Nov 23, 2010

Silence Speaks Volumes

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

Silence can mean many things in interpersonal relationships. It's ambiguous. It can express lots of different emotions ranging from joy, happiness, grief, embarrassment to anger, denial, fear, withdrawal of acceptance or love. What it means depends on the context.

When Silence is Golden

Silence can be a very powerful way to "be" with another person, especially when they are troubled. It can communicate acceptance of the other person as they are as of a given moment, and particularly when they have strong feelings like sorrow, fear or anger.

This kind of silence means being willing and able to give the other person your full attention. This includes appropriate eye contact, and gestures like nodding, leaning forward, smiling, frowning, and other facial expressions which let the other person know you really hear them.

Being quiet and not saying anything gives them the space and uninterrupted time to talk about whatever is on their mind. When another person has a decision to make, a problem to solve or simply a need to express themselves, silence can often provide the opportunity for them to have time to talk, reflect and decide without outside pressure.

This is not the same as the "bite your tongue" kind of silence when you want very much to jump in and offer advice or reassurance, ask questions or give your opinion, but you restrain yourself. That kind of silence is full of judgment and indicates that you aren't really listening to them, but instead are focused on your own reactions about what they're saying.

It is essential that the silence be experienced as accepting; people pick up on judgments and evaluation (negative or positive) even when they're communicated silently. If you don't accept the other person as they are, that will most likely be quite apparent to them. And they will be less likely to share their feelings and problems with you at other times.

It goes without saying that silence as a helping skill has a limitation--while it can help others get started talking and help them feel accepted, it doesn't prove that the listener has understood. For that, you'll need Active Listening.

When You Silence Yourself

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes we need to speak up and don't do it.

Too frequently, we silence ourselves when we have feelings we think or feel sure the other person won't want to hear. We often do this because we value the relationship and are afraid that it will worsen or even end if we say how we really feel. Ironically, without honest and open dialogue, there is no possibility of a deeper and better relationship. Silencing yourself contributes to the very thing you want to avoid. Further, if it's anger, resentment or another strong negative feeling that you have, keeping silent doesn't make that feeling dissipate. Just the opposite happens--the unspoken problem remains, distancing occurs and the relationship suffers as a result.

At other times, you feel hurt, angry or upset by something another person says or does. Because letting them know how you feel makes you vulnerable, you decide to keep those feelings inside and withhold them from the other person. Sulking, pouting, pursed lips, not answering, abrupt answers, ignoring the other person, giving them the "cold shoulder" are signs of this kind of silence, otherwise known as "the silent treatment." Invariably, the silent treatment is hurtful to everyone involved. Even so, many of us have a tendency to withdraw and withhold when we're in emotional pain, especially from the person we perceive is causing it.

The alternative to the silent treatment doesn't have to be lashing out in anger at the other person. That just causes the problem to escalate and become an even bigger issue than it started out to be. A far better approach is to be willing and able to talk to them honestly about how you feel and why--without blame. For example, let's say your spouse/partner forgot your anniversary (or birthday) which was very hurtful to you. Instead of giving them the silent treatment or lashing out at them, a better alternative would be to say: "I'm so hurt that you didn't remember our anniversary." Or that your boss didn't give you a promotion you thought was a "done deal". Instead of saying nothing and suffering in silence (and resentment), say "I feel very confused and disappointed that I didn't get the promotion that I expected and I'd like to talk with you about it."

When we drop our pretenses and defenses and are authentic in our significant relationships, we experience relief, heightened self-worth and a deeper sense of meaning. It is one of the joys of existence.

Nov 18, 2010

Are There Active Listening Guidelines?

Active Listening Guidelines

Know when to use Active Listening. Use it only when you're free enough of your problems to feel accepting and want to help other people with their problems.

Know when not to use Active Listening. It won't work when you're feeling unaccepting of the other person - when you own the problem. Nor will it work to influence them to change some behavior you don't accept.

Avoid pushing or imposing your Active Listening on the other person. Listen for clues that the other doesn't want to talk or has finished talking.

Use the other listening skills: silence, acknowledgment responses, and door openers. Every response of the other person does not need feedback. Use Active Listening primarily when feelings are strong and the other person's need to be heard is apparent.

When the other person needs information, give it. Just make sure you first know what the real problem is, and be sure your information is wanted by the other person. Give your information briefly and effectively. And, of course be prepared to have your ideas rejected - they might not be appropriate or helpful.

Don't expect the other person to arrive at your preferred solution. Remember, Active Listening is for helping other people resolve their problems - a tool for helping them find their own solutions. Be prepared for times when no solution surfaces - the other person might not even tell you how they later solved the problem. They will know, but you won't.

Don't give up too quickly. It takes time for other people to realize you really do want to understand and that you are accepting of their problems and feelings.

Competence comes only with practice. You won't become competent at Active Listening without lots of practice. Practice with your spouse/friends/children.

Accept that Active Listening at first will feel artificial. It undoubtedly feels more gimmicky to you than to the other person. With practice, you'll feel more natural and less clumsy.*

*Excerpt Dr. Thomas Gordon's programs

Nov 17, 2010

The Six Steps of the No-Lose Method

The following describes the six steps of the No-Lose Method:

Setting the Stage
Before using the No-Lose Method, the people involved need to understand the method and commit to using it to resolve the conflict.

Step 1: Defining the Problem
This is the most important step. Each person needs to state their problem in a way that doesn't blame or judge the other person. I-Messages are the most effective way to do this.

When the other person states his/her problem you need to Active Listen to make sure you understand the other's needs.

Take enough time to get the problem defined as needs rather than solutions so that both agree on the problem to be solved.

Step 2: Brainstorm Solutions
In this creative part of conflict resolution, both people think of as many ideas and possible solutions as they can. There's no evaluation of solutions in this step. Agree to that!

Step 3: Evaluate Solutions
Now both people think about which solutions might work and which won't. Cross of solutions that won't work for one or both people. Test out the possible solutions by asking. "Any reason it might not work?"

Step 4: Choose a Solution
Both people agree on a solution or combination of solutions. Someone needs to state the solutions to make sure both agree. Don't try to push a solution--both need to freely choose.

Step 5: Plan for and Take Action
In this step, you both decide Who does What by When to carry out the agreed-on solution. It's best to trust that both will do what they agreed instead of talking about what will happen if they don't.

Step 6: Check Results
Both need to agree to check back at a later time to make sure the solution worked/is working for both people.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's F.E.T. Young Adult Resource Book

Nov 15, 2010

Do You Need To Use Preventive I-Messages?

Holiday Season and Communication

The holidays. What can be a very stressful time of the year - with family/friends visiting, traveling, holiday shopping and everything in between - it is important to remember what the upcoming festivities are about. Self-disclosure and effective communication will benefit healthy relationships. This is where we all could practice using our Preventive I-Messages.

Self-disclosure is direct and congruent communication and action. It involves sharing with other people what’s going on inside you (needs, feelings, wants). The Preventive I-Message is a communication to someone who is significant in your life, someone who can help you in getting your needs met. It is a direct, clear, and congruently strong expression, avoiding either submissive or aggressive overtones. It contains, to a greater or lesser degree, a possible solution to your need, representing the responsibility you have taken to understand and then act to meet your own needs.
The benefits or advantages of the Preventive I-Message extend to you, the other person, and the health of the on-going relationship, including the following results:
You maintain awareness, responsibility and control of your needs and feelings.
Others know your needs and the strength of your feelings about them.
You model openness, directness, thus encouraging reciprocal self-disclosure by others.
Others are better able to meet your needs when they have a clear picture of what you want.
Others have advance notice of your need and can adjust their behavior accordingly.
You and others reduce the chances of future conflicts that can result from unknown or uncommunicated needs.
You reduce the element of surprise, unpreparedness, and unexpected conflict from the relationship.
You save yourself and others time, energy and resources that can result from unanticipated conflicts.
You plan your life, take responsibility and prepare for future needs.
The Preventive I-Message generally consists of two parts: (1) the self-disclosure ("I want..." or "I need...") and (2) the reason (usually desired consequence) for the self-disclosure ("I want...because...").
Here is an example of a Preventive I-Message:
"I'd really like to visit my folks this year as part of our vacation...I miss them and really feel out of touch with their lives."*
*Excerpt from Gordon Training International's Be Your Best Participant Workbook

Nov 2, 2010

What Are The Negative Effects of the 12 Communication Roadblocks?

The Negative Effects of the 12 Communication Roadblocks

When parents say something to their children they often say something about them. This is why communication to children has such an impact on them as people and ultimately upon the relationship between you and them. Every time you talk to your children you are adding another brick to the relationships that is being built between you. And each message says something to your children about what you think of them. They gradually build up a picture of how you are perceiving them as people. Talk can be constructive to your children and to the relationship or it can be destructive.

One way we help parents understand how the Communication Roadblocks can be destructive is to ask them to remember their own reactions when they shared their problems with a friend. Invariably, the parents in our classes report that most of the time the Roadblocks have a destructive effect on them or on their relationship with the person they are telling their troubles to. Here are some of the effects our parents report:

They made me...
  • stop talking, shut me off.
  • defensive and resistive.
  • argue, counterattack.
  • feel inadequate, inferior.
  • feel resentful or angry.
  • feel guilty or bad.
  • feel I'm being pressured to change--not accepted as I am.
  • feel the other person doesn't trust me to solve my problem.
  • feel I'm not being understood.
  • feel my feelings aren't justified.
  • feel I've been interrupted.
  • feel frustrated.
  • feel I'm on the witness stand being cross-examined.
  • feel the listener is just not interested.
The parents in our classes immediately recognize that if Roadblocks have had these effects on them in their relationships with others, they will probably have the same effects on their children. And they are right. These 12 kinds of verbal responses are the very ones professional therapists and counselors have learned to avoid when they work with children. These ways of responding are potentially "non-therapeutic" or "destructive". Professionals learn to rely on other ways of responding to children's messages that seem to carry far less risk of causing kids to spot talking, making them feel guilty or inadequate, reducing their self-esteem, producing defensiveness, triggering resentment, making them feel unaccepted, and so on.

When parents realize how much they rely on The Roadblocks they invariably ask with some impatience, "How else can we respond? What ways are left?"*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's F.E.T. Adult Resource Book