Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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I suppose we all get unwelcome callers on our doorsteps. People who want to clean our gutters, or sell us double glazing, or do a survey about something unimportant to us, or persuade us to vote for them, or convert us to their religion.
I suppose, too, that we develop ways of getting rid of these people as quickly and painlessly (maybe even politely) as possible – although a friend of mine loves to keep them standing on the doorstep as long as possible, especially in bad weather. A technique I find effective is one I learnt a long time ago, as you can tell by its name : “the broken record technique”. For those of you too young to remember such things, broken records used to stick – the needle would jump and replay the same bar of music over and over again. On the doorstep, then, I will simply keep repeating “Thank you, but I’m not interested” until the unwelcome caller gives up and goes away – and usually this happens quite quickly.
Though I have never encountered it in real life, there is a cartoon image of the pushy door-to-door salesman as someone who puts his foot in the doorway, so that you cannot possibly shut the door in his face. As a counter to the broken record technique, this threatens leave the conversation in a perpetual stalemate.
I remember a couple a worked with a few years ago where this stalemate was mirrored in the way they communicated. Many years before I had met them, the woman had had an affair (or “more a dalliance” as she would put it). She could not understand why this continued to be an issue for her partner, who would to raise the matter periodically, and who continued to be angry about it, and hurt by it.
He felt that she refused to talk about it – that she had never talked about it – and so the anger and hurt remained. If she would just sit down and have a proper conversation about what had happened, he would be able, at last to move on.
And so they were stuck – she the broken record : “It’s in the past”, “I don’t want to discuss it”, “Just get over it will you?” – he the pushy salesman who would not take his foot out of the door no matter how many times the record repeated itself. Indeed, he could not take his foot out of the door – he had tried to move on from what had happened, but his foot remained firmly stuck in the door. And he felt rejected by her broken record technique – he felt that she wouldn’t listen to him, that she wasn’t interested in him.
Though the dynamics of their situation were similar to the salesman sticking his foot in the door and talking to the broken record, their motives were quite different. He was not trying to sell her anything, but simply to understand, and so to take away the pain he felt. She was not trying to get rid of him but to protect herself from the guilt and shame she still felt about what had happened.
To move forward, as is generally the case, a compromise was necessary. The woman agreed to talk about it, provided she could stop the conversation if it became too difficult for her. The man agreed to this, provided the conversation could be resumed at a better time. And the woman agreed to this provided the conversation was helping the man – that it was moving towards a resolution for him. It was an acknowledgement by them both that they couldn’t stay like this for the rest of their lives. The broken record had to be mended. The foot needed to be removed from the door. And at some point, they would get to a point where he could walk through the door and it would be closed behind him.