FOTF-Logo-Stretch-Color.png
Search

Focus on the Family Broadcast

Getting Along with Strong-Willed People

Getting Along with Strong-Willed People

Cynthia Tobias explains the positive and negative characteristics of strong-willed adults, and provides tips for healthy communication at home and in the workplace.
Original Air Date: October 14, 2022

John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, you’ll hear insights into the personality of a strong-willed adult.

Preview:

Cynthia Tobias: Actually, I have a sign though that says, “I’m not bossy. I just know what you need to do.”

Crowd: (laughing)

End of Preview

John: (laughs) More humor and helpful ideas from Cynthia Tobias are coming right up. Uh, your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: (laughs) John today we’re, uh, sharing a fascinating presentation that Cynthia gave to our staff just a few months ago. So let me recap her opening remarks and then we’ll dive into the heart of her message on how to turn conflict into cooperation, especially with a strong-willed person or a SWP.

John: Oh, is that what they’re called?

Jim: Yes.

John: Okay.

Jim: Cynthia said a strong-willed person will have at least three of these traits: being resourceful and creative to accomplish a difficult goal, being willing to take on a project that no one else wants. They don’t automatically take no for an answer. They often become the leader of a group, and they don’t apologize as quickly or as often as they should.

John: Well, that kind of cuts close to home. Can we move on please?

Jim: (laughs)

John: (laughs)

Jim: A little too close to the-

John: Yeah.

Jim: … nerve?

John: Yeah.

Jim: Um, that one gets probably all of us. Okay, moving on, uh, Cynthia Tobias has been a guest on over a dozen Focus on the Family broadcasts and she’s the author of numerous books on her two areas of expertise: learning styles and strong will. Uh, the two books that relate to today’s content are The Way We Work and A Woman of Strength and Purpose.

John: And we have those here at the ministry, so contact Focus on the Family today. And, uh, this reminder when you order from us, uh, the proceeds go right back into ministry. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Here now is Cynthia Tobias on Focus on the Family.

Cynthia: We’re going to talk about three quick ways to turn conflict, especially with the SWP, turn conflict into cooperation. It doesn’t take a scientific degree. Doesn’t take a whole lot of time. You could start today. You can walk out of here today with a couple ideas right away and you don’t even have to tell the SWP that you figured them out. Sometimes it’s better that you don’t.

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: You just, you just start treating them a little differently and they go, “You know, I really kinda like you.”

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: These are the secrets. Number one, your tone of voice really matters. We don’t have trouble with authority, we SWPs. We wouldn’t respect you if you had a rule and then you didn’t enforce it, or you had a line and you let us just walk over it. It’s not authority that we have a problem with. It’s how you communicate your authority. It’s the bony finger in my face that says, “You better do it, and you do it or else.” Or else what?

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: Every strong-willed person on earth, down to the age of two or less, knows that there’s nothing I really have to do except die.

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: Which figuratively, I often choose to do.

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: Because if I die and you don’t, I win.

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: I’m dead, that’s true, but I win.

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: And I don’t care if I have to die to do it (laughs). Oh boy, if you’re dealing with that. One of the most important things with your voice is you can control it. And those who anger you, control you. This is a really key asset. I learned this in the years I was a police officer.

Right away, you know, they said, “Look. If those who anger you will control you and control the situation.” But I was a 26-year-old, uh, got a little bit hot-headed, strong-willed woman in a police uniform that I was pretty proud that I had earned, and a gun on my hip, and I was just feeling kinda confident.

So, I was working alone one day and I, I pulled a guy over for what I figured was pretty close to a red light if it really wasn’t. So, I thought, “I’m just gonna pull him over and give him a warning.” So, I pulled him over and before I could even walk up to the door, he had his window down and he was yelling at me, “Why don’t you cops do what you’re supposed to do? And what are you doing out here doing? Chippy little things you wanna …” And then he looked at me and he said, “You can’t give me a ticket, you can’t even give me a ticket. You’re just a girl.”

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: (laughs) Yeah. So, I said, “You’re right. I’m not gonna you a ticket. I’m going to give you three.”

Crowd: Oh, man (laughing).

Cynthia: Then I gave him a couple other chippy little tickets.

Crowd: (Ha! laughter)

Cynthia: Failure to notify Department of Licensing within 30 days, the penny test on the tire tread. Well, it did not end well. Things escalated, turned into a physical altercation that I needed backup for. He ended up in handcuffs and in jail. Sitting in the chief’s office he said, “You know whose fault this was?” I said, “Yeah. The guy that threw the first punch.” He said, “No.” He said, “You took the bait. You let him bait you and you lost control of the situation.”

Now that was a hard, but important, lesson. ‘Cause he’s right. Whether it’s a two-year-old or 22-year-old, if they can make you raise your voice, or get angry, or even irritated, they have just taken the situation away from you. Control now belongs to them and not you. So as much as possible, when you’re dealing with, um, strong-willed person or a strong-willed child, you just keep your voice as even as you can.

Some people even advocate for the broken record, you know, “I’m gonna need that report right now.” “I can’t give you that report right now and you, you’re, I, it’s not even reasonable to ask for it.” “But I’m gonna need the report right now within the next 10 minutes.” “I can’t give it within the next ten.” “I’m going to need the report in the next 10 minutes.” Pretty soon, “Oh fine, fine, just shut up, quit talking.”

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: Because it’s very annoying when a person won’t respond to you in anger like you want them to. Don’t do it. Don’t take the bait.

Let’s look at the second one. I like the second one. Turn more orders into questions. We were at the Mexican restaurant, one of our favorites, the other day. And Jack, at the end of the meal, we, we had the stuff to go. And he hands me the to go bag and says, “Here, carry this.” I said, “Seriously?

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: “What?” “Carry this?” “Yeah, just carry it.” “Uh, Jack.” He has told me, you know, before we ever got married, he said, “You know, I’m not very intuitive.”

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: “And there are times when you have to take my head in your hands and say, ‘Jack this is what you need to do.’” So, he said, “What?” “Jack, ‘Carry this, please? Carry this, okay? Carry…’” But just an order, really? “Oh. Okay.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: I was reading a little, um, promotion for ways to get your book out there, you know? And I have a book that maybe has languished a little. It says this is a great deal. It’s great, it’s a coupon and it’s a special deal on that. And as I’m reading I’m thinking, “This looks pretty good. I think it’d be worth investing this not amount, big amount of money. I think I’m gonna do it.” Then I got to the very last line, and it says, “Space is limited, hurry up.” “I’m done with you.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: “I’m done with you. Stop bossing me around.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: You didn’t think it was bossing me around. “Carry this, hurry up.” I, I hear it as, “You better carry this, and you better carry this now.” You can’t make me; I don’t want to. Maybe I was going to. I was in the middle with Jack, I was in the middle of picking it up when he said, “Carry this.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: It’s just a tip. It’s just a tip. Uh, I was teaching a strong-willed child seminar a while back, uh, a parenting one. And a guy came back about, oh, maybe six weeks later. He said, “You know your idea of questions instead of orders and stuff?” He said, “It doesn’t work.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah. Our son, we’ve tried it on him, and it doesn’t work.” And I said, “Are you sure? Because you’re the first person in 25 years that has come back and said to me it doesn’t work. ‘Cause it really does work.” He goes, “Nope.” I said, “Well, can you give me an idea of the kinds of questions you’re asking your son?” He said, “Sure. I’ll give you a perfect example. Just yesterday I said, ‘Don’t you think you better straighten your attitude up?’”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: Not that question (laughs). I thought, “I’m gonna have to get more specific when I tell you that questions work better than orders.” Okay? So, so here are just a couple ideas. Some good questions versus some bad questions. Now let me just give you the worst questions you can ask a strong-willed person of any age, okay? “Why did you do that? When are you gonna learn? What were you thinking? Why can’t you just do what you’re told? What’s the matter with you?”

Now if you can’t remember all that, I’m gonna give you a shortcut. Try to always avoid any sentence with why and you in the same sentence. “Why didn’t you do that?” Or “Why didn’t you why oh, oh, oh.” As soon as I hear why and you in the same sentence, I have closed you down. I have. I’m a good Christian. You’re a good Christian. But you just said, “Why can’t you?” And I’m, I’m done listening to you.

So how do you get my attention in positive ways? Now some of the questions that can really be very helpful are, “Do you want to help with that? Would you like help with that? Can I help in any way?” “No, thanks.” Or “Yeah, that’d be great.” Another question which worked really well with my strong-willed child, and now he’s 30 and it still works well-

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: “Are you annoying me on purpose?”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: If you say with a smile, they’ll smile back. And sometimes he’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I guess I am.” But most of the time, “No.” Or I, I’ll say, “Are you trying to get in trouble?” “No, is that what’s happening?”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: “Yeah, we’re really close.” “Oh, well sorry.” It’s, it’s an easier way than saying, “Why can’t you just stop for a minute? Why won’t you just …” None of those work. Don’t say, “Why and you.” And ask him, “Are you sure? Is that how you meant to say it?” “Why, why? Did I say it a wrong way?” “It just, it sounded kind of bossy and that doesn’t sound like you, so” “Oh, I’m sorry.”

See we’re still talking. We’re, there aren’t any hard feelings. We’re just kinda being nice. We don’t need the orders or organizing, “Hey, I need that report on my desk at 5:00. And I mean it.” Really? How about, “You gonna be able to get that report on my desk at 5:00?” “Sure, no problem.” “Hey, I need you to go there and go there now. We’re already late.” Or “You ready to go? I, I think we might be late.” It’s just a softer way. I know you’re thinking, “Well, you spoiled person. Why do I always have to, to conform to you?” You don’t, you can be miserable.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: It’s … And I’m not saying I shouldn’t be accountable; I’m just giving you some clues as to what’s gonna happen if you do this and how it’s gonna affect our relationship.

I, I’ve been putting together phrases that you should definitely avoid, if you possibly can, ever saying to a strong-willed person. These are phrases you should never, if possible, ever say. “You need to calm down.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: No one in the history of being told to calm down has ever calmed down.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: That’s not gonna work. “Because I said so, that’s why.” “You’re wrong, you’re just wrong.” This was another head, take Jack in the head thing.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: We were talking about a business thing and stuff, and I said something. He said, “Well you’re wrong, you’re just wrong.” And I started to say, “Jack you’re, you’re, you’re gonna close the conversation down starting it like that.” He said, “Well you are, you’re wrong. You’re a 1,000% wrong.” (laughs) and I said, “Jack.” And he’s, “No, I’ve calculated it. It’s not 800%-

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: … it’s not 500%, you’re 1,000% wrong.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: “I’m walking out the door now Jack. Not going to talk (laughs) about it.” I said, “You can’t even be 1,000% wrong.” “Oh yes, I can prove it,” he said. “I can prove you can be 1,000% wrong.” There’s a YouTube, uh, we put up that he did that proves it.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: Another thing. “You’ve got a bad attitude.” “Oh, well you haven’t seen anything yet.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: (laughing) “That’s just not gonna happen.” “Oh, yeah?” I mean, I might’ve abandoned it before, but just because now you told me there’s no way it’s going to happen, you better watch out.

John: That’s Cynthia Tobias on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And you can get a CD of this entire presentation when you make a gift of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family. That’s gonna have extra content on it as well. Just call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Donate and request those resources when you call 800-232-6459. Or online, you’ll find us at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Let’s return now to Cynthia Tobias.

Cynthia: But it’s difficult when you come into contact because each of you … It’s not that you wanna win, it’s just that you know you’re right. And that, how can both of you be right and you approach it in opposite ways? You just have to sometimes take the person and at least figuratively say, “Look I, I don’t, I don’t think I said it the right way. I don’t … I think I meant it differently than I said it. And can I just, can I just do it over?” That will get you much more traction than just walking away angry.

And just saying, “Uh, just can’t work with that person. Just every single time they try to get their way and they push through.” You can let it happen that way or you can say, in a healthy conflict way, “Hold on, hold on. Maybe I didn’t ask my question in the right way, ’cause I kinda feel like you sorta dismissed me and I don’t think that’s what you’re meant to do. Right?” Or, you know, give this SWP some grace. Give us some grace.

One thing as Christians, we don’t use profanity, right? I found this out as a, a cop. When I was trying to be a cop, they said, “You know, do you … You have kind of a goody two shoes sort of background?” You know, I said, “Well, my dad was a preacher.” They said, “Yeah, well, so do you swear?? Said, “No. We’re not allowed to use profanity.” They said, “Well, can you?” Said, “No, I don’t think I can.” And what I, what I learned worked better than profanity was a gift that I had as a child of sarcasm.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: See here’s the secret. Sarcasm works as well, or better, than profanity. It’s much more irritating.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: I’d be booking the bad guy into the cell, you know, and he’s yelling, and screaming, and, and calling me all kinds of names, all kinds of profanity. And in the middle I’d say, “You know, I’m rubber and you’re glue. Everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: Oh, then he’s really mad.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: He said, “Oh, oh big cop, huh? Bet you hate all men.” “Not normally, but in your case, I’m willing to make an exception.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: I said, “See when I finish booking you into the cell, I get to go home to a really nice house. And you could just spend the night with… Spike.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: You see Spike? That’s your roommate.” Never had to raise my voice after I learned, though, my lesson. Sarcasm worked well.

Here’s a secret that works and it’s the weirdest thing. I don’t know why it works. I learned it like fif-, 30 years ago and I was skeptical. But I’m gonna have you try it and see what you think.

I was skeptical, but they say if you have to deliver bad news to somebody, not death or anything like that, but you have to tell somebody something they don’t want to hear. That if you smile at the end of it, they will smile in spite of themselves most of the time. “You know we’re not going to have ice cream tonight after all.” (smiling)

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: “Look what you did (laughing).

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: Gonna have to give you an F on that report.” (smiling)

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: ‘Cause in there, in the greater scheme of things, whatever it is we’re talking about, the relationship is still the most important. And if we can find a way, whether it’s through a little lighthearted humor, or a code word, or something else, we can keep working with a person who annoys us, keep working with a person who irritates us, and it keeps the relationship together. Make sense?

The third one. Two very important questions you need to ask yourself. “What’s the point?” and “Are there other ways to get there?” Do you know how much shorter staff meetings could be with those two questions? You should try it. “Okay, guys, so what’s the point? What are we trying to accomplish?” And then you write that down, right? You get that down.

And then as you’re giving ideas and answers you say, “Okay, let’s look at this again. Does this accomplish the goal? And if it does, we can keep it in discussion. If it doesn’t, we omit it and nobody takes it personally.” So much could be accomplished without pushing forward and endlessly talking.

The other thing that is important, besides those two questions, is, “Is it worth it? Is it worth it?” I mean, is this actually going to be worth sacrificing the relationship? I’ll never forget one of the defining moments, um, illustration wise, in my career so far.

A lady came up to me after a strong-willed child seminar and she said, “You know, my 16-year-old son wa-, he was driving me crazy. And one of the worst things was his room was a mess. He left it a mess; it was a pigsty. And every time, every day he went to school, he had … I had to go in and pick it up and otherwise it would rot. And I had to pick up after him and I just nagged him and nagged him. Our relationship was just disintegrating.” She said, “Then I got … The Holy Spirit really convicted me.” She said, “I, I promised God that every time I felt irritation toward him, every time I had to pick up something off the floor, or do something that he hadn’t done, that I would pray for him.” She said, “My prayer life got stronger, and stronger, and stronger ’cause there were so many times that I had to do it.”

Her countenance changed. She said, “My son died in a car accident just a year ago. I have never regretted,” she said. “I have always been so thankful that the last year of his life that I spent with him, I wasn’t yelling at him, scolding at him, being angry with him, being irritated with him. Life is short.” This mom said, “I figured out what’s worth it and what’s not worth it.”

And what’s not worth it is keeping your irritation to yourself. Or even worse, clashing so many times that you have hard feelings. I can remember someone saying, “Oh, Focus on the Family, World Vision, all those places. I would love to work for an all-Christian organization ’cause we wouldn’t have any issues. Everybody loves the Lord-

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: … everybody wants to serve the Lord.” I don’t actually even correct ’em anymore. But I say, “Well, it’s true. That’s true.” We absolutely lift up Christ. But we are, after all, human and sometimes our focus shifts just a little bit and we realize, “Uh-oh, I’m not sure that this is exactly how I should handle this conflict.”  I know there are people in this room that would have zero conflict if they possibly could. But what fun would that be?

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: It would be so boring. Every day the same thing. Nobody having any issues. This is much more fun if you know how to handle it. And if you have … Even the, the language that says, “Are you being, you’re being an SWP right, right now, is that what you’re being?” “Why do you say that?” “I just, I just wondered.” All of a sudden, and then you smile.

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: (laughs) And then they know, “Okay, let’s start over, let’s try again.” And you’ll be amazed. You’ll be amazed. Not on… not only did the meetings go more smoothly but they, the relationship is easier because you realize, “We’re not all alike and you irritate the heck out of me. But I love you and I’m sure I do exactly the same for you. Let’s try to meet in the middle. Sometimes I get my way … Well, okay, more times I get my way and (laughs) sometimes you get yours.”

Accountability is never sacrificed. You don’t just let people get by with bad behavior. You don’t do that in a child and you don’t do that in co-workers. You don’t just let them be bossy and let them just run roughshod. Of course, you have accountability. But it’s so much easier if you just kinda keep a sense of humor. Sense of humor is important, you understand that, right?

So, I just want to tell you a pirate joke. Pirate walks into a bar, his friend is behind the bar. And, uh, he looks at the pirate and he goes, “Oh my goodness. What happened to you? You’ve got a wooden leg.” His friend said, “Yeah, you know, we had a storm and the deck on the ship was really slippery and I fell and they couldn’t save the leg. They had to amputate it.”

And his friend said, “What, what about the hook on your hand? What in the world happened there? “Friend,” the pirate said, “Oh, it was a sword fight, actually, and the guy sliced my whole hand off. Had to get a hook.” His friend said, “What about the patch over your eye? It’s… your eye’s gone?” He said, “Yeah it’s, you know, I was walking on deck one day and I looked up and there was this whole flock of seagulls, and all of them at once pooped in my eye.”

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: His, his friend said, “Oh my goodness. Are you telling me that you had to get your eye removed because of all this seagull poop?” Pirates said, “No, it was my first day with the hook.”

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: So, it takes a while-

Crowd: (laughing)

Cynthia: … to get used to dealing creatively with your SWP. It, whether they be your co-workers, your friends, your husband, or your wife. But can I just tell you how much it’s worth it? The SWP will bring you great joy, and a lot of humor, and a lot of aggravation. And you’ll do the same for them. It’s the least we can do.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. And on the day-to-day basis, I know you’re human, and you have clashes, and conflict. But let me just tell you this: To the world, you are not only a blessing, you are a lifeline, a lifeline. And I love, and we love, and God loves Focus on the Family. I want to say God bless you and keep up the good work, and appreciate your SWPs.

Crowd: (laughs)

Cynthia: Thank you.

Crowd: (applause)

John: Jim, it was great to have Cynthia Tobias speak to our staff here at Focus on the Family. She has such a way of, uh, bringing her presentation.

Jim: That was a, a great chapel event and our thanks go out to Cynthia and her husband, Jack, for visiting our campus here in Colorado Springs. And I hope this message has helped you understand a strong-willed person, an SWP, in your own life, either at work or in your family. It was definitely an eye opener for those of us who attended that chapel. We discovered quite a few strong personalities around (laughs)-

John: (laughs)

Jim: … the office, didn’t we? And if you need serious help with a relationship beyond what we provided today, please give us a call. Our friendly staff would be happy to listen and pray with you. And if your situation warrants it, they’ll have one of our caring Christian counselors, uh, give you a call back. That’s a free service that we provide thanks to our donors.

And I’d also ask you to pray for us and consider giving to Focus on the Family. We’re a nonprofit ministry and we depend on donors like you to help us continue our mission of helping families thrive in Christ.

And when you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send you the CD of this presentation from Cynthia Tobias with all the extra content. And that’ll be our way of saying thank you for joining the ministry team.

John: And you can reach us when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or contribute to the work of Focus on the Family and request your CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

And when you’re online with us, be sure to look for the handout Cynthia gave to our staff. It’s called Three Quick Ways to Turn Conflict Into Cooperation. It’s really practical, you can download it, and then, uh, keep it nearby and it’s free. Look for the link at the website.

Have a great weekend and be back with us on Monday when you’ll hear how to have a magical marriage.

Danny Ray: Where do you want your marriage to be a year from now, five years from now, 10 years? When you pass, what do you want your kids to say about you? Your sister, your brother, your, whoever those people are that are at your, your funeral? What are they saying about your marriage?”

 

 

Today's Guests

Get a CD of Today's Broadcast

Receive a CD of today's program and the audio download of the broadcast "Getting Along with Strong-Willed People" for your donation of any amount!

Recent Episodes

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

The War of Words

In this Adventures in Odyssey drama, a carelessly uttered word from Eugene creates havoc as it becomes the fashionable insult, resulting in a lesson about the power of words.

You May Also Like

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

A Legacy of Music and Trusting the Lord

Larnelle Harris shares stories about how God redeemed the dysfunctional past of his parents, the many African-American teachers who sacrificed their time and energy to give young men like himself a better future, and how his faithfulness to godly principles gave him greater opportunities and career success than anything else.

Focus on the Family Broadcast logo

Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Amy Carroll shares how her perfectionism led to her being discontent in her marriage for over a decade, how she learned to find value in who Christ is, not in what she does, and practical ways everyone can accept the messiness of marriage and of life.