6 Tips to Improve Communication With Difficult People

Dialog between man and woman

Image source: (Fotolia)

Some people are just downright difficult. No matter what you say or do, it feels like there is no way out. Emotions overrun rational thoughts. Conversations turn into heated arguments, and nothing solves. It’s times like these that old patterns of communication need a make-over.

We learn our communication style by our environment and upbringing. If we come from households where our thoughts were not valued, listened, or supported; we learned not to talk. If we were dismissed, ignored, or criticized by cultural gender norms, we learned to remain silent. We adapted to suppress our thoughts and feelings to survive. As adults, we are now confronted with shame, anger, and denial of our thoughts and feelings.

When we retreat from communicating directly due to cultural norms, gender norms, or social norms we deny ourselves. We disallow access to our authentic self and to deeply connected relationships. Our fear of not being liked, avoidance of conflict or perfectionism keeps us isolated. We don’t give our relationships a chance. We hide from who we are, what we think, and what we feel. In turn, we treat ourselves with the same criticism and suppression as our childhood environment.
There is another way. We don’t have to run and hide. We can speak openly, honestly, and directly. It is not difficult. With practice communicating our needs and wants becomes second nature.

Learning skills to be assertive opens up courageous possibilities to be vulnerable. Exposing our real selves involves taking risks. The benefits outweigh discomforts. A richness of meaningful experiences of love, a sense of belonging, trust, joy, and creativity evolve naturally.

With assertiveness, we learn to stand-up for ourselves and not violate the rights of another person. It is a direct and honest expression of our feelings and opinions. We act, think and feel supporting our rights and the rights of others as equally valued, expressed, and respected.

Test Your Assertiveness

1. Do you find yourself saying “yes” to requests when you really want to say “no?”
Yes      No
2. Is it hard for you to make a decision?
Yes      No
3. Are you unable to express your discontent with a friend or partner, even if you think it is justified?
Yes      No
4. Is it difficult for you to ask for help or assistance?
Yes      No
5. Is it hard for you to express an opinion that is different from other people’s opinions?
Yes      No
6. Is it hard for you to share something positive about yourself?
Yes      No
7. Do you not speak up at work, a class, or meeting, even when you know the answer to a question or have a solution?
Yes      No
8. Do you find it difficult to accept a compliment?
Yes      No

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of the questions, you might have difficulty using assertive communication.

6 Tips to Communicate Assertively Using the Acronym, P A S A R R

1. Pause.

Quiet the mind for a moment to check in and listen internally. Noticing our thoughts gives us the opportunity to assess what we desire. Paying attention to our first intentions positions us to listen to our intuitive voice and bash any defeating self-talk. Being aware of how we feel and what we want to say enables us to stay true to ourselves. With consistent practice, reflection and self-validation the process will take less time.

2. Acknowledge the Truth.

Mirroring body language and giving credit where deserved credit helps deflate a heated moment. Agreeing with a kernel of truth in the complaint also provides time for internal reflection. For example, your boss says, “Your work is always screwed-up.” Ask, “In what way did I screw up?” If she says, “You just are a screw-up,” agree with one discreet example (if it is accurate), but correct her overgeneralization.

3. Stay True to Self.

Using clear and definite “I statements” validating our thoughts and feelings keep the conversation focused on the behavior not the person. While beginning a sentence with “I think” or “I feel” then go on to briefly describe the other person’s behavior.

4. Ask for a Request. Following what we noticed in the other’s person behavior with how their actions affected us kept the focus on cause and effect of behavior, not the person. Then make a request. For example, “When you are late and do not call, I feel afraid that something happened to you. I feel angry that I am waiting. I feel irritated that you don’t value my time. I would prefer it if you call to let me know if you are going to be more than 10 minutes late. Can you do that for me?”

5. Repeat.

Encouraging others reflection ensures mutual understanding. We are practicing self-validation and asking for what we want.

6. Repair.

If the steps above have not helped, continue to ask questions. Inquiring about others thoughts and feelings shows curiosity and their thoughts and feelings matter equally to yours, and a mutual solution is desired. During this phase paying attention to our non-verbal cues such as tone and volume of voice, eye-contact, and body position enables us to be in control of our self. It is also important to ensure we stay true to ourselves, saying “No” when needed to provide healthy boundaries, and validating our thoughts and feelings.

Using assertive techniques is a skill. It improves with practice. With time communicating our desires becomes easy. Following these steps as a guideline to stop before a heated argument, reflecting and staying honest to ourselves and others, and maintaining healthy boundaries allocates opportunity for a joint resolution, self-value, and increased confidence. Knowing that we took a risk to stand-up for ourselves demonstrates that we matter, that our thoughts and feelings are valuable, and we are worth defending.

In love and dignity, speak the truth – as we think, feel, and know it – and it shall set us free.
~ Melody Beattie

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Step Ten of Alcoholics Anonymous — A Life Journey

Responsibility: No single drop of water thinks it is responsible for the floodStep 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Steps one through nine provide tools to awaken internal realizations and relational manifestations.  They offer help to accept the past and heal what is possible.  The first nine measures give guidance for honesty, faith, hope, courage, and humility for responsible lives.

Step ten is based on the principle of responsibility.  Being responsible is using our authority to make independent decisions for our actions and for our failures to take action.  We are accountable for our actions and their consequences.

The tenth step uses the basis of responsibility and applies it to daily life as an ever evolving journey.  Throughout the stages of life, we are in a in a constant state of transition, emerging, evolving, and becoming.  We are continually discovering and making sense of our existence.  As we repeatedly question ourselves, others and the world, it is important to continue looking within and practice being accountable for our behaviors especially when we are wrong.  Paying attention to our varying degrees of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors helps improve conscientious decisions-making.  Keeping abreast to our internal being and being true to ourselves and others maintains balance and happiness as we progress in our lifespan.

To help encourage awareness make time each day to practice stillness.  Stillness is slowing down from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Set up a quiet sanctuary for your practice.  Maintain a personal ritual in a quiet place where you can focus internally.  It’s a time to just notice and listen in the moment.  This is not a time for judgment or ridicule.  Just allow thoughts to surface and pay attention to where the feeling is sensed in the body.

The concept is simple, yet can feel difficult to perform.  To assist, you might create a place dedicated solely for the purpose of reflection.  Form a tranquil space with pillows, blankets, and memorabilia that are personally special.  Wear comfortable clothing.

Nature is another sanctuary.  Ensure there are no external distractions such as electronic devices or interruptions.  Take the time to focus internally and scan your body and listen to your inner being.

Begin by taking several slow, deep breaths.  Start your practice remaining silent for five minutes and as your meditation muscles strengthen, add more time.  Increase in one to five minute intervals each week until you reach thirty or forty-five minutes, or as much as feels right for you.

In the beginning taking time for mindfulness may seem like a waste of time. Allow for the process to transpire and you will reap many benefits. You will have more clarity and decisiveness.  With less wandering of the mind, you are able to make quick, precise decisions.   You are more centered, well-balanced and connected with your core and inner being.  Having greater connection to your body and mind provides more awareness.  Being aware supplies consciousness to peace and confidence in your authenticity.

Stillness is your sacred time to connect to your spiritual power and to reflect inward.  It is a valuable time solely for you.  With practice, you will adopt, habituate and notice positive changes in all areas of your life.

Now that you are more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions, challenge yourself to experience fearful situations and remain there knowing you can manage your emotions and take responsibility for your behavior.  Each person has unique thoughts, emotions, and urges.  They are a natural part of life.   Distinctive thoughts and feelings are not right or wrong.  Labeling them good or bad/right or wrong is passing judgment.  Acceptance is a state of non judgment.  Reassure yourself, that your thoughts and feelings matter and are of value.  They equate just as much as everyone else’s.

The more in tune you are with your thoughts and feelings, the more you can create a safe place for you to express them in a healthy way.  This means stating your wants and desires.  If you are not getting want you want, it is your responsibility to express your needs.  People are not mind-readers.  The only way to have a healthy discussion is to communicate openly and honestly.  Allow the other person to speak, express their thoughts, desires, and feelings; and then do the same.  Use respectful dialogue.  Establish ground rules such as no name calling, blaming, yelling, or stonewalling. If the conversation elevates to such a level, take a time out with a specific day/ time to reconvene and continue the discussion.  Ensure you return at the established day/ time.  This builds trust.  With practice, responsible responses will habituate and become easier over time.

Having an awakening to your internal psyche creates more options and alternatives. Exposure to communication brings deeper connection and better relationships.  We are our choices.  Thus instead of using alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, and relationships to restrain what you think and feel, you have the capacity to notice, acknowledge and choose how you manage your internal workings.   Your relationships will show the improvement.

Step 10 encourages you to notice and allow whatever thoughts and emotions you are thinking or feeling to surface.  By observing your interior consciousness you are awakening to a richer life of happiness, joy, and serenity as well as managing your own life for safety and protection.  Having thoughts and emotions are normal and healthy.   Allowing them to surface doesn’t mean you have to act on them.  It’s being in charge, building a relationship with your fears and distress, and strengthening your confidence to know you can handle difficult experiences.

Responsibility Sure Glad the hole isn't at our end.

Are You Paying Attention?

 MindFulness

Attention is important, because whatever you pay attention to grows. If you focus on your job, your relationship, or a favorite hobby, your attention nourishes that feedback loop. (The brain strengthens or weakens in specific areas depending on the input it receives, and paying attention provides concentrated input.) Attention can’t be faked or forced. When a schoolteacher scolds an unruly class with, “Pay attention, people!” he may get results for a few minutes, but the demand loses its effect very quickly. Asking a restless mind to settle down and pay attention is even more futile. The secret is to know how attention really works.

Attention is focused awareness. There are some basic requirements to be met. The first is being centered, the skill we covered to begin this series of posts. Distraction is self-defeating. Second, your awareness focuses naturally when you have a desire. We focus on what we want. Third, attention works best when combined with intention – envisioning a way to fulfill your desire. When the three ingredients come together – you are centered, you have a desire, you intend to fulfill your desire – attention becomes extremely powerful. The tale is told by anyone who has fallen in love at first sight; it’s the definition of laser focus. But for some people the same focused attention applies to ambition, money, and power.

Attention becomes more elevated when you focus on objects of inner desire. Almost everyone has wondered “Who am I?” but the people who actually find out are driven by a desire to know. This desire is as strong as other people’s desire for more money, status, and power. If you ask spiritual questions casually, they amount to very little. God could send you a telegram with the answers and it wouldn’t change your life. The path must be driven by desire. Let’s say that you experience a moment of inner peace that has arrived without expectation. It’s just there, appearing in the midst of an ordinary day.

You might casually notice it, or a train of thought could begin, as follows:

I’m at peace. How unusual. I like this.

I wonder where it came from.

I want to find out, because it would be good to be at peace more often.

I’m going to follow this experience up. It’s too valuable to forget.

This is a natural train of thought, and every self-aware person I know has followed it, not necessarily from a moment of inner peace. Some have experienced sudden joy; others felt protected and looked after; a few sensed a spiritual presence that caught them totally by surprise. What they had in common was that they really paid attention to their experience. The process can be simplified into three steps. The next time you have an inner experience of peace, joy, love, inspiration, or insight, pause for a moment.

Step 1: Notice what is happening. Sit quietly without distraction. Soak up the experience without commenting or interrupting it.

Step 2: As the moment fades, don’t rush away from it. Consider how significant it is. Put the significance into context, reflecting on how different you feel from your ordinary self.

Step 3: Make the experience valuable. Consider how transformed your life would be if you could repeat the experience. Even more, think about a life filled with joy, peace, and love. See it in your mind’s eye; feel how beautiful your life would become.

What Makes Us Human? Rabbit Hole

Courtesy of The Chopra Well

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj3GaxEM_pw&feature=player_embedded#!

In these three steps you are activating the emotional brain and the cortex, or higher brain, the first by fully feeling your experience, the second by applying thought and reflection. This is how dreams come true. You combine a vision of possibilities with the kind of focused intention that creates new pathways in the brain. The world “in here” is connected always to the world “out there.” You can’t seize an opportunity without being aware of it; you can’t nourish a new possibility without wanting to. When awareness, desire, and intention come together, you are mastering the skill of paying attention.

Open up and say ‘neigh’: Horses Help Teach Med Students

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Video: For America’s next generation of doctors, bedside manner can fall by the wayside in the first few years of medical school. But one doctor in Arizona is hoping to change that by offering a first-of-its-kind class using horses to instill compassion. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

For the next generation of doctors to develop a better bedside manner, it’s important to spend some time in a stable.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Allan Hamilton of the University of Arizona Medical Center, Tucson, is using his ranch for a first-of-its-kind class to help train first year medical students, bringing the humans in close contact with large flighty four-legged patients who can’t talk and who can be highly — and violently — reactive to doctors who aren’t attuned to their patients’ body language.

At his first “lecture,” Hamilton shows this year’s class how to safely approach a horse. He slowly walks up to one of his horses, running his hand over the animal’s body as he moves around it.

“I put my arm around him like this so the whole time, even when I go through his blind spot, he knows exactly where I am,” Hamilton tells the students and NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

The slow, careful contact with the animal is not only for self-protection — the reaction of a startled horse can range from bolting away to spinning and kicking out at something it perceives as a threat — but also as comfort and reassurance.

The idea for the course began when Hamilton caught himself approaching a patient too abruptly and without the right amount of sensitivity.

“The whole thing started one day when I was in a hurry,” he said. “I was delayed getting to clinic and we just burst into this room because we were in such a hurry and this woman, she just screamed when we walked into the room because we came in so fast. I just remember thinking to myself, ‘boy I never would have done that if that was a horse.’”

The concept makes a lot of sense to Snyderman, a horsewoman herself. “As a physician I hear from medical school professors all the time who say that the students come in eager and passionate about helping others, and leave as cynical and harsh doctors,” she said.

Riley Hoyer, one of the first-year medical students who signed up for Hamilton’s innovative class, recognizes the skills he’s learning.

Right now, “I’m studying books instead of focusing on patient care and so this was just one class that I could do as an elective to try and better learn how to interact with animals and learn how to use my body language to interact with patients,” he told TODAY.

Because horses can’t talk, students need to learn to read their body language to set up a “conversation.” They need to have a rapport and develop trust before the horse will stand still to have its heart monitored with a stethoscope or to get an inoculation.

Snyderman watched as one of the other students connects with a horse. “And now he’s making eye contact with you because you approached him in a very sensitive way,” she said. “It’s a lot like [approaching] a patient.”

Hamilton believes that the program can build better doctors, helping them to overcome fear and improve confidence.

“Probably even more important is it saves doctors,” he said. “Our salvation is going to be to go back to what really makes us fulfilled, which is this essence of human-human interaction and the ability to take somebody in the most dire of circumstances and say,’grab my hand I know we’re going OK we’re in this together.’”

Hamilton’s class has been offered since 2001 and it’s gaining attention around the country. Stanford University and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey are now offering similar courses.

Hamilton didn’t get his horses with a plan to teach students a better bedside manner. “I moved out here specifically to do neurosurgery by day and horses by night,” he said with a chuckle.