Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle!

Facilitate effective communication
and problem-solving
- p. 3 of 4

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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Communication skill-building interventions, continued from p. 2

Raise Clients' Awareness of Their Awareness

2-17)  Describe, illustrate, and model general and communication awareness. For perspective, read this, and imagine how clients would react to it.

        Why? To (a) focus clients on on their degree of personal awareness, (b) provide a conceptual framework for communication awareness, and (c) encourage adults to teach this concept to minor kids and others. Awareness skill underlies all six other Lesson-2 skills, and provides the input to Metatalk, which promotes resolving communication blocks.

Ask the clients to describe their current definition of awareness. Edit that as needed to something like "General awareness is being able to consciously identify and describe what's going on (a) inside you and (b) around you now and in the past." Option - illustrate this by asking the client to describe their current awareness, and/or describing your current and past awarenesses.

Propose that personal and environmental awareness has two parts: (a) bodily sensations ("I smell smoke."), and (b) mental interpretation of - and reactions to - these sensations ("The roast may be burning. I'd better check the oven.").

Suggest that awareness is among the the most useful skills any adult or child can develop, for it...

  • is the basis of noting current emotional, physical, and spiritual discomforts (needs) and satisfactions (filled needs),

  • provides vital perceptions of important relationship dynamics (like empathy), and...

  • illuminates potential or current personal and social dangers, which allows making behavioral choices. Option - ask the clients for examples of this, and/or describe your own examples.

Propose that observing, mediation, journaling, and asking others for feedback are some ways of intentionally gaining awareness. Option - ask clients if they use strategies like these, and if so, why.

Note the difference between awareness (instinctive senses, intuitions, and conscious perceptions), and interpretations of what current perceptions mean.

Propose that our culture (a) doesn't generally promote developing personal awareness, and (b) ceaselessly hinders it by flooding us with sensory information via printed, radio, TV, movie, and Internet stimulations, so (c) some (aware) people pay to experience "retreats" - refuges from "sensory overload" and periods of "greater inner peace." Option - ask clients if their children are being taught to value and increase personal awareness in their lay and religious schools and other activities.

        A priceless metaskill anyone can develop intentionally over time is "awareness of my awareness - now, and over time." Doing this is a major focus of some religious/spiritual practices, like Zen Buddhism, Quaker worship services, and Native American vision quests.

Propose that a powerful special learned awareness is consciously perceiving a discrete communication dynamics & - including strengths & and blocks & - among (a) subselves and (b) people. Alert clients to the difference between what we're communicating about (the subjects or topics), and how we're communicating - now, and over time.

Summarize the skill of metatalk (i.e. using a special vocabulary to communicate cooperatively about our communication process and outcomes). Note that awareness provides input to metatalk, which is the first step in identifying and resolving communication blocks. Illustrate this as appropriate, using clients' process examples. See intervention 2-20.

Discuss how client adults can help each other - and other family members - increase their general and communication awarenesses, and invite clients to identify the benefits from doing so.

Describe and facilitate this awareness practice, and suggest clients use it together at home.

Follow up on these interventions in future sessions to monitor and affirm - or problem-solve blocks to - clients' developing their awarenesses. Watch for opportunities to model and describe this skill and the results from doing so.

Effective-thinking Skill

Intervention 2-18)  Define and illustrate clear and "fuzzy" thinking. For perspective, first read and apply this &, and imagine clients' reaction to doing so.

        Why do this multi-step intervention? To (a) have client adults experience and identify how they think in calm and conflictual times, (b) to propose that they can intentionally learn to think more clearly and effectively when they need to, and (c) to expand their metatalk vocabulary. Clear thinking is vital for effective problem-solving with subselves and people.

Create interest. Ask clients to (a) think of someone they respect as a "clear thinker;" and then to (b) rank the effectiveness of their own thinking in most situations from one (very effective all the time) to ten (very ineffective most of the time.

Motivate - ask if clients would want to significantly improve the effectiveness of their thinking if they could. Options - ask caregivers if (a) they'd like to show dependent kids how to think effectively, over time; and/or (b) whether their childhood caregivers and mentors taught them how to think effectively. Expect "No."

Ask clients to describe their definitions of (a) thinking, (b) why we think ("What would you say is the purpose of thinking - what needs does it fill?"); and (c) how they distinguish effective thinking from ineffective thinking. Expect most clients to not know. Illustrate these questions as appropriate.

If appropriate, (a) suggest that thinking is normal evidence of the ceaseless communication among our personality subselves, and (b) recall that communication is a reflexive attempt to fill current needs (reduce current discomforts).  Option - Note that thinking + hunches, senses, and instincts can be called self talk.

Confirm that most people are so used to their ceaseless self talk that they (i.e. their ruling subselves) are usually unaware of it. Suggest that a useful aspect of the learned skill of awareness is to practice awareness of current and chronic self talk. Options - (a) objectively describe your current self talk; (b) ask each client to describe their current self talk nonjudgmentally now, and (c) guesstimate which subselves are "speaking." in you and/or them.

Propose that thinking seeks to...

  • interpret meanings from our ceaselessly-changing inner + outer environments,

  • translate those meanings into coherent current primary needs, and...

  • survey, evaluate, and choose ways to fill those needs well enough, causing..

  • decisions and related behaviors (actions).

See how the clients feel about this proposal, and note whether their true Selves seem to be in charge or not.

Propose that...

  • in any situation and relationship, thinking ranges between effective (getting primary needs met well enough) and ineffective, or fuzzy (not doing so);

  • effective thinking is a learned skill, so clients can choose to improve theirs over time; and...

  • clear (vs. "fuzzy") thinking is required for effective win-win problem-solving.

Ask how clients feel about these premises, listen empathically, and discuss as needed.

Ask if clients are aware of thinking more effectively in some relationships and situations than others, and if so, why. Option - propose a direct relationship between the true Self guiding other subselves and effective thinking.

Propose that ways clients can intentionally improve the effectiveness of their thinking in important situation and relationships are...

  • increase the times their true Selves are guiding their other subselves (work at Lesson 1 tasks);

  • patiently increase the scope and clarity of their inner and social awareness;

  • learning to identify and avoid (a) general and/or vague terms and phrases & in important communications - specially pronouns like it, them, that, and they or their;

  • respectfully asking communication partners to clarify vague words and phrases or pronouns;

  • intentionally using hearing checks to discern whether their partners are clear enough on (vs. agreeing with) what you're trying to express now. 

Give clients a copy of this three-page worksheet and article & on thinking and discuss it with them. 

Follow up across future sessions to see if clients are working at clarifying their thinking in important situations. If not, suspect a false self is promoting other priorities ("What could be more important than thinking clearly?"), and decide whether to tell the clients your opinion.

Empathic Listening

2-19) Describe, illustrate, and model empathic listening  skill.  My thanks to Stephen Covey for this descriptive term. For perspective, first read this &, and imagine how clients would react to reading it.

Why? All kids and adults need to feel heard clearly (vs. agreed with) by other people to fill current communication and other needs. Few lay adults and no kids are taught how to be effective listeners - they don't know what they don't know, because they lack (a) awareness of their communication process, and (b) they don't know how to listen effectively. Reality-check this against your own experience.

Ask clients to think of someone they would describe as (a) a consistently effective (vs. "good") listener, and (b) a consistently ineffective (vs. "poor") listener. The ask them to describe what traits cause them to make each of these judgments.

Ask clients (a) who they feel is the most effective listener in their home and family, and (b) how they would rank their own effectiveness on a scale of one ("I never listen to others") to ten ("I'm a skilled listener to others all the time"). Option - ask clients how other family adults and kids would rate them as an effective listener in calm and conflictual situations.

Ask  if clients have ever taken any class or seminar on effective listening, and if so, to define what they learned. Option - note that this skill has also been called Reflective and Active listening and Mirroring.

Ask clients (a) to describe their definition of empathy, and (b) if they know someone who is often very empathic (including themselves). Option - distinguish empathy from sympathy.

Refresh clients as needed on (a) basic communication needs, starting with respect, (b) the idea of mutual-respect attitudes, and (c) R(espect) messages. Option - suggest stable, genuine mutual-respect attitudes are most likely when the true Self is guiding a person's other subselves.

Outline and illustrate the steps to empathic listening. Ask clients (a) if these steps "make sense," and (b) how they compare with their usual listening habits. Option - give the clients a copy of this and discuss it.

Role play one or more uses of this skill, coaching clients on their effectiveness. (e.g. "Try to (a) include what your partner is feeling, and to (b) sense and summarize what your partner is saying between their lines'"). Use client examples and/or the session's process.

Describe intentionally using this skill in important transactions as doing a hearing check (or equivalent), and note the options of (a) asking your partner for such a check ("What do you feel I'm trying to express here?" vs. "Are you listening to me?"),  and (b) spontaneously providing such checks as appropriate.

Note that...

  • a sign of an effective hearing check is the speaker nodding and/or saying something like "Uh huh," "Yeah," and "Right, and...";

  • feeling respectfully heard (and not advised, interrupted, and judged), speakers will often want to continue. This is useful with people who "are very private" and "don't talk much."

  •  two benefits of well-designed hearing checks are...

    • the speaker may get clearer on what s/he  meant by hearing you say it back, and...

    • s/he may realize that what s/he said wasn't what s/he really wanted to express ("No, what I mean is...").

Communication experts Bob and Dorothy Bolton suggest telling clients that empathic listening "brings out the FY sisters - Clara(fy) and Vera(fy)." 

Option - give the client a copy of...

Follow up in future sessions to see if clients are helping each other use empathic listening effectively, and if so, what the results are. Ignoring this and other communication skills usually suggests a false self dominates one or more client adults. If this is true, decide if and when to focus on Lesson 1 interventions.

 "Dig Down" to Primary Needs

Intervention 2-20)  Define, illustrate, and model "dig-down" skill.  For perspective, read this & first, and imagine how clients would react to the ideas and examples in it.

Why?  Because most people unconsciously focus on trying to fill surface needs (symptoms), not the primary needs that cause them. This (a) promotes ineffective problem-solving (the symptoms returning), frustration, and self-doubt and/or blaming others; and (b) gets passed on to minor kids.

(a) Review and illustrate that people communicate to fill current needs, and (b) refresh clients on the idea of surface and primary needs, as appropriate. Option - give clients a copy of this article & and discuss it with them.

Propose that like most people, the clients are probably used to trying to fill surface needs and enduring mixed results at best. Ideally, illustrate this with an example of a recent marital or family "problem" from the client, using examples in this overview as a guide. With each illustration, ask "Did each person involved (a) know their primary needs, and (b) fill them well enough after communicating?"

Describe and illustrate dig-down skill, using the same examples as the prior step and/or one or more of the client's presenting problems. Emphasize that for best outcomes, participants need to rank each other's needs and dignity as equally important, and ask if that's the client's usual attitude in conflictual situations.

        Ask clients their reaction to digging down. If they feel something like "this is too complicated" ask how they overcame the complexity of driving a vehicle (or some other challenging activity), a step at a time.

If you're working with two or more client family members, invite them to choose a moderate problem, and try the skill. Coach them as needed, and ask what they experienced after they finish. Option - ask clients how they think each dependent child and other co-parent/s will react to trying to dig down.

Note that digging down uses awareness (of current needs and behavioral sequences) and empathic listening to provide the input to mutually-respectful assertion and problem solving (below)

Ask if clients are clear on this skill and answer any questions. Then do more role-plays and practices if/as needed, and ask if clients want to try these skills at home.  

Follow up with clients in future sessions to see if they're trying to apply these skills and teach them to other family members. If not, (a) suspect one or more adults are ruled by a false self, and (b) repeat any of these steps as needed to promote the clients' experiencing the benefits of the skills in reducing their presenting and other problems.

Effective Assertion

2-21)  Define, illustrate, and model effective assertion. For perspective, first read this &, and imagine clients' reactions to doing so.

        Why? Assertion is the learned skill that uses personal and process awareness and empathic listening to...

  • identify and express current perceptions, opinions, and needs to others, including...

  • setting and enforcing personal boundaries, and to...

  • promote win-win problem-solving among subselves and people.

Typical adults and kids can't clearly define effective assertion, and/or differentiate it from aggression (can you?). They can significantly improve their assertion effectiveness if (a) they accept some version of these steps, and (b) their true Self guides their other personality subselves (Lesson 1).

Refresh the clients as needed on the concepts of personality subselves and true and false selves, general and communication needs, boundaries, and R(espect) messages.

Ask the client to (a) describe their definitions of submission (my needs and worth are less important to me now than yours) and aggression (my needs and worth are more important to me now than yours), and effective assertion (we each get enough of our current needs met in an acceptable way); and edit them as needed.

(a) Define effective assertion (all participants get their current needs met well enough), and (b) describe and (c) illustrate the steps of effective assertion. Then (d) assess the clients' understanding of and reactions to these ideas, and how they compare with their recent behaviors.

Ask the client on a scale of one (never effective) to ten (always effective), how they rank themselves recently as asserters (a) in calm and (b) conflictual situations. Options - ask them...

  • to thoughtfully fill out this assertion profile & and discuss what they learn;

  • what they think would happen if they became more effective asserters;

  • how they rank each of their minor kids on the 1-to-10 assertion-effectiveness scale; and...

  • what they're doing about that.

Ask clients to (a) identify kids or adults they have trouble asserting effectively with (without blame), and (b) their (subselves') attitudes about whose dignity, worth, and needs usually rank highest with each such person.

"I" Messages

Propose, illustrate, and model assertive I-messages (vs. provocative you messages) as an effective way of respectfully stating current needs and boundaries to adults and kids.

Review and illustrate the idea of communication outcomes as appropriate.

Describe and illustrate how awareness + effective assertion + empathic listening + metatalk skills combine to promote effective problem solving, and ask if clients agree with this.  

Give clients a copy of this article, and discuss and apply it as appropriate.

Ask clients to identify recent "problems" (unfilled needs) with their family members or coworkers, and role-play using effective awareness, dig-down, assertion, and empathic-listening skills to get better outcomes.

Option - describe and illustrate this assertion practice exercise &, and suggest clients use it at home as teammates.

Follow up in later sessions to see if clients are working to help each other assert more effectively, and if so, what results are they experiencing.

Win-win Problem Solving (Conflict Resolution)

2-22) Define, illustrate, and model effective problem-solving. For perspective, read this &, and review this slide presentation. Then imagine clients' reactions to doing the same.

        Why? A fundamental factor shaping the stability and nurturance level of inner and outer families is the learned ability to identify and reduce or resolve "problems" - i.e. to discern and fill each person's current needs "well enough."  Most lay and many clinical adults are unaware of how to do this effectively, because they're ignorant of (a) their and their partners' primary needs, and of (b) the great benefits of these seven effective-communication skills.

Review (a) the idea of surface and primary needs (discomforts), and that (b) effective com-munication aims to fill each person's current primary needs "well enough." Note and affirm clients' reactions to these ideas, and reinforce the concepts as needed. 

Propose that like most people, the clients have probably never been encouraged to (a) identify current needs, and/or to (b) differentiate between surface (secondary) and primary needs. Validate that respectfully with the clients. Option - ask if their respective childhood caregivers and their ancestors knew how to do these things. Expect "No."

Review the premise that every adult and child is a person of equal dignity and worth, and that effective problem-solving requires clients (dominant subselves) to want to adopt this attitude. Not doing so results in broadcasting 1-up or 1-down R(espect) messages, which always degrade communication effectiveness and relationships. 

Propose that...

  • conflicts or problems are opposing and/or unfilled primary needs (a) betwen personal subselves (inner conflicts), and (b) between the subselves of two or more people.

  • problem-solving is the process of identifying and filling each subself's or person's primary needs "well enough" (as judged by them);

  • win-win problem-solving occurs when each subself or person feels their current needs were filled well enough, in ways that were acceptable enough to everyone involved. Alternatives are win-lose, lose-win, and lose-lose. And...

  • effective (win-win) social problem-solving requires each person to (a) be guided by their true Self, and (b) first resolve any significant inner conflicts first. This requires undistracted awareness and all six other communication skills.

  • Most unaware people automatically try ineffective problem-solving strategies like these, despite consistently dissatisfying outcomes. This is usually because (a) they're unaware of being controlled by a false self, and (b) they don't know these seven skills. This significantly lowers relationship and family nurturance levels - and can be corrected! Ask the clients if this is generally true among their subselves and family members.

Review these steps & to effective problem solving, and ask clients' reactions to them - including how the steps compare to the clients' usual conflict-resolution behaviors. Emphasize that this skill uses fluency in all six other skills to achieve win-win outcomes.

Role play the steps with several of the clients' presenting (surface) problems, and ask what clients are aware of as they do this.

Watch for chances during each session to invite clients to practice win-win internal and mutual problem-solving, coach them to improve, and affirm their efforts and successes.

Give clients copies of (or refer them to the Web versions) of these examples of win-win & and lose-lose & communications, and discuss their reactions. Invite them to show the examples to other family adults and older kids to raise their interest. 

Give clients copies of this problem-solving inventory & and practice exercise &, and (a) use one or both in session and/or (b) suggest clients use them at home.

Recap that the main purpose of communicating and problem solving is to help subselves and people fill their primary needs in satisfying ways more often.

Follow up in future sessions to see if clients are helping each other practice win-win problem-solving, and (if so) what results they're experiencing - specially with their presenting problems.

Option - propose that clients can be a major help to friends, relatives, and others in their workplaces and community or region by choosing to teach their family, co-workers, and other people about (a) the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and (b) the major personal and social benefits of these powerful communication skills.

        Pause and reflect on how your subselves feel and think about what you just read, and whether they're motivated now to use these ideas and interventions in your personal and professional settings. If not, you may be a Grown Wounded Child (GWC) often controlled by a well-meaning, protective false self. reality check - what would you say is more important than helping people learn how to fill their current needs more effectively more often?

Continue with more skill-building and selected problem-solving interventions.

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Updated April 30, 2013