Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
August 2022 - Volume 22, No. 8
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Don’t Defend, Don’t Explain, Don’t Justify

I came across these rules many years ago, as guidelines of value especially in relationship arguments. An expanded version goes like this: Whenever you feel the need (i.e. are tempted) to defend yourself, to explain yourself, to justify yourself - Don’t! 

Don’t DorEorJ

Because, if you do - NOTHING OF VALUE WILL HAPPEN.

Now, at first this didn’t make much sense to me, especially as a communication Rule. OK, maybe sometimes...  

So I decided to test it on myself.

I realized whenever I would enter DorEorJ territory, my body would clue me.
My palms would open upwards
My shoulders would begin to shrug, and
My voice tone would rise into a ‘complainey’ quality.
And I would stop.

Then I recalled a research nugget from back in my early psychological training. The functional meaning of a communication is
55% body language,
38% voice tone, and
7% the meaning of the words themselves.[1]
I have entered VICTIM territory - Not a place for the expression of personal integrity. Therefore the injunction, “Nothing of value will happen.”

All in all my testing was fruitful, and it became a powerful Rule of Communication for me, and also some useful advice for many clients.

A Memorable Vignette

Many years ago, I was employed as a Hospital Social Worker, some of which involved my work on the Psychiatric Unit. At times this involved my presence at staff meetings. Now I should note that the current Chief of Psychiatry didn’t really like me (in part because my authority came through a separate hospital department). And on this occasion he made use of a staff meeting to specifically dress me down because of something I did with a patient (I have no memory of what it was, but he was probably correct in that I had overstepped a boundary - I can be a bit of a rogue). In an attempt to shame me, he chose to say, “Mr. McDonald, do you know what you’re doing?” Even back then I was aware of the DorEorJ Rule and since he used a yes or no question, a ‘no’ which would validate his purpose, I chose to respond with a body-firm “yes”. (Not totally honest, but effective.) At that moment I became a hero to 75% of the staff present.

In Gratitude,

As I look back, I can recall no moment when my parents ever caused me to use a DorEorJ defense -  though I’m sure there were some minor occasions now far beyond my memory. I was very fortunate. I can recall other occasions when other ‘parent figures’ tried at it, and maybe even succeeded. This may be why I’ll work so hard with my clients to help them extricate from various DorEorJ traps. 

I hope this can be of benefit.

Another vignette

Years ago I had as a client, a single parent mother of three teen daughters. She would often comment on how well they all got along. One day I asked her what her secret was - and her response was simple “I never corner them.”  I happened to share that with my sister, who noted also how “Our Dad would never corner us.”

Parents especially, and everybody else,

Pay attention.



[1] Albert Mehrabian, of the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1970s developed his 7-38-55 Communication model says that 7% of the meaning of and attitudes takes place through the words we use in spoken communications, while 38% takes place through tone and voice and the remaining 55% of communication of these factors take place through the body language we use (specifically our facial expressions).  [from Wikipedia]

Comments (1)

  • Smiling

    You wise ole bird! I was taught DDEJ long ago – and it would pop up now and then when I needed to recall – and keep my mouth shut. But I’d soon forget – lousy memory mine. I wish I had tattooed it on a palm! Thank you for snapping my memory strings, though I may have cornered Jim today! Tomorrow’s another day – sharpie cheat letters on my nails!

    — Cynthia, 8/4/2022

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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