Perhaps you found yourself wincing at the title of this post. The thought of anyone spitting in my soup is gut wrenching. To be honest with you, I don’t like this title myself. Then again, I am not the one who invented the technique. This powerful tool was developed by the renowned therapist Alfred Adler. Adler recognized that stirring up change can be difficult. Because of this, he developed specific steps for making confrontation less abrasive.
Spitting in the soup is a memorable metaphor. It reminds us that sometimes it is necessary to spoil the fun in order to alter negative patterns and create positive behavior change. First, let’s get a little gross. It makes no difference whether it’s a cup of soup, bowl of soup, or a full pot. Add spit to the mix and the batch is ruined. Similarly, the technique, “spitting in the soup,” takes the joy out of the negative behaviors patterns of others. Spitting in the soup works like this:
- This technique begins with the solid foundation of a friendly and supportive relationship.
Positive change always happens best within the context of relationship. This is true for,
- Parents who desire to create positive changes in their children.
- Bosses who long to break bad habits among coworkers.
- Family members looking to alter behaviors in other members of the family.
Getting someone to act differently is rarely easy. While spitting in the soup is confrontational, it’s less abrasive than other forms of dispute. Yet, this still does not make the confrontation easy to take. Therefore, it is best to assure the relationship is solid before beginning.
- The second step is to succinctly point out the unhelpful behavior pattern.
For example, a boss might say to his employee, “I notice that you talk about how meaningful your work is to you, yet you also show up late to work.”
A mother may point out to her teenage son or daughter, “On one hand I notice that you say that you want more freedom, but on the other hand I see that you have a pattern of breaking the rules and getting those same freedoms taken away.”
Lastly, one friend may state to another, “I hear you saying that you want to get together more often, but I also notice that you often don’t return my calls.”
Simply pointing out a discrepancy between someone’s words and actions may be enough to facilitate change. However, if more is required you can always conclude with a question. This is done by asking, “How do you reconcile this?” or “How do you put these two discrepancies together?”
- Wrap up by being open to discussing the person’s reaction to having their soup spat in.
Bad habits develop over time and occur without much thought at all. Spitting in the soup is about bringing a persistent pattern of negative behavior into the other person’s awareness without blaming or shaming.
Spitting in the soup spoils the fun of negative patterns. This is why the technique is named, “spitting in the soup.” As the old saying goes, people want to have their cake (or soup) and eat it too. Spitting in the soup says, “I’m on to you.”
Now, let’s go back to some of the previous examples. By examining the secondary gains that are occurring, we’ll see why this tool is so effective. It is enjoyable for an employee to think that he can be both passionate about his job and slack off at the same time. This person has the benefit of viewing himself as hardworking while simultaneously enjoying the payoff of being lazy. Bringing attention to the fact that he can’t do both ruins the fun. It also opens the door for further conversation.
Similarly, a teenager who talks about longing for more freedom, then abuses that freedom and gets it taken away, maintains the security of the familiar. Growing up can be hard, and a parent might even say, “Honey, I wonder if there is part of you that is scared about gaining more adult responsibilities?” Once again, the door is open for additional conversation.
Spitting in the soup is a good tool for starting change generating conversations. This technique is an excellent reminder that it is perfectly okay to notice negative patterns of behavior and point them out within the context of warm, friendly relationships. Everyone needs a mentor, coach, or guide to help him or her grow. Spitting in the soup is one way of leading others in a positive direction without condemnation.
So what do you think of the idea of spitting in someone’s soup? Would you use this particular technique? Alternatively, maybe you have been on the receiving end. Have you ever had your soup spat in? And if so, what was the experience like?
Finally, if you are interested in discovering additional strategies from psychology that you can easily apply to everyday life, then you might want to check out my latest book. It’s free on Amazon today only, and you can download your copy right here: Coffee Shop Conversations: Psychology and the Bible; Live, Love, and Lead well.