While snowshoeing with a friend over the holidays, I discovered he has a sister he’s never mentioned to me in the two years I’ve known him. After a little friendly digging, I found out that Michael and his sister are estranged. The reason? She seems to compulsively say the wrong things at the wrong times—ever critical, never satisfied, and often victimized and disgruntled. Worse, when she and his second wife were unable to get along, Michael finally gave up on the sister, which was a source of both relief and grief for him.
According to psychotherapist and popular relationship expert Christina Steinorth, MA, MFT, author of the insightful new book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House, 2013), small missteps in communication can accumulate over time and strike a devastating blow to relationships. That’s because everyday relationships, whether with in-laws or adult children, coworkers or spouses, are shaped by hundreds and thousands of seemingly minor interactions. By tweaking the way we respond and react to others, and doing so consciously and consistently, we can improve any relationship and prevent long-term damage.
I love books that offer a fresh way to approach a well-tread subject, and Cue Cards for Life does just that. In her private practice, Steinorth saw that the problems her clients discussed often came down to simple behavioral missteps—hurting others’ feelings, saying something they didn’t mean, or failing to say or do the right thing. Over time, she developed a tool called the Cue Card—an easy, actionable tip that quickly reroutes our behavior and sends us in a more fruitful direction.
In this stylishly designed little book, Steinorth presents Cue Cards for every type of relationship, including those with love partners, extended family and in-laws, teens and aging parents, coworkers, and friends. There are also Cue Cards for being more socially sensitive in general, being a good listener and conversationalist, and for saying “I’m sorry.”
Steinorth’s behavioral prompts, in effect, provide the reader with a handy cheat sheet for being a better friend, parent, sibling, spouse, adult child, and team member. Don’t know what to say to a friend whose husband just passed away? Read the Cue Card. Is there a jerk in your office who’s making your job a living hell? Read the Cue Cards for dealing with difficult coworkers. Does someone you love have really bad breath and body odor? Yep, there’s a Cue Card for that too.
This book can’t turn you into a good person if you’re rotten to the core. But if you’re trying to figure out how to handle an awkward situation, such as an elderly parent who doesn’t want outside help, or a spouse who would rather watch a football game than make love to you, there’s likely a Cue Card that may help.
Reading a Cue Card is akin to getting a 30-second dose of smart, practical advice; it’s also a quick and effective attitude changer. Just the act of reading the suggestion might be enough to avoid saying something one might later regret.
I may lend this book to my friend Michael, in the hopes that he can find new ways to talk to his sister and heal the rift between them. He may not feel especially loving and emotionally generous toward her, but he can learn to “act as if” he is. Then again, he may find a Cue Card for telling me, in a nice way, to bug off and mind my own business!
Cue Cards for Life reminds us that mostly it’s the small things we do and say that make a difference—a very good message to remember.