Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

A Two-person
Problem-solving Practice

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


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

Updated  01-10-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful skills to get more daily needs met more often. Progress with this Lesson depends on simultaneous progress on Lesson 1 - free your resident true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.

      This brief YouTube video outlines win-win problem-solving skill. The video mentions eight self-improvement lesds0ons in thisq Web site - I've simplified that to seven.

      This course and Web site is loaded with abstract premises and options. Reading them will yield little benefit - so (a) put your Self in charge (b) get clear on your primary needs, (c) experiment with these ideas, (d) notice the results, and (e) refine your attitudes and behaviors. This is a long-range, dynamic process, not an event.

      This article outlines (a) how to prepare for a useful skill-practice, and (b) provides a range of options from which you can design a practice best suited to your needs. The article does not describe a step-by-step practice experience. 

      This practice assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it.

  • self-improvement lessons 1 and 2, including this overview of problem-solving skill

  • common communication blocks, (Option: have a copy handy when you debrief);

  • how to exchange respectful feedback with another person,

  • options for analyzing and resolving most relationship problems, and...

  • this example of problem-solving in action.

      If you ignore these articles, you're probably controlled by a false self. If so, expect to get less from this practice.

  Practice: Interpersonal Problem-solving

      Use this practice exercise to raise your and a partner's awareness and proficiency with the seven Lesson-2 skills, not to solve your “practice” problems - so help each other focus on your communication process together!  .


Find  a partner who shares your interest in learning to improve their problem-solving effectiveness.

If your partner isn't familiar with the concepts of inner family (subselves), true Self and false self, R(espect) messages, E(motion)-levels, and empathic listening, describe and illustrate each of them, and check for understanding.

      If s/he's skeptical about subselves, suggest that s/he read this letter and try this safe, interesting experience. Option - do these with your partner and discuss them together.

Problem-solving uses all six other communication skills, so practice awareness, digging down, metatalk, empathic listening, and assertion before you do this practice. 

Set aside at least 30” to do each half of this two-part practice.

Pick a comfortable, undistracting place to practice, print copies of this outline for each of you, and bring them and something to write with.

Each of you choose a moderate (vs. huge) problem you have with another person which you'd be willing to discuss and role-play with your practice-partner. For ideas, scan this menu and return here.

Resolve any physical or emotional distractions, and check to see that your respective true Selves are guiding your other personality subselves. If not, free your Self to lead or lower your expectations here. 

Each of you write down answers to the following questions before your practice, or help each other clarify them to start your practice. Help each other avoid blaming yourself or the other person in this role-play!

+ + +

1)  In my real-life situation, what I really need from the other person here is:

2)  I believe the person I have this problem with really needs... (dig down below their surface needs to guess the answer)


3)  Am _ I and/or _ the other (real life) person internally conflicted in this situation? If so, how are we each trying to resolve that? Common options: denying, ignoring, minimizing, deferring, blaming, whining, “collapsing,” or (best option) resolving it before negotiating our interpersonal conflict.


 Is this a conflict over abstract things like _ values, _ perceptions, _ preferences, or _ roles (responsibilities), or is it a conflict about tangible / concrete resource needs? Do I have a clear idea about how to resolve abstract conflicts (e.g. to compromise, or agree to disagree)?


5)  In this real-life situation, do we have a communication-needs conflict? (Yes / No / I'm not sure). If so, a meta-comment I could use to start resolving it is…



6)  What  R(espect)-messages do each of us usually get from the other in this conflict: __ “I’m 1-up!”  __ “I’m 1-down!” or __ our needs, rights, and dignities are of equal value? If we don’t feel mutually respectful, what’s in the way of achieving that attitude? (That becomes one of the underlying primary problems.)


7)  When I have this problem with this real-life person…

  • I usually _ fight or debate _ avoid or withdraw_ submit, and feel unsatisfied, _ blame and attack, _ explain and defend, _ assert and listen,  _ use all seven communication skills effectively; and…  
  • S/He usually _ fights or debates _ avoids or withdraws, _ submits, and feels unsatisfied, _ blames and attacks, _ explains and defends, _ asserts and listens,  _ uses all seven communication skills effectively.

8)  Are the other person and I part of a persecutor – victim – rescuer relationship triangle? If so, how are we reacting to it? Common responses: denying, ignoring, blaming, explaining, pretending, avoiding (defer-ring), or power-struggling.

      Option: switch from the focal “conflict” to digging down and metatalk cooperatively, and work to dissolve the triangle together - i.e. each of you regain your mutual-respect attitudes. Try practicing that with your role-play partner.

9)  Note your thoughts and emotions (self talk) to these preparation questions, and jot down any observations or awarenesses you feel would help in (a) your role-play practice, and/or (b) resolving the actual problem.

Problem-solving Practice

      Once you and your partner have prepared, design a role-play to help you get clearer on your communication options with your real-life problem-partners. Discuss what would be most helpful in doing effective problem-solving in your respective situations.

      Try not to do too much at once, and help each other stay focused on what you’re each trying to practice! Remind each other that your discussion and role-play is not to solve your real-life problem, it’s to strengthen your communication awareness, knowledge, and confidence!

      Brief each other on your actual partner’s typical responses, and aspects of your history and relationship that would promote a realistic role-play. For example, if your “real” partner clams up, blames you, and/or withdraws, practice one or more meta-comments in response, listening empathically to (your practice partner’s) response, and respectfully assert an invitation to problem-solve cooperatively.


      If you’re not clear on what your real-life partner needs, practice asking them, and using the appropriate communication skills to react to the kind of response they’d make.

      If you feel you have one or more real-life communication blocks, practice using metatalk to identify and sort them out, and assertion and problem solving to reduce or fix each one. Consider reviewing your and your real-life partner's attitudes to see if any are contributing to your problem/s.

      Help each other stay aware of the difference between your communication content (topics) and your process (how you're communicating). Pay special attention to...

  • whether either of you is controlled by a false self,

  • whether your respective communication needs mesh or conflict during and after the practice

  • the awareness bubbles you each maintain (1-person, 2-person, or no-person),

  • your dynamic ''E(motion) levels'' (above or below the ears); and...

  • the R-messages you and your practice partner send and perceive.

      If you feel you're in a relationship triangle, plan and practice how you want to approach your “real” partner about acknowledging it and starting to dissolve it.

      If your “real” partner has a behavior that often “hooks you” (causes inner-family uproar and your acting impulsively), practice assertively confronting that behavior, and asking your partner to change their behavior so you can problem-solve. That might sound like “Nora, when you continually interrupt me, I feel disrespected, unheard, hurt, and frustrated. I need you to let me finish, unless I’m talking too long.”

      Resource: see these response-options, and practice any that fit.

            More skill-practice options...

      If you have an abstract problem like a values or loyalty conflict, practice agreeing to disagree respectfully.

      If you feel your “real life” partner expects something you honestly can't or don’t want to do or provide, practice respectfully telling them “No” and using hearing checks to affirm their responses before reasserting your boundary.

      If you have a cluster of internal, communication, and abstract conflicts, practice sorting them out, ranking them, and agreeing to work cooperatively on one at a time.

      If you feel your real partner is dominated by a false self, practice how you want to respond to that. Options:

  • role-play selected options from these.

  • explain the idea of true and false selves, and invite the person to read and discuss Lesson 1, and/or ask them to...

  • use these worksheets to assess themselves for false-self symptoms; or...

  • if s/he needs to ignore or reject these options, practice how you want to react to that respectfully - e.g. by setting a boundary (limit + consequence), vs. a threat or ultimatum.

      In general, sense which of the seven skills you’d most like to develop with your “real” partner, and devise a role-play to help you practice it or them. Recall that the skills build on each other, so problem-solving uses all six other skills.

      After you role-play your situation,

  • check for distractions, and ask if your practice partner wants to role-play theirs. Whether s/he does or not,...

  • assess how effectively you practicers communicated,...

  • noting your strengths and any blocks you encountered,

  • recap what you wanted to get from the practice, and...

  • verbally summarize what you learned and what you each want to remember, and...

  • discuss whether you want to redo some aspects of the practice to try out and/or expand your learnings.

Remind each other that the practice results are not about being wrong or “bad,” the goal is to learn to problem-solve and communicate more effectively!

      Discuss whether you two have communication problems you’d like to work together to resolve, using the seven skills. Consider keeping a communication log or workbook to record your learnings and track your progress.

        Overall, use this practice as a general framework. Adapt it to tailor a learning experience that fits your respective needs and levels of skill and knowledge. The real value of practicing problem-solving skills is in your trying new behaviors and experiencing the inner and interpersonal results.

      Practices like these are the best way to discover the real power of each of these seven communication skills to (a) fill more of your current needs, (b) in a way that feels good to all involved. 

      Committing to work on self-improvement Lesson 2 together will raise your personal serenity, confidence, and satisfaction, raise your family's nurturance level - priceless gifts to your descendents and other people you value.

      If you have the energy and motivation, scan these options for encouraging other people in your community, region, or nation to become healthier and more effective communicators!

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




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

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