For example, maybe you want your spouse to stop picking on you. Those digs hurt! Or, maybe you want a co-worker to stop goofing off. This laziness is causing you to work overtime. Do you imagine yourself screaming, “Stop checking e-mail 10 times a day?!”

To get cooperation, calmly paint a picture.

In other words, verbally offer a visual scene of how you want someone to change. Learn to speak in “pictures” to get the results you’re hoping for.

“My husband and I needed a very simple model of how to behave,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Leann.

“We used to act like two angry ducks – quacking and picking at each other,” she admits.

Leann gave her husband self-help books to read. The books didn’t help. Also, she lectured her husband on how they could both change. The more she lectured, the crazier she felt.

“Then,” says Leann, “I finally came up with a kindergarten-level picture. I told my husband, “Let’s stop pushing each other’s buttons.’ “

Leann says it was really that simple. Her husband got it. She got it.

The fighting has almost stopped.

“I told my husband to notice – and I would, too – when we pushed each other’s buttons,” Leann explains. “We both understood that pushing someone’s buttons means you’re trying to get a rise out of that person. You’re jabbing for a reaction.”

She goes on to say they both agreed to monitor this button pushing.

“We started counting how many hours we could get along without pushing a button,” she says. “It became a game. Visualizing staying off each other’s buttons did the trick. Our marriage is much better.”

Painting a clear picture of desired results can fix a lot of relationship problems.

“My co-worker and I would argue because she couldn’t manage time,” says a woman we’ll call Jane.

“I decided to paint a nice, clear picture of what would help,” says Jane. “First, I told my co-worker that we might change things if we could picture different outcomes.”

These two women decided they would talk about their work progress every 90 minutes. They would stop to talk for five minutes to see how they were managing their time chunks.

This way, they’d visually keep their work on track – versus letting tension pile up for a fight at the end of the day.

“We call it five minutes of housekeeping,” says Jane. “Every 90 minutes, we stop to assess. For five minutes, we compare notes on how much we’ve accomplished. We look at what we’ve done.”

Jane says they use each five-minute session to picture exactly how they want the day to unfold.

“We will, for example, take five minutes at the start of a day to plan. We might agree to tackle busy work for the first 90 minutes of the day,” Jane explains.

“Then,” she goes on to say, “we might agree to call important clients for the next 90 minutes.”

Jane says her co-worker is now her best friend. “We’re a real team,” she says. “Since we painted a clear picture of how to fix our problem of arguing about work, we’re unbeatable.”

If you need someone to change, don’t just say, “You’ve got to change.”

This is confusing and poison to the relationship. Instead, sit down and take time to picture what will work.

You can even improve your relationship with yourself by doing this, too.

“I used to get angry with myself,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Jess. “I’d beat myself up for being fifty pounds overweight. I couldn’t find 10 minutes to exercise in any given week.”

Jess says he took an hour to sit down and visualize how to improve his routine. He pictured how to change his behavior.

“I saw a self-help strategy that would fit into my routine,” says Jess. “I now ride my exercise bike at eight o’clock every night while I watch TV. I don’t have to give up anything.”

Jess reports that he’s lost 20 pounds in two months. Not bad, considering he hasn’t dieted at all.

Picturing new behaviors means you can stop feeling so stressed out.

Nothing works every time, but your imagination is key to making sure you don’t keep repeating behaviors that don’t work.

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, “Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress,” published by Prentice Hall/Brady Books. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist. Write to them in care of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, 790 National Press Building, Washington DC 20045; please enclose a copy of the column and the name of the newspaper you saw it in. You can also contact the authors through the Web site

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