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.
Ordering, Directing, Commanding
• Telling the other person to do something. • Giving him an order or command.
These messages tell another person that their feelings or needs are not important. They must comply with what you feel or need. They communicate a lack of respect for the other person, fear of your power or control though anger. The other person hears a threat of being hurt or attacked, engendering feelings of resentment or anger, frequently causing the other person to express hostility, fight back, resist, or test your will. They can communicate that you don’t trust the other person’s judgment or competence (ex.: “Don’t touch that T. V. set!”).
Warning, Admonishing, Threatening
• Telling the other person what consequences will occur if they do or don’t do something. • Alluding to the use of your power.
These messages communicate fear and submission (ex.: “If you are late for your appointment, you’ll be sorry.”) They evoke resentment and hostility in the same way that ordering, directing, and commanding do. People sometimes respond to warnings or threats by feeling or saying, “I don’t care what happens; I still feel this way.” These messages also invite the other person to test your firmness, to do something that they have been warned against just to see if the consequences promised actually happen.
Moralizing, Preaching, Obliging
• Telling another person what they should or ought to do.
Such messages bring to bear on the other person the power of external authority, duty or obligation. People frequently respond to such “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts” by resisting and defending their own postures even more strongly. These messages may make a person feel that you do not trust their judgment, that they had better accept what “others” deem right. They may cause feelings of guilt in the other person, or have them feel like they are “bad.”
Advising, Giving Suggestions or Solutions
• Telling the other person how to solve his problems.
Such messages are often felt by the other person as evidence that you don’t have confidence in his judgment or ability to find their own solution especially when they do not want to be “fixed.” They may cause the person to become dependent on you and stop thinking for themselves (ex.: “If your neighbor does that again, call the police.”). Sometimes other people strongly resent the attitude of superiority that advising or suggesting infers, or feel inferior and think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “You always know better than I what to do.” Advice can make the other person feel that you haven’t understood them (ex.: “You can kick the smoking habit if you just try harder.”).
Persuading with Logic, Arguing, Instructing, Lecturing
• Trying to influence the other person with facts, counter-arguments, logic, information, or your own opinions.
Instructing or using logical arguments when there is a problem of unmet needs or emotions can be counterproductive. At these times, “teaching” often makes the other person feel you are making them look inferior, subordinate, or inadequate (ex.: “The facts are that heavy use of marijuana leads to loss of immediate recall.”). Logic and facts often make the other person defensive and resentful.
People seldom like to be shown that they are wrong. Consequently, they defend their positions to the bitter end. In addition, people tend to view our lectures as harangues and they tune out quickly. People often resort to desperate measures to discount our “facts” (ex.: “You are too old to know what is going on.”). They may even ignore facts and assume an “I don’t care” attitude.
Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming
• Making negative judgments or evaluations of another person.
These messages, probably more than any, make people feel inadequate, inferior, stupid, unworthy or bad. Our conditions of worth shape self-concepts reinforced by others’ judgments and evaluations. As we judge a person, so will they judge themselves. Negative criticism evokes counter criticism. Evaluation strongly influences people to keep their feelings to themselves. They quickly learn that it isn’t safe to talk about much of anything, to speak only when spoken to, and then be non-committal. People hate to be judged negatively and respond defensively simply to protect their own self-images. Often they become angry and feel hatred toward the evaluator, even if the evaluation is correct. Probably the only message more devastating than negative evaluation is frequent negative evaluation.
False Praise, Evaluation or Approval
• Offering a specious positive evaluation or judgment.
Contrary to the common belief that praise is always beneficial to the recipient, it can often have a very negative effect. A positive evaluation that does not fit the other person’s self-image may evoke hostility. People infer that if we can judge them positively, we can just as easily judge them negatively at some other time. Also, the absence of praise in a situation where praise is frequently used may be interpreted as criticism. It can be interpreted as a negative evaluation of them, interpreting the praise given to one person comparatively, they are not as good. Thus the use of praise tends to promote competition for recognition, to score “brownie points.” Praise is often felt to be manipulative, a subtle way of influencing the other person to do what you want them to do. Praise frequently embarrasses people, especially when given in front of other people. If you praise people, you may find that other people become so dependent upon it that they cannot function without constant approval from you.
Name-Calling, Ridiculing, Shaming
• Making the other person feel foolish, stereotyping or categorizing him.
Such messages have a devastating effect upon the self-image of another person. They make them feel unworthy, bad, and/or unloved. The most frequent response of people to such messages is to counter attack or become defensive. Such messages, when you are attempting to influence another person, are not likely to cause them to examine themselves realistically.
Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing
• Telling a person what his motives are. • Analyzing why a person is doing or saying something. • Communicating that you have them figured out or have them “diagnosed.”
Such messages can be threatening to other people. Even if there is some truth to the analysis, the person may feel embarrassed, attacked or judged at being “exposed.” When the analysis is wrong, as it most often is, the other person will become angry at being unjustly accused. Communicating an attitude of superiority to other people creates resentment (ex.: “You think you know so much.”). The “I know why” and “I can see through you” messages you give tend to cut off further communication from the other person and they learn to refrain from sharing their feelings.
Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting
• Trying to make the other person feel better. • Talking them out of their feelings. • Trying to make his feelings go away. • Denying the strength of their feelings.
These messages are not as helpful as most of us feel they are. To reassure a person when he is feeling disturbed about something may simply convince him that you don’t understand. We often reassure and console because we are not comfortable with other people’s strong feelings. Such messages tell a person that you want them to stop feeling. Discounting or sympathizing often stops further communication because the other person senses you want them to stop feeling the way they do.
Probing, Questioning, Interrogating
• Trying to find reasons, motives, and causes. • Searching for more information to help you solve the problem.
To ask questions may convey your lack of trust, your suspicion or doubt. People also see through some questions as attempts to trap or test them (ex.: “How much beer do you drink a day? Two quarts? Well, no wonder you are such a mess.”). People often feel threatened by questions, especially when they don’t understand why they are being questioned or answer your question with a question of their own (ex.: “Why are you asking that? or “What are you driving at?”). Another “safe” response to questions is the ubiquitous “I don’t know.” If you question a person who is sharing a problem with you they may suspect that you are gathering data to solve the problem for them, rather than letting them find their own solution.
Withdrawing, Distracting, Humoring
• Trying to get the other person away from the problem. • Withdrawing from the problem yourself. • Distracting the person, kidding him out of his feelings, or pushing the problem aside.
Such messages can communicate to the other person that you are not interested in him, don’t respect his feelings, or are downright rejecting of them. People are generally quite serious and intent when they need to talk about something.
When you respond with kidding, you can make them feel hurt, rejected, and/or belittled. Putting people off or diverting their feelings may, for the moment, appear successful, but a person’s feelings do not always go away. They often crop up later. Problems put off are seldom problems solved. People want to be heard and understood respectfully. If their listeners brush them aside, they soon learn to take their important feelings and problems elsewhere.
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