Tag Archives: Relationship Skills

The #1 Relationship Skill

This past year – 2015 – I challenged myself to identify and share the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Here’s the list – and at the end of this article are links to each of the posts I’ve written on this journey:

Top 12 Relationship Skills

As a Marriage & Family Therapist I spend time every day with brave people who’ve hit some relational wall with a spouse, partner, sibling, parent, child or co-worker and who want to understand what went wrong, how to fix it and  – best of all – how not to hit that wall again in the future.

Sometimes, with some people, it’s relatively easy to help them identify the problem, make a repair and build in some good healthy alternative patterns. With some folks it’s much harder but the love and commitment are deep enough to sustain them through the effort.  And some folks decide it is time to move on.

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 6.37.17 AMThroughout this year of drilling down into what I consider to be the top 12 relationship skills we all need I’ve been hoping I’d unearth the Rosetta Stone of Loving Relationships.

I so wished there would be one theme, one thread, one skill or attribute which – if found as helpful between one dyad – might also be discernible as a key skill for happy relating between all partners, parents and children, siblings and friends.

Faith traditions have of course held the same question and answered with variations on the theme of Love.

“Love one another.”

It’s darned good advice as far as it goes, and we even have some behavioral injunctions from Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians ~

  • Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited,
  • it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offense or store up grievances.
  • Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
  • It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.
  • Love never comes to an end.

However, folks tend to come to me when they’ve run out of that loving feeling or they’ve lost the will to practice these loving behaviors. So then what?

 

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 7.28.49 AMThen what indeed.

I’m going out on a limb here.

I’m going to claim that I think there is one skill, one way of being that helps everything.

I’ve not named it as one particular skill in my list of 12 so I need to figure out how to do that. But I have discovered it weaving through all of the skills I’ve written about.

It’s not so much a Rosetta Stone metaphor as a “how does a fish know it’s in water” question.

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 7.32.30 AM

Question:

So what is this one thing which, if applied to any relationship, makes the biggest difference?

Answer:

It’s the ability to bring conscious awareness to each moment. It’s the ability to be in your life, in each moment, at the same time as you are aware of your life and yourself in each moment.

It’s the ability to be “The one who watches.”

Why?

Because each of these 12 skills –

  1. Recognize and get to know the many versions of you
  2. Learn how to choose which “you” shows up in any given moment
  3. Accept and get curious about other people’s complexity
  4. Master the art of conversation
  5. Listen with your whole self
  6. Cultivate empathy
  7. Be kind
  8. Negotiate with a win-win mentality
  9. Build or re-build trust
  10. Be genuinely sorry and apologetic when necessary
  11. Forgive and move on when necessary
  12. Let go of past resentments, present blindness and future expectations ~

each of them, depends upon your ability to do this. To nurture the intelligent life within your heart and mind and body and stay awake and aware of your moments.

If you are not present to your own moments, how will you know ~

  1. what mood you’re in?
  2. which version of you needs to show up?
  3. how others are responding to you?
  4. how you’ll speak if you’re not connected to your heart?
  5. how to listen if you’re unaware of what ears you’re listening with?
  6. how the other chap is feeling to foster empathy?
  7. what kindness in this moment might look like?
  8. what win-win means for the two of you?
  9. how trust can arise?
  10. what you’ve done that is hurtful?
  11. what you are genuinely capable of forgiving within your own heart?
  12. what you are holding onto in the past, present or future that you may wish to lighten up?

At the heart of this celebration of conscious awareness is a big, fat, juicy invitation to fall more deeply in love with yourself. Here’s a sweet reminder from Anne Lamott

If you don’t believe in God, it may help to remember this great line of Geneen Roth’s: that awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage. I doubt that you would read a close friend’s early efforts and, in his or her presence, roll your eyes and snicker. I doubt that you would pantomime sticking your finger down your throat. I think you might say something along the lines of, ‘Good for you. We can work out some of the problems later, but for now, full steam ahead!” 

I mean, it’s hard to cultivate a satisfying reciprocal loving relationship if we’re not so fond of the person we’re asking this other person to love back – right?

When I set out on this path my hope was

That you’ll become more aware of what you do that works – what brings you closer to people. And that you’ll become more hopeful and empowered as you consider those relationships that are fragile or cracked. Are there ideas here that will help you build a firmer footing?

So I guess I’ve come full circle.

At the end of a year spent identifying which skills help you cultivate great relationships with others, I’ve actually unearthed a skill which helps you cultivate a great relationship with yourself.
Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 9.18.17 AMGood old T.S. Eliot nails it again!


Makes sense!

May each of us grow in conscious awareness.

May we increasingly discover the joy that arises when we see and accept ourselves for the gift of our existence.

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To those who have subscribed to this blog – a huge thank you! My commitment to weekly blogging will be changing and these ideas will take on a new form. I’d love to have your company as this next iteration evolves.

To those who have stumbled here via some other portal, thank you! I’d love your company moving forward so do please sign up so we can stay in touch.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the last article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

SKILL TWELVE ~ Let go. Relationships end. You’ll learn, grow and carry on.

 

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 9.06.34 AM

I’ve gathered this list together from a variety of sources. Principally I want to acknowledge ~

  • Dr. Richard Schwartz and Internal Family Systems;
  • Marshall Rosenberg and Non Violent Communication;
  • Dr. Haim Guinot and Between Parent and Child;
  • Dan Wile and Collaborative Couples Therapy;
  • Dr. John Gottman, and 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work;
  • Dale Carnegie and How To Win Friends & Influence People
  • My parents, whose individual lives were rich and principled yet whose marriage was tough. Their difficulties motivate my quest.
  • And my own family – husband Mark, son Charlie and daughter Mona, who know how much I fall short of my efforts to relate well, and yet who love me anyway.
  • Stuart Schnell, whose critical thinking, inquiring mind and generous nature have pushed several of these essays into greater clarity. I know there are more improvements needed Stuart!
  • My rich and wonderful community of friends. You know who you are. You are supportive, forgiving, funny, kind, persistent, generous, giving and more. Oh – and you keep some champagne in your fridge “just in case!”

Why Forgive?

Why forgive someone?

It’s equally in our natures to harbor revenge as it is to nurture forgiveness. In fact, last week I explored how forgiveness and revenge are evolutionary bedfellows.

So why does a person choose one of these over another?

Why might you?

For this month’s exploration of forgiveness I am hugely indebted to, and thrilled to have discovered, the scholars of forgiveness at  The Greater Good Science Center, at the University of California, Berkeley. In their own words, the center is ~

unique in its commitment to both science and practice: not only do we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.

So, for the “Why?” of forgiveness, here are five good reasons, compiled by Fred Luskin, Ph.D.

  1. Forgiveness makes us happier: Research suggests not only that happy people are more likely to forgive but that forgiving others can make people feel happy, especially when they forgive someone to whom they feel close.
  2. Forgiveness improves our health: When we dwell on grudges, our blood pressure and heart rate spike—signs of stress which damage the body; when we forgive, our stress levels drop, and people who are more forgiving are protected from the negative health effects of stress. Studies also suggest that holding grudges might compromise our immune system, making us less resistant to illness.
  3. Forgiveness sustains relationships: When our friends inevitably hurt or disappoint us, holding a grudge makes us less likely to sacrifice or cooperate with them, which undermines feelings of trust and commitment, driving us further apart. Studies suggest that forgiveness can stop this downward spiral and repair our relationship before it dissolves.
  4. Forgiveness is good for marriages (most of the time): Spouses who are more forgiving and less vindictive are better at resolving conflicts effectively in their marriage. A long-term study of newlyweds found that more forgiving spouses had stronger, more satisfying relationships. However, when more forgiving spouses were frequently mistreated by their husband or wife, they became less satisfied with their marriage.
  5. Forgiveness boosts kindness and connectedness: People who feel forgiving don’t only feel more positive toward someone who hurt them. They are also more likely to want to volunteer and donate money to charity, and they feel more connected to other people in general.

And, anticipating the coming together of families that takes place each year in the United States on the last Thursday of November every year, and how fraught these times can be as relatives long on sanguinary but short on compassion rub egos and elbows at the dinner table, I thought this wee video by Fred Luskin might provide some interesting fodder for a transformed experience of one another.

Here is the full article, and below are some highlights of this video.

I’ve been teaching forgiveness for more than a decade, and the simple definition of forgiveness that I work with now is that it’s the ability to make peace with the word “no.”

People have come to me with a whole host of problems, and the essence of all of them is: I didn’t get something I wanted. I got “no.” I wanted my partner to be faithful; they weren’t faithful. I got “no.” I wanted somebody to tell the truth; they told a lie. I got “no.” I wanted to be loved as a child; I wasn‘t loved in a way that I felt good about. I got “no.”

It’s so important to be able to understand the universal experience of this—of objecting to the way life is and trying to substitute the way you want it to be, then getting upset when your substitution doesn’t take.

The essence of forgiveness is being resilient when things don’t go the way you want—to be at peace with “no,” be at peace with what is, be at peace with the vulnerability inherent in human life. Then you have to move forward and live your life without prejudice.

It’s the absence of prejudice that informs forgiveness. You realize that nobody owes you, that you don’t have to take the hurt you suffered and pay it forward to someone else. Just because your last partner was unkind to you doesn’t mean you always have to give your new partner the third degree. With an open heart, you move forward and accept what is, without prejudice.

You don’t just accept it because life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it—though that may be true—but you accept it in a way that leaves you willing to give the next moment a chance.

Come back next week for some more good stuff about forgiveness.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

 SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

Cake or Death? Forgiveness & Revenge as Evolutionary Bedfellows

Cake and forgiveness?

or

Death and revenge?

What will it be and how do I choose and, by the way, why are these two such intimate strangers?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As someone dedicated to researching and studying what makes for great relationships, I’ve come up with a list of 12 skills that are key. The first ten I’ve already written about and while they may be tough to explain and tougher to embody – I’ve captured more or less what I wanted to say. However, I’m really struggling with Number 11.

So, here’s a summary of the twelve skills. I maintain that you’ll enjoy great relationships to the extent you  ~

    1. Recognize and get curious about the fact there’s not just one “you;”
    2. Get some self-mastery going so you can choose which “you” shows up; i.e, respond, don’t react;
    3. Appreciate your partner is on this same journey of self discovery and self mastery – in other words, you are both “works-in-progress” so lighten up already;
    4. Work on your conversational chops and speak from your heart when possible;
    5. Really listen and get curious about what your partner is trying to tell you;
    6. Show up with empathy;
    7. Practice kindness – a lot;
    8. Negotiate how to get your needs met without selling yourself or your partner short;
    9. Become trusting and trustworthy;
    10. Use times of friction between you to grow closer – not father apart;
    11. Transform forgiveness into gratitude;
    12. Know when and how to let go.

Maybe you’re already thinking “Duh – what does she mean by “transform forgiveness into gratitude… no wonder she’s stuck!” And you have a point. So – being honest here –  the three essays I’m posting on forgiveness will be very much works-in-progress.

Here’s the general flow:

  • November 4th – Cake or Death? Forgiveness & Revenge as Evolutionary Bedfellows
  • November 11th – Choosing Forgiveness Today.
  • November 18th – The forgiveness challenge.
  • November 25th – Something different for Thanksgiving.

So onward – Cake or Death!

If this is your first introduction to Eddie Izzard you may be scratching your head. Finding it works better for me to seek forgiveness than permission (to coin another phrase I love) I went with his metaphor for this article.

I’m indebted to Michael McCullough, Ph.D whose work informed this blog post. You’ll find more in his book Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct. Published in 2008 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

OK – revenge!

Ever felt it? Not the noblest experience is it and it sure can consume one.

Fortunately for me I’m blessed by two things which make my experience of revenge rather lackluster.

First I’ve a dreadful memory and while I’m sure I’ve hatched all sorts of evil painful plans to take revenge on nasty people in my life, I can think of only one.

Second, this one person was neither my relative nor spouse. In fact he was very little in my life, so the impact of his unkindness didn’t touch me nearly as viscerally as the wounds I witness in my therapy office as warring divorced or divorcing partners wrestle with enormous feelings of revenge and rage at the injustices they’ve endured.

However, while this one person in my life was in the midst of being a total toad I found myself sinking into all sorts of vengeful fantasies having to do with hoping he’d choke on his food, crash his car, lose his fortune, and other ignoble nastinesses of which I’m not at all proud.

The redeeming news for me in the face of my base fantasies of “Death!” (and for anyone else who has felt that hot knife of vengeance) rests in the first of McCullough’s three truths.

Truth #1: The desire for revenge is a built-in feature of human nature

“ the desire for revenge is normal—normal in the sense that every neurologically intact human being on the planet has the biological hardware for it.

The evidence McCullough cites to support this claim is compelling.

When evolutionary biologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson looked at data on 60 different societies from around the world, they tried to determine how many of those societies showed evidence of blood feuds, capital punishment, or the desire for blood revenge. They found that 57 of the 60 societies they examined—95 percent—had “some reference to blood feud or capital punishment as an institutionalized practice, or specific accounts of particular cases or, at the least, some articulate expression of the desire for blood revenge.”

And he concludes, “When a behavior is this universal, that suggests it’s not just the product of particular cultures or social factors. Instead, it’s essential to what it means to be human.

So I’m a low life, but a very human low life.

Since Michael McCullough is Director of the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami, he asks himself why this particular trait has survived the evolutionary journey.

Three reasons:

  1. Revenge as deterrent. Remember, early humans were tribal so usually in the company of one another. If Og thwacked Zog and Zog took forceful revenge, folks might remember his fierce response and for sure Zog would not look like a coward. Even today studies have shown that “when two men have an argument on the street, the mere presence of a third person doubles the likelihood that the encounter will escalate from an exchange of words to an exchange of blows.”
  1. Revenge as punishment. If a member of the group behaved badly the worst thing would be to ostracize him or her. Just shy of that is to make bullying unprofitable so a good walloping back served to keep the member in the group but teach them – essentially – that crime does not pay.
  1. Revenge as “free-rider” prevention. Every group runs the risk of having free-loaders who want the benefits of the group without the effort. Knowing there would be dire consequences for non-cooperation may have served this purpose.

So, what about forgiveness?

Ever felt it? How did you feel?

Much better I expect. There’s a largess, a spaciousness and an inner freedom that flows when we forgive someone.

Often people who have been hurt by the person they love most in the world are anxious to move quickly to forgiveness. They hate sitting in judgment or revenge. It feels dreadful.

Nice of them?

Yes – but also hardwired into their biology as identified by the second of McCullough’s three truths.

Truth #2: The capacity for forgiveness is a built-in feature of human nature

According to McCullough, there is evidence that forgiveness is just as universal among humans as is revenge. His analysis of the same societies that reportedly had 95% blood revenge shows evidence of forgiveness and reconciliation 93 percent of the time. And that remaining 7%? I quote:

“Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has observed that “it is actually difficult to find descriptions of forgiveness in hunter-gatherer societies, not because forgiveness is absent but because it happens so naturally that it often goes unnoticed.” I think Wilson may be correct, and not just about hunter-gatherers but about all societies. Forgiveness and reconciliation may be so common and so taken for granted by anthropologists as to be regarded, quite literally, as nothing to write home about.”

Plus – animals forgive.

Researchers studying patterns of aggression and friendliness in chimps noted that of 350 aggressive encounters, only 14% were preceded by friendly contact, whereas 51% were followed by friendly contact.

The bonobo, mountain gorilla, goats, sheep, dolphins, hyenas and some non-mammalian species all have conciliatory behaviors.

Maybe the Ronettes were right and for all of us critters, “the best part of breaking up is when you’re making up.”

Screen shot 2015-11-02 at 5.15.48 PMWhat about my cat?” You wonder.

No deal.

I quote: “Of the half-dozen or so non-primates that have been studied, only domestic cats have failed to demonstrate a conciliatory tendency.”

So, cats aside, why do we creatures forgive if there’s a danger we’ll look weak or encourage crime or free-riders?

Why offer “Cake?” when some other part of you is (or recently was) thinking “Death!”

Having sifted through the theories of several evolutionary biologists McCullough puts his money on the “valuable relationship” hypothesis.

I quote again:

It goes like this: Animals reconcile because it repairs important relationships that have been damaged by aggression. By forgiving and repairing relationships, our ancestors were in a better position to glean the benefits of cooperation between group members—which, in turn, increased their evolutionary fitness.”

There’s more and I’d invite you to enjoy this longer article . But – this gives you the idea.

OK – it doesn’t take a professor to step back for a moment and observe something along the lines of; Well – if we’ve all got the genetic software for both revenge and forgiveness how come societies look so different? How come we have ardent fundamentalists lopping off hands and heads and people holding onto grudges and feuds for generations, while others of our human cousins seek to forgive extraordinary acts of cruelty like the Holocaust or Apartheid?

What are the social conditions that give rise to Cake thinking versus Death thinking?

Or, to bring it into the personal, how does this play out with Og and Zog’s descendants in the  intimate battle ground of the modern family? Is our rage against our partner, as well as our capacity to forgive, still about discouraging hostility, bad behavior and free-riding while encouraging the conditions for peaceful cooperation?

Come back next week!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

 SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

  • Cake or Death? Forgiveness & Revenge as Evolutionary Bedfellows

Apology “Fails”.

Hey I’m sorry, but October is “Apology Month.”

Here’s a story problem for you (with no numbers, I hasten to add). It’s a not too atypical sort of mis-communication / mis-understanding / poor choice made by couples early on in their relationship. This is a composite example from some of the situations I’ve helped folks navigate.

I’ll describe the situation. You get to have sympathy for one or other (both or neither) of the protagonists as they stumble through a Christmas party fiasco.

After the damage has been done, I describe 15 hypothetical apologies they might use on one another. My invitation to you is to try these on. How do they feel if you are the one delivering the apology? How do they feel if you are the one receiving the apology. Is there one that would work for you? Or not?

Amos and Zoe are in their mid twenties. They’ve been dating for about a year and by choice each maintains a separate apartment. Over the past 3 months, Zoe has made a practice of staying with Amos after work on Friday through Sunday night so their social and recreational lives can be shared more easily.

Amos landed a decent job with a large firm in town and is finishing up his MBA on nights and weekends. He’s about three years behind the typical curve here since he took a gap year and volunteered in Costa Rica for two years with the Peace Corps. Zoe was a straight A student her whole life and saw no merit in delaying entry into the work force. She cruised through one of the nation’s best MBA programs and is now a rising star in the most prestigious firm in town. She is highly ambitious.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.29.26 PM

Zoe has asked Amos to come to her office party. He has mixed feelings. Zoe’s at a huge firm stuffed with type A personalities all of whom – Amos suspects – will look down on his firm, his choices and his salary (not they he’s going to broadcast that but he will be showing up in a Datsun not an Audi ). On top of that, Zoe is tall, wicked smart, drop-dead gorgeous, a flirtatious dancer and Amos can imagine how the wolves will be circling all night. The alcohol and music won’t help and then – wasn’t her old college boyfriend recently hired? Plus, Amos has a game at 9:00am Saturday (he plays for a local soccer league and their main rivals are up tomorrow) so he has to watch his alcohol and hopefully get to bed soon after midnight.

On the other hand, he wants her to come to his office party, and better to be there fending off the opposition than sitting home worrying.

Zoe asked Amos to the office bash because she’s been telling everyone about her “friend” (it’s a fine line at work; she wants the safety of a relationship with the just-off-limits sense of promise for her male colleagues) so she better show up with him. But, it’s not the best plan since she knows he feels insecure about his education and work place (a trait she dislikes) and he’ll want to not drink much and go home early for the game.

They take separate cars and meet in the lobby. Things head south pretty quickly they both reported. A posse of Zoe’s immediate colleagues crowd the elevator with them to the party floor and immediately drop into “shop talk” so Amos is out on a limb and Zoe makes no attempt to either introduce him nor catch him up on the backstory. He literally trails behind the group as they leave the elevator and immediately looses her to a throng of mega decibel conversation and music.

Zoe’s on her game, loving the energy, the vibe, and excitement and the anticipation of dancing. Oh – where’s Amos?

Amos figures he’ll get their drinks and uses this offering to re-enter the group. At this point she introduces him and he’s stunned to hear she says “Oh hey, I’d like to you meet my friend, Amos. Amos this is the start-up team I was telling you about…”

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.36.25 PM

Friend-zoned in the first half hour? Not good. Amos racks his brains to see if he remembers any sort of opening gambit tid-bit about this team he’s apparently heard all about but draws a blank. But hey, all guys… he throws out a “how about the game last night?”

No takers. They seem to turn as one and drift off toward someone else they obviously find more interesting. Zoe pauses . . . then spots her girl friend Lucy. She grabs Amos and brings him to meet her. Lucy’s husband is away and Zoe seems keen for Amos to be attentive to Lucy while she… what did she say? But she’s gone – slipping into the throng.

From here out Zoe and Amos attend different events (experientally) and I’ll spare you the details. Amos leaves at 11:00pm after he finds Zoe on the dance floor to let her know. She agrees that’s a great idea and she’ll see him later and no, she won’t wake him on account of the game and his need for sleep.

By the time they make it to me about a month later their stories are hardened into battle lines. Here is how things played out.

Zoe did meet up with her old college flame. While she knew she did not want to hit the repeat button (he was way too self-absorbed for her long term, in fact “Narcissistic” came to mind as she described him) he was still funny, fascinating, wealthy and great dancer. By 3:00am the following morning she decided to accept his offer for her to sleep at his place rather than disturb Amos.

Amos left feeling angry and vulnerable. He berated himself for not putting on more of an alpha-male show and he wished, not for the first time, that he could Tango. He slept soundly though and it wasn’t until his alarm went on Saturday morning at 7:45 that he noticed Zoe had never come over. His own inner alarms went off but he showed up for his game (they lost) and then found Zoe sleeping off a bit of a hangover on his couch when he got home. In an instant all his frustration, anger, hurt, jealousy, doubt and insecurity erupted and for the first time in their relationship Amos went off on Zoe, calling her names, questioning her faithfulness, insulting her firm, friends, choices and attitude.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.39.43 PMZoe – who was feeling a bit guilty – kept calmer, but neither partner felt good about the fight that followed.

********************************************************************

OK – so right here I have 3 questions for you.

  1. Who should apologize to whom?
  2. What for?
  3. Why?

Now you get to weigh in.

First, if you were Zoe, would any of the following apologies make you feel better?

  1. OK, I know I blew my lid Saturday morning and I’m sorry but honestly Zoe you were horrible to me at the party.
  2. I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I said on Saturday morning.
  3. Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  4. OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just kept my peace, not said a word, welcomed you home with open arms and not cared one iota that you’d slept in another man’s house – or was it bed – that night?
  5. Zoe, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  6. I know you’re mad at me Zoe and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in being jealous of Jake when I know that’s in the past . And I think I’m hurting more than you are that I lost my cool and yelled at you. I’ve never wanted to be the sort of fellow who screams at his woman . . .I mean, who does that?
  7. While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you friend-zoned me in the first few minutes at the party.
  8. You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning in agony, seeing you schmoozing with all those hot shots and then waking up to find you not home even when I had to focus on the game and everything. Then, sure I have a tantrum so maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  9. So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if you treat me like Zoe! What man wouldn’t feel outrage when his girlfriend goes home with someone else after the office party?
  10. Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Expressed my  anger? Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  11. Zoe stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk with you about this anymore.
  12. I hate it when you bring that fight up Zoe, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  13. OK Zoe here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are flirtatious and with a bit of a thoughtless streak. I can get over that.
  14. I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  15. Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!

Now, if you were Amos, would any of the following apologies make you feel better?

  1. OK, so I had a fun night, made a bad choice at the end and I’m sorry but honestly Amos, you were a grump at the party and way out of line on Saturday morning.
  2. I’m sorry you felt hurt by what happened at the party.
  3. Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  4. OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just focused on you and made sure     you had a wonderful evening. It was selfish of me to want to dance with my co-workers and to stay at a friend’s house so I didn’t disrupt your sleep before the game, as you asked, remember?
  5. Amos, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  6. I know you’re mad at me Amos and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in work stories and not to dance with you. I think I’m hurting even more than you are that I stayed over at Jakes.
  7. While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you behaved like a sullen kid at the party and then totally lost your cool on Saturday.
  8. You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning   being stressed out by your judgmental attitude. You made no effort to relate to my friends and then blew up because I choose to be thoughtful. So maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  9. So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if we go to a party together and you’re no fun. I’ll take care of myself and try to have a good time. Who wouldn’t?
  10. Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Had some fun and stayed with a friend when it was so late. Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  11. Amos stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk about this with you anymore.
  12. I hate it when you bring that fight up Amos, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  13. OK Amos here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are sensitive and a tad jealous. I can get over that.
  14. I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  15. Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!

What do you think? How many of these pretty common forms of apology would work for you? Two or three? None?

Come back next week and I’ll give the therapists’ critique of each of these, plus deliver my  handy-dandy Best Apology Guidelines (maybe with a sexier title!).

Plus – if you’ve stumbled upon this blog and have read this far – thank you! Or if you read it regularly by following the Facebook link, thank you!  I’d love to invite you not to miss next weeks (or any of the remaining weeks) by hitting the “FOLLOW” button to subscribe.

In 2016 I plan to turn these Relationship Skills articles into a book, and having a healthy blog subscriber list all helps when it comes time to publish and market.

Here’s to some conscious apologies this week and come back for the critique.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

5 Non-Verbal Cues You Need to Know

Would you want to ~

  • Know what someone was feeling, without asking them?
  • Influence what someone thought about you, without saying a word?

This month, I’m hoping to boost your understanding of other people by beginning with the loudest messages that are coming at you – those silent, non-verbal ones.

This is definitely a brief whet-your-appetite piece since there is so much written about non-verbal communication.

However, armed with just these five non-verbal behaviors you’ll be way ahead of the game when it comes to understanding what someone else is feeling and thinking.

And – jolly helpful here – as you begin to crack these non-verbal languages, you can script what you’re broadcasting with a bit more care.

Here are 5 tips for translating those non-verbals into news you can use.

1.  The Walk

OK, gotta mention John Wayne here. Here’s a “John Wayne Moment” from The Birdcage (one of my all time favorite movies – this is the American version of  the French La Cage Aux Folles)   ~

Everyone has a walk.  John Wayne just had “such a walk”!

What matters about The Walk isn’t The Walk but rather it’s the fact you observe it.

If you pay attention, you can get to know a lot about a person by how they walk.

What is the baseline “norm” for any of these?

  • Your kid’s “I’m happy” walk?
  • Your partner’s brisk “exercising the dog” walk?
  • Your aging parent’s “grocery shopping” walk?

Once you know someone’s baseline walk, you can be aware of changes that might be telling you something.

  • When your kid comes home shoulders hunched, chin on chest, toes turned in – you might guess he’s feeling down, defeated or sad.
  • When your partner takes the dog around the block, hands thrust in pockets, forehead and shoulders leading as though into a gale force wind, you might wonder if they’re angry.
  • When your elderly parent shuffles more, or gets unsteady – it might be good to get a medical check up.

2. The Face

You – and good science – are right to look to the human face for reliable emotional feedback. Building upon Darwin’s original idea that certain specific expressions were universally recognizable, Paul Ekman has been studying facial expressions since the mid 1960s. To test the idea that there are certain universal facial expressions for emotions (even beyond the reach of global mass media which can blur specific cultural differences) click on the link below and take a brief test.

You will see the face of a Papua New-Guinea man asked to show how he would look in response to 4 experiences:

  • His child had just died
  • He stepped on a smelly dead pig
  • He was about to fight
  • Friends had come

Click below to see if you can identify how this man – from a  pre-literate, stone age culture – is feeling.

http://www.paulekman.com/universal-facial-expressions/

How did you do?

There is agreement on (at least) these 7 universal emotions – which are:

Screen shot 2015-03-03 at 6.12.58 PM

But of course, there are all sorts of nuances we can become aware of in people we know well. For a cheat-sheet, see Words for Feelings-2015

Knowing – or at least making an educated guess about – how someone else is feeling, allows you to be careful as you choose how to approach that person. This is often what we mean when we use the term “emotional intelligence.” Folks who miss facial emotional cues have a much harder time making friends. There is a non-verbal bond created when someone can both interpret and match our mood. If we are tired, it’s jarring to have a high energy encounter. If we are disappointed it can seem insensitive when someone approaches up triumphantly. When we are happy, we love it when our friends can rejoice with us.

Interested in learning more about reading emotions? Click here.

3. The Eyes

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 11.16.37 AMWhat have President Obama and Vice President Biden just witnessed? How do they feel about it?

Dr. Jack Brown thinks it’s something like

“I wish I never saw that”, or “I can’t believe he did that”.”

Why?

Because they are using eye-blocking. Here I quote from Joe Navarro‘s book What Every Body Is Saying – An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People (page 176).

Our eyes . . . have evolved as the primary means by which humans receive information. In fact, we often attempt to censor incoming data through a limbic survival mechanism known as eye-blocking, which evolved to protect the brain from “seeing” undesirable images. Any decrease in the size of the eyes, whether through squinting or pupilary constriction, is a form of subconscious blocking behavior. And all blocking behaviors are indicative of concern, dislike, disagreement, or the perception of a potential threat.

Why is this useful? Here is a short vignette from Joe’s book (page 174) that might bring the relevance of this knowledge closer to home.

While walking with my daughter . . . we passed someone she recognized. She squinted slightly as she gave the girl a low wave. I suspected something negative had transpired between them, so I asked my daughter how she knew the girl. She replied that the girl had been a high school classmate with whom she had previously had words. The low-hand wave was done out of social convention; however, the eye squint was an honest and betraying display of negative emotions and dislike.

4. The Arms

OK – so you’re the boss. You have 2 teams working on a project. They have met twice before and you chance upon the teams during their third meeting.

Here is Team A

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 11.47.33 AM

And here is Team B

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 12.01.06 PM

If you had to put money on which team would successfully deliver the final product on time, with minimal interference from you, which team would you bet on? And why?

I’m putting my money on Team B for one main reason. Team B enjoys a much higher degree of trust. How do I know that?

Look at the arms of all 6 team members. Since our ancestors stood upright, we humans have been able to use our arms for self-defense. Here is Joe again (page 109).

In my work with the FBI, I have seen individuals shot in the arm as they used their upper limbs in an attempt to defend themselves from handgun fire. The thinking brain would realize that an arm simply cannot stop a bullet, yet the limbic brain will cause our arms to life and precisely block a projectile traveling at 900 feet per second.

Absent gun fire, we still use our arms to protect ourselves, crossing them over our chest when we feel vulnerable and withdrawing or lowering our arms when we feel fearful. Conversely, when we feel safe, happy or excited we’ll open or raise our arms, wave them about and air punch for victory.

When a person folds his or her arms across their chest or abdomen they are feeling uncomfortable in some way and are (often unconsciously) protecting themselves. If I noticed members of a working team needing to be so self-protected, I’d find a quiet moment to take each person aside and check in, specifically about trust issues. Trust can certainly be cultivated, but if you don’t notice when your employees are feeling unsafe, you may miss all sort of opportunities to make their working environment more conducive to good work.

5. The Hands

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 2.17.25 PMHere’s a cool fact, again from Joe Navarro’s book (page 134)

The human brain is programmed to sense the slightest hand and finger movement. In fact, our brains give a disproportionate amount of attention to the wrists, palms, fingers, and hands, as compared to the rest of the body From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. As our species adopted an upright posture and our human brain grew ever larger, our hands became more skilled, more expressive, and also more dangerous. We have a survival need to assess each other’s hands quickly to see what they are saying or if they portend ill (as in holding a weapon).

So, my guess is you notice when someone hides their hands in a meeting and if you want to be trusted, keep your hands visible too. But the really interesting stuff about hands?

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 2.08.32 PMThe handshake!

Now I was raised in a household where my great grandmothers’ motto was “Manners before morals!” (Seriously!) So I learned more than I will ever pass along to my children about interpersonal etiquette, both at home and in the endless stream of prim and proper boarding schools I attended.  But, what I’ve just learned about the art of the handshake is leaving me, well shaking my head.

Here’s a list of ten different kinds of handshakes and what they communicate – enjoy! http://socialanxietydisorder.about.com/od/copingwithsad/a/badhandshakes.htm

Oh, and fun fact about JFK which you can observe in the photo above.

Did you know that every time John F. Kennedy needed to shake hands with someone in public he made a practice of standing on the left-hand side of photographers? This trick makes the one to the left of the image appear to be in control. The experts who studied gestures of J.F.K. are convinced that his persuasive body language was precisely that won him the Presidency.

Quoted from Etiquette Tips.

That’s all for now folks. See you next week.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the ninth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #8 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
  6. Happy Families
  7. Self Leadership
  8. When Does A Relationship Need Help?

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.

NEXT WEEK?

How to bring out the best in other people.

WANT MORE?

Little Miss Sunshine & Family

Welcome!

This is the third article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list    →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

Last week we talked about learning to recognize this phenomenon by noticing how we are constantly buffeted by mixed emotions. And since we can all relate to having mixed emotions, it’s perhaps not such a leap to think of these differing perspectives as representing important-but-separate aspects of ourselves. As different Parts of ourselves:

  1. We are all made up of different “parts” that together form our basic nature and personality.
  2. What we call “thinking” is often conversations among these different parts, each with its own point of view. Many of the emotions we feel come from these parts of ourselves.
  3. All parts of us want what is best for us, and all of them contain valuable qualities and resources. But even though they want what’s best for us, sometimes our parts have bad ideas about how to achieve this.

From “There’s A Part of Me” by Jon Schwartz and Bill Brennan.

Taking it one step further, it can help to think of these Parts as being in relationship to one another. Like family. Some families work to balance the needs of individual members with the needs of the group. Some not so much. Some family members speak up loudly and often, some are silent. And all have their outliers and eccentrics like . . .  Olive Hoover’s family from the movie Little Miss Sunshine.

Let’s play with this for a moment. So the idea here is to imagine those conversations you hear in your head are taking place between distinct inner characters, or Parts-of-you, each with his or her own narrow view of what’s needed to keep you functioning and safe. Olive has a loud-mouthed self-medicating grandpa intent on his next “fix”; a brilliant but tortured uncle processing multiple losses; a teenage brother focused on getting into the air force academy and who refuses to talk until he does; an exhausted over-working mother desperate to keep the family eating, sleeping and safe; a self-obsessed father focused on his career as a motivational speaker, and, of course, Olive who is close to her grandpa and who wants the chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Yet, as you’ll see below,  “no one gets left behind.”

If you’ve never seen the film, do treat yourself. Meanwhile, whether you’ve seen it or not, take a peep at the official trailer. Even this 2.5 minute clip makes the point: we’re a mess of well-meaning contradictions striving to get along, both inside and outside the family.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This week?  Where do these “Parts-of-me” come from, and what do they do?

In brief, your Parts (which contribute to your overall personality) are a mash-up of your biology and your environment. You were born with the predisposition to thrive in two realms;

  • Your outer system, by figuring out how to get along with (and even love) other people;
  • Your inner system, by figuring out how to get along with (and even love) yourself.

Predisposed to get along?” I hear a Part of you sneer! What about Olive’s grandpa screaming about the chicken dinner? He seems to hate everybody. Or brother Frank wanting to kill himself. He seems to hate himself.

Those are fair observations but my guess is, both Grandpa and Frank weren’t born with these extreme perspectives. At birth they, and all of us, were perfect little babies born with everything they needed to contribute their unique way of being to the world.

Problem is, they (and all of us) were born into an imperfect world. They (and all of us) were born with unique abilities to feel and think and express  but, because they (and all of us) exist only in relationship to others (other people with feelings, needs and agendas in your outer realm and other Parts of you with feelings, needs and agendas in your inner realm) things don’t always go smoothly.

Parts are forced out of their valuable roles [ . . . ] by life experiences that can reorganize the system in unhealthy ways. A good analogy is an alcoholic family in which the children are forced into protective and stereotypic roles by the extreme dynamics of their family. While one finds similar sibling roles across alcoholic families (e.g., the scapegoat, mascot, lost child), one does not conclude that those roles represent the essence of those children. Instead, each child is unique and, once released from his or her role by intervention, can find interests and talents separate from the demands of the chaotic family.

While some people get understandably pushed into destructive roles because of trauma and abuse,

more often, it is a person’s family of origin values and interaction patterns that create internal polarizations which escalate over time and are played out in other relationships.

from Richard Schwartz’s overview of IFS.

Which leads me to talk about what Parts do?

Going back to the idea that we are intended to thrive or at least, to take it down a notch, to-get-along-well-enough-with-our own self and our family or chosen community, then each of these inner personalities has a role to play to help us thrive.

According to Richard Schwartz (in his book Internal Family Systems, page 19) human systems (both our inner system of Parts and our outer system of relationships) thrive to the extent they enjoy ~

1)  BALANCE It’s a fairness thing. Parts and families need their fair share of ~

  • influence on decision-making – they need to know their ideas count
  • access to the groups resources – they need “enough”
  • responsibility – they need to contribute
  • safety – they need boundaries that are neither too rigid nor too loose.

2)  HARMONY It’s a cooperative thing. Parts and families thrive when an effort is made to work cooperatively toward a common vision whilst recognizing each person has specific styles, gifts, ideas and abilities. Our Parts are tasked with helping create and maintain this harmony.

3)  LEADERSHIP It’s a “Who’s in charge?” thing. Parts and families need help to ~

  • Mediate disagreements and polarizations and manage the feedback they give one another;
  • Ensure all members are protected and cared for;
  • Allocate resources, responsibilities and influence fairly;
  • Provide the broad vision and perspective for the whole system;
  • Represent the system to other systems;
  • Honestly interpret feedback from other systems;

4)  DEVELOPMENT It’s a learning thing. We may be born with all these wonderfully sensitive Parts designed to help us thrive with balance, harmony and leadership but, as I noted up top, perfect babies are born into an imperfect world. Our Parts have to grow and mature yet all of us to some extent, have parts who get stuck. They hold on to old beliefs and fears or, through trauma, freeze in place.

This is a lot for one week. But bottom line, you’ll be ahead of the game in your relationships if you can recognize that in any given moment ~

  1. You’ve got mixed emotions – you’re a mash-up of your biology and environment
  2. Your mixed emotions are expressed through your own inner family of Parts – and each Part is trying to keep your inner and outer worlds more or less balanced, harmonious, well-led and adaptable.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

  • Click here for an overview of IFS.
  • Click here for articles, books and other media about IFS.
  •  * Jon and Bill’s book excerpted above comes as a downloadable eBook for $10, or a paper bound book for $15. Both can be found at the IFS store.

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING?

Bring to mind a dilemma you are having. A “should I do this or that” sort of dilemma. This is a terrific way to see your inner family at work. You are having a dilemma because two Parts of you are polarized. It’s like watching an inner ping-pong match – right?

  • Your I want to be happy Part says “Quit your job – you’re miserable!” and
  • Your I want to be secure Part says “You’ll never find another job. You’ll be destitute in two months. What are you even thinking!”

And some other Part is striving to find the wisdom of Solomon and be The Decider.

Now what you do about all of this is another article. But if you can at least find these Parts, you’ll be several important steps along the way to resolving the impasse.
NEXT?

  • How do these Parts relate to one another?
  • Who’s really in charge of all these Parts?
  • And how on earth does any of this help my relationships?