PET and Active Listening

Thomas Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) was a book I have had lying around since my undergraduate (psychology) degree – at my dad's suggestion from memory. It cropped up again last year when we were looking at Gordon's approach as a model for classroom management, so I thought I'd dig it out and re-read it.

Basically, Gordon presents a style of parent-child interaction that is grounded in humanistic counselling approaches. He emphasises the need to move away from the use of power in parent-child relationships, and presents a series of techniques to replace the more accepted ways of dealing with kids. The core of the book is the explication of 'Active Listening', 'I-Messages', and 'No-Lose (or Method III) Conflict Resolution'. In presenting these techniques he also provides extensive critique of the use of 'parental power' in family relationships.

The book is very accessible, if anything it belabours the point a little – particularly if you are already a convert to the approach. I would also suggest that if you want to read it you pick up a copy of the recently revised edition – it was somewhat jarring to keep reading about how parents object to their teenagers running off to hippie protests and smoking pot (the book was written in 1975).

'Active Listening' (pp.29-102, particularly pp.49-55) is something that you may already be familiar with – Gordon presents it here clearly and simply. Through numerous script examples he shows the technique of listening and reflecting back in a non-judgemental way to elicit further discussion. He also emphasises the ned to actually decode meaning and paraphrease in response rather than just 'parroting'. Interestingly, he addresses the fear that you will be 'found out', for using such a strange, artificial way of communicating – and explains (quite rightly) that if you try it you often discover that people seem to go with it quite happily.

As a background to the idea of active listening, Gordon also introduces a encoding/decoding model of listening (p.50). While overly simplistic it does provide a good context to think about communication as a two part process that also includes the listener. 

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