In Part 1 of this article, I spent a lot of time explaining how my past
as an elementary school teacher and Sylvan Learning Center owner helped
me understand the Power of Positive Thinking in getting through tough
times, using children as the example. In a divorce, the children go through
one of their toughest times. We also mentioned the role of the parents
in the success of helping their children struggling with school. This
time we will focus on those elements.
During my journey as the Memphis franchise owner of Sylvan Learning Center,
my husband Dick became very involved. He was always so positive with our
three kids, all of whom were adopted, and could easily have taken on a
negative attitude because they were adopted. I must say we weren’t
perfect parents and each of them had growing pains, but today all three
are great mature adults.
At that time Dick was a manager for the IBM office in Memphis. I remember
he told me that when he first joined the company back in the 60’s
he was impressed with how professional and positive the company was. He
said they were very big on giving each new employee the proper education
to do the jobs for which they were hired. When he became a salesman and
completed his IBM sales training, they also recommended he attend the
Dale Carnegie Sales Course for practicing the proper sales skills.
The Carnegie system would refer to Norman Vincent Peale’s famous
bookThe Power of Positive Thinking as a Bible for good salesmen and women.
Dick always quoted Carnegie’s “Act enthusiastic and you’ll
be enthusiastic!” Dale’s point was that if you are positive
and genuinely enthusiastic in your approach to everyone and every task,
the people around you will “catch the enthusiasm”. Positive
is not a feeling, it’s an attitude. Dick’s positive and successful
relationships with people have made a positive impact on my life as well.
And most important has been his positive approach to our relationship.
Dick said that once he learned this lesson, it changed him and his attitude.
Instead of trying to sell things (in this case, computers) to people,
he embarked on a positive program to help them solve problems at their
workplace, even if it didn’t directly involve one of his products.
He became much more interested in the customer as a person, what they
were good at, what in their job really excited them and what frustrated them.
He learned to listen more than he talked. (Another life lesson from Dale
Carnegie — He said, “You have two ears, but only one mouth
for a reason!”) It became easier for Dick to help customers solve
problems in areas where he had skills and knowledge. Selling became a
fun adventure for him as many of the solutions involved IBM’s products.
He became more of a partner than a salesman. He became a top salesman
at IBM, and said these selling skills were really people skills, useful
in his management and executive jobs as his career progressed. I used
his philosophy with Sylvan, and I use these lessons in my law practice.
It began with my Learning Center experiences. At that time, most people
didn’t know what a Sylvan Learning Center was and how it operated.
They had many questions. Dick taught me the necessary techniques to use
when a parent called. First, he would say, “When you answer the
phone, smile, and give a cheery, upbeat greeting that implies you are
glad they have called. Second, instead of telling them “everything
you know” about the program, why it works and how much it costs,
simply turn their question around and get them talking about their child.
Third, take notes and repeat back the important facts you learned to make
sure you really heard what they said.”
I learned quickly that if a child was struggling, and that was affecting
his/her ability to enjoy school and learning, we needed to hear about
it and understand the specifics from the parent’s standpoint and
how it was affecting life at home. The relationship we built with the
parents from that often painful initial conversation was as important
as the process of administering the battery of diagnostic tests.
We knew the child’s grade level and what skills the school system
expected them to have mastered at that time. We tested to understand exactly
what specific academic skills he had mastered and which were causing difficulty,
and now could communicate an individualized plan to for success.
Once the parent and I had a good understanding of the scope of the problem,
we had established a good basis to come up with a specific program to
get the child up to grade level or above. Since the parents were paying
for the program by investing their time and money, they were eager to
follow our plan and to know how to help at home. They were required to
come in on a regular basis for an update and progress review.
Often the changes we suggested involved how the child was treated and communicated
with at home. We always stressed positive reinforcement, providing parents
examples when asked. Often parents would tell us that we had changed the
child’s life for the better and had made the relationships at home
better as well. Almost always life at home was more positive!
In summary, these basic lessons that worked so well in dealing with children
and their parents work just as well between two parents going through
a very tough time. The things we suggested to Sylvan parents are similar
to what I do at Center for Mediated Divorce: getting a couple to communicating
with positive expectations again to obtain agreements and settlements
without fighting and spending tremendous amounts of time and money.
- For best results, whether communicating on the phone or in person, try
to smile and put on a positive demeanor when dealing with a tough situation.
- Remember that you have two ears and one mouth. Try to listen carefully
and make sure you understand the other person’s perspective before
- Try to set a few expectations or specific objectives that both parents
can agree upon. Write them down if you want to follow your progress.
- Don’t let the size of the problem curb your enthusiasm and resolve.
All problems have more than one right answer.
In the next article, I will share how the Power of Positive Thinking can
be applied during the divorce process.