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Lesson 2 of 7 - learn effective communication skills


Learn to communicate
with anyone effectively

By Peter Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this guide is

Updated 01-17-2015

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      Lesson two will help you (a) think more effectively and (b) avoid and resolve significant communication problems using seven powerful skills. This is essential for effective wound-reduction (Lesson 1) and for achieving satisfying relationships with adults and kids (Lessons 4-7). 

      This brief YouTube clip by the author introduces the main topics in Lesson 2:

      You can learn the key ideas in Lesson 2 by watching these brief YouTube videos by the author: basics (22 videos, 4 hours total) and tips (17 videos, 2.5 hours total). This study guide includes useful worksheets, reviews, and reprints that aren't  included in these videos.

Why Study This Lesson?

      Every day, all adults and kids strive to reduce personal and social discomforts - i.e. to fill current needs. "Happiness" and "peace" is an illusive state where our key needs are met well enough at the moment. The most powerful skills you can learn to fill your daily needs are effective thinking and communication. "Thinking" is internal communication among your personality subselves (Lesson 1).

      I'm a professional communicator. I've studied this subject for over 40 years. My experience as a therapist, teacher, and a student of human behavior is that regardless of schooling, average adults (like you?) have never studied effective communication, and don't know what they need to know about it. They (you?) are content (or not) with ineffective thinking and communicating.

      Western culture pays little attention to effective interpersonal communication  For example: I had to ask the editors of and to include "communication" in their extensive list of educational topics for their site visitors.

      Over 80% of site visitors who respond to this poll say they are "extremely interested" in learning to communicate more effectively. Does that describe you?  If you are interested, consider investing in the unique Lesson-2 guidebook Satisfactions (, 2010, 2nd ed.), It integrates most of the materials in this online Lesson, and provides a convenient portable reference.

      This self-improvement Lesson has three parts:

  • basic concepts

  • seven powerful communication skills, and...

  • useful communication applications, tools, and resources.

Study these parts when you're not distracted and your true Self is guiding you. (Lesson 1). Follow the numbered "assignments" order - they build on each other. Option - check off each step as you complete it to track your progress. Many of these articles include brief introductory YouTube videos .

Part 1)  Learn Communication Basics

__  2-1)  Assess your current communication knowledge with this quiz. Then learn about...

__  2-2)  Surface and primary needs. They power all human behavior, including communicating.  

__  2-3)  Review these communication basics - What is communication? Effective communication? Five reasons we communicate, three "channels" we use, and four simultaneous messages we exchange all the time. One is crucial, yet few people are aware of it. Can you name it?

__  2-4)  Study these Q&A items about effective communication.

__  2-5)  Read this overview of all seven skills to get the "big picture.".

      Now put these communication basics to work...

Part 2)  Learn Seven Communication Skills

      These skills are based on the concepts above. They build on each other and are just as effective among your dynamic personality subselves as with adults and kids.

Process awareness - notice what's happening inside you, inside your partner, between you, and around you - moment by moment, and over time.

Effective thinking. Popular alternatives are fuzzy, unfocused thinking and/or reacting "without thinking". Typical people (like you?) are unaware of how they think.

"Digging down" below surface needs to identify the primary needs that cause them.

Metatalk - use awareness and a special vocabulary to identify and discuss communication needs and problems.

Empathic listening - "hearing with your heart." This skill is also called mirroring and active listening.

Assertion - saying what you think, feel, and need so your partner can hear you clearly; and...

Win-win problem-solving (conflict resolution) - filling all partners' current primary needs well enough, in a way that satisfies everyone.

      Study these skills in order. Option - study and practice one skill a week for seven weeks and enjoy the results!


__  2-6)  Learn about personal awareness - an essential for daily satisfaction. Are you aware of your awareness in calm and stressful times?

__  2-7)  Study this introduction to process awareness. The other six communication skills each depend on proficiency with this one. Metatalk skill (2-15 below) shows you almost 50 communication variables professionals are aware of. Usually we only need seven.

__  2-8)  Learn these common communication errors and blocks. Use process awareness to spot these, and use all seven skills to resolve them among people and your personality subselves. Option - print and use this article as a reference as you practice these skills.

__  2-9)  Learn about awareness "bubbles" and R(espect)-messages. Each of these powerfully affects your communication outcomes. Learn to be aware of them in important social situations.

__  2-10)  Do this awareness-skill practice with a motivated partner several times, until you feel grounded.


__  2-11)  Read this introduction to effective thinking. Thinking is communication among your dynamic personality subselves. Ineffective (fuzzy, unfocused) thinking hinders effective problem-solving and causes misunderstandings and frustration. Use awareness to note how you and others are thinking in important situations and over time.


      All human behavior aims to increase pleasure and reduce or avoid discomforts - i.e. to satisfy current needs. Needs occur in several levels (surface > intermediate > primary). Unaware people focus only on satisfying their surface needs, which limits their satisfaction and promotes blame, frustration, cynicism, and self-doubt.

__  2-12)  Learn to distinguish between surface and underlying primary needs, and discover how people (like you) usually rank five primary needs. (2 pages)

__ 2-13)  Review these common _ relationship needs, _ marital needs, _ child-development needs, and _ spiritual needs, and identify your own.

__ 2-14)  Study this introduction to dig-down skill and three examples of how it works. Use this skill to (a) discover someone's current primary (vs. surface) needs so you can fill them using assertion and problem-solving skills.

__  2-15)  Practice "digging-down" with fellow learners until it becomes a habit.


      "Metatalk" is cooperatively discussing how you're communicating now and over time with a partner. This skill uses awareness, knowledge, and a special vocabulary to identify communication problems. Metatalk provides input for win-win problem-solving.

__  2-16)  Study this introduction to metatalk and useful communication terms.

__  2-17)  Learn from these metatalk guidelines and examples, and use the worksheet to help you design effective metacomments.


      Empathy is the ability to sense (vs. understand) what another person is feeling, thinking, and needing now and over time. Empathic listening has been called "hearing with your heart" by Steven Covey, the acclaimed author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People."

__  2-18)  Read Why Listening is Good for You by Dr. James Lynch 

__  2-19)  Reflect on this brief research summary on "...The Early Roots of Empathy." Would people who know you say you're empathic?

__  2-20)  Study this introduction to empathic listening.

__  2-21)  Use this worksheet to learn how well you and selected partners listen to each other.

__  2-22)  Do this empathic-listening skill practice with a compatible partner until it becomes a habit.


      This is the learned ability to say what you feel or need in a way that others can hear you clearly. Common alternatives are hinting, pleading, demanding, and lecturing. Effective assertion requires all five prior skills and your Self (capital "S") guiding you.

__ 2-23)  Review these ideas on self-love, self-respect, and self-confidence (Lesson 1), You need these for effective assertion and problem-solving.

__  2-24)  Use the sample Personal Bill of Rights to design your own. As a dignified person, you have the right to assert (vs. impose) your needs and opinions, regardless of your age, gender, race, creed, or role!  

__ 2-25)  Reflect on "The Power of Positive Self esteem" by Dr. Nathaniel Brandon

__  2-26)  Learn 8 steps to assert effectively

__  2-27)  Discover your assertion style by filling out this profile.

__  2-28)  Practice assertion skill with one or more partners until it becomes a habit.


      This vital ability uses all six other skills to help you and an adult or child fill your respective current primary needs well enough. Common lose-lose alternatives to cooperative problem-solving are arguing, fighting, avoiding, lecturing, manipulating, blaming, threatening, explaining, moralizing, generalizing, overanalyzing, complaining, whining, demanding, and debating, Win-win problem-solving works equally well with conflicted people and your personality subselves.

__ 2-29)  Experiment with these eight win-win problem-solving steps,.

__  2-30)  Use this inventory to learn your conflict-resolution (problem-solving) style.

__  2-31)  Do this problem-solving practice with one or more fellow students until the skill becomes a habit

__  2-32)  Study this example of lose-lose and win-win couple communication.

__ 2-33)  Preview - Learn resolution options for three common relationship stressors - values and loyalty conflicts, and divisive Persecutor-Victim-Rescuer triangles (Lesson 4)

__  2-34)  Preview - gain perspective from this worksheet: How we react to values conflicts now (Lesson 4)

__  2-35)  Preview - gain more perspective with another worksheet: How we react to loyalty conflicts now (Lesson 5).

+ + +

__ 2-36)  Retake this quiz on communication knowledge and appreciate what you've learned!

       If this seems like a lot of work - it is! The benefits are well worth the effort - getting more needs met more often, in satisfying ways - for the rest of your life. Studying these communication basics and skills will do you little good unless you commit to practicing them every day and noticing the results. Do you have the commitment to do this? If not, suspect that a false self controls you - see Lesson 1. 

      To expand the foundation above, study and use these...

Part 3) Communication Applications, Tools, and Resources

__  2-37)  Fill out this worksheet on your current communication strengths. This is fun!

__  2-38)  Are you visual, auditory, or kinesthetic?

__  2-39)  Map (diagram) your communication sequences and patterns to help spot and resolve significant process-problems.

__  2-40)  Study these options on how to improve your communication with most adults and kids..

__  2-41)  Tailor these options for responding effectively to common obnoxious behaviors to fit your style and personality

__ 2-42)  Consider these options for exchanging feedback with another person.

__ 2-43)  Review these ideas about giving and receiving advice

__  2-44)  Consult these definitions of over 70 useful relationship and family terms. Using the right terms and phrases promotes mutual understanding and clarity. Use this as a reference.

__  2-45)  Experiment with these useful communication phrases.

__  2-46)  Watch for chances to use these effective-communication tips.

__  2-47)  Learn how gender differences can affect your communication outcomes.

__  2-48)  Read "Avoiding Couple Karate - Lessons in the Marital Arts," by Anthony Brandt

__ 2-49)  Improve your effectiveness with these resources:

Connecting With Self and Others, by Daniel Wackman, Elam Nunnaly, Phyllis Miller, and Sherod Miller (Editor); (Interpersonal Communication, 1988)

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts, by Robert Bolton PhD, (Touchstone, 1986)

Satisfactions - 7 relationship skills you need to know;  by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW; (Xlibris Corp., 2010, 2nd ed.)

You Just Don't Understand - Women and Men in Conversation, by Deborah Tannen (Quill, 2001)


      This is the study guide for the second of seven Break the Cycle! self-improvement Lessons. It aims to help you think, communicate, and problem-solve more effectively

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