OK, we all know it when we see it! Sometimes it’s delightful: it’s “cocktail party chatter”, or business networking. But what exactly is the nature of schmoozing? It’s the art of making small talk while positioning oneself for something you want - a business deal, a contract, even a law passed in Congress. When we’re caught up in the “schmooze moment”, there’s laughter, easy agreement, and a distinct avoidance of conflict. People slide their way around differences, and propose (position for) a little more of this, a little less of that, to get the outcome they want. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it certainly beats the hard-core atmosphere of the Big Boss dictating how things are going to be, or else!
IT’S LIKE BEING A SALESMAN IN YOUR OWN HOME
Let’s ratchet down a level to more personal schmoozing, when there’s no big business deal on the table, but rather relationship negotiating. What’s that all about? In a general sense, it’s how we test the waters of connection. When we meet someone new, it’s all about approaching the other person with openness and greeting them with a sense of welcome. People know immediately if someone new to them is putting out “good vibrations”, as the Beach Boys’ song goes. They were on to something!
Think of a time when you met someone - or perhaps just had a conversation with someone you know - and it was a particularly lively conversation, and it ended well. You left feeling good, feeling connected, and wanting more.
Now think of a time when you were “all in” with a conversation, but there was a niggling energy going on that begged the question, “Is this too good to be true?” or perhaps, “I’m not sure I understand the terms here”, and despite questions to clarify, at the end of the meeting, you had a sense that some things were left up in the air, and you were carrying doubts. But you moved forward anyway because - well because there were plenty of “good vibrations” all throughout the conversation that lured you in.
Now, this is not to say that the other person was deliberately manipulating you. It’s their conversation style - cheerful, upbeat, engaging, and you found common ground all over the place! But still, in the end, you felt something was awry. You couldn’t bring yourself to put the brakes on or come to terms with raising an objection and getting clarification. You didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship. Can you relate?
Fast forward to being a caregiver for a survivor of traumatic brain injury. A caregiver has to learn how to negotiate “mini deals” all day long, in order to keep the survivor on track, and often to persuade them to do things for their own safety. There were many times early in my son’s recovery when I felt like I was giving Henry Kissinger a run for his money: I was negotiating right and left with a brain-injured teen who was determined to have his way. It was, and sometimes still is, EXHAUSTING. He would threaten to leave the house at night and walk up to the gas station to get cigarettes. The fact that he is legally blind and could not figure out how to get there and back was my saving grace. He was too scared to admit that he knew he couldn't do it. But I had to find ways to schmooze, ratchet down the argument, and offer other options. No easy feat!
SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T DISTRACT THEM WITH A CARROT
What are some of the ways you have found that work with the person you care for? Humor is a big and useful tool, but when we are stressed, it’s hard to find the humor in the moment. So when humor isn’t an option, you might take a deep breath, and then ask the person what they really need at that moment. It’s not always going to be an easy or fun conversation. If you approach it without judgment and really listen to them with compassion for what they are experiencing at that moment, you’re likely to cool things down in the heat of an argument and be able to find a compromise that works. I’ve done it a thousand times over the years, so I know it works.
HAVING A LOVING CONVERSATION
Take a deep breath.
Speak without judgment.
Ask if they are willing to just try this for the moment. And see for yourself a new capacity for self-care, compassion, and loving-kindness, no matter what.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.