077: Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Happiness–#4: Resolve a Conflict with a Friend or Family Member

This topic may SEEM simple, and the rewards can be tremendous–but it requires courage, lots of practice, and the death of the ego!

Most of us, and perhaps all human beings, run into conflicts with family members, friends, and colleagues from time to time. And as we all know, these conflicts can weigh us down and rob us of happiness. In this podcast, you will learn how to transform anger and bickering into intimacy and joy.

I’ll bet you know someone who

  • complains endlessly, but ignores your good advice and just keeps complaining
  • argues defensively and always has to be right
  • won’t listen
  • criticizes you unfairly
  • only cares about himself or herself
  • refuses to talk or express his or her feelings

Does any of that sound familiar?

And if you’re a therapist, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you run into conflicts with angry, critical patients from time to time as well. Sometimes that happens to me, and it can feel intensely demoralizing.  But when I resolve the conflict, and develop a deeper and more rewarding relationship with the person I was at odds with, it is exhilarating.

Here are some fairly common complaints therapists sometimes hear from patients:

  • You don’t “get me.”
  • You don’t really care about me. . . You’re just in it for the buck.
  • You’re not listening.
  • You haven’t helped me. . . in fact, you’re making me worse!
  • Aren’t you just a student? Do you think I need a real therapist?
  • This therapy sucks!

In today’s Feeling Good Podcast, you will learn about a powerful “Intimacy Exercise” which David has developed. This exercise is designed for therapists and for the general public alike. It’s designed to help you fine-tune your communication skills, so you can develop more rewarding relationships with the people you care about. You may have listened to some of the five previous podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, but this is the first time this training technique has been illustrated.

David and Fabrice are joined by Jacob Towery, MD, as well as Lida Sharlin, LMFT, and Eleanor Scott, a certified marriage and Family Therapist. Jacob is one of the teachers at David’s weekly Tuesday evening psychotherapy training group at Stanford, and Lida and Eleanor attend the group as students. Jacob is a psychiatrist and author of the Antidepressant Book for teenagers, recently released as an audiobook. David and Fabrice are very grateful that Jacob, Lida, and Eleanor volunteered to participate in this podcast. Hopefully, their real-life examples will make the podcast far more dynamic and interesting for you!

This is not a trivial statement, since the key to learning involves the philosophy of “joyful failure”–Lida and Eleanor will have to be willing to learn from their mistakes, which will be pointed out immediately while they are role-playing. This exercise is especially challenging, since just about everybody makes all kinds of mistakes initially. For experienced therapists, this can be a shock to the system, since they thought they’d mastered empathy skills in graduate school–but that is rarely the case. If you check your ego at the door, as Lida and Eleanor have bravely done, the learning potential can be tremendous.

As you will see, the exercise involves one person who does the criticizing, and a second person who attempts to respond effectively, using the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. Then the role-play suddenly stops, and three types of feedback are provided for the person who was trying to respond effectively:

  1. Your letter grade (A, B, C, D, or F)
  2. Here’s what worked and what didn’t work.
  3. Here’s how you might improve your response, using the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.

I think you will enjoy seeing Lida and Eleanor, struggle to respond effectively to two patient conflicts, and two personal conflicts, while Jacob and David provide feedback and tips on how to improve.

Responses to two stinging (and real) patient criticisms are illustrated first:

  1. “This session sucked! I ended up feeling worse at the end.”
  2. “You’re so invested in giving me homework assignments during our sessions that you don’t pay any attention to me, and how I’m feeling!”

After that, two angry criticisms from loved ones are illustrated:

  1. “You’re selfish and only think about yourself!” (My sibling said this.)
  2. “You’re always so self-righteous! How could I ever confide in you!” (My son said this.)

How would you have responded?

If you would like to delve deeper into this topic, pick up a copy of David’s book, Feeling Good Together, on Amazon.com. There are many exercises to help you master the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.

Coming Soon

Next week David and Fabrice will conclude the last of five podcasts on how to boost happiness. The focus will be how to change the way you think and feel when you fall into a black hole of insecurity and self-doubt and beat up on yourself with negative thoughts. Sound familiar?

And the following week we will have Podcast 079: What’s the Secret of a “Meaningful” Life? Live Therapy with Daisy.” This will be a very special podcast that Fabrice and I feel very grateful to be able to share with you. The podcast will be based on an actual therapy session with a young woman who is struggling tremendously with depression, anxiety, and self-doubt because of fertility issues, along with strong. societal messages that women should have children and should want children.

The live therapy we have published previously–with Mark, who felt like a failure as a father, and Marilyn, who was confronted by a sudden and totally unexpected horrific diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer–received tremendously positive feedback from our subscribers. Now we are proud to present yet another live and inspiring therapy session in just two weeks! So mark your calendars!

Fabrice and I hope you like our Feeling Good Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!


At least one listener has had problems leaving an iTunes review from his i-phone, so Fabrice has created some simple to follow instructions if you need help.



9 thoughts on “077: Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Happiness–#4: Resolve a Conflict with a Friend or Family Member

  1. I love the 5 secrets and practice them every day. I am a high school teacher and receive a LOT of criticism from my students, which can leave me feeling disappointed and incompetent.

    Today a student told me the pace of instruction in my class is too fast and she is having trouble learning from the way I am teaching. I really struggled to respond effectively. I knew I should use the 5 secrets, but the words just couldn’t come to me! And I have been reading ‘Feeling Good Together’ and listening to podcasts a couple times per week! Looking back, I was being incredibly defensive. The thoughts running through my head were, “maybe if you came to class more often you wouldn’t have trouble keeping up” and “you should be doing your homework and taking better notes”. I think I used a bit of stroking with her when I told her, “You are very intelligent, and I have seen you do some good work this term” as well as inquiry with “I’m trying to understand your perspective, can you tell me more about where you’re coming from. But I failed to share my personal feelings, and definitely wasn’t able to disarm her at all. I’m sure she didn’t feel any empathy from me.

    So you’re not kidding when you say it sounds easy listening to this recording of two therapists in role play. In real situations when I am under criticism, it is so hard. But I do have the hunger for it, and I am going to keep working at it.

    I am so impressed with Lida and Eleanor’s bravery being recorded. I’m sure there is a fear of being judged for not giving A+ responses. I really appreciate these ladies putting themselves out there so listeners can learn. What a great podcast! Thanks!

    • Thanks, Jess, I’m copying Fabrice, Lida, Eleanor, and Jacob. I’m sure Lida and Eleanor will appreciate your comments, as they did take a big risk in being human and vulnerable. But as you say, that is almost always THE BEST for everyone!

      And you are totally right that the “ego,” or “self” or “pride” gets in the way. I’m writing about the death of the ego (among other things) in my new book. There are two conversations going on, the “inner conversation” with your own self-critical thoughts, and the “outer conversation” with the student who is criticizing you!

      Loved you note!


  2. Greetings – I have been reading the Feeling Good Handbook. I am finding the book to be very useful.and informative . I just started to use the disarming technique with a family member although it was difficult it seemed to work. I thank my friend Rob Degregorio for sharing this book with me.

  3. I think the phrase “I imagine” can be over used and I feel like it is distancing language as opposed to connecting. “I can see or I hear” are more present moment observations. When I hear I imagine, I feel like the other person is only getting me on an intellectual level through how they see themselves and not through my eyes, my experience. They are leaving our conversation and going inside their internal conversation.

    I see the value in naming anger and can see how it can be disarming and empathetic. I just worry, for myself, about projecting my anger onto someone and making the mistake of assuming they are angry when they are not, and thus making them angry for misreading them or missing my own anger while continuing to insist they must be angry.

  4. This was simply fantastic material! Kudos to Jacob and specially to Lida and Eleanor, seeing them struggle to respond effectively to all the situation. I felt so much closer to both of them. It kind of opened me to let myself become vulnerable, to see my own mistakes. While the feedbacks given were also excellent! Once again thanks a lot to each one of you.
    I have myself started practicing the 5 secrets. I am realizing that a lot needs to be learnt yet, still I have already started benefiting from it. Just yesterday, one of my adolescent client told me, “Doc, it seemed to me as if you were scolding me out of being suicidal” and I reminded myself of the 5 secrets and I said, ‘I agree, I was kind of feeling a bit angry at you, as in my mind I really wanted you to quickly think of other options available to you for overcoming your sufferings. However I do realize that even if a part of you also knows that there are other ways to put an end to your sufferings, at this point of time, you maybe having some definite reasons to think that, putting an end to your life seems to be a better option. So now before wanting you to change your mind, I really want to first focus on trying to understand that why do you think putting an end to your life seems to be a better option for you. Could you tell me more about that?” And to my surprise he just broke down to tears and said, “Doc, for the first time I feel someone is really trying to understand me, and now I know that you were angry because you actually care for me so much”. After that, the session went so smooth, we could do the Paradoxical agenda setting so well and I could see his resistance melting off so pleasantly. Thank you so much!
    I keep recommending these podcast to many people and I have already ordered your books “Feeling good’ and “Feeling good together”. As I am a bit slow reader, I will take time to read them, along with my extremely busy schedule. Meanwhile these podcasts are a gift to me, a great learning opportunity, for therapists like me, who live in the part of world where we don’t have much opportunities to update ourselves. God bless you, David and Fabrice, I keep looking forward to your next podcast very eagerly. I have enjoyed all your podcast a lot, but this one was extraordinary. So I request you to kindly arrange more of such role plays with therapists in action.
    Meanwhile yes, I am planning a trip to Vancouver this summer so very soon I will be registering for your workshop in Whistler.
    I realize that this note has gotten a bit too long, and if thats not ok, from next time I shall be sending you my comments on an email.
    Thanks a lot once again to all of you from the bottom of my heart.

  5. I noticed that a common critique was that the therapist response was too long, yet there is a lot to respond to in using the 5 secrets. Is it recommended to respond to someone’s criticism with all 5 steps or to can you cover them gradually over the conversation. For example, if you said, “Yes, you’re right I am really selfish. That makes you angry and I imagine it makes you feel like I don’t care about you. I really love you and want to hear more. Can you tell me more?” and then leaving your own feelings for after they expand?

    • Angela, Thanks for your terrific question and effort!

      Not bad, I’ve found length is not a problem if you are summarizing what the other person said (Thought Empathy) and acknowledging how she or she might be feeling, because it is all about them. Same is true for the Disarming Technique–people LOVE to b agreed with, and Inquiry. You’re feeling empathy is a bit abrupt and challenging. I might reword it more like this: “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you were feeling sad and frustrated with me, and lonely, and maybe even a bit angry, with good reason, because I HAVE been selfish, arguing and talking about myself, rather than listening to how you’re feeling and seeing the truth in what you’ve been telling me.”

      This is a longer and softer version of your somewhat abrupt Feeling Empathy statement. The I Feel can come in at a second response, letting them have center stage first, as you’ve suggested. However, if it is stated as a compliment to them, they will like it: “I’m feeling sad, too, and a bit ashamed, because I love you so much, and it’s kind of shocking to have to look at my own behavior.” Again, if it casts the other person in a positive light, and comes across as genuine, and humble, they will almost always like it. Sharing your own anger and loneliness in a kind way, as you have said, can come later. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We do a lot of role playing, practicing one response to the other person’s criticism, and then grading it and giving feedback on what worked and what did not work. That is crucial, once you have a really good written response!


Leave a Reply to Angela Cancel reply