073: David Answers Your Five Secrets Questions

073: David Answers Your Five Secrets Questions

Relationship Problems–We’ve all got ’em!

In today’s podcast, David and Fabrice address five questions submitted by listeners who listened to the recent series of podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication:

  • Elie: I kept disarming my wife who was criticizing me, and it didn’t work. She just got angry! What am I doing wrong?
  • Joli: Dr. Burns, all of your examples of relationship problems in involve errors the women are making. This is chauvinistic! Why are you always blaming women? I think you must have had problems with women in the past!
  • Tamara: The five podcasts on the Five Secrets were at a very introductory level. Can you do some more teaching at a more advanced level?
  • Rajesh: I was in a conflict with a very demanding friend and I said, “I understand how you feel.” My friend just got more annoyed. Why? What am I doing wrong? Also, what should you do if the person who’s criticizing you is just saying a lot of things that are distorted, things that aren’t really true?
  • Jonathan: A friend said, “You’re so damn cheap!” This was my response: “Yeah I mean sometimes I do get a little upset and annoyed when I’m judged by you like that. To be quite honest, I don’t like it when you say stuff like that.” How did I do? Does my response need to be improved?

David and Fabrice love your questions so keep them coming! At the next session, we are going to begin a new episode series on Five Secrets of Happiness.

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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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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065: Five Secrets Training–Enjoy Greater Intimacy!

065: Five Secrets Training–Enjoy Greater Intimacy!

With Guest Expert, Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD

Is there someone in your life who just

  • won’t listen or open up?
  • always has to be right?
  • always has to get his or her way?
  • doesn’t seem to understand how you feel?
  • doesn’t seem to care?
  • is relentlessly critical?
  • whines and complains endlessly, but always ignores your attempts to help?

Would you like greater intimacy and respect, and more rewarding relationships with the people you care about?

If so, this podcast series on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication will be right up your alley. These podcasts will be for mental health professionals and for the general public, and will include vignettes illustrating challenging therapeutic logjams that were resolved with the skillful use of the Five Secrets, as well as examples of how you can use the Five Secretes with loved ones, friends, colleagues, customers, and even aggressive or irritating strangers. The goal is to help you develop greater love, satisfaction, and joy in your interactions with the people you care about.

Although the Five Secrets have been introduced in previous podcasts, David and Fabrice will bring them to life with clear explanations and examples, and will give you homework assignments so you can practice them, one at a time, between podcasts. The effort here will be to provide some actual training for you, rather than just understanding.

In the first two Five Secrets podcasts, David and Fabrice will be joined by Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD. Helen was David’s student during her psychiatric residency training at Stanford roughly 15 years ago. Now she teaches with David at the weekly TEAM-CBT training group at Stanford, where she is on the adjunct faculty. Helen also has a clinical practice in Palo Alto, California.

David, Helen, and Fabrice begin with an overview of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, They are organized around the acronym EAR: E = Empathy, A = Assertiveness, and R = Respect. Helen emphasizes that these techniques must be applied in a genuine fashion if they are to be effective. If they are used simply as techniques to manipulate another person, they will not be effective.

David strongly agrees and expands of that theme. Although the Five Secrets are sophisticated and powerful communication techniques that can quickly and radically transform your relationships with others, they are, at the same time, profoundly spiritual techniques that require the death of the ego. And most of us will have to relearn our usual knee-jerk habits of arguing, blaming, and defending ourselves when we’re at odds with another person. For many people, this may not be possible, since those defensive responses probably have a powerful biological basis, and many people simply do not want to give up the feelings of moral superiority and mental excitement when we get angry and blame others.

Fabrice, David and Helen emphasize the importance of intense desire if you really want to master these techniques. Although the Five Secrets sound simple when you first learn about them, it is not easy to use them skillfully. You can think of  the Five Secrets like the notes on a musical instrument. Lots of dedication and practice will be necessary if you hope to use them skillfully and effectively in your relationships with the people you care about. If you just sit down at a piano and pound on the keys, without practice and hard work, and training, the sound will be pretty jarring.

In addition, when you practice you will initially find them difficult to learn, and you will definitely experience some failures along the way. David, Helen, and Fabrice emphasize the spirit of “joyful failure” or “learning through failure,” and urge you to check your ego at the door, since the rewards of the learning can be immense–even life-changing!

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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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.

 

Why Are Relationship Problems So Tough?

Why Are Relationship Problems So Tough?

Hi David,

Thank you so much for your help and encouragement on the Sunday hike this week. I thought it was interesting how despite my initial sense that I didn’t need help so much with my feelings, once we got into the “Five Secrets” practice it was clear I had more work to do on my anxiety. I guess I couldn’t see that until I owned my role in the dynamic with my son and saw how much I was struggling with the Five Secrets in my interactions with him. Having the layers separated by the discipline of the TEAM-CBT method helped me start to untangle something that has been very confusing.

More musings. During the hike you were talking about how many people can now recover from depression and anxiety really quickly using TEAM-CBT, but that relationship and habit work generally take much more time.  I’d be very interested in hearing you say more about this, because relationship problems feel more complicated (in my case with son, at least). At least consciously, I’ve always felt like I wanted to be closer to my son. Today it’s clearer to me that I’m having a number of Self-Defeating Beliefs (SDBs) that cause me to act in ways that prevent closeness. For example, I’m telling myself that both he and I should be perfect achievers, that he and I should never be angry at each other, and so forth.

Maybe relationships are a place where “the rubber hits the road” so to speak, where our SDB’s display themselves with real world consequences. . . Hmm. I guess the point is that relationship work can be a rich but challenging entry into personal growth!

Gratefully,

–H

IMG_1737Hi H,

Thanks, we could brainstorm on this theme in emails or on a future hike, but to be honest I don’t entirely know why it can be so much harder, even for highly skilled therapists, to deal with our own relationship problems, with family and the people we care about.

However, there is one idea I have had for a long time that may represent a part of the answer. If I’m treating you for depression, you will discover that your painful negative thoughts about yourself (eg. “It’s all my fault,” or “I’m a loser,” or “my problems are hopeless” and so forth) are distorted and wrong. That discovery makes you happy, so it is a pretty easy sell. You discover you are way better than you thought. Not a bad deal! Although treatment resistance always has to be addressed early in the therapy, it is pretty appealing to learn how to let go of self-blame and feelings of depression, anxiety, inferiority, worthlessness, shame, hopelessness, and inferiority.

Relationship problems are quite different. That’s because most of the time, you will be blaming the other person, and thinking about him or her in a distorted manner. For example, you may tell yourself that it’s all his (or her) fault, that he (or she) is a loser, or wrong, and so forth. Then, in the course of treatment with TEAM-CBT, you will discover, when you’re working with the Relationship Journal,  that actually have a huge role in the problem and that you are probably triggering and reinforcing the very problem you have been complaining about. This insight can be incredibly empowering, but it can also feel pretty humiliating, shocking, and painful at the same time. In essence, you will discover that you are far worse than you thought, and that if you want the relationship to improve, you will have to stop blaming the other person and focus all of your energies on changing yourself.

For most of us, it is not particularly appealing to have to let go of other-blame and the feelings of moral superiority that go along with feeling certain that we are “right” and the other person is “wrong.” Pinpointing your own role in the problem when you were so happy blaming the other person is usually very painful. That’s just one reason why intimacy is not an easy sell. I address this in the chapter entitled, “Do We Secretly Love to Hate?” in my book, Feeling Good Together.

That’s a big part of why it’s so hard to deal with personal relationship problems, but I think there are other reasons, too. When I’m helping someone with a relationship conflict, there is usually an “inner problem” and an “outer problem” that need to be solved. The inner problem is all the intense negative feelings you have about your interaction with the other person. These feelings may involve anger, shame, anxiety, loneliness, depression, hopelessness, inadequacy and so forth, and they are usually triggered by your own negative thoughts about yourself as well as the other person, and those thoughts are nearly always distorted. For example, you may be telling yourself that the other person is a self-centered “jerk” who “shouldn’t” be that way, and you may be telling yourself that you “should” be a better partner, or mother, and so forth.

The outer problem involves the dysfunctional way you are probably communicating with the other person. For example, you may be trying to “help” when you need to listen, or you may be arguing defensively instead of finding truth in what the other person is saying, or you may be lashing out aggressively, trying to put the other person down, instead of sharing your anger in a respectful and loving way.

The tools for solving the “inner problem,” such as the Daily Mood Log, Cognitive Distortions, and “50 Ways to Untwist Your Thinking,” are tremendous, but they are radically different from the tools for solving the “outer problem,” which include the Relationship Journal, the Blame Cost Benefit Analysis, and Five Secrets of Effective Communication. So the task is twice as hard, with twice as much to teach the patient. Of course, there is tremendous potential for personal growth, as well, and for developing more satisfying and loving relationships with the people you care about.

Perhaps some who read my blog will have theories about why it can be so much harder to resolve personal relationship problems than to overcome anxiety and depression! Let me know what you think with a Comment if you are so-inclined!

Readers interested in learning more about the methods for combatting depression and anxiety may want to read my Feeling Good Handbook, or When Panic Attacks. Readers interested in learning about how to develop more rewarding personal relationships may want to read Feeling Good Together. But I have to warn you—doing the written exercises while you read will make all the difference in the world! Just reading simply won’t “cut it,” so to speak, especially if you are reading Feeling Good Together and want to get close to someone you are at odds with right now!

David

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please firward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David

Should Therapists Apologize? A Raging Debate!

Should Therapists Apologize? A Raging Debate!

Hi web visitors and friends on social media. Yesterday I got a really interesting email from my esteemed colleague, Angela Krumm, PhD, who created the certification program for TEAM-CBT. Angela’s clinical practice is located at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. and they also offer training for therapists. I thought you might enjoy the question, as well as my answer. You will see that the information is relevant to everybody, and not just therapists.

If this topic of developing more loving and satisfying relationships interests you, you can read more about these techniques in my book, Feeling Good Together, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

IMG_1761Hi David,

The TEAM Certified list serve is having a colorful discussion about the use of apologies (specifically, saying “I’m sorry”) within the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. People are pretty engaged and arguing both for and against “I’m sorry.” Would you like me to share the comments with you?

If you’re interested, I’d love to post a response from you about whether you teach people to say “I’m sorry.” I think your general mode (if I remember from past training) is to avoid “I’m sorry” since it’s so generic and less specific than the Five Secrets.

Let me know if you want to see the comments and have a chance to respond.  I can send them to you!

Angela Krumm, PhD

Hi Angela,

To my way of thinking, “I’m sorry” can be effective or dysfunctional, depending on how it is used. In my experience observing clinicians in training, as well as troubled couples in treatment, it is nearly always dysfunctional, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me explain.

I recently treated a troubled couple from Los Angeles who had treated each other shabbily out of anger for many years. Without going into all the details, the husband had an affair with a woman they both knew from their church, and slept with her every night for six months. The affair appeared to be his way of getting back at her for something she had done that hurt him.

His affair was devastating to the wife, and she kept making up excuses for the children why Daddy can’t come home tonight. Every time she tried to express her feelings of being hurt, angry, anxious, humiliated, and betrayed, her husband would say, in a defensive tone of voice, “I’ve said I’m sorry! You have to put that behind you so we can move on! We’ve already talked about this!”

As you can see, he used “I’m sorry” as a way of avoiding listening and hearing how his wife felt. And although they’d bickered about their problems endlessly, he’d never really listened or giving her the chance to be heard.

I don’t want to scapegoat him—she gave the same dismissive and defensive answers when it was her turn to listen to his complaints and feelings. But it seems pretty clear to me that his use of “I’m sorry” was defensive and aggressive. It was his way of saying, “shut up, I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”

Therapists frequently do much the same thing in response to criticisms from patients. For example, a patient might say, “Last session you interrupted our session to take an emergency call, but I’m paying for the time!”

The well-meaning therapist might apologize and say, “I’m really sorry. I’ll remind my secretary to hold calls during our sessions unless it’s something super severe like an actively suicidal patient.”

It should be easy (I hope!) to see that this therapist is also using “I’m sorry” as a way of brushing the patient off, so the therapist doesn’t have to deal with the patient’s anger and hurt feelings. But those kinds of feelings may be a central problem in the patient’s life, and the therapist has missed a golden opportunity to deepen the relationship through the skillful use of the Five Secrets.

I have often said that no therapist in the United States or Canada is able to deal with or acknowledge a patient’s anger. Of course, this is an exaggeration to make a point, but it is SO TRUE most of the time! In my experience, it is very difficult for therapists to master the Five Secrets, for use in therapy, as well as in their personal lives, which can be even harder.

Of course, you can apologize skillfully. Apologies aren’t inherently dysfunctional. For example, you could respond to your patient’s criticism like my example below, which is based on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The abbreviations in parentheses at the end of each section indicate the communication technique(s) used in that sentence.

“I felt badly about interrupting the session, too. (IF) This is your time, and any interruption is unfair, and I want to apologize. (DT) The call was from an actively suicidal patient, but still my focus should be on you. (DT) I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling hurt and ignored, and maybe even a bit angry with me, for good reason. (FE; DT) This is especially painful for me, because one of the themes you have described is that ever since you were a kid, the people you care about seem to ignore you, and don’t take you seriously. You said they gave your older brother all the attention, because he was a straight A student, so you end up feeling lonely and rejected most of the time. (IF; FE; DT) Now I’m in the role of ignoring you, and it’s especially painful for me because I respect you tremendously (IF; DT; ST) At the same time, I’m excited, because this is really important and can give us the chance to slay that dragon and deepen our relationship. (ST; Positive Reframing) Can you tell me more what that was like for you, as well as other times I’ve said or done things that hurt your feelings? (IN)”

I’m sure that can be improved upon, and is perhaps too long. But the important thing is that you are honoring your patient’s feelings, and encouraging him or her to open up. In this context, the apology is okay. However, notice that the phrase, “and I want to apologize” probably isn’t even needed.

I would also say that therapists, as well as patients, sometimes polarize things as “this way” vs. “that way,” so they can argue and feel like experts. Sorry if I sound a bit cynical here! Skillful and effective therapy is rarely “this way” vs “that way,” but exists on a higher plane. TEAM-CBT does not consist of simple formulas you can apply. It is an art form that is difficult to master, and simplistic approaches usually won’t be effective.

The bigger issue is that every one of the Five Secrets can be used in a skillful, compassionate, helpful way, or in a dysfunctional way. In fact, this is true of every method and technique in TEAM-CBT. For my two cents, I’d rather hear that people are asking for help in learning, rather than arguing about who is right and who is wrong, but I’m old and probably sound pompous or annoyed, so I will stop babbling!

David

 

 

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please firward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationshp conflicts.

Thanks! David