Monday, 2 June 2008


"There you are, you see" I typed, in response to the message I'd just received. "I told you there was nothing to get over-excited about. I knew she wouldn't dump you."

Ultimatums, eh? It is always easy to predict the outcome of such scenarios.

In my experience ultimatums are rarely carried through. From harassed mothers deploying the repetitive (and thereby pointless) "just one more time! I mean it! We'll go home! Right, that's it, if you hit your brother again just one more time..." to adults standing, hands on hips, declaring "I mean it, it's me or her/him/the dog/the TV/the next door neighbour", ultimatums are a daily ritual for some.

In the great battle to get other people to do what we want, ultimatums are a poor weapon of choice. They are ineffective. Even toddlers know they are unlikely to be enforced. The problem is that as soon as you issue an ultimatum, you have to stick to it, if you want it to work, and that's where it all falls down for most people. If you tell someone that the result of their undesirable behaviour is going to be a smack/you leaving them/a small fire in their half of the wardrobe and then decide to let it go, "just this once", you have taught them that you are a toothless dog and they'll be off being naughty, consequence-free, for the foreseeable.

As I have said before, I am a second, third, fourth chance kind of person, so ultimatums would never be part of my arsenal as I just couldn't commit to that sort of irrevocable action. I prefer to keep my punishment options open and infinitely flexible.

How about you, though? Have you ever issued an ultimatum? Did it work?


Anonymous said...

damn have u been listening in on the convo's at my house?
I tell my bride the same thing.
She won't follow
then she calls me and says "why won't the listen to me like they listen to you?"
I do issue them. And I follow through.
The thing about them is they work both ways
if you do it 3 times and don't follow through that forms a pattern, the same in reverse, I only tell the kids once, they do it because they know without a doubt and for sure I mean it.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Well said, my dear--ultimatums should probably only be given to oneself and only in the direst of circumstances. Given to others usually ends things. Permanently Severe decisions should be not confused with ultimatums, though. Sometimes those are truly necessary. When one delivers an ultimatum to another it usually ends badly to the detriment of the giver. Foolish move indeed
Enough said.
Love :-)

Anonymous Boxer said...

I'm a lover, not a fighter and fear I forgive too easy. Or maybe I'm lazy? I dunno, but I do know that the last time I gave an ultimatum I ended up with a dog that wasn't house trained.

Ro said...

I have issued few ultimata and I have always (as far as I can recall) stuck to them. The secret is to make the ultimatum enforceable in the first place so that if your bluff gets called you're prepared to carry it through.

The short and the long of it is, with children at least, that once they realise you do actually mean what you say, you no longer have to issue ultimata.

Luka said...

Southern Sage - thanks. Yes, if you always stick to your guns then everyone knows where they stand. That's particularly important with children. They need to know there are boundaries.

Beau - maybe ultimatums work best for people with iron willpower? I try them on myself - "no more chocolate biscuits after this one or you will be a big fat bloater!" - to no avail.

Anonymous Boxer - "the last time I gave an ultimatum I ended up with a dog that wasn't house trained" - there is a wonderful story there, a modern fable. :)

Ro - oh god, have I been saying it wrong? Should it be "ultimata" and not "ultimatums"? Am I an oik?

And yes, I agree about not needing to issue them once the boundaries are established.

Ro said...

No, Luka, you're not an oik (or, at least, not on these grounds!). I'm simply pretentious.

In fact, both are now deemed to be correct.

Luka said...

Ro - thank fuck for that! (Slurps tea from saucer and wipes mouth on cat).

Walker said...

I say it, I do it unless there is a damn good reason not to.
The thing is you keep your word on other things.
If theybehave then you give them what you offered and noyt back out of it because that is the beginning of the end of your ultimatums.

An ex GF became an ex because i told her not to pour an ice cold beer on me while i slept again to wake me up or I'd get up and leave for good.
She did and laughed.
I got up and left.
That was 20 years ago and she still hasn't found me :D

Anonymous said...

Luka, I've seen pics of you--fat bloater, my ass. You are a beautiful woman. I have an iron will when I wish to use it--and I see no use in ultimatums and I rarely use them on myself--only when I've not written for 3 days or so. Then I beat myself about the room and get to it.

Luka said...

Walker - now, how did I guess you'd be a man of your word? Mind you, don't blame you for walking, that's a shocking waste of good beer.

Luka said...

Beau - I really, *really* like you, you know that? (lies back and thinks of your iron will as you beat yourself about the room.)

Anonymous said...

I "really" like you also, Luka my dear. Very much. You are a very special woman, in case I haven't told you before. I wish the English language hadn't dropped the second person singular: I love: thee and thou and thy--they are so intimate used only by close friends as in France with 'tu'.
I do get melancholy at times but I deal with it and don't let the rat gnaw at me too much. The rat is an evil beastie who steals my peace of mind now and then. But I usually shoo the bastard away. He's a relic of the PTSD I fought with after the war.

Your friend and devoted servant.

Luka said...

Beau - I am glad you saw off the rat. We all need a bit of pest control from time to time. x

Ms Robinson said...

They don't work. They never work. Ever.

Unless you're a Dictator and the penalty is death then maybe they work.

bittersweet said...

Surely an ultimatum is a sign that someone, somewhere, is losing control.

Anonymous said...

Bittersweet: losing ocntrol or has already completely lost it?


Ro said...

I hope that was a short-haired cat.

Every non-oik knows that only short-haired cats should be used for the post-prandial mouth-wipe while the long-haired variety is reserved for polishing :)

Luka said...

Ms R - yes, I agree, that is the one scenario where it might work. But people would still try being naughty regardless to see if their dictator really meant it.

Bittersweet - exactly. Dealing in absolutes is a mistake.

Beau - good point.

Ro - bugger. I think it might be that I really *am* an oik after all!

Anonymous said...

An oik? You? that'll be the day, lady! Not bloody likely. No sir, no way! So let's have no more of that flagrant irishry from you, my dear. Please. ;-)

You servant M'Lady

bittersweet said...

Beau - ultimatums have a strong whiff of panic, but the final collapse is yet to come (that slam of the door, but you know it is not quite closed).

Luka said...

Beau - you are, as ever, far too kind. But I like it!

Bittersweet - it goes back to what we were saying earlier in this comments thread about control.

MonMouth said...

An ultimatum implies an end. It's an either/or proposition that forces a conclusion.

Carrying one through is no small thing. Somewhere, a bridge has to be burned all the way down.

Luka said...

Monmouth - that's it, exactly. And, as I said in my post, I have an aversion to taking irrevocable courses of action. Or having my hand forced.