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This is one of a series of brief articles on how
to respond effectively to annoying social
behavior. An effective response occurs
when you get your
well enough, and both people feel
heard and respected enough.
This article offers useful responses to
the behavior of someone you judge to be
"irresponsible." It assumes you're familiar with...
What words do you associate with
the word "responsible"?
Duty? Accountable? Reliable? Dependable?
Competent? Skilled? Function? Job description?
Dedication? Do you think of yourself as
responsible? Would others agree?
can be described as an
expectation between two or more people about who
should fill who's needs, how, and when.
The expectation may be negotiated, assumed, or
imposed. The quality of relationships and groups
depends on how well people understand, accept,
and fulfill their responsibilities to each
Have you known irresponsible adults and
kids in your life? Was their behavior a
"problem" for you? Have you ever wondered what
causes irresponsibility? Possibilities:
a responsibility on them they didn't want
and/or can't fulfill;
to agree to be responsible because they
feared saying "no" (displeasing someone or
agree to something but someone thought they
understand what was expected of them, and
they don't know
what they need, or how to assert their needs
their idea of
their responsibility differs from others
their values and
priorities differed significantly from
others around them;
indifferent to - or overwhelmed by - others'
dependence on them;
they were afraid
being responsible would cause them pain;
range of these reasons suggests that
irresponsible is a vague, prejudicial label
that masks the real personal and relationship
problem/s This vagueness greatly reduces
the chance for win-win problem-solving and
preserving trust, respect, and harmony.
If you have kids in your life, you know that
they're apt to be less responsible than healthy
adults. They "forget," or promise something and
don't follow through. We may forgive this in
kids, but expect adults to "keep their word" and
"do their duty."
How do you feel when confronted with an
"irresponsible" adult? Disappointed? Irritated?
Frustrated? Startled? Scornful? Critical?
Combative? Hurt? angry? Forgiving? "Nothing"?
Your response may vary with your roles, your
setting, your age, your gender, your past
history wit the person, any biases you
inherited, gossip, your needs and
responsibilities, and your values and integrity.
Notice the implication - you are
half-responsible for how you react to the other
person's perceived behavior!
You have many choices. Start by reviewing the
definition of an effective response (above).
Then select from these...
until they become automatic.
Identify how you
feel because of the other person's
behavior. Your feelings point reliably to
what you need.
you're bothered by the irresponsibility
affecting you, someone else, or both.
you need from your response - to vent?
Inform? Learn? Set or enforce a limit? Cause
change? Confront? :Problem solve? Something
Caution - If you want to complain,
punish, criticize, belittle, fight,
argue, or demand, you're probably ruled by a
responses like these, depending on what you
need to accomplish...
disappointed / frustrated / aggravated.
You're responsible for _______, and you
didn't do it."
"When you don't
do what you're responsible for, I lose
respect and trust in you."
"Are you clear
on what your responsibility about ________
"(Name), who do
you feel is responsible for __________ ?"
"I thought you
agreed that you would do _________. Am I
"If you choose
to (be irresponsible) again, I'm going to
(take a specific action)."
unable to __________, I need you to tell me
promptly and arrange for backup."
"I don't like
not being able to count on you for
"If you don't
want to (do some duty) I need you to say so
Notice the theme of these examples. They're
brief, direct, respectful, honest, and to the
point. They omit long explanations, repetition,
bringing up the past, catastrophizing,
moralizing, hinting, apologizing, sugar-coating,
excusing, and flooding (bringing up many
problems at once).
the other person to "resist" responses like
these - e.g. to ramble, whine,
excuse, explain, argue, deny, minimize,
change the subject, blame you (or someone),
etc. When they do, acknowledge them with
and repeat your response until you feel well
heard or your needs change.
This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting
effective ways to respond to annoying social behaviors. This article offers
(a) perspective on responsibility, (b)
explanations for irresponsibility, and
(c) options for responding effectively to an
irresponsible adult. The options are
your true Self
clarity on your
feelings, needs, and personal
fluency in the
relationship skills of awareness, assertion,
and empathic listening.
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this
article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your
intro / course
definitions / chat