ATTITUDE RECONSTRUCTION: A BLUEPRINT FOR BUILDING A BETTER LIFE
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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Stop Being the Middle-Man in Family Affairs

FamilySome of our biggest emotional challenges come from family dynamics. It’s a rare situation where everyone in the family gets along. If you tend to be the peacekeeper, you’re usually the one carrying around the heavy emotional burden of the discord.

If this role is getting old but you can’t seem to stop yourself from meddling in the middle, read about the session below with my client Tom. You’ll find practical tools on how to let others handle their own drama, without getting caught in the crossfire, no matter their age.

Big-hearted Tom just wanted the three brothers and their families to get together and celebrate Bob, the eldest sibling, big 40th. But there was a problem. David and Bob were barely talking. Bob was upset (and experiencing stomach aches) over David’s wife borrowing money two years ago and never paying it back. Bob wanted Tom to take his side.

Tom had recently visited Bob, who was still going on and on about the unpaid loan. Adding to that, on the phone and in texts, David kept wanting to know what Tom and Bob had discussed when they were together.

The biggest (and most challenging) thing for peacemaker Tom was to not get drawn into the middle. He needed to tell Bob he saw how much pain he was in, but he wasn’t willing to arbitrate in business that was between him and David. He reminded Bob how much he valued their brotherhood, but he didn’t feel right about talking about David and his wife, since he had no idea about their side of the story.

In terms of a gathering, Tom felt it was best to put this off until the spring. He didn’t see himself trying to make the visit happen until David and Bob resolved their conflict.

So, to take care of himself and work to get out of the middle, he practiced saying, “I don’t want to talk about it. Please take this up with David/Bob yourself.” Tom repeated this message over and over like a broken record, until he felt confident that he would not succumb to the pressure to intervene.

When he felt rooted in the freedom of not getting caught up in the middle and letting people communicate directly, Tom called Bob and spoke his truth and delivered the message that he felt it was best to put off their reunion until David and Bob cleared the air.

Tom wanted to tell Bob it would be better if he held positive thoughts about David and his wife for his own sanity and so he wouldn’t continue to have digestive issues. As the counselor, I stepped in and told him that was a dicey proposition. Giving unsolicited advice is never a good idea. If Tom wanted to offer his perspective, he needed to first ask and RECEIVE permission before tendering advice.

Then to shore up his relationship with David, Tom made the same communication, offering him reassurances and reminding him “I like our relationship and want to share that.”

It took a while but David finally reached out to Bob. In talking and listening it became apparent to both of them that there had been a misunderstanding about the loan, money, and a payback schedule. They were both relieved after they spelled out a clear agreement. Both confessed how much they had missed hanging out with each other and their families. They were eager to keep the channels of communication open going forward and make plans to get together for the belated celebration.

TOOL: DON’T TAKE SIDES AND STAY OUT OF THE MIDDLE

Regardless of age, stay out of the middle and encourage family members to talk directly with those that they have the issue with. You need to let their plight go. It’s not yours. You’ll just be fueling side-taking accusations and muddy the waters even more. They need to learn how to speak what’s on their minds in a constructive manner.

Your job is to focus on enjoying each person individually and not get sucked into a discussion where you are expected to take sides. Just offer encouragement for them to “go direct” and praise them for their successes.

Also, giving unsolicited advice is a slippery slope without checking and double- checking to see if the recipient is really open to hearing your opinion. Your job in the midst of family upheaval is to take care of yourself and relish a new authentic role rather than that of the perpetual peacemaker.


Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients, students, couples, and families as a licensed marriage and family therapist. It is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.

The Four Simple But Not Easy Communication Rules

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Did your parents have good communication skills? When I ask people this question, very few say yes. And this is the reason why we don’t communicate very well – we were never taught how, not from our parents, our schools, our peers, or the media.

It seems like it should be so easy. We all want to share ourselves with others. But often our best intentions take a turn for the worse whenever emotions enter the picture. We say one thing and end up communicating another. Differences get magnified. Words get twisted. Good intentions are misinterpreted. Talking escalates into arguing and suddenly we want to attack or flee. This can all result in low self-esteem and confidence. No matter our strategy and how we’ve learned to cope, the result of poor communication is a loss of connection and openness.

According to Attitude Reconstruction, all good communication boils down to following four simple rules. With them, anyone can communicate about any topic effectively and lovingly. There are also four main violations that create the misunderstandings and ensuing hurt, alienation, and confusion that we experience when communicating with others.

      1. The first rule is “talk about yourself.” This is our true domain — sharing what we feel, think, want, and need. Offering personal information brings closeness, as we reveal what’s true for us. The First Violation is to tell other people about themselves (without permission). This includes blame, criticism, sarcasm, teasing, attacking, and finger-pointing. These tactics only create feelings of separation, alienation, and defensiveness. An example of these two styles are “You’re monopolizing the conversation.” vs “I have something I want to say.”
      2. The Second rule is to stay specific. That’s what we do with music, architecture, engineering, cooking, math, physics, and computers; and what we must do when communicating. When we stay concrete others can understand what we’re saying – the topic, the request, the reasons. It brings peace. The Second Violation is over-generalizing. This can take the form of sweeping conclusions, abstractions, and labels, and using words like “always” and “never,” or bringing in other topics only barely related to the subject at hand. This is confusing and it fuels fear. An illustration is: “We always do what you want to do” vs “I don’t want to spend the weekend with your parents.”
      3. The third rule is kindness. Compassion fosters love. It can take the form of offering appreciations, giving praise, focusing on the positive, and sharing what you are grateful for. The Third Violation is being unkind. Focusing on what’s not working, that is, on what we don’t like, throws a blanket on furthering a conversation and produces anger and feelings of separation in the recipient. An example is “I really appreciated when you help with the dishes… laundry, kids, etc.” vs “I have to do everything because you never help around the house.”
      4. The fourth rule is simply to listen. That means seeking to truly understand what someone is saying, and encouraging them to talk. This brings closeness. Listening is a practice. The Fourth Violation is not listening. We know how that feels. Automatic interruptions, debates, and wise-cracks don’t truly acknowledge the speaker but instead further our own agenda.

 

The goal of good communication is understanding and feeling more love, so if we keep that in mind, we’ll be inspired to learn to speak and listen well. Luckily it’s not that hard. It just takes practice as we learn how to stop making the four communication violations and instead follow four simple rules.

The Four Rules of Good Communication are so powerful. They work in the bedroom or boardroom, with children and neighbors, with co-workers and strangers. Here’s the wonderful part: each time we stop ourselves from our old ways and abide by the four rules we feel more powerful, confident, and true to ourselves. Others will understand us better and we can also understand them. All it takes is a little practice, practice, practice and everyone can learn to have consistently effective communication skills.

 

 

Speak up to Transform Your Life and Relationships

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Both men and women have to speak up in order to take charge of their lives and cultivate meaningful relationships!

We don’t speak up for the same general reasons, which include:

  • I don’t want to rock the boat  — I want to keep the status quo
  • I don’t want others to have any emotions – be upset, scared, hurt, mad
  • I don’t want to hear what they have to say because I’m angry and when I’m angry, I’m convinced that my way is clearly the correct way
  • I want to avoid conflict at all cost

We pay a high price by stuffing it — by going silent, stonewalling, and withdrawing. Learn how you can transform your life & relationships.

Where’s my joy? I’ve just not honored myself – unhappy.

Where’s my love? Instead of feeling connected and being part of the collective energy flow, I’m a million miles away – isolated.

Where’s my peace? This moment doesn’t feel safe.

During a session recently, a husband was sitting on the couch with his wife. He was trying to share his health concerns with her. At his first pause, she started giving him nutritional recommendations.

I leaned forward and said to him: “And when she’s giving you her opinion and that’s the last thing in the world you want, with the sweetest most loving voice you can muster, say ‘Honey, I just want to be listened to for a few minutes right now.”

The key is to say it sweetly, lightly and repeatedly until she stops and refocuses on what you were saying.

And what did the guy on the couch say after all that? “That would be new for me!”

At an early age he’d learned to cope by going into his “serious brooding” mode and distancing himself. She hated it when he did that.

What we all really want in our social relationships especially with family members, is to feel good about ourselves, to feel connected/share/feel part of a team, and know we’re safe in our own little tribe. (Attitude Reconstruction contends that these three goals are the three Ultimate Attitudes associated with the three emotions of joy, love, and peace.)

When the other person has coaxed you to talk or you finally speak up about something you know you’ve been avoiding, more joy, love, and peace awaits just by lightly repeating the words…

“I just want to be listened to for a few minutes right now.”

Here are three important points:

  1. This doesn’t mean you get to hold onto the microphone and talk for as long as you want. It’s got to be shared fifty-fifty.
  1. Talk about yourself and what’s going on for you. This isn’t “listen to me while I tell you about you.” For both or all people involved, the focus is you sharing about yourself. That’s how feelings of closeness arise.
  1. When you’ve finished what you want to say, you can solicit other’s impressions, feelings, suggestions, etc. IF you want them.

 

We all just want to be understood, aka listened to – to be seen for “us” as a worthy being.  As scary as it can seem at first, I guarantee that speaking up will bring copious rewards and breakthrough moments. You will be more authentic and your relationship will prosper.

 

Feeling connected through talking-and-LISTENING.

listening

It always feels good to have a personal cheerleader so I suggest you find one! Seeking support from another person might take a little courage. Maybe you’ll feel vulnerable, embarrassed, or concerned about imposing. Do it anyway.

Generate a list of possible candidates and choose one. Write out your request first, then feel your fear and dare to ask. If someone declines, don’t take it personally. Just try someone else. Ideally, the person you select will be working on making personal changes too, so you can cheer each other on.

Make contact at the appointed time. Watch out for making excuses not to check in. If you resist, deal with your emotions—shiver, cry or pound, then make the call. You’re both responsible to initiate your check-in, so don’t wait for the other person.

Possible Check-In Format

1. One person talks. The other just pays attention and listens. Set a timer so that you stick to the agreed-upon time each person will have.

2. Switch roles after the timer goes off.

3. Confirm your next check-in time.

4. Exchange appreciations.

The support person’s not there to take charge and tell you what to do. If she has her own stake in your changing, she’ll lose the ability to encourage you when you don’t meet her expectations. You want your cheerleader primarily to listen, look for the positive, and, with your permission, kindly point out attitudes or actions that seem counterproductive. If they’re upbeat, empathetic, congratulatory, and reliable, you’ve found the right person.

The Three Bridges

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Seeing and hearing are natural gifts for us. Look at the way animals use their senses to their advantage. They can sense safety, danger, play, and even food! We can use our senses to determine if someone is swept up in sadness, anger, or fear. And then we can confidently know how to best offer help.

IDENTIFY THE EMOTION

With just a little practice, you’ll be able to recognize the emotions underneath other people’s demeanor, words, and actions. Rather than reacting to what they say or do, you can extend a communication “bridge” to help shift their emotional state by offering what they truly long to hear but don’t know how to ask for.                      

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To figure out what emotion is probably going on, ask yourself “Where is their attention focused?”

IF THEY’RE FEELING SAD…

  1. People feeling sadness (but often not crying) are most likely thinking or speaking poorly of themselves. Maybe they are being passive or clingy. They need genuine appreciations. In your interactions with them, convey the idea, “I love you. You’re great.” Remind them of their strengths and contributions.

 

IF THEY’RE FEELING ANGRY…

  1. Folks striking out in anger and spewing “you”s all over the place with blame, negativity, and criticism really just feel isolated and are in desperate need of understanding. They won’t respond well to debates, lectures, or reprimands. The chances they’ll hear what you have to say are slim to none unless you can genuinely connect with them first. You need to sincerely hear them out without taking what they say personally. Focus on what’s going on with them behind their angry words and let the rest go flying by, that is, their “you”s and accusations. Silently repeat or say, “I want to hear what you have to say” and just listen.

 

IF THEY’RE FEELING FEAR…

  1. If someone is overwhelmed, anxious, or freaked out chances are she’s got some unexpressed fear stocked up. She needs honest reassurances. Comfort, soothe, and repeatedly remind her that everything is and will be all right. Other reassuring comments are “We’ll make our way through this together,” “I’m here” or “I’ll take care of it.” Or offer reassurances by reminding her of the objective reality: “Your boss really likes the work you do,” or “You’ve done this successfully before.

 

If you’re unable or unwilling to offer a communication bridge, it’s probably because your own unexpressed emotions are getting in the way. It’s okay. You’re human. To quickly reignite your compassion, take a brief time-out and handle your own emotions or remind yourself of the objective reality. Then you will be able to look within your heart, and if appropriate, extend a bridge.

You’ll deepen your personal relationships when you become adept at recognizing other people’s emotions. You can use this knowledge to communicate in the ways most helpful to them. What an amazing talent you’ll be cultivating. For example, if you know that your husband is quick to anger, you can consciously listen silently and understand his position, especially at times when he is upset or under stress. If a workmate often seems glum or down, you can choose to validate her gifts and skills a little more often.

Free Communication Class

Mark your calendar!

UPCOMING FREE COMMUNICATION CLASS

Saturday October 19, 2019
Santa Barbara

More Info

Jude Bijou, Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist, educator, author, and speaker.  Meet Jude

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Attitude Reconstruction
2012 Benjamin Franklin Award
Winner in Self-Help
2012 ForeWord Reviews
Winner in Psychology
2012 ForeWord Reviews
Winner in Self-Help
2012 International Book Award
Winner in Health: Psychology/Mental Health
2012 Nautilus Silver Award
Winner in Personal Growth/Self Help/Psychology
2012 LA Festival of Books
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