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5 simple strategies to get the cooperation you want

May 27, 2018

“If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”  Albert Einstein

Einstein’s wisdom seems compatible with a communication faux pas I discovered when my son was around 14.  I was kvetching about something that was disappointing me (about him).  When I stopped to take a breath, I noticed that his eyes had glazed over and he was no longer with me.  We’ve since talked about it and generally he was in his head repeating blah, blah, blah …

That glazed eyes syndrome had been happening in our house for years — probably since my son was around 5 or 6 — the point at which I started expecting cooperation from him.

In addition to Einstein’s pithy advice, here are some other things I learned to do to gain the cooperation I was seeking:

  1. If you have something important to say, you need to be able to say it in the first sentence.  Einstein knew that after the first sentence most people are easily overcome by the glazed eyes syndrome.  Especially if it’s something that they currently care, or know, little about.
  2. People are much more interested in their interests than in yours.  A 14 year-old=young man was not interested in saving me money, learning about how the world might work better, or in making our home look like a magazine spread.  He cared about hockey, food, girls, and his hair.
  3. Find and start with a common goal.  If I wanted him to clean his room, what was in it for him?  That was easy.  We both wanted to peacefully cohabitate.  If I started with the idea that a relatively picked up room (where I could see the floor and desk top), would result in a mom who over the weekend would be more amenable to his last minute requests for a ride/food/money/and most important, hair products, he became surprisingly agreeable.
  4. Timing is everything!  If I asked him to clean his room with 30 seconds’ notice before he was due to leave for school – already 30 minutes late because hair was strangely time-consuming – the likelihood that we would have a meeting of the minds was slim to none.  So I learned to be judicious about when and where I asked for things, especially his cooperation.
  5. How you ask matters.  When I started out whining about how many times I’d already asked him to pick up his room, I got the glazed eyes syndrome before the first sentence was out of my mouth.  However, if I caught him right when he was wanting my help and support, it was amazing how cooperative he was.

Sometimes I still forget and shoot myself in the foot with how and when I ask for something. But when I remember these 5 ideas, I generally like the outcome.

Cooperation is an approach that implies a mutual benefit.  If you’ve been frustrated by a lack of cooperation in your relationships I encourage you to consider running your next conversation or request through the simple filter above.

Please share any other ideas that have helped you have more positive outcomes with your partner, your kids, your friends and anyone else who will still talk with you!

Much love,


  1. Mary Lou Fischer says:

    Another gem, Robyn!

    I’ve found that, with my husband, I get much better results if I give him a heads up that I need a few minutes at some later point during the day.

    He doesn’t do well with spur of the moment stuff. Telling him I need to speak with him makes him more receptive & it also lets him know that the subject matter is important to me.

    • Robyn says:

      Thanks MaryLou – yes, so important to respect and work with the individual differences in how people want to receive input.

  2. Frank says:

    Attention grandparents! My youngest child of 6 is 31, but I have 7 grands under 12. I’m sure I have become rusty at parenting and times have changed. These 5 ideas are great tools to use while spending time with the grand kids. I know my children appreciate my re-enforcement of their parenting efforts.

    • Robyn says:

      Thanks Frank! With 6 kids and 7 grands I doubt that you’ve had time to get rusty – you probably have a bigger bag of tricks than most!

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