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

Principles of Prayer and Meditation

prayer-meditationStep 11 – Through prayer and meditation I seek to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for my life and the power to carry that out

The principal of the eleventh step of Alcoholics Anonymous is prayer and meditation.  Taking a few minutes a day breaking away from everyday frustrations, distractions, and multitasking’s for self-examination can change your life.  Spending just a little time each day consciously connecting with your higher power can directly influence your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and behaviors.

For most people, serenity is far off in the distance due to those day after day interruptions, obligations, and disturbances that cause chaos and clutter. Making prayer and meditation a daily routine is your path to new hope leading to a more serene life.

Whenever you are feeling stuck, confused, need help, or don’t know what to do next, take a few minutes to talk to your higher power.  Ask for guidance and help.  At first, it may feel awkward talking to a force you can’t see or hear.  Stay with the uncertainty and within a short period of time you will see results.

There are many books, articles, and literature on how to pray and meditate.  Most religions have formal guidelines for prayer.  Religious guiding principles include confession of wrongdoings, asking for forgiveness, expressing gratitude, asking for guidance, asking for blessings on family, friends, and loved ones or trying to love.

Choose your own religious ritual or spiritual pathway that works best for your lifestyle and beliefs.  Select a regular routine that will enable you to continue and make it a habit.  Pray in nature, taking a walk, in the shower, or on your knees by your bed.  Meditate in a group.  Bow your head, clasp your hands, or close your eyes.  Or sit alone, quietly and just think.

Talk out loud or write entries in a journal dedicated to your higher power.  Dictate a long prayer in the morning, night, or recite short messages throughout the day.   Whatever the method, you have the autonomy to choose your own process for prayer.

Whatever your course is for prayer and meditation ensure it is one you can do consistently.  During this time for yourself, you can address self-care, including how to nurture inner peace, when to reach out to others, and how to find a way to embrace a perplexing task and really own it as yours.  You can reflect upon ways to carry through on good intentions, where to make time for fun, and to be present for your feelings.

Prayer and meditation is a time to be open and receptive to whatever comes up.  Honor the process by being with and allowing your feelings to move within and through you at their own pace and timeframe. Stay with the practice trying not to change, distract, distort, or numb what is happening within.

Respect what is happening inside by mindfully acknowledging your thoughts, emotions, and perspectives.  It may be a good time to reach out to a trusted friend, your therapist, or your sponsor for validation.  Eventually you will get to a place of acceptance, understanding, and a renewed sense of relief and peace.

With an inner sense of tranquility, the hurt, anger, and helplessness is diminished.  When the walls of fury are dropped, the gates are open to a pathway for love.  You are more receptive and able to connect to those you love or trying to love. Your connections are expanded because you set free your loving presence to soar.

Cultivating a deeper prayer life provides new opportunities for reflection, affirmation, and lasting change in your relationship to yourself and others.  The eleventh step of Alcohol Anonymous is one that is encouraged to practice every day.  With diligence and consistency, a spiritual consciousness awakens a fuller, robust life with rich, meaningful relationships.

Here is a prayer to get you started.  It is a recovery prayer based on Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“Thank you for keeping me straight yesterday.  Please help me stay straight today.  For the next twenty-four hours, I pray for knowledge of your will for me only and the power to carry that through.  I pray that you might free my thinking of self-will, self-seeking, and wrong motives.  I pray that in times of doubt and indecision, you might send your inspiration and guidance.  I pray that you may send me the right thought, word, or action, and that you show me what my next step should be.”

Laugh Out Loud: Laughing is Just Good Practical Fun

Babboon LaughingOf all the gifts bestowed by nature on human beings, hearty laughter must be close to the top.” – Norman Cousins
Human beings need to have fun. We need to play, and most importantly, we need to laugh.” -Hal Urban
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” – Solomon 17:22
A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men.”- Ancient proverb
There ain’t much fun in medicine, but there’s a heck of a lot of medicine in fun.” – Josh Billings

Laugh out loud. Play. Be Silly. Joke around. Have Fun! These are just some of the things I think of when I see children play. I watched a young girl today make the most mundane activity a joyful experience not only for her but for her granddad and mother. All three were walking along the sidewalk, destination unknown, but she playfully walked tagging one caretaker and then the other. She giggled, skipped, and made all those around her including myself chuckle out loud.

Where does that spirit go? I see children playing at the park, laughing, and having a grand ole’ time; hopping, skipping, and twirling around with not a care in the world. When does that dwindle? Life takes over, responsibilities become priorities, and work turns into a necessity. Yet I know deep in my heart, I still love to play, giggle like that 7 year old girl, and act silly. Those are some of my fondest of memories with friends, partners, and family. It’s free, fun and even good for the mind and body.

In the book, Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins said, “It worked. I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an aesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”

Even Einstein ensured he had a daily dose of laughter in his long, arduous hours of mathematical equations. He was known for maintaining thousands of notebooks on scientific equations and on jokes. He was able to work extremely long hours due to frequent breaks and using good ole’ fashion laughter to lighten his load (Urban, H.).

Laughter is not only used by humans such as Einstein and Edison but also animals. Chimps use laughter to solidify friendships and alliances according to lead author Marina Davila-Ross, PhD from the University of Portsmouth in England (Dingfelder, S.).

Here are just a few of the benefits of laughter:

  • Strong painkiller
  • Enhances respiration
  • Produces endorphins
  • Increases immune cells
  • Strengthens immune systems
  • Reduces stress and tension
  • Calms tempers
  • Stimulates creativity
  • Improves blood flow
  • Builds and strengthens relationships
  • Simply makes life more fun!

There are so many positives to laughter. It’s impractical not to incorporate it into your daily routine. Doctors and laymen alike support amusement so why not you? You may be asking, well how do I begin?

There is no easier way than to start with yourself. You don’t have to look far to see humor in the silly things we do, like tripping over our own two left feet, clamoring over misspoken words, or our own goofy thoughts that run through our minds. There’s nothing like using yourself as your own tool to bring hilarity and heal yourself. When was the last time you laughed out loud; I mean a good ole-fashioned belly laugh?

Here are some recommended items to ensure you laugh daily. What do you do to ensure a good chuckle?

Movies:

  • Zorba the Greek
  • A Thousand Clowns
  • Patch Adams

TV Programs:

  • Candid Camera
  • America’s Funniest Home Videos

Magazines:

  • Reader’s Digest: “Laughter, the Best Medicine”
  • Comic Books
  • Mad Magazine

References:

Dingfelder, S. Chimps’ laughter: Not just monkey see, monkey do, May 2011, Vol 42, No. 5, p. 11
Urban, H. Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter, 4th Edition, Fireside, New York

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

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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.

5 Ways to Improve Your Conscious Listening

active-listening_pinkTaken from Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better | Video on TED.com

Conscious listening is understanding sound.   It increases empathy, connection, consciousness, and peace.  Listening externally improves relationships.  Listening internally increases awareness of inner wisdom and self-sabotaging talk.  Read on to learn ways to uplift your capacity to hear with clarity.

1. Sit silently for three minutes a day to recalibrate and hear the silence again.

2. Listen and count the many channels of sound (i.e. count birds chirping or the different depths of sound listening to the flow of a creek, or the clasps of the coffee machine being worked at Starbucks as you stand in line).

3. Savor mundane sounds.  Turn the sound of a washing machine into a waltz.

4. Listening positions allow room to navigate, see different perspectives, and find solutions.

  • Active | passive
  • Reductive | expansive
  • Critical |empathetic

5. R A S A is an acronym to simplify the rules to listen better.

  • R = Receive, pay attention
  • A = Appreciation, thank for sharing
  • S = Summarize, use so… frequently
  • A – Ask, pose many questions

Listening is a rare art form that takes practice, dedication, and consciousness.  Notice how slowing down to listen to others and yourself can help transform your relationships, decision-making, and peacefulness.

Journal Writing: Helpful or Harmful?

journal writingJournaling is journaling, right? Well come to find out, it can either bring relief or intensify misery. It all depends on the focus of writing.

What is the best way to journal?

When writing about a particular event, focusing on cognitive processing (making sense of a stressful event) and emotional expression helps to resolve the experience and find positive outcomes. Research shows writing about a stressful incident with emphasis on thoughts and feelings increases positive growth. It directly affects beliefs about the self, the world, and the future (Ullrich & Lutgendorf, 2002).

A study regarding bereavement supports that persons who engaged in deliberate, effortful thinking about the death and externalized their thoughts on paper were more likely to find greater meaning in their relationship with their lost loved one.  They came attuned to more values, priorities, and perspectives in response to the death (Purcell 2006).

Writing not only has mental improvements but also physical.  Here is a list of just some of the positives of journaling:

  •   Strengthens immune system
  •   Increases white blood cells
  •   Decreases symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis
  •   Reduces stress
  •   Effectively solve problems
  •   Resolve Conflict
  •   Clarify what makes you happy
  •   Helps to resolve stressful experiences and find positive outcomes
  •   Increases positive growth
  •   Increases ability to find multiple solutions to a single problem
  •   Helps broaden perspective and enables resolution to disagreement
  •   Provides clarity about situations and people
  •   Increases awareness and organization of wants and desires

What is an ineffective way to journal?

The negative consequences to writing persist when focusing solely on emotional expression. Centering on emotional aspects of traumas or stressful situations may not produce greater understanding. One study explains that expressive writing can actually hinder emotional well-being without any relief from distress. We naturally tend to focus on negative emotions and in doing so further deepen despair about the event without concluding anything positive from the experience.  As daunting as some experiences are, there is usually something that can be learned or gained.  It may be hard to find and may not reveal itself immediately but over time may turn into the best thing.  Change usually doesn’t happen until the pain persists and becomes unbearable ( Nauert 2012).

When expressing just your emotions on paper, the negative consequences can effect your physical and mental health.   The following list describes just a few negative costs:

  •   Increases physical illness
  •   No relief from distress
  •   Lowers immune system
  •   Decreases emotional well-being

Thus when writing about a stressful experience hone in on your emotional outlook and cognitive reasoning. Writing about events and reactions to the situation can help to restore self-efficacy, mastery, and add meaning to the incident. Eventually traumatic or stressful images and emotions are translated into organized, coherent, and simplified linguistic forms. Structured representation of the occurrence can be assimilated with other schemas and subsequently can reduce suffering related to the event.

References

Nauert PhD, R. (2012). Journaling May Worsen Pain of Failed Relationship. Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/11/30/journaling-may-worsen-pain-of-failed-relationship/48379.html

Purcell, M. (2006). The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/

Ullrich, P. & Lutgendorf, S. (2002).  Journaling About Stressful Events:  Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression.  Annals of Behavioral Medicine.  Volume 24, Number 3. University of Iowa.

The Secret of Love (Spoiler Alert)

journey by Deepak Chopra, MD

The Internet has taken up the slack from print media by offering tips on love and relationships, which pop up on home pages, in tweets and in news teasers many times a day. If the secret to lasting romance could be shared like a recipe for cinnamon buns, our problems would be over. But love isn’t a fact, formula, or definable in words.

Love is a process, perhaps the most mysterious one in human psychology. No one knows what creates love as a powerful bond that is so full of meaning. If romance was only a heady brew of hormones, genetic inheritance and sex drive, all we’d need is better data to explain it. But love is transporting. It carries us beyond our everyday selves and makes reality shine with an inner light. The reverse can also happen. We crash to earth when the wear and tear of relationships makes love fade.

The process of love is kept alive by evolving and not getting stuck. Infatuation is an early stage of the process. You bond with another person as if by alchemy, but in time the ego returns with the claims of “I, me, and mine.” At that point love must change. Two people must negotiate how much to share, how much to surrender and how much to stand their ground. It would be tragic if romance faded into everyday familiarity, but it doesn’t have to.

Beyond the stage of two egos negotiating for their own interests, there is deepening love. It doesn’t try to turn the present into the past. A married couple of twenty years isn’t still infatuated with one other. So what keeps the process alive? For me, the answer was revealed by reading a startling sentence from the Upanishads, which are like a textbook of spiritual understanding. The sentence says, “You do not love a spouse for the sake of the spouse but for the sake of the self.”

At first glance this seems like a horrible sentiment: We all love on a personal basis and we expect to be loved the same way, for ourselves. But if “self” means your everyday personality, there is much that isn’t very lovable about each of us and as a marriage or relationship unfolds, there’s a guarantee that our partners will see those unlovable things more clearly. Even a knight in shining armor might want to save more than one damsel, and even saint must use deodorant once in a while.

In the world’s wisdom tradition, “love” and “self” are both universal. They exist beyond the individual personality. The secret of love is to expand beyond the personal. When people say that they want unconditional love, they often imply that they want to be loved despite their shortcomings, issues and quirks. But that’s nearly impossible if love remains at the personal level. At a certain point, if you begin to see love itself as your goal, universal love is more powerful and secure than personal love.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore described the spiritual side of love in a single expression” “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.” The gift of human awareness is that we can locate the source of creation in ourselves. By going deeper into the self, asking “Who am I?” without settling for a superficial answer, the ego-personality fades. A sense of the true self begins to dawn, and it is this self that exists in contact with love as the only reality.

The journey becomes more fascinating if someone else travels with you. Life isn’t about abstractions; it’s about experience. If you have a beloved who stands for the feeling of love, bonding, and affection, your journey has a focus that can’t be supplied merely by thinking. The experiences that love bring include surrender, devotion, selflessness, giving, gratitude, appreciation, kindness and bliss. So if the phrase “universal love” seems daunting or improbable to you, break it down into these smaller experiences. Pursue them, and you will be traveling in the direction of your source, where the true self and true love merge.

That’s where my spoiler alert comes in. Announcing the secret of love cuts short the actual experience. It doesn’t always help to know what’s coming, because you might fall into exaggerated expectations and fall short. It’s better and more realistic to become aware that love is now your personal project. Show kindness and gratitude. Speak about what your beloved means to you. Every step on this journey works on behalf of the two of you but also on behalf of the self that unites you at the deepest level.