Effective Communication in Difficult Situations

Communication in
Difficult Situations
Presented by The Lawyers
Assistance Program
Facilitated by Robert Bircher
Effective Communication
in Difficult Situations
• When you are feeling happy and
close to someone it is easy to
communicate well
• When there is a strong
disagreement or a conflict,
especially if it is highly
emotionally charged, things are
very different
• Most people get defensive or
evasive very quickly
• Many, if not most of us, go to our
own idiosyncratic ways
Effective Communication
in Difficult Situations
• See the Characteristics of Bad
Communication-find your own
• E.g.. Passive AggressiveTorturing others so I can avoid my
own self assertion
• Denial-”I really don’t mind your
abuse-really, I don’t”
• Self-blame-”You’re right I am a
terrible person”
• As anger increases, good
judgment decreases
Effective and Ineffective
• Good communication has two
characteristics: Expressing your
own feelings openly and directly,
and Acknowledging the other
person’s feelings
• This is absolutely critical in high
tension situations
• Arguing; Being Defensive or
“Convincing” are fatal here
• This is not easy for Lawyers who
want to “build a case”
• Let’s practice this Exercise #1Workbook
Intimate Communication
• “Intimate” here means being
personal and being self revealing
not coming from a place of power
and control
• Appropriate for situations like
helping others or if you want to be
closer to another person
• Obviously inappropriate for court
• Five principle skills that will
transform your ability to help
others and vastly improve your
Five Key Skills
• 1.-Disarming Technique
• 2.-Empathy-thought empathy and
feeling empathy
• 3.-Inquiry
• 4.-”I Feel” Statements
• 5.-Stroking
• The first 3 are listening skills and
the next 2 are self expression
• Tend to be easy in theory-Very
difficult to practise-nontheless
few conflicts will be truly
resolved without them
• Most difficult-most powerful
conflict resolution skill
• Finding at least some truth in what
the other person is saying
• Especially effective when you feel
criticized and attacked
• Takes wind out of other persons
sails and has a calming effect
• Changes meta-negotiation from
adversarial to collaborative almost
• Requires that you resist the urge
to argue and defend yourself
• Paradoxically by agreeing, you are more
likely to have the other person listen to
your point of view
• Arguing almost never works
• Agreeing always builds rapport
• Problem is to resist your EGO-the part
that wants to be right and defend itself
• Why should I agree with someone who is
being unreasonable?
• You don’t-you can choose to be “right”and sacrifice the relationship!
• You can take the Lawyer out of the
courtroom but can you take the courtroom
out of the Lawyer?
• What you are really doing here is
making the “connection” more
important than ego gratification
• Arguing results in polarization
and extreme positions-people
don’t feel listened to
• Disarming shows that you respect
them-and appreciate (not
necessarily agree with) the others
point of view
• Lets practice this-exercise #2
• Feeling close and identified with
another, seeing oneself mirrored
in the other
• Pity or sympathy involves
elevating oneself and is a power
• Thought empathy-mirror what a
person is saying without
judgment-goal is understanding
only-not arguing or defending
• Feeling empathy-a reflection of
the others emotions about the
issue-often shown by voice tone
or body language
• Noticing the reality of others
without reacting or judging
• You can ask a question to confirm
”I can imagine you are angry with
me, is that true?”
• You could say ”I would feel the
same if that happened to me”
• Not about agreeing or
disagreeing-necessary to turn off
the judgmental part of you
• Accept the others feelings without
hostility or defensiveness
• Barristers note! Empathy and
Disarming are about
understanding-not about
conceding or giving up your point
of view
• Exercise #3
• Most people have an intense fear
of expressing negative feelings
openly-they avoid telling you that
they are angry with you
• Unfortunately these feelings don’t
vanish-they get acted out-creating
passive aggressive behavior
• Obvious in children, more subtle
in adults
• This can be avoided by asking
them to tell you more about their
negative feelings
• Ask for details about what makes
them feel upset, how often, how
do they feel about it
• Ask them to tell you directly what
you said or did that hurt their
• Obviously this takes courage and
character-most people want to
avoid anger and conflict
• “Nice people” don’t fight or get
mad is a common belief
• Exercise #4
“I Feel” Statements
• Rather than be defensive or
arguing express yourself with “I
Feel-------- .”
• Example “I feel angry" I feel put
down" “I feel coerced" “I feel
misunderstood” “I feel attacked”
• Vulnerable feelings-”I feel
rejected” “I feel unloved" I “feel
• Opposite is a you statement" you
piss me off" “You have no right to
say that”
“ I Feel” Statements-2
• You statements sound critical,
blaming, and defensive
• Pretty much guarantee a fight or
• When we feel attacked it is easier
to say “screw you” than” I feel
really annoyed about this. Lets
talk it out
• Sharing our anger makes us
vulnerable-a defense and
counterattack is about being
“right” and protecting ego
“I Feel Statements”-3
• Skill is best used when you find
yourself getting defensive or
• Temptation is to defend your
“truth”-”I am totally right about
this" Result of this is predictable
• Often your “truth” is a disguised
form of anger
• If you state your feelings you are
less likely to act them out i.e..
Pouting, Silent Treatment,
Sarcasm ,Criticism Etc
“I Feel”Statements-4
• Negative feelings-concerned,
frustrated, angry, uncomfortable
• Vulnerable feelings- sad, hurt,
rejected, intimidated, unloved
• Wishes-”I would like to spend
more time with you” “I want to
feel close to you”
• Exercise #5
• People want to be cared about and
• People fear being put down or
• Stroking means letting them know
you respect them and they are
important to you even though you
disagree with them or are angry
with them at this time.
• Attacking them personally is very
different from commenting
negatively on something they are
doing or thinking
• Real communication results from
the spirit of genuine respect for
yourself and the other person
• Any technique will fail if you
really want to blame, to be “right”
or attack the other
• If the “technique” is not working,
be honest about your intent
• If you want the problem solved
these will work
• Exercise#6
How to deal with difficult
• 1.-Someone who refuses to talk to
• Insisting that they talk won‘t work
• Empathize and ask why they don’t
want to” It must be hard to talk
things over when you feel
criticized, is that how you feel?”
or “I see that you don’t want to
talk right now, maybe you think I
am not an easy person to talk to, is
that so?”
Someone who refuses to
• Plan B-If they still won’t talk,
agree that this is not a good time,
emphasize that some
communication is needed and
suggest that you talk things over
at a later time
• “I can see you’re not in the mood
to talk now, I respect that,
everyone needs alone time, but we
do have something to talk over
which we can do sometime in the
next day or so.”
• Exercise#7
How to deal with difficult
• 2.-People who are hostile
• Your first reaction is usually to be
defensive and blast back-this
won’t work
• Listen and hear the truth in what
the other person is saying-Then
change the focus to express your
feelings about how you are being
• “ I’m feeling put down right now.
Your tone of voice has a sharp
edge to it”
Hostile People
• Think in terms of sharing the way
you feel instead of attacking the
other person
• If you say “You’re putting me
down” it makes you sound like a
victim and will infuriate the other
• Use feeling empathy and inquiry
“It sounds like you’re pretty
annoyed with me. I want you to
tell me what I did that turned you
off. I suspect you’ve got a good
reason to be ticked off with me”
Hostile People-2
• Ultimately hostile people are just as afraid
of intimacy as passive aggressive peoplethey just lash out instead of expressing
fear and vulnerability
• One road is to be hostile and defensive (to
win and even the score)
• The other road is self esteem and respect
for the other-by sharing your own angry
feelings and listening to the hurt feelings
of the other
• Exercise#8
How to deal with difficult
• 3.-People who are critical and
• Since most of us base our self
esteem on the approval of others
criticism feels like a blow to our
• Defensiveness and a counterargument won’t work
• What does work-Disarm-find
some truth in what they are
saying-use empathy and inquiryexpress your feelings with “I feel”
Critical and judgmental
• Encourage them to get all of the
anger and dissatisfaction out
• Your ego will likely rebel against
• Tell the person how you feel “I
feel defensive right now” or “I am
feeling put down right now”” I
feel angry” but add “I know there
is a lot of truth in what you are
• Exercise#9
How to deal with difficult
• 4.-Complainers
• If you try to cheer them up they
bitch even more-If you give
advice they say” that won’t work”
• Complainers are asking to be
listened to-they usually don’t want
• Disarming is very effective here
• Simply listen-don’t help
• Exercise#10
How to deal with difficult
• 5.-Stubborn and Argumentative People
• “My spouse always has to be ‘right’”Promotion of your own ideas and trying to
persuade the other person that they should
listen to you never works
• If people don’t feel listened to they knock
harder at the door until they do feel
listened to
• The problem will disappear if you use
disarming, empathy, and inquiry
• Exercise#11
Workbook Exercises
• Make up brief background facts
• Speaker plays the role with gusto!
• Responder gives Typical ResponseWhatever first comes to mind
• Next use the method just taught-Take
your time-This is the Effective Response
• Observer records response and pays
• Finally –all three debrief-How did the
responder feel? The speaker? Was the
effective response better? What did the
observer see?

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