Communication Skills Skilled thoughtful communication is the foundation for satisfying relationships. We teach effective, assertive communication skills along with conflict resolution and negotiation to individuals, couples and families.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROCESSES
Dr. Paul Standal has included two techniques for resolving a conflict: one for commonplace disagreement and the other for the repair after a major fight, conflict or unfortunate incident.
The key to maintaining relationships when communicating through a disagreement is to seek to understand your partner’s position first before trying to have your position understood, while showing respect for yourself as well as your partner. This principle is followed: First seek to understand, then to be understood.
Show understanding and respect for your partner by:
1. Confirming a willingness to listen and solve a problem. 2. Listening and attempting to understand the other’s point of view. 3. Confirming your accurate understanding by showing empathy and paraphrasing the communication. 4. Avoid labeling the other person or the other person’s feelings or ideas. Seek an understanding of the cause of the feeling. 5. Resist the inclination to focus only on behavior and neglect the feelings behind the behavior. 6. Attempting to identify the other’s underlying, unmet emotional needs. 7. Speaking for yourself and not for the other. 8. Acknowledging your ownership of the issue or problem. 9. Being sensitive to each other’s choices and opinions. 10. Asking meaningful and positive questions (ex.What would help you feel better?)
Show respect for yourself by:
1. Keeping in touch with and sharing your feelings and needs. 2. Confirm accurate reception and understanding. 3. Taking time to breathe deeply to avoid hyper-arousal. 4. Developing communication skills so that you have the ability to ask someone for help or support. 5. Being conscious of your positive and negative self-talk. 6. Practice, practice, practice.
The following process is done between two people to resolve a disagreement in any area of concern in a positive and caring way. It involves each person honoring the other as a human being while standing up for him or herself.
If you are re-engaging after having done a time out, it is wise to answer four questions before you attempt to re-engage in order to resolve your issue:
1. What was my responsibility in creating negativity in this situation? 2. What was my partner’s responsibility? 3. For what do I deserve my partner’s positive regard in this situation? 4. For what do I have positive regard for my partner in this situation? Sit comfortably, facing each other and making eye contact. Turn off all the electronic devices and the TV. Make sure that you are in a calm, relaxed mood and open to that “tapestry of love” that is the foundation of your relationship. It is really a good idea to actually think about several things that you love about your partner and several things that your partner could love about you before you start to communicate so that you suspend some of the resentment that you may be holding that keeps you from regaining positive engagement.
Steps to Resolving a Disagreement
Step 1: Ask your partner if he or she is in a calm place or is ready to discuss the issue.
Step 2: Ask your partner if he or she agrees to just listen and respond, indicating understanding to what you say before they come back with their own thoughts or position. Both of you will do this until the two of you have completed each step (and then it can be their turn).
Step 3: If your partner says yes, you can start the process letting him or her know you are aware that you are coming from a place of being caring of his or her feelings. If he or she is not ready, it is their responsibility to set up another time to meet.
Step 4: If you were the one who had a concern or had taken a time-out, your partner begins by asking you the question: “Sweetheart, what do you feel like saying,”
Step 5: State your area of concern and give details in as neutral a fashion as you see them. The format is: When ……., I felt……… I’d prefer if……….. It is best to use a specific behavior as your area of concern. Avoid long stories. Instead, be short and sweet so your partner can more easily reply. Avoid “always” or “never” or below-the-belt button pushing. Now tell him or her how you feel when this area of concern comes up between you. Ex: When the garbage is left for several days and begins to stink, I feel overwhelmed and uncared for. I prefer that that the garbage is taken out on a daily basis.
Step 6: Your partner then responds to what you have said by paraphrasing in an empathic manner so you can see if he or she got the idea.
Step 7: Correct any part your partner didn’t get and check in with them again.
Step 8: Ask again for your partner to let you know what her or she understands about what you said and how you are feeling.
Step 9: Now you ask your partner, “Sweetheart, what do you feel like saying?”
Step 10: Your partner now has the opportunity to use When …. I feel….. I’d prefer……
Step 11: It is now your opportunity to provide a statement of understanding to your partner (an empathic response).
Step 12: Clarify if needed and check again. Step 13: Go through at least five reciprocal cycles or until you reach a conclusion. It is best when both of you can get to the point of taking responsibility for your part in any disagreement or issue.
Step 14: Thank each other and really appreciate them for listening and being willing to work this through.
The Gottman Recovery Process
Dr. Standal has included here “The Gottman Recovery Process” for repairing a relationship after a fight when one or both partners became hyper-aroused and found themselves needing to repair the relationship in the aftermath of a destructive situation when they went “over the falls.”
This process was developed by John Gottman, who is an eminent researcher and theorist in the field of marital success. He has developed a 5-step format for reclaiming good will with your partner after a fight, disagreement or regrettable incident.
This format is for “processing” past fights, regrettable incidents or past emotional injuries. “Processing” means that you can talk about the incident without getting back into it again. It needs to be a conversation—as if you were both sitting in the balcony of a theater looking down on the stage where the action had occurred. This requires being calm and some emotional distance from the incident. If you find yourself becoming angry or overly aroused, it is best to regain calm by taking a time-out.
Before you begin:
• Keep in mind the GOAL is greater understanding—addressing the process and how the issue was talked about, without getting back into the fight. So, wait until you’re both calm.
• We assume that each of your realities has validity. Perception is everything. Don’t focus on “the facts.”
• Pay attention to the common barriers to communication and their antidotes as you move through the process. If you find that you are triggering the “Four Horsemen: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling or Contemptuousness,” stop and take a time-out to reduce your hyper-arousal. If you find yourself being overly critical, remember to use a gentle start-up. If you become defensive, remember to work towards taking your own responsibility. If you shut down, learn to use some self-soothing process. Most important, avoid contemptuous name calling or put downs. This is most toxic to a relationship. Its antidote is to begin to build back your regard complex to a culture of appreciation and respect.
The Five Steps
Work through the following five steps together: 1. Preparation: Make sure you are in the proper mood to discuss an issue. 2. Feelings: Share how you felt. Do not say why you felt that way. Avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings. 3. Realities: Describe your “reality.” Take turns. Summarize and validate at least a part of your partner’s reality. 4. Triggers: Share what experiences or memories you’ve had that might have escalated the interaction, and the stories of why these are triggers for each of you. 5. Responsibility: Acknowledge your own role in contributing to the fight or regrettable incident. 6. Constructive Plans: Plan together one way that each of you can make it better next time.
Step One: Preparation
Ask your partner if he or she is in a calm place or is ready to discuss the issue. If your partner says yes, you can start the process. If he or she is not ready, it is their responsibility to set the time to meet. Ask your partner if he or she agrees to just listen and then respond with understanding to what you said before communicating their own position. This is done until the two of you complete all the steps (and then it can be their turn). If your partner says yes, let him or her know you are aware of the inner beauty and caring of his or her heart.
Step Two: Feelings
Read aloud the items below that were true for you during the fight. Do not comment on your partner’s feelings. Share how you felt, but not why yet.
not listened to
feelings got hurt
I was right and you were wrong
both of us were partly right
out of control
unfairly picked on
taken for granted
like staying and talking this through
I was overwhelmed with emotion
I had no influence
I wanted to win this one
my opinions didn’t even matter
there was a lot of give and take
I had no feelings at all
I had no idea what I was feeling
took a complaint personally
like you didn’t even like me
not cared about
Step Three: Realities – Subjective Reality and Validation
a. Take turns describing your perceptions, your own reality of what happened during the regrettable incident. Describe yourself and your perception. Don’t describe your partner. Avoid attack and blame. b. Summarize and then validate your partner’s reality by saying something like, “It makes sense to me how you saw this and what your perceptions and needs were. I get it.” Use empathy by saying something like, “I can see why this upset you.” Validation doesn’t mean you agree, but that you can understand even a part of your partner’s experience of the incident. c. Do both partners feel understood? If yes, move on. If no, ask, “What do I need to know to understand your perspective better?”
Step Four: Triggers
• Share what escalated the interaction for you. What events in the interaction triggered a big reaction in you?
• Share your stories — it will help your partner to understand you. As you think about your early history or childhood, is there a story you remember that relates to what got triggered in you, your “enduring vulnerabilities”? Your partner needs to know you so that your partner can be more sensitive to you.
Examples of Triggers
1. I felt judged. I’m very sensitive to that. 2. I felt excluded. I’m very sensitive to that.
3. I felt criticized. I’m very sensitive to that.
4. I felt flooded.
5. I felt ashamed.
6. I felt lonely.
7. I felt belittled. 8. I felt disrespected. 9. I felt powerless.
10. I felt out of control. 11. Other:
Validation: Does any part of your partner’s triggers and story make sense to you?
Step Five: Take Responsibility
Under ideal conditions, you might have done better at talking about this issue. Ex.: What set me up for the miscommunication? Share how you set yourself up to get into this conflict. Read aloud the items that were true for you on the list below.
What set me up?
1. I’ve been very stressed and irritable lately.
2. I’ve not expressed much appreciation toward you lately. 3. I’ve taken you for granted.
4. I’ve been overly sensitive lately.
5. I’ve been overly critical lately.
6. I’ve not shared very much of my inner world.
7. I’ve not been emotionally available.
8. I’ve been turning away more.
9. I’ve been getting easily upset.
10. I’ve been depressed lately.
11. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder lately. 12. I’ve not been very affectionate.
13. I’ve not made time for good things between us. 14. I’ve not been a very good listener lately.
15. I’ve not asked for what I needed.
16. I’ve been feeling a bit like a martyr.
17. I’ve needed to be alone.
18. I’ve not wanted to take care of anybody.
19. I’ve been very preoccupied.
20. I haven’t felt very much confidence in myself. 21. I’ve been running on empty.
Overall, what was your contribution to this regrettable incident or fight?
What do you wish to apologize for?
• I’m sorry that: • I over-reacted.
• I was really grumpy.
• I was defensive.
• I was so negative.
• I attacked you.
• I didn’t listen to you.
• I wasn’t respectful.
• I was unreasonable.
Step Six: Constructive Plans
Share one thing your partner can do to make a discussion of this issue better next time. (It’s important to remain calm as you do this.)
Then, while it’s still your turn, share one thing you can do to make it better next time. What do you need to be able to put this behind you and move on? Be as agreeable as possible to the plans suggested by your partner.
The Gottman Institute, Inc.
P.O. Box 15644, Seattle, WA 98115 Phone: 888-523-9042 www.gottman.com
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