One of the reasons it can feel so downright odd, awkward, and alien learning the Gordon Model communication skills is that we rarely ever see or hear them (unless you only have friends who have been through a workshop). So acquiring them and putting them into practice feels…strange.
We live in a world of relationships that are run according to dynamics that are addicted to power—maybe not even because of anything nefarious, but simply because that’s the only communication style we ever see and experience around us.
That’s certainly true of entertainment. Think that’s not true? Take a minute to think about your favorite TV drama (or comedy, for that matter).
As a Theatre major (don’t ask), one of the very first things you learn is that, going way, way back to Aristotle, a core definition of drama has been as a hero (or protagonist) in Conflict (capital C). The conflict with another person, with nature, with society itself, or even the hero him/herself. But the reason we tune in to watch Frank Underwood, Cookie Lyon, Sherlock Holmes, Don Draper, Tony Soprano, and even Sheldon Cooper & the gang every week? Well, it’s certainly not to watch everybody get along swimmingly, hold hands, and sing “Kumbaya.”
A conflict, in the dramatic sense, happens when somebody wants something, and somebody or something else is standing in the way of what he or she wants.
This isn’t precisely what we mean when we use the word “conflict” in Leader Effectiveness Training; in L.E.T., the word “conflict” or “problem” only describes a situation in which somebody’s needs aren’t being met (not simply desires or preferences).
Netflix and Chill? How About Netflix and Roadblock Bingo?
OK, so we don’t obviously find a lot of models of Active Listening, I-Messages, Shifting Gears, and the other LET skills in the avalanche of entertainment options. (Let’s face it; The Brady Bunch has already been done.)
But that doesn’t mean we can’t use a relaxing evening on the sofa as a quick way to brush up on one of the Gordon Model concepts: the 12 Communication Roadblocks. I’ve even cooked up some fun Bingo Cards you can use the next time you’re streaming something in case you’d like to play.
This is going to be fun, because in screenwriting, the 12 Roadblocks are what keep the action cooking. They’re everywhere.
Here. I’ll show you what I mean, using dialogue from a film nearly every human being on earth has seen at least once. (Let me give you a hint just in case you’ve spent the last few decades floating in space: St__ W__s. I think you’ve got it now.)
1. Ordering, Directing, Commanding
Stormtrooper: Let me see your identification.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: [with a small wave of his hand] You don’t need to see his identification.
Stormtrooper: We don’t need to see his identification.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Stormtrooper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: He can go about his business.
Stormtrooper: You can go about your business.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: Move along.
Stormtrooper: Move along… move along.
2. Warning, Admonishing, Threatening
Darth Vader: Your powers are weak, old man.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.
3. Moralizing, Preaching, Imploring
Uncle Owen: [about C-3PO and R5-D4] Luke! Take these two over to the garage will you, I want them cleaned up before dinner.
Luke Skywalker: But I was going to go into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!”
Uncle Owen: “You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done.”
4. Advising, Giving Suggestions or Solutions
Commander #1: We’ve analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?
Governor Tarkin: Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.
5. Persuading with Logic, Lecturing, Arguing
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: [to Luke] You must learn the ways of the Force, if you’re to come with me to Alderaan.
Luke Skywalker: Alderaan? I’m not going to Alderaan, I’ve gotta get *home*, it’s late, I’m in for it as it is!
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: I need your help, Luke. She needs your help. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.
Luke Skywalker: Look, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire; I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now… It’s all such a long way from here.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: That’s your uncle talking.
6. Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming
C3PO: [to R2D2] This is all your fault.
7. Praising, Agreeing, Evaluating Positively, Buttering Up
Princess Leia: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.
8. Name-calling, Ridiculing, Shaming
Princess Leia: “Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.”
Han Solo: “Who’s scruffy-looking?”
9. Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing
General Dodonna: The battle station is heavily shielded and carries a firepower greater than half the star fleet. Its defenses are designed around a direct, large-scale assault. A small one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense.
Gold Leader: Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snub fighters going to be against that?
General Dodonna: Well, the Empire doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy… The target area is only two meters wide…A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station…
Wedge Antilles (Red 2): That’s impossible! Even for a computer.
Luke: It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than two meters.
10. Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: [to R2-D2] Hello there.
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: Come here, my little friend. Don’t be afraid.
[R2 beeps a question]
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi: Oh don’t worry, he’ll be alright.
11. Probing, Questioning, Interrogating
Greedo: Going somewhere, Solo?
Han Solo: Yes, Greedo. As a matter of fact, I was just going to see your boss.
[taking a seat]
Han Solo: Tell Jabba that I’ve got his money.
Greedo: Its too late. You should have paid him when you had the chance. Jabba put a price on your head so large, every bounty hunter will be looking for you. I’m lucky I found you first.
Han Solo: Yeah, but this time, I’ve got the money.
Greedo: If you give it to me, I might forget I found you.
Han Solo: I don’t have it WITH me.
[he slowly draws out his blaster while they talk]
Han Solo: Tell Jabba…
Greedo: Jabba’s through with you. He has no time for smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an imperial cruiser.
Han Solo: Even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I have a choice.
Greedo: You can tell that to Jabba. He may only take your ship.
Han Solo: Over my dead body.
Greedo: That’s the idea. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.
Han Solo: Yes, I bet you have.
[Han shoots Greedo. Everyone in the Cantina stares at Han and the now dead Greedo who’s lying on the table. He gets up]
Han Solo: Sorry about the mess. [He says to the Bartender as he leaves]
12. Distracting, Diverting, Kidding
C-3PO: Master Luke, sir. Pardon me for asking, but what should R2 and I do if we’re discovered here?
Luke Skywalker: Lock the door.
Han Solo: And hope they don’t have blasters.
C-3PO: That isn’t very reassuring.
Super Bonus Fun: Your Own Bingo Cards!
Next time you’re watching the other Star Thing and hear McCoy say “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a licensed tribble tamer!” you can do something other than annoy your friends and family by reciting the rest of the episode. Print out, cut out, and pass out these 12 Roadblocks Bingo Cards to the gang and see who gets a straight line across, up-and-down, or diagonally first.
It doesn’t matter if you’re watching The Big Bang Theory, reruns of Seinfeld, or The Good Wife. Watch, listen, and you may be surprised by the sheer percentage of dialogue and plot that rides on the communication roadblocks. But that’s OK, actually—becoming more aware of those patterns, which we swim in every day and think of as “normal,” can actually help you recognize them faster when you’re using them inappropriately in your work and life relationships.
May the Skills Be with You.