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Taming the Tigers in Your Life

While you may not have an actual Chinese "Tiger Mom" in your life, chances are you do have people that engage in difficult conversations. Here are some tips for how to handle encounters you have with four different types of tigers.

You may not have an actual Chinese “Tiger Mom,” but chances are that you have someone in your life that puts you in the hot seat, asks you tough questions and/or demands that you reach seemingly unattainable standards. How do you react when faced with these questions? There are various sub species in the tiger family---here are some ways to think about taming the more common tigers you encounter in Shanghai

The “Move Home Now!” Tiger

This tiger likely is your actual mother. She may or may not have been excited when you first moved abroad, but you’ve been living out of your home country for long enough that she’s ready to have you back within a 4 hour plane ride of her kitchen, where she can check to make sure you’ve had enough to eat and offered you seconds and thirds. When asked when you’re moving “home” it can be difficult to explain that Shanghai is your home now and that don’t have plans to relocate anytime soon.

This calls for the “I Love You, but No Thanks” sandwich.  Start with “I” statements to explain what you appreciate about this person and what you miss. Then, transition to what you love about Shanghai, both personally and professionally, and how it is the right place for you now. Finish off by affirming your mom for raising an independent, risk-taking child and that while it isn’t your current place of residence, you are thankful to have a place to always call home. If this happens to be a someone other than your mother, thank them for a specific way he/she has contributed to making you who you are today, rather than raising you.

The “You Aren’t Married Yet?” Tiger

This particular tiger morphs into the “When are you having a baby?” tiger after you tie the knot, so let’s tackle both at once. Across cultural lines, there is pressure to get married and then procreate. You may encounter this with your coworkers who are in shock that you are years past your leftover-woman-expiration-date or that you have been dating your girlfriend for years and haven’t married her yet. Who says you need to be married RIGHT NOW or have a baby IMMEDIATELY?

This source of pressure is felt when it is verbalized, but it also hangs there as an unnamed source. From somewhere, you felt the pressure to follow a timeline. Who says you should justify your choices or explain your current relationship status? These tigers often come from a “good” place, as they want you to be happy and experience what they consider to be a full life. Tame this one by sharing your appreciation for the concern, followed by a brief comment that you are content with your current situation. You can even let them know you’ll contact them if you do need someone to sit with your statistics in People’s Square on Sundays. 

The “You know you could be…” Tiger

Again, this tiger is often well intentioned, but can’t resist pressuring you to be and do more. If you are a manager, they ask if you plan to be a director. If you own an apartment, they ask when you’ll be purchasing a car. This particular tiger may also compare you to others as a measuring stick of where you could be if you worked hard(er) and applied yourself.

This tough question can prompt us to examine our current situation. Ask yourself if you really are living out the best version of yourself. If you feel that you are working to your potential, then share this. You are happy with your current trajectory and you appreciate that this person believes you have the ability to achieve great things. If you do think that you could be using your skills and strengths more, thank them for their concern and take time to reflect on what you could do that would add more value to your life. 

The “Silent Stalking” Tiger

This tiger doesn’t say much, but speaks volumes. Often found in the workplace, this person gives you sidelong glances if you leave at 5:00 on a Thursday rather than staying until the office standard 7:00. You may also get the cold shoulder from this one if you suggest approaching a problem from a different angle than the way things have been done historically. 

There are several ways to handle passive aggressive tigers, but one option is to bring the conversation to an adult to adult level and use direct language to bottom line what is really going on. You can do this without putting blame on anyone and calling attention to the situation by putting words to what you observe. For example, you might tell your colleague that you have observed that when you suggest a different problem-solving tactic, your colleague becomes quiet. Does he/she have any questions about your strategy? You are acknowledging the behavior and allowing the other person an opportunity to voice an opinion.

By using these communication strategies, you’ll find that you are able to redirect the conversation from what others want and expect from you, to what you want and expect for yourself.