158: Changing the Focus: One of the Advanced Secrets of Effective Communication

David and Rhonda are joined again today by David’s neighbor, friend, and hiking buddy, Dave Fribush. We appreciate his superb technical skills and thank Dave for his support of our podcasts!

Rhonda starts the podcast by reading a question from a podcast fan named Rajesh, who wrote:

I have often seen that estranged friends or family members do not talk or resolve a trivial conflict for years because one or both of them have ego issues or have fear of rejection. This problem of unfairness may even exist between a demanding parent and the child, ranging from secretly resenting to not talking at all. They might come face to face in family occasions or professional settings in case of friendship and bear the discomfort, but not attempt to reconcile.

They might be suffering deep down emotionally but they refuse to accept that it matters. One or both members might feel they have been treated unfairly and expect apologies. But, both parties are scared to even make the move for the fear of being hurt again or rejected.

On a personal level, I have faced such unfairness with a close friend. I see even if you forgive the other party, that element of resentment is still in their somewhere. How do you know you have truly forgiven someone and moved on? Whats the best that can be done at an individual level without involving the other party, at least till the time both are ready to talk it out, if it ever happens. 

Once again I thank you for all the selfless Good work you do for people through your knowledge sharing. My sincere best wishes to you and great thanks 🙏.


I appreciate this question, and it is a great introduction for our podcast on Changing the Focus, one of the three Advanced Secrets of Effective Communication. We recently introduced the three advanced secrets in podcast #126, and you can listen to it for review if you like.

  1. Changing the Focus. This technique can be tremendously helpful when there’s an “elephant” in the room.
  2. Multiple Choice Empathy. This technique can be transformative when you’re trying to connect with a teenager, friend or loved one who refuses to talk to you.
  3. Positive Reframing. This technique can be invaluable when you’re fighting with a colleague, patient, friend or family member, and you’re both feeling frustrated, angry, and upset

Today we take a deeper dive into Changing the Focus. This technique can be extremely helpful when you feel tense or awkward in your relationship with someone. For example, you may be arguing endlessly, or there could be some unacknowledged feelings that no one is talking about, like shame, anger, hurt, or resentment. When you use Changing the Focus, you gently point out what’s happening, and focus on your feelings, and drawing out the other person’s feelings, instead of continuing in the same pattern of arguing or avoidance.

Although this technique can be tremendously helpful, it is very challenging, so I have written two memos explaining the technique in greater detail, with examples. One is for therapists and one is for the general public. If you are interested in learning this technique, this would be a great starting place, and it might not hurt to read both memos. In addition, you have to be skillful with the Five Secrets of Effective Communication before trying this technique. That’s a lot to ask, I know! 

David, Rhonda, and Dave (our new podcast co-host) model how Rajesh might use Changing the Focus with estranged friends or family members. Then Dave Fribush provides a terrific example of how he used the Five Secrets, plus Changing the Focus, in a troubled love relationship, after arguing and resisting for several years. Then I (David) provide an example with a patient I was failing with, and Rhonda provides two tremendous examples–one from her clinical practice, and one involving her sister. 

See what you think about our new three-person format! Since our audience consists of therapists as well as the general public, we welcome Dave with open arms and hearts, and feel lucky! 

David, Rhonda, and Dave 🙂


You can reach Dr. Burns at david@feelinggood.com. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and can be reached at rbarovsky@aol.com. She is a Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. She also does forensic work in family court, but finds TEAM-CBT to be way more rewarding!

Today’s featured photo is courtesy of Nancy Mueller–www.nancymuellerphotography.com.

If you like our jingle music and would like to support the composer Brett Van Donsel, you may download it here

* * *

You may have missed the Calgary and South San Francisco intensives, but there will be two more awesome workshops
for you this fall.

High-Speed Treatment of Depression
and Anxiety Disorders

A Four-Day TEAM-CBT Advanced Intensive

November 4 – 7, 2019
The Atlanta, Georgia Intensive

Sponsored by Praxis

* * *

I also have a tremendous one-day workshop scheduled with my colleague, Dr. Jill Levitt, that will be potentially life- and career-changing (really!) You will learn powerful skills that will boost your clinical effectiveness and improve your relationships with friends, colleagues, and loved ones.

Advanced Empathy Tools for Connecting
with Challenging Patients,
Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones

With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt

Oct 6, 2019 | 7 CE hours, $135

Do you have a patient, colleague, friend or loved one who:

  • Complains endlessly but doesn’t listen to any of your good advice?
  • Appears irate, but insists s/he isn’t upset?
  • Refuses to express his / her feelings?
  • Never listens?
  • Argues, and always has to be right?
  • Always has to be in control?
  • Is relentlessly critical?
  • “Yes-but’s” when you try to make a point?
  • Insists you don’t really care—or understand—when you think you do?

Then you’re going to LOVE this workshop with David and Jill. You’ll learn about–

  • The Powerful “Law of Opposites”
  • How to find out how your patients really feel about you–if you dare!
  • How to transform therapeutic failure into success
  • How to talk to people who refuse to talk to you

You’ll also learn–

  • Why your worst therapeutic failure is actually your greatest success in disguise
  • The fine points of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication
  • Three Advanced Empathy Techniques: Multiple Choice Empathy, Changing the Focus, and Positive Reframing
  • And more

There will be lots of small group practice with expert feedback and mentoring to help you refine your skills!

Attend in person or
from your home via Live Streaming

Sign up early because we always sell-out for the in-person seats. Of course, there will be lots of skilled trainers to help the online participants with the small group exercises, so you’ll have a great experience either way.

My one-day workshops with Dr. Levitt are usually pretty awesome! It is always an honor to teach with Jill!

Learn More & Register


* * *

Coming up in 2020

High Speed Methods to Reduce Resistance
and Boost Motivation

With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt

Feb 9. 2020 |  7 CE hours. $135

Learn More & Register

 The Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit:
How to Crush Negative Thoughts

With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt

May 17, 2020 | 7 CE hours. $135

Learn More & Register


4 thoughts on “158: Changing the Focus: One of the Advanced Secrets of Effective Communication

  1. Hi Dr. Burns

    I like to attend the seminar beloe, but I’m not a therapist. I’m familiar with your written work.

    Is it advisable for me to attend?

    Advanced Empathy Tools for Connecting
    with Challenging Patients,
    Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones

  2. Dr. Burns,

    Another great podcast. I look forward to listening every week. I absolutely agree with Dr. Rhonda that the “I Feel” statement is the hardest part of changing the focus. It has been very difficult and scary for me as well. I think it can feel really awkward, self-indulgent, or weak to describe your own feelings, whereas in reality, it is the most vulnerable and powerful thing a person can do. Such fears might stem from cognitive distortions such as “emotional reasoning” or “fortune teller.” On the other hand, it can be so frightening to ask how somebody close to you is feeling! Maybe they aren’t happy with you at the moment. I wonder what self-defeating belief, possibly regarding emotional perfectionism, is causing this fear.

    I think dipping into the river of emotions is a kind of agenda setting. Once the feelings are out in the open, you are no longer asking a loved one to change. You are really asking them to choose. They might choose blame and truth. They might choose power and cruelty. Or they might choose intimacy! The path to intimacy and understanding is always present, just often clouded among many choices. One beautiful aspect to Feeling Good Together is that you never ask the reader to change, but simply to choose: do you want to improve your relationship or maintain the same? Would love to hear your thoughts about this connection.

    I am an optimist, so I believe that many people, when offered the decision, will choose intimacy. It’s just that in our day to day lives, it is so easy to forget that we always have the decision. Dipping into the river of emotions is a powerful tactic to remind those around you that intimacy and understanding are always options, especially during interpersonal conflict. And allowing a loved one to choose intimacy over power and righteousness, and giving them the choice to turn off the “game” of resentment and blame, this is an absolute gift.


    • Thanks, Derek, appreciate your thoughtful comment. Yes, there is a decision for sure! Sadly, I do not share your belief that people will usually choose intimacy, but sometimes they will, and you are a good example of that! All the best, david

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