The purpose of this workshop is to think deeper of effective relationship, and specifically to help participants make clear enough distinctions to make substantial changes in their relationship, which includes using new skills and adopting new attitudes.
Deeper than training
The concepts and techniques we teach are becoming widely known – we hear about I messages, active listening and win-win relationships on television, read about them in various books and articles – and people think they know what it is. In fact they have a very superficial understanding of our methods and our material. Often people say: “Oh I know what you mean, sending a message ‘I feel this and that when you do this and that…’. I tried that and it does not work.”
When taken superficially it does not work. The purpose of the course is to change skilols and attitudes enough to make a difference in the dynamics of relationships through communication, as relationship are shaped through communication.
Skills and attitudes
In our course we teach often skills. But we know that the skills don’t work without the corresponding attitude. So we have to put some attention not only on learning effective skills but also on developing effective attitudes. The approach “Skills and attitudes for win-win relationship” has concrete applications.
The attitude is the internal position, what is going on inside me: it is composed of what I think, what I feel, what I decide, what I perceive. The skills is what goes outside of me: it includes how I act, what I say and what I do. Here are the main attitudes imbedded in the Effectiveness Training model.
A win-win relationship starts with the basic premise “You are ok and I am ok: you are trying to meet your need and so am I”. We will examine five basic effective attitudes.
1. In a relationship, everyone is a distinct person.
This is an important distinction, especially for parents. Often in the parent-child relationship there is a mixed identity. When these identities are confused and contaminated the communication gets ineffective. For example the child consider quitting school and the parents says: “You want to quit school: it’s horrible! What will you do to get a job later? Etc.” When the parents say “it’s horrible” it is his own perception and problem. With the question “Who owns the problem?” we ask also “It’s horrible for whom?”. We aim at clearing the confusion about who is whom. In that sentence it looks like it is horrible for the child, who then says: “It is not horrible. I will get a job at the nearby fast food restaurant and it will be paid money. It is wonderful.” By clearing up that confusion we may avoid most communication roadblocks.
So early in the course we want our participants to learn that they are distinct persons. By making this distinction they can communicate effectively and create wholesome relationship. If the parent recognizes his chilf as a distinct person he would say two things, probably in two different moments. On the one hand he will express his own concerns, like: “If you quit school I am worried about how long will you stay at home, how and when you will earn your own living, will you ever have a profession, etc.”. Then each knows clearly what is horrible for whow. On the other hand he will listen to the child saying: “So you are not satisfied with school. Your needs seem not satisfied. You are looking for something else. Etc.“
When a parent develop this “distinct persons” attitude he realizes an enormous change which will be visible in the parents and family life. It is a burden to raise kids the “It’s horrible way but it is not a burden raising kids the “I am worried” way.
2. People act to satisfy their own needs and realize their values.
I act to satisfy my needs, you act to satisfy your needs, he acts to satisfy his needs: people, like any living being, moves to have needs met.
Many participants confuse need and demand and then go back home and tell their kids: “I need you to be here at ten o clock” thinking they have used an I message. The child doesn’t hear a need, but a demand, a request, an order, a threat, or whatever.
A need is different from a demand. A need is something that would help me or you be happier. It does not mean “I would be unhappy and I’ll throw a tamper tantrum if you re not there by ten o’clock”, but “I would be much happier, much more secure, at ease and relaxed if I knew that you were home before dark, or before I go to sleep, or …”. I will not die if you re not here before ten, I will not be unhappy, I will not be depressed but I will worry, I will be wondering where you are, has the police picked you up or shouls I wait for you befor going to bed, etc.
This difference between a demand and a need is important. When we perceive that people are acting out of need we don’t perceive them as acting out of some of other motives. This diffenciates Effectiveness Training some other courses, like S.T.E.P. (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting). (Another difference is about skill building: STEP uses cassette listening and group discussion, and practically no role playing or practical exercises.) Even though it teaches listening and I messages, STEP stands from the position that kids misbehave for frour major motives: getting power, getting revenge, getting negative attention and (wow put here the fourth one). So if a parent uses any skill of communication with for instance, the attitude that the kid is misbehaving in order to revenge it is practically impossible to build a no-lose relationship. A no-lose relationship requires the attitude that kids just behave, like we do, as they try to satisfy their needs.
2a. A corollary of this attitude is that seing the other’s reaction as “resistance” is ineffective and counterproductive for a win-win relationship.
In the new Effectiveness training pieces of material we have started to review our position and our vocabulary, so that it fits our postulate that “people act to satisfy their needs”. The other person – or myself – does not act out of “resistance”, and he either does not display a “defense mechanism”. He is acting to satisfy his own need, not to resis the other.
That is why now we don’t say that people “resist“, but that they have an “emotional reaction”. Faced with a confontive I message, the other person may perceive that the satisfaction of his needs may be diffisult, and have an emotional reaction: he wonders: “What will happen with my needs? I am quite sure I will not be satisfied!” After the parent says “I wish you were here by ten oi’clock, I would feel more secure” the chils thinks, and may say “What kind of fun will I have: everybody gets there by nine and fun begins at ten!… and lasts until midnight”. That child is not resisting anybody, nor anything, but just expressing his own needs.
Resistance is a label, rather than a description of the behavior: it makes the other person wrong, at least in my mind I think, you are wrong and invite the other to play the I am right and you are wrong game. No more than accepting that he is “rude”, the other will not accept that he is “resisting”. It is not a feeling I experience, it is a position, an attitude; like anger it is against someone. The primary feeling lies underneath. Frustrated, or stuck, is a feeling, a perception of how you feel inside. The other does something for himself, not against me.When I say “You don’t want to… (come to the meeting, be polite, study…” I am just mentioning that I would like you to want what I want. I still don’t know what you want. Resistance means “you’re against me”. So if I perceive resistance I see you against me, I instill an opposition relationship it’s quite hard to get to win-win. And if I perceive you as trying to meet your needs and me trying to meet my needs, we increase our chances of finding a way of meeting, as best as we can, both our sets of needs.
When therapists talk about «resisting clients» they usually do not talk about people resisting their own change, they talk about resisting their (ineffective) therapy.
When teachers point out kids as “resisting”, those kids soon get punished. They are described as “negative leaders, nuisances…”. If we ask the students: “Are you resisting?” they would say: “We’re not resisting we’re just bored or frustrated. You presented us with an awful activity – go to the library and read and read and read and write and write and write – and, as we hate it, we’re just expressing our feelings. We don’t like that. We would prefer to talk and exchange in groups. So only a teacher will say they are resisting his will. There is a confusion of identity. Anger, resistance and you message are one and the same thing. The teacher or parent or the boss is feeling angry and he is not acknowledging his feelings. With the idea that “you’re resisting” I am not in a position to deliver I message, any so-called I language will then turn into a disguised you message.
It may be easier to say and think that the other is resisting – find fault with him – rather than to disclose self and communicate clearly (sending I message or active listening to hear the other’s needs, etc).
This diagram shows that phenomenon. When we have no problem we experience a balance between emotions and reason: we’re about as rational as we are feeling person. When we experience a problem the emotions prevail and we have less space left for reason; that’s why it’s pointless to talk someone into being “reasonable” when he is experiencing a problem.
This expression works both ways. If I have a problem, the first effective thing to do is to express my feelings about it; after having expressed my feelings I’ll probably notice it is not that bad, I’ll identify precisely my needs and then I’ll be able to move to a a solution. If the other person has a problem the first effective thing I could do to be helpful is to listen to that person so that he expresses – press out – his feelings, so that he sees it in a balanced perspective, identifies his needs accurately and then becomes more able to solve his own problem.
An effective way to take care of the other person’s emotional reaction is not to consider it a resistance, a defense or a revenge but to view it as an expression of emotions and listen to those feelings to foster their expression and help the person to recover his balance. After the expression of feelings the person regains his balance and we are able to idientify the needs and afterwards to find a solution that will get those needs met.
3. To satisfy my needs effectively I set up my own goals, I choose my actions and I evaluate my results.
The effective way to satisfy my needs is to set my goals, consider many possible actions, evaluate them, chose the best, impliment them and later evaluate my results. It is not effective to demand, require, force, threat, order, cajole, etc. If I feel the need to get somebody else’s cooperation I would be effective in using I message.
The I message is often widely know, superficially understood and lightly taught. The I message is more than saying “I feel… when you do… because…”, naming the behavior, the effects and the feeling although this practical form helps to build the skill. It is often taught and learned as a wording skill. If we listen only to the words, some you-messages can be more effective than some I messasges when the attitude behind the message is more congruent. I message is a self-disclosure move, which requires an attitude of responsibility, congruence and openness and the skills and willingness to describe, explain and express, whether used in a preventive, appreciative or confrontive way. An effective communicator is ready and able to describe his behavior to the other. Something like: “You came here at ten after nine, you started working at twenty-five after nine and then at ten after nine you called your friend and talked with her twenty minutes”: this is describing. The I message is also the ability to explain the concrete effects, explain the consequences on oneself. Something like: “While you were talking to your friend, the phone was ringing on line 2, line 3 and you were not answering. As nobody was answering – and we have just sent thousands of expensive brochures and we are waiting for the answers to that wonderful advertisement – we are probably losing business, I am losing money. The I message involves also the ability and willingness to express one’s feelings. Expressing feelings mean getting all my feelings out in an open and free way. The fist goal of expressing is to get liberated of those feelings. I need to say it to recover my balance and preventing me from dumping those emotions on someone else.This expression doesn’t put any requirement on the other.
The first goal of the I message is to get my own balance. So even though the other person doesn’t change if I have done a real I message, I feel good, as I have told everything; I’m in a state of balance. If the other person changes his behaviour that will make me happier but I’m already happy for having expressed myself. People lightly familiar with real effectiveness think of I messages as indirect way of requiring something. They say “When you do that it makes me nervous” expecting the other to stop his behavior, but then the other says – based on the distinct person distinction!!! – or thinks “It is OK with me: if you want to be nervous you can; we live in a free society so parents are entitled to be nervous. I am not nervous! I’ll study tomorrow… unless my team plays tomorrow night.” But then the parents are getting more nervous if the child is planning to watch the game tomorrow. And the child thinks or says: “All right! Enjoy your nervousness, parents; that’s your job. Well, you know how you feel and I know how you feel. So!”
4. When another is having a problem I can be of some use when I experience acceptance, empathy, authenticity.
To see if I really let the other person own his problem I can ask myself a very simple question: “If he remains with the problem after our wonderful conversation am I at ease with that?” He wanted to talk about it, he had talked about it, he still has the problem, it is part of his life. That’s O.K. As a parent, I had problems when I was his age, that’s part of growing up. If I cannot be at ease letting the other have his own problem I can be of no help. We talk about “ownership”: that’s his bicycle, that’s his sweetheart, that’s his tee-shirt, that’s his problem. That’s his own thing!
To be in that position, I need three conditions, in fact three attitudes. (Researchers and scholars like Tom Gordon and Carl Rogers like terms such as “conditions, criterias” but participants in our courses are not looking for that: “I don’t need criterias to raise my kids, or manage my employees!“, “What attitudes should I adopt? What should I do? What can I say?”, these are the concerns of the participants!) So, when we want to facilitate and listen effectively, we need to experience the three attitudes acceptance, empathy and understanding.
One of these attitudes is acceptance. So listening when I accept is supposed to be a relaxing activity. If I accept, when I hear “I want to kill you”, I notice two things, one that you do not attack me physically by saying that, and two, that you feel resentment towards me.” So I relax and listen and feedback to stay on the line.
Acceptance also helps us to make an important distinction between repeating, paraphrasing and real active listening. As a guide to real active listening we use the saying “What you reflect you accept”. In an example, after a meeting I was leading, someone comes and tells me: “You’re unfair. You don’t lead the meetings fairly. Just because I did one joke, you put me down although I had given so many good ideas during all that meeting.” I ask myself the question: “Among everything he said what do I accept?” I don’t accept that I am unfair, so I will never feedback something like “You think I’m unfair” because then the other will say “Of course you’re unfair!” and he will pound on me more. I remember that when I active listen, I encourage the other to talk some more. I remember that through listening I guide the other to make an I message of his own. So what do I accept and want to encourage the other to tell me. Even though he sais so, I don’t accept that I put him down. I said “Could we be on topic. We’ll soon have a break. That would be a good time for a joke.” I accept that he got upset at what I said Anybody can be upset after I talk so can he! So I will feedback: “You are upset about I told you ‘It’s not time for jokes, lets stay on topic’.” He would probably add: “Yes I am upset. I gave so many good ideas during the presentation…” and would proceed to express his feelings and explain his needs. It would be easy for me to accept that. I could say: “Yes, in fact you gave good ideas, I can understand you were upset…”
5. An effective relationship is a win-win relationship.
Some misunderstanding about win-win needs to be cleared. People confuse it with bargaining, “cutting the pear in two”, making a compromise. The definition of win-win is “we will use the available resources to implement the solution that can at best satisfy everyone’s needs, the way that will make each one of us as happy as possible”. Especially in L.E.T., people say “There are many things we cannot do because of money restrictions, of work-force shortages, … so it will never be a win-win, nobody will say: I’ve won something. There was a cut in salary for everyone so nobody can win.” If that cut of salary is unavoidable, we will choose together solutions which will make us happier than worst solutions. That’s what win-win is all about then.