot dead!” they scream. “I thought you said nobody was available” Gladwell slyly replies.
The most important element in properly using The Strategy of Role-Reversal is not to contrast your behavior with others, but to mirror it. By mirroring we mean that you genuinely empathize with the other person. That you truly can get into their shoes and act like they are acting. It’s not some kind of cheap imitation – that would end up seeming gimmicky. It’s gotta be a true mirroring of the other person’s behavior in order to make the role-reversal work.
The beauty of this strategy is that we think it’s about changing the other person’s behavior. In the end though, it’s about changing ourselves. By empathizing with another person, and truly feeling where they are coming from, by taking their role in a conflict instead of insisting on the way it should be, we can reverse the situation and create harmony.
As Nelson Mandela once said, “I couldn’t change other people until I had changed myself.”