Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Summary: Seven Skills Your
Parents Didn't Teach You

Your kids need to learn them!

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/skills.htm

Updated 12-29-2014

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      This is one of series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn to think and communicate effectively. Each article is part of a mosaic of ideas, so the more you read, the more sense they'll all make.

      Pause and reflect: why are you reading this? What do you need?

      Adults and kids communicate with others to fill several current needs. This article summarizes seven powerful communication skills anyone can learn to help them fill their daily social needs better. Few people are ever taught the skills, so they're used to trying to fill their needs without them. They don't know what they don't know. Lesson 2 in this educational Web site provides many resources to improve your thinking and communicating outcomes.

      This brief  YouTube video outlines what you'll find in this article. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in thus Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

 . .    This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit, ad-free site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2, and...

  • this quiz about communication basics


      Communication occurs when the perceived behavior of one person causes a mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical reaction in another person. It's instinctual behavior that living things learn to use to reduce current discomforts (fill current needs) with other living things. People who want to learn how to think, communicate, and problem-solve effectively are more successful at...

  • consistently filling their and other peoples' current needs well enough, and...

  • building satisfying, high-nurturance relationships and groups (like marriages and families), and at...

  • raising self-confident, independent, wholistically-healthy children.

      Despite these major benefits, few people in our culture study communication basics or teach them to their kids. Reality check - how many people that you know could answer most of the questions on the quiz you took? Could the adults who raised you answer them? Reflect - on a scale of one (ineffective) to 10 (consistently effective), how good are you at communicating in __ calm and __ conflictual situations?

      Psychological wounds from early-childhood trauma make effective communication difficult, regardless of your knowledge. Lesson 1 in this Web site is about detecting and reducing these wounds, so work patiently at Lessons 1 and 2 together.

      Premise - effective (vs. good, or "open and honest") communication happens when each person involved feels they...

got their current primary needs met well enough, 

in a way that feels good enough to them - e.g. respectfully, honestly, and directly.

      Any self-motivated adult guided by their true Self can learn...

  • communication basics,

  • fluency in seven effective-communication (relationship) skills,

  • how and when to use the skills with adults, kids, and with their personality subselves, and anyone can...

  • model and teach these basics and skills to young kids.

      Can you name the seven skills out loud? If not, (which is common), you're probably not using them or teaching them to any kids in your life. If you don't - who will?

      Here's an overview:

Seven Essential Communication Skills

      Each of these learnable skills builds on the prior ones, so the order counts...

  • Key: inner, environmental, and communication-process awareness

  • clear (vs. fuzzy, unfocused) thinking

  • digging down below surface needs to discern current primary needs

  • empathic listening - "hearing with your heart"

  • metatalk - talking cooperatively about your communication process.

  • effective assertion, and...

  • win-win problem-solving.

      How many average adults do you think could name and describe each of these skills? How many schools do you think are teaching them?.

SKILL 1)  Awareness

      This foundation skill is learning to become conscious of what's happening (a) now and (b) over time...

  • inside me (self awareness),

  • inside you (empathy),

  • between us (process awareness), and...

  • around us (environmental awareness).

      Professional communicators and counselors seek awareness of over 40 factors in these four zones. Other adults and kids can benefit significantly by learning to notice under 10 factors in important social situations. Unlike older cultures living closer to nature, our hyperactive, over-stimulating society discourages appreciating and practicing these awarenesses.

      Use awareness (a) in any important social situation, and (b) with your team of subselves (internal awareness) when you're significantly stressed. Awareness is required for all six other skills.

  More detail

SKILL 2)  Clear (vs. Fuzzy) Thinking

      This essential talent combines three factors. In important situations...

focus on current (vs. past or future) primary needs until all communication partners feel they got their needs met well enough; and...

intentionally build and use a vocabulary to describe your perceptions, feelings, and needs, and...

intentionally avoid...

vague and ambivalent terms like this, that, it, they, them, those people, stuff, this whole thing, deal with, cope with, work through, get past it, take care of, handle, everyone, sort of, pretty soon, sometime, trouble, this problem, this issue, always, never, etc.; and avoid...

"hand-grenade" (emotionally provocative) terms like rape, stupid, weak, abuse, insensitive, dumb, childish, crybaby, immature, wimp, fag, nigger, kike, fairy, bully, selfish, fault, liar, control freak, homo, loser, winner, failure, asshole, bitch, bastard, pathetic, brainless, etc.

      Clear thinking requires wanting to be aware of your and other people's thinking in important situations and over time. Use awareness and this skill in (a) significant internal conflicts and stress, and (b) all significant relationships and social situations.  

  More detail  

SKILL 3)  Dig Down...

      ...below current surface needs to identify each partner's primary needs. Use this skill with awareness in significant internal and interpersonal conflicts and crises. Mastery of this essential relationship skill depends on living from your true Self + steady four-zone awareness + knowledge of core personal, relationship, spiritual, and communication needs. Awareness and the results of digging down are inputs to metatalk, assertion, and problem-solving skills.

  More detail

SKILL 4) Empathic Listening

      As Dr. Stephen Covey says, learn to "listen with your heart" (vs. your head). Empathy is sensing accurately and objectively what another person is feeling, thinking, and needing now, without losing your self-awareness and boundaries. Communication effectiveness soars when each person wants to listen empathically - knowing that this does not necessarily mean they agree with their partner/s. 

      This vital skill has also been called reflective and active listening and mirroring, since the listener intentionally "reflects back" brief, nonjudgmental impressions of what the speaker is saying and feeling, from time to time. Do you do this with important people?

      Popular alternatives to empathic listening include lecturing, interrupting, monologing, moralizing, advising, preaching, threatening, blaming, ignoring, tuning out, withdrawing, explaining, interrogating, and changing the subject. See any favorites? These always hinder effective communication!

      Intentionally grow the habit of using awareness and empathic listening ("hearing checks") in all important social and subself interactions!

       Recall - we're reviewing seven essential effective-communication skills anyone can learn and benefit from.

  More detail

SKILL 5)  Assertion...

       ...is identifying and calmly stating what you perceive, believe, and/or need from another person in a way they can hear you clearly. Alternatives to assertion are submission (sacrificing your needs, values, and perhaps integrity to please or placate another person) and aggression (forcing your needs on another person, regardless of their current needs). Three kinds of assertion are preventive (avoid a problem), confrontive (when there is a problem), and "dodge-proof" praise.

      Effective assertion requires...

  • your true Self to lead your other subselves (personality), and...

  • present-moment clarity on your personal rights and primary needs, and...

  • a genuine (vs. dutiful) mutual-respect attitude, and

  • a stable two-person awareness bubble; and...

  • fluency in (at least) the four skills above.

Do you have these priceless treasures yet? Did your childhood caregivers? Do the young people in your life?

  More detail

SKILL 6) Metatalk

      Meta-thinking is thinking about thinking. Meta-dancing is dancing about dancing. Meta-writing is writing about writing. Meta-talking is talking cooperatively about how you're communicating (your process), vs. what you're talking about (your content). Growing this skill involves using awareness and evolving a vocabulary of communication-process terms to identify and resolve significant communication blocks.

      Examples of metatalk terms: flooding, interrupting, interjecting, eye contact, assuming, double messages, defocusing, feedback, venting, distracting, bipolar (black-white) thinking, "I-messages", R(espect)-messages, E(motion)-levels, communication needs, primary needs, second-order change, fuzzy thinking, assuming (mind reading), and mind-racing. Can you define each of these terms yet?

      Requisites for effective metatalk include:

  • your true Self leading your other subselves,

  • knowledge of communication basics,

  • a genuine mutual-respect attitude, and

  • a stable two-person awareness bubble, and...

  • awareness, clear thinking, and empathic-listening skills.

      Use awareness and metatalk when you need to identify and resolve a significant internal or social communication problem. Exchanging respectful "meta-comments" helps to define communication problems so you can solve them. Review these phrases to get a sense of metatalk in action, and use the related worksheet to help design effective meta-comments.

  More detail

SKILL 7)  Win-win Problem-solving (Conflict Resolution)

       All people have fluctuating needs - i.e. emotional, physical, and spiritual discomforts. So being "needy" is normal and healthy, not weak or bad! Problems are unfilled needs. "Problem solving" means "filling current needs well enough.

      This powerful skill uses all six other skills to...

  • identify each person's current primary and communication needs, and...

  • creatively brainstorm acceptable need-filling compromises, as...

  • mutually-respectful teammates vs. adversaries.

      Common alternatives to win-win problem-solving are fighting, arguing, withdrawing, manipulating, postponing, defocusing, blaming, giving up or in, getting sick, threatening, explaining, defending, avoiding, whining, numbing, spacing out, changing the subject, and/or playing "hot potato" ("You fill my needs! "No, you fill mine!").

  More detail

+ + +

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - have you ever seen these seven powerful communication (relationship) skills in one place before? Do you know anyone who uses all seven skills consistently and effectively? Can you imagine what would change in our society if all kids were taught to use these skills?

Status Check

      See how you feel about what you just read: T = "true;" F = "false," and ? = "I'm not sure," or "It depends on...," or (something else).

1)  (a) I'm very clear on when my Self (capital "S") guides my other subselves, and (b) s/he's leading them right now. (T  F  ?)

2)  I can clearly describe the two factors required for communication effectiveness.  (T  F  ?)

3)  I agree that communicating effectively is essential for getting my personal and social needs met every day (T  F  ?)

4)  I now communicate effectively enough in (a) calm and (b) conflictual situations with the people who mean the most to me (T  F  ?)

5)  I can now clearly describe (a) each of the seven communication skills in this summary and (b) when to best-use each of them, to an average teenager; or I'm strongly motivated to learn and use the skills now (T  F  ?)

6)  I can clearly describe (a) what Lesson 2 in this Web site is and (b) why it's vital in all families and organizations; and (c) I'm committed to working on this Lesson patiently at least several times a week now (T  F  ?)

7)  I (a) understand and (b) agree that "thinking" is really communication among my talented team of personality subselves, so (c) I agree that these seven skills are useful within me as well as with other people. (T  F  ?)

8)  I'm motivated to (a) model and teach the young people in my life about these seven skills now, and to (b) coach and affirm the kids as they learn to use the skills in their own way.
(T  F  ?)

      If you can't spontaneously describe these seven communication skills to another person, you're probably not using them. That means you're probably used to filling your daily primary needs far less often than you could! It also means you're not modeling and teaching effective thinking and communication to the kids in your life...


      This series of Lesson-2 articles exists because few average adults seem to know what they need to know to communicate effectively. This article summarizes seven essential communication (relationship) skills that any motivated adult or older child can learn and use to fill their needs more effectively. The unique guidebook Satisfactions integrates all the online Lesson 2 Web articles and worksheets here. 

      Note that a requisites for effective thinking and communicating is progress reducing any significant psychological wounds from a traumatic childhood. Lesson 1 here offers a practical way to do that.

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

Keep studying and applying Lesson 2

        Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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