071: Ask David — anger . . . great thinkers . . . narcissistic bosses . . . social media bullying . . . and more!

071: Ask David — anger . . . great thinkers . . . narcissistic bosses . . . social media bullying . . . and more!

In today’s podcast, David and Fabrice address many thought-provoking questions submitted by listeners like you:

  • Jonny asked two questions: #1: What do I do if I am using the Five Secrets and I feel angry? If I use the Disarming Technique, isn’t there a danger that I might not express my own feelings? And isn’t this the same as your “Hidden Emotion” Model, where we don’t express our feelings due to excessive niceness?
  • Jonny #2: What great thinkers inspired your work when you were creating the Five Secrets of Effective Communication? Were you influenced by Martin Buber?
  • Pilar: How would you use the Five Secrets if you’re attacked in public by a narcissistic boss? Should you use the Disarming Technique? Won’t that make you look weak? should you only use the Five Secrets in one-on-one situations?
  • Harry: You mentioned that the technique of Self-Monitoring is rarely effective. Why is this?
  • JP: Are there books on CBT for children? Do you have assessment tests for teenagers and children?
  • Tom: How would you help young people who are being bullied in social media. Many of them commit suicide, and that probably only represents the tip of the iceberg.

We love your questions. Keep them coming!

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070: Five Secrets Training — Stroking

070: Five Secrets Training — Stroking

David and Fabrice discuss Stroking, the fifth of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of Stroking is to express some warmth or admiration for the person you’re in conflict with, as well as people you’re NOT in conflict with! Essentially, you say something positive or complimentary about the other person, even in the heat of battle. It can make a huge difference in how the other person feels, and how the situation gets resolved.

In the last four podcasts we went over the  E = Empathy and the A = Assertiveness of the EAR acronym. In this podcast, we will concentrate on R = Respect. Stroking is the technique for the R = Respect. The term is crude, but I’ve never found an alternative that worked better.

Philosophically, Stroking goes back to the work of Martin Buber, the 20th century philosopher / theologian who talked about the difference between an “I – It” relationship and an “I – thou” relationship. In an “I – It” relationship, you think of the other person as an object to be manipulated, and not as a human being. You may compete with the other person, and try to beat or defeat them, or you may try to punish, exploit, or hurt them. For many examples, you only have to turn on the evening news and see how some of our politicians talk about their “enemies.” In contrast, in an “I – thou” relationship, you treat the other person with respect and dignity, even if you’re at odds, even if you’re feeling angry.

In the last podcast, we discussed “I Feel” Statements–sharing your own feelings openly. If you have negative feelings you need to express, you can include Stroking at the same time. Sometimes, that’s the sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Here’s an example. Let’s imagine you’re ticked off at a friend named Jim, and you’ve been arguing with each other and getting frustrated. I’ll give you example of how you might use Stroking, and i’ll put the name of the technique I used in parentheses after each sentence so you’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

“Jim, I’m feeling really ticked off at you right now, and I’m having fantasies of strangling you! (“I Feel” Statement) At the same time, it bothers me when we argue like this because I’ve always admired you tremendously and felt you were one of my best friends. (Stroking)  I know there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying. and I’m sure when work this out, we’ll be even closer. (Disarming Technique) With that in mind, you can tell me more about how you’re thinking and feeling? (Inquiry) “

Hopefully, you can see that this type of statement conveys warmth, respect and openness, while at the same time clearly expressing your anger. Of course, this is just an example, and the way you express yourself will be very different.

Expressing your negative feelings with warmth requires discipline, because most of the time we get defensive and want to lash out at the person we’re mad at. And you can do that if you want–I give in to that urge every now and then, too! But if you express yourself with warmth and caring, and if you share your feelings instead of arguing or attacking the other person, or putting him or her down, you’ll usually get a far more positive response.

David describes how he used Stroking (along with the Disarming Technique) to good effect when he was ruthlessly put down by a hostile examiner during his oral medical board examination when he returned home to California with his family in 1995.

David and Fabrice describe errors people make when trying to use Stroking, such as saying something “canned” or formulaic that does not sound genuine or specific. All of the Five Secrets have to come from the heart or they’ll backfire.

David and Fabrice also describe the intense resistance that people often put up when trying to learn the Five Secrets. For example, you may tell yourself that you “shouldn’t have to” say something nice to the other person because you’re so mad, or because you’re labeling the other person as “a loser” or “a jerk” and you see that person in an entirely (and distorted) negative light, thinking (wrongly) that there ISN’T anything good or positive about him or her.

Your homework for this week will be to practice Stroking. Say five positive things to people every day, and you can do this easily in your day-to-day interactions with anyone, even strangers. You can find something you like or admire about the other person, and say that to them. People, for the most part, will like that and respond positively! We understand that this is a simple and superficial assignment. Once you’ve practiced it over and over, it will be far easier to use it effectively in the heat of battle!

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

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069: Five Secrets Training — “I Feel” Statements

069: Five Secrets Training — “I Feel” Statements

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss “I Feel” Statements, the fourth of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The essence of this technique is to share your thoughts and feelings openly and with respect, rather than hiding your feelings or acting them out aggressively.

The Five Secrets are organized around the acronym, EAR. E = Empathy, A = Assertiveness, and R = Respect. The last three podcasts were on the E = Empathy techniques. This podcast will be on A = Assertiveness.

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss how the Five Secrets differs from assertiveness training, which has been incredibly popular for the past 50 years, with many best-selling books. Assertiveness is all about expressing your own needs and feelings. Although this is incredibly important, David argues that assertiveness alone can come off as somewhat “self”-centered, since your talking about how YOU feel and what YOU need. In contrast, that the most skillful and effective communication involves a more balanced focus on your own and the other person’s feelings, in a spirit of mutual respect and “oneness.”

David tells a funny story of what happened after he read a book on assertiveness training when he was a psychiatric resident. He dutifully and enthusiastically tried to apply the techniques he was reading about in the assertiveness book during a dispute with a gas station attendant in Philadelphia, and the gas station attendant threatened to break his kneecaps!

Although David does not like formulas, they can sometimes help you when you are learning a technique for the first time. The formula for an “I Feel” Statement would be a statement along these lines: “I feel X, Y, and Z,” where X, Y, and Z are words from the Feeling Words list.

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss the importance of this technique, and how to use it in different settings. Although sharing your feelings can be vitally important in conversations with loved ones, as well as interactions and negotiations with colleagues at work, you would use different kinds of feeling words in different settings. For example, you might say, “I feel kind of hurt and put down right now” during an interaction with your spouse or partner, but you probably wouldn’t say that when talking to your boss, because it would sound goofy!

They also discuss common errors people make when trying to use “I Feel” Statements. A common error I saying “I feel that . . . ” followed by something about the other person, such as “I feel that you’re wrong.” This is not the expression of your feelings, but a criticism of the other person.

They also discuss common sources of resistance to using this technique. For example, you may be afraid that if you share your feelings openly, and allow yourself to be vulnerable, something bad will happen, or that people will take advantage of you or use the information to hurt you.

In addition, many human beings, and perhaps most of us, tend to repress our feelings and hide them from others, thinking we “shouldn’t” feel the way we do. For example, if you feel ashamed, you may feel the urge to hide your feelings from others. David describes how he often feels this way if he makes errors during his teaching–he thinks he has to hide his shame from his students, thinking a Stanford professor should not have such feelings!

David emphasizes that even include famous people who claim to be experts in communication have the urge to hide their feelings. David describes an awkward but funny interaction he had recently with a famous communication expert at the recent Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference.

Your homework for the week is to use five “I Feel” Statements every day. They can be positive as well as negative, and it can something as simple as “I feel great because the sun is shining today,” or “I feel sad and disappointed because my talk wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, and someone in the audience was critical of me.”

David, Helen, and Fabrice emphasize once again that using the Five Secrets one at a time is artificial, like the practice exercises on musical instrument. So the homework exercises are like that. Once you’ve master each of the Five Secrets, and you have a feel for how they work, you can integrate and weave them together masterfully in challenging real life situations that are sensitive and important to you.

And Helen emphasizes the crucial idea that the Five Secrets will only help you if you have a sincere desire to resolve conflicts and to develop more loving and successfully relationships with others.

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

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068: Five Secrets Training–Inquiry: Helen Returns!

068: Five Secrets Training–Inquiry: Helen Returns!

Secrets of Successful Job Interviewing, Deeper Intimacy, Overcoming Shyness, and Other Interpersonal Goodies!

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss Inquiry, the third of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. Inquiry means asking gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Although this technique sounds simple, it can be incredibly powerful and helpful.

David, Helen and Fabrice give many examples of how to use this techniques skillfully, as well as common errors to avoid. They also explain why and how this technique can sometimes be life-transforming, especially for individuals who feel shy and awkward in social situations.

Inquiry is an incredibly powerful technique to use when interviewing for a job, or for admission to a college or graduate school, especially when combined with Stroking, the fifth of the Five Secrets. David tells a hilarious story of how he got into the Stanford Medical School by using Inquiry and Stroking when he was interview by the Chairman of the Anatomy Department in the dark, spooky basement of the Stanford Museum.

David hikes for several hours every weekend with individuals from his weekly training group at Stanford, and does personal work with them along the way. He describes working with a woman who had crippling shyness since childhood, due to her belief that she was a “loser” and that people would find her boring. The use of “Inquiry” along with “I Feel” Statements (self-disclosure) during the hike was life-transforming when she disclosed her shyness to two elderly men walking with their dogs. The story is inspirational!

David also describes how another hiker could use “Inquiry” to help with a marital problem that had been bothering him for several months.

David encourages listeners (that includes you!) to try using Inquiry five times each day, even in superficial interactions with people in any setting, such as the grocery store, and gives examples of how to do this. Although this will not be the deepest application of Inquiry, the simple daily practice will give you a clear understanding of how this technique works. Practice is the key to growth and learning. You can’t get it just be listening or reading.

You can also accelerate your learning by reading Dr. Burns’ book, Feeling Good Together, and doing the written exercises while you read! You can order the book on Amazon.

Next week, our wonderful Helen joins us again for the Podcast on “I Feel” Statements.

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

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Two Common Five Secrets Errors: Don’t Sound like a Parrot! When to Help and When to Listen.

Two Common Five Secrets Errors: Don’t Sound like a Parrot! When to Help and When to Listen.

 

Dear colleague,

I recently received two emails from a podcast listener named Angela who had excellent questions about the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. Feel free to send me your emails with questions as well!

If you are having trouble using the Five Secrets, the most powerful way to get great feedback is to think of a specific interaction that did not go well. Then if you will send me an example of exactly what the other person said to you, and exactly what you said next, Fabrice and I can give you some hopefully good feedback on what went wrong and how to correct it!

Anyway, let’s see what’s on Angela’s mind . . . .

David

* * *

Hi Dr. Burns,

I have two questions based on your recent podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.

1. I’m having trouble with “I Feel” Statements. In fact, I really dislike it when someone says to me, “I can see how you must feel ____”. It sounds so clinical to me! How can I use this technique in a more casual way that reflects empathy without sounding artificial.

2. I Just finished listening to podcast 067 on empathy. You mentioned that one of the errors is trying to correct someone’s cognitive distortions when they are upset. I understand that would interfere with the empathy and listening, but at what point in the conversation is it OK to bring solutions to the conversation?

For example, I was teaching a group of youth and they were talking about all the problems in the church. I let them talk for a bit, but then I directed them by asking what they thought they could do to create solutions. I am second guessing myself now, because I wonder if I may have not had the right empathy for that situation.

Angela

* * * 

Hi Angela,

Thank you for both excellent questions. It really enhances our podcasts when you ask questions. Brings things to life, and allows us to go into more depth.

Fabrice is out on a much needed break, and won’t return for about six weeks or so. The podcasts will continue each week, however, since we have pre-recorded enough ahead of time. I will address your questions here, so you won’t have to wait.

How can I avoid sounding phony or “clinical”?

Let’s look at your first question. The statement, “I can see how you must feel ____” is one of the many errors people make with Thought and Feeling Empathy. You are right in finding that annoying! If you sound “clinical” or “canned” when you use any of the Five Secrets, it probably won’t be very effective, as you know, and will probably backfire. Thought and Feeling Empathy have to be genuine and come from the heart. Sadly, many people are looking for simple gimmicks or formulas, and they don’t get really great responses from others.

If you give a specific example of something the other person said to you, and what you said next, I would gladly make suggestions for how to improve your response! This type of exchange is exactly what is need to make this a better learning experience.

However, just in general, I can make a few suggestions:

  1. First, what you refer to as an “I Feel” Statement is actually Feeling Empathy. An “I Feel” Statement is where you express your own feelings. Feeling Empathy is where you acknowledge how the other person may be feeling.
  2. When you are acknowledging someone else’s feelings, it is rarely or never wise to say, “You must be feeling X, Y, and Z,” because the person may NOT feel that way. In addition, a statement like this has the danger of sounding like you are some kind of expert, and the other person may even feel judged and then respond defensively. So your annoyance, in my opinion, is entirely justified!

I prefer to say something like this:

“Given what you just said, I wouldn’t be surprised if you might be feeling A, B and C, and for good reason. Can you tell me more about how you are feeling?” (A, B, and C would be words for the Feeling Words chart.)

This response combines Feeling Empathy with Inquiry, and sounds a bit more humble and respectful, at least to my ear.

  1. In addition, I almost always try to include an “I Feel” Statement when I’m using Thought and Feeling Empathy, so I will sound human, and not like a robot or a parrot, simply repeating the other person’s words. Here’s an example:

“It’s painful for me to hear that you’ve been having such a hard time lately because I like you and have a lot of respect for you. (Stroking; “I Feel” Statement) You say you’ve been feeling panicky, depressed and angry about the pressure and lack of support at work. (Feeling Empathy) I’d like to hear more about what’s been going on, and what it’s been like for you. (Inquiry)”

When Should I Help? When Should I Listen?

Now I’ll address your second question about helping vs. listening, and when to do what. When I’m working with patients who feel depressed, anxious, or angry, I do pure empathy until they give me an “A” on empathy. Then I ask if they want help with anything they’ve been talking about, and if this a good time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

If the patient says he or she DOES want help and IS ready to get to work, I ask what he or she wants help with. That’s because patients may discuss a variety of problems during the Empathy phase of the session (or conversation if it is with a friend or family member.)

Once he or she states what problem he or she wants to work on, I go through the five steps of Paradoxical Agenda Setting so as to melt away the patient’s resistance prior to using any methods to help the patient.

The difficulty, potentially, with the approach you took is the high likelihood that the kids you were working with will fell you represent “authority” and that you are trying to sell them on your own thinking and values, rather than honoring their complaints about the church, which were likely valid! They didn’t really ask you to help them find solutions to these problems–that was YOUR agenda. Whenever I impose my own agenda on a group or individual, it tends not to work very well.

Paradoxical Agenda Setting is challenging to learn, but extremely powerful. Here are some suggestions if you want to learn more:

  1. My psychotherapy eBook (entitled Tools, Not Schools, of Therapy) might be helpful to you. You can click here for the order form if you are interested.
  2. An online TEAM-CBT course could help. I listed two yesterday.
  3. If you are in the Bay Area, I offer unlimited weekly free psychotherapy training at Stanford. Click here for more information on times, locations, and individuals to contact for free or paid, in person or online, TEAM-CBT training groups.
  4. I offer workshops on TEAM-CBT around the US and Canada. One of the very best is my summer intensive at the South San Francisco Training Center. Watch my website workshop page for updates of topics and locations.
  5. You could find a mentor for supervision and consultation at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. They also have a TEAM-CBT Certification program which is excellent!

David

 

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067: Five Secrets Training — Thought and Feeling Empathy

067: Five Secrets Training — Thought and Feeling Empathy

Before discussing the topic for today (Thought and Feeling Empathy), David addresses a question submitted by a listener after he heard the introductory podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. He questioned the value of the Disarming Technique, and protested that every time he “turned the other cheek” he simply ended up with two sore cheeks!

A great question, and David and Fabrice share their thinking. Many people, including therapists, are afraid of the Disarming Technique, thinking that something terrible will happen if they agree with someone who is criticizing them.

They emphasize the value of questions submitted by you, the listeners, and also suggest giving specific examples when they are having trouble using the Five Secrets. Specifically, if you write down exactly what the other person said to you, and exactly what you said next, David and Fabrice will gladly analyze the interaction and show you what errors you made that caused a bad outcome, as well as how to correct those errors!

David and Fabrice then discuss Thought and Feeling Empathy, the second of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of Thought Empathy is repeating or paraphrasing what the other person is saying, so he or she will see that you listened and got the message. Feeling Empathy, in contrast, involves acknowledging how the other person is likely to be feeling, given what he or she just said. You can often follow this with Inquiry, asking if you got it right, and inviting the other person to tell you more about what he or she is thinking.

Although David does not like formulas, they can sometimes help you get started. So here’s the formula:

  1. Thought Empathy: Let me see if I got what you just said. You told me that A, B, and C. (A, B, and C would be what the person said to you, using his or her words.)
  2. Feeling Empathy: Given what you just said, I can imagine you might be feeling X, Y, and Z. (X, Y, and Z would be words from the Feeling Words list.)
  3. Inquiry: Did I get that right? Can you tell me more about what you’ve been thinking and feeling?

These techniques are invaluable in therapy, and go back to the pioneering work of Karl Rodgers, who argued that therapist empathy is the necessary and sufficient condition for personality change. Although subsequent research did not confirm this idea, there is still little argument that empathy is absolutely necessary for good therapeutic work.

In addition, skillful empathy is for everyone, and can greatly enhance your relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues, and strangers as well. For example, if you have a family member or friend who is feeling anxious, down, angry, or depressed, the skillful use of Thought and Empathy will almost always be far more effective than trying to help, rescue, or “fix” that person.

 

David brings Thought and Feeling Empathy to life with an example of a patient who criticizes his therapist, and then asks listeners, including you, to pause the podcast briefly so you can write down, from memory, what the patient just said. Most therapists who try this end up “forgetting” or editing out important portions of what the patient said. This irritates the other person, because you clearly did not “get it,” and his or her attack or complaining will usually escalate.

David and Fabrice discuss common errors therapists and general public make when trying to use Thought and Feeling Empathy. The most common error involves using the techniques in a robot-like manner, parroting back the other person’s statements repeatedly, without using “I Feel” Statements. They illustrate this error with a humorous example.

Other common errors when using Thought and Feeling Empathy include:

  • Helping
  • Rescuing
  • Giving advice
  • Correcting distortions
  • Making interpretations
  • Failing to acknowledge the other person’s anger

 

David encourages listeners (that includes you!) to try using Thought and Feeling Empathy three times each day, even in superficial interactions with people in any setting, such as the grocery store, and give examples of how to do this. Although this will not be the deepest application of these techniques, the practice will give you a clear understanding of how these techniques actually work.

David and Fabrice end this podcast with a powerful example of Thought and Feeling Empathy during an actual therapy session in David’s weekly psychotherapy training group. The “patient” in the therapy is a TEAM-CBT therapist named Rhonda who became depressed and anxious after receiving some critical therapy from a participant in a therapy group she was teaching.

Even if you are not a therapist, you can perhaps identify with the “ouch” we all feel when we are criticized by someone, and it hits a vulnerable spot. This is an almost universal human concern. It is so easy to feel hurt, depressed, ashamed, anxious, inadequate, and perhaps even a bit angry!

David invited one of the therapists in the group to empathize with Rhonda, as a part of his training, but he ended up with a less than stellar grade. David, Fabrice and Rhonda explain the errors he made–which actually made her feel worse.

Making errors is totally okay in a training and learning situation, as well as in real therapy sessions–as long as you get feedback and try to correct your errors with humility. This can actually deepen the therapeutic relationship.

David then asked Dr. Jill Levitt to try to model empathy again, and to address Rhonda’s concerns. Jill hits the ball out of the park and gets an A+ on empathy. David and Fabrice explain why her intervention was so effective, and why the Five Secrets have to come from the heart if they are to be maximally effective.

Jill is a master therapist and co-teaches the weekly TEAM-CBT training group, along with David and Dr. Helen Yeni-Komshian. If you would like to hear more of Jill’s fabulous empathy work, make sure you listen to the live therapy podcasts with Mark, the physician who felt like a failure as a father!

Next week, Helen returns for the remaining Podcasts on the Five Secrets!

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

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066: Five Secrets Training–The Disarming Technique

066: Five Secrets Training–The Disarming Technique

With Guest Expert, Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD

In this podcast, David, Helen and Fabrice focus on the Disarming Technique, which is the first of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of the Disarming Technique is finding truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems blatantly wrong, or illogical, or exaggerated. And it’s based on David’s Law of Opposites.

David brings the Law of Opposites to life with an example of what was perhaps the most devastating criticism he ever received from a patient. He was angry and defensive, and didn’t want to agree with his patient because he was absolutely convinced she was “wrong.” But on the weekend, while he was jogging, he suddenly saw the truth in her cutting remarks, and when he shared his insight with her the following session, the impact was immediate and dramatic.

The use of the Disarming Technique required the death of David’s ego–and that wasn’t easy, because he felt angry and ashamed. David points out that sometimes our patients (as well as family members or people in general) are trying to lash out at us, and want to hurt us, because they feel so frustrated, alone, and abandoned–and asks if we have the courage to let our egos die for them. Are we willing to listen and to see the world through their eyes? This can be exceedingly challenging, and you may not be able to use this, or the other Five Secrets, effectively unless you have a powerful desire to produce some healing and to get close to the people you’re at odds with.

Helen gives a striking example of the power of the Disarming Technique in a case of family member who was complaining about bad drivers. This annoyed her because she was telling herself, “He shouldn’t complain.  He should keep a pleasant atmosphere in the car and ignore bad drivers!” But acting on this impulse only made the problem worse. She explains how hard it can be to use the Disarming Technique when you’re feeling annoyed, but illustrates the transformative power of a skillful disarming statement.

David says that the Disarming Technique is by far the most important and difficult of the Five Communication techniques, and explains how he worked for thirty minutes a day, for two months, to learn how to do it after he created this technique!

The homework assignment for this week will be to use the Disarming Technique on at least one occasion every day in your interactions with others. You can start out by saying something like “You’re right . . . ” or “I agree with you that . . . .”

He gives an example of how he once did this when riding home from work to on the commuter train when he lived in Philadelphia. He sat next to an exceedingly hostile man who bristling and angry, and complaining bitterly about just about everything.

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

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