We all have the best of intentions. We want the best for ourselves and those around us. In those best of intentions, you’ll be amazed to see the extent to which we use this one particular ‘not-so-good’ method in our day to day lives. It helps us get things done in the short-term. But it is definitely not the best means. It is different when law enforcers do it. It is essential to tell people the consequences of not following law and order. But we use it in our everyday lives in some rather unhealthy ways.
What we are referring to is ‘threat’. Threats can be veiled or open. And these threats are not only for others but even to our own selves. Threat and fear seem to be far bigger motivators than confidence, conviction or other such positive reasons. The segment of population that is most subject to threats are children. And of course, you will find that they learn this skill just as quickly and play it back. But we can’t blame them for it. Who started it after all? Where did they learn it from?
It doesn’t stop here. Threats are a regular part of our conversations with friends, relatives, colleagues etc. Don’t believe me? Take a look. Below are a few examples to get started:
“If I don’t call her back, she’ll be angry.”
“If you don’t finish your homework, I won’t let you watch television.”
“If you don’t do this, I am not going to talk to you.”
Spend a few seconds to think about how might you have used or subject to threat in some shape or form over the last few hours.
Threats can be at various levels:
1. Threat at Value level — Values are principles or standards of behaviour that a person holds at highest regard or a person’s judgment of what’s most important to them in life. Examples of threats here could be:
a. If someone holds honesty as their highest value, and if you attack them on it by calling them dishonest — this can break the person.
b. When you know someone truly loves you and you use that to say, “If you truly love me, you’ll do this for me”.
Exercise great caution using a threat at this level as this can break the person or get them to do things more out of fear of losing out on their value than anything else. Instead of using value to threaten, you could use it as a motivating factor.
2. Threat at an Identity level — Identity is what people believe about themselves. Identities could be based on the roles they play, their professions, qualifications, skills abilities, personality traits etc. Examples of threats at this level could be:
a. What kind of an engineer/doctor/teacher are you, if you can’t do this much?
b. You are not a good son/daughter/father/mother etc. (Or) You are not a man etc.
Avoid using identity level threats because it does nothing but reduce the confidence of the person and that doesn’t help most often. It can also annoy the person and take them further away thinking you don’t believe in them anyway.
3. Threat at a Relationship level — Relationships play a huge role in our lives. Specially, the ones where there’s love involved. Rapport is an important element in relationships. When there’s no rapport, relationships become tricky. Examples of this form of threat could be:
a. I will never talk to you again if you do this. Or, I will leave you.
b. I no longer consider you my friend. You are just my colleague/classmate/mother/father etc.
Threats at this level are not considered healthy because the fear of losing the person might make them want to do other things like lying, hiding, covering up etc. Living in a constant fear of losing a relationship will make them operate out of fear. And where there’s so much fear, there isn’t much space left for love.
4. Threat of work-consequences — This is when we use threat to specify the actual consequence of what might happen if they do or don’t do something. Examples are:
a. If this work doesn’t get done by tomorrow, we will incur a huge loss.
b. If you watch too much television, your eye sight might get affected.
Stating work consequence or an actual consequence is appropriate provided you don’t shout, scream, yell or threaten — maintain your state but be assertive so that they get the point. But let this not be your first option too. Try to motivate people with positive outcomes of what will happen if they do something right than what will happen if they do something wrong.
5. Physical threat — This is the most menial form of threat where we are threatening a person with physical harm. Example: “I will hit you”, “I will kill you” or even raising our hand, threatening to destroy any physical objects etc. Sometimes we may threaten them by using self-harm like, “I will kill myself” or “I might do something to myself” etc.
Physical threat any day in any form is an absolute no-no. It is the most primitive and unhealthy form. Also, the most aggressive. Relationships go for a complete toss when this form of threat is used.
When I observed myself over a 24-hour period to check the necessity to use threat, I was amused. The good part was, I was conscious about not using any form of veiled or open threats at people. But I was forced to use once to my watchman. I kept telling him for 3 days that there’s someone parking their bike in my car-park area and hence I have no place to park my car. However, I saw the bike again in my parking spot. So, I called the watchman and told him that I will park the car in the drive-way going forward if I see the bike parked in my space, rather than wait for people to come and move. I kept thinking of it, and I wondered if there was anything else I could have done other than use threat. But I had tried all methods until then. Nothing worked, so I tried this. But I did not shout, scream or yell. Calmly, yet assertively, I told him the consequences. The following day, my parking lot was free. J So, I figured, sometimes threat is necessary, when all else fails. But even then, not any and every form of threat.
It made me wonder, have we become so thick skinned that only threats work?
Consider the following questions:
1. What fears do you have within that is making you use threat? What do you need to develop within you to be able to speak without threat and yet motivate others to get what you need?
2. What are you doing that is instigating someone to use threat mechanism against you? What can you do differently so that the other person does not feel the need to use any threat against you?
Summing up, when is threat justified?
It should not be your first option. It should not be your second option either. When all other options have failed — only then use it, but with caution. Be aware of the types of threat and their consequences as described above. Choose wisely. Also, bear in mind the following “how” piece of it:
If you HAVE to use threat,
– Reduce the frequency — Don’t use threats too often. They tend to backfire.
– Reduce the words used — Don’t use too many words to threaten. It just makes it more loaded and heavy leaving a lasting negative impression. Know what you are talking at all times.
– Reduce the emotional charge — Don’t be emotionally charged. Maintain your state. Be assertive, not aggressive or impulsive. It only does more damage and creates more fear.
Basically, never put a gun on someone’s head until all else fails and this is the only resort left.
Why threaten when you can inspire and motivate? Let us spread the love for life rather than the fear of living. Stay blessed!