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Obituaries

Thomas Gordon, 84; Conflict Resolution Trainer

September 01, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thomas Gordon, a clinical psychologist who developed a system to train parents, teachers and businessmen in no-lose conflict resolution to improve relationships in families, schools and the workplace, has died. He was 84.

Gordon, founder of Gordon Training International, which has tutored more than 1 million people in 40 nations, died Monday in the San Diego County town of Solana Beach from prostate cancer.

Once a president of the California Psychological Assn., Gordon developed his technique in the 1950s while working as a management consultant with Edward Glaser & Associates in Pasadena.

When he moved into private practice amid the anti-establishment hippie and drug culture of the 1960s, he began teaching paying couples--beginning with a class for 14 parents in a Pasadena cafeteria--to use his methods to deal with their rebellious teenagers.

Eschewing both authoritative and permissive approaches to parenting, Gordon advised moms and dads to practice nonjudgmental "active listening" and express their own needs in statements beginning with "I" rather than an accusative "you." Finally, he said, the parent should encourage the child to propose a solution to compare with the parent's solution, and then they should arrive at a "no-lose" compromise satisfactory to both.

In 1970, Gordon described his plan in the book "Parent Effectiveness Training: The No-Lose Way to Raise Responsible Children."

"If parents could learn only one thing from this book," he wrote halfway through the text, "I wish it were this: Each and every time they force a child to do something by using their power or authority, they deny that child a chance to learn self-discipline and self-responsibility."

A Times reviewer praised Gordon's effort as "very readable" and added: "This is an exciting book revealing new techniques and offering testimony that this is a workable philosophy in modern homes."

In a 1976 follow-up volume, "P.E.T. in Action," Gordon wrote about parents' experience with his techniques, but it was the original how-to book that remained most popular.

"Many parents confuse 'listening' and 'talking,' " Gordon told a Times columnist in 1979. "In fact, when children are upset or troubled, most parents don't listen at all. They moralize and preach, criticize and give advice."

The original book, revised in 2000, has sold more than 5 million copies in 33 languages, according to Gordon Training International spokesmen in Solana Beach.

Applying the model to schools and business, Gordon also wrote the books "Teacher Effectiveness Training" and "Leader Effectiveness Training."

For more than three decades, he trained thousands of people to teach his conflict-resolution, relationship-building skills in eight-week courses that spread from Pasadena around the world.

His work led to his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, 1998 and 1999. The California Psychological Assn. and the American Psychological Foundation gave him lifetime achievement awards.

Born in Paris, Ill., on March 11, 1918, Gordon earned his bachelor's degree at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and his master's at Ohio State University. After service in the Army Air Forces during World War II, he earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago and taught there for five years.

Gordon is survived by his wife, Linda Adams, who will continue his company's work as president; two daughters, Michelle Adams of Carlsbad and Judy Verret of Birch Bay, Wash.; two granddaughters; and one great-granddaughter.

A celebration of Gordon's life is being planned for Saturday. The family said he requested that, instead of flowers, memorial donations be made to his favorite charities, Prevent Child Abuse America, 200 S. Michigan Ave. 17th Floor, Chicago, IL 60604-2404, or the Carter Center, Office of Development, 1 Copenhill, Atlanta, GA 30307.

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