How to instantly communicate better with anyone
By : Becky Lange LPC
Many people know this cycle all too well. You get into a fight with your significant other. You make up. Feelings are still a little hurt, but you keep pushing on. Few weeks later, same fight happens leading to the cycle repeating itself. Or it may look more like you yell at your child for being late again. You take away their phone as a punishment. Week later, they have their phone back and all is good… Until the next week when they are late again without calling you, and you are back to where you started.
Below is a skill to break this cycle. We use the acronym “I ESCAPE” (think of it as I escape from this cycle) taken from Life Space Interviewing to assist in changing this cycle of behaviors. This skill will allow you to clarify the events, repair relationships, and most importantly, teach new behavior so that the cycle is broken. Along with a description, I have included a scenario to give a better idea of how to use this skill. While this is useful for teaching children healthy alternative behaviors, I also love using this for couples and adults who are working through unhealthy habits in their relationships. Keep in mind, this dialogue should be used when both you and the person are calm.
I: Isolate the conversation
Like any good educational setting, we need to feel safe in order to learn. In this case, it means safe from shame and embarrassment. We also need to be able to focus on the topic. Try to have this conversation away from the child’s friends or siblings. Wait until you have alone time with your significant other to have this discussion instead of doing this when they may be distracted by work or media. Look for a quiet location to talk. The goal is to decrease stimuli and create a space where the individual can learn best.
E: Explore the person’s point of view
This is the time the other person gets to share their side of the story. You will do little talking unless it is to clarify or ask an open-ended question. Try to get the whole story from the initial moment of a trigger to the conversation you are having now. Use active listening skills (nodding head, making eye contact, etc.). Remember that you do not need to agree with everything the other person is saying. We are just listening to hear their point of view so we can improve our understanding. It is important to be as nonjudgmental as possible to allow the person to share their view on what occurred.
S: Summarize what the person shared and their emotions
You will be doing most of the talking during this step. At this point, you are reflecting what you heard and making sure you understand what they said. This gives them a chance to clarify anything that may not be transparent.
C: Connect the feelings to the behaviors
This is a very important step. It is one sentence and is critical in the discussion. Connecting the feelings to the behaviors allows the individual to understand how their feelings are impacting their decisions. This is important as well for when that individual experiences that emotion in the future. Check with the individual to make sure that you understood this connection correctly as well.
A: Alternative behaviors explored
Ask the individual to come up with two or three healthy and helpful behaviors so they can respond differently next time. Encourage them to come up with the behaviors on their own instead of you telling them the behaviors they “should” do. You may need to steer them in the right direction of healthier alternative behaviors.
P: Plan and Practice the new behavior
Plan and rehearse one of the alternative behaviors that the individual is most likely to use in the future. As uncomfortable as it may feel, practice through role play can help in creating a muscle memory and increase likelihood the new behavior be utilized. For couples, I tend to direct them to use this step as a time to come up with a way to cue each other of when to use the behavior or identify how they could apply the new behavior in a real-life situation.
E: Enter back into regular schedule
Two ways I like to look at this step. The one is that we are not harping on the situation or continuing to discuss what occurred. It gives a nice closure and is a way to prevent the individual from perseverating on the incident. The other way to look at it is to prepare the individual for whatever may occur as a result of the incident. If the trigger is still present when they return to their schedule or if the incident was observed by peers, it is good to prepare the individual and offer support in how to effectively deal with emotions that may come with this.
Scenario: Marie is a fourteen-year-old who recently broke up with her boyfriend, Jack. She finds out her best friend, Leah, started dating Jack. She goes up to Leah in the hallway and punches her, leading to Marie getting suspended from school.
Mom: “How about we go talk one to one in the living room about what happened today.”
Mom: “Help me understand what happened with you and Leah today.”
Marie: “She stole my boyfriend so I punched her out”
Mom: “Okay, so Leah and Jack started dating and you punched Leah. What happened leading up to you punching her?”
Marie: “Ricky told me in first bell that he saw Leah and Jack at the movies holding hands and asked me if I knew they were together. So I decided next bell to go let her know that I know what kind of friend she is”.
Mom: “So Ricky told you about seeing them together and that’s when you decided that the next time you were in the hallway, you would try to find Leah to go fight her. Did I get that right?”
Marie: “Pretty much. She deserved it.”
Mom: “What happened after you saw her in the hall and punched her?”
Marie: “She started to pull my hair and so I kept punching her. I don’t really remember what happened during the fight until the vice principal split us up.”
Mom: “What happened then?”
Marie: “I got sent to the office and they called you to come pick me up. They said I couldn’t come back to school for three days and then you showed up.”
Mom: “Let me make sure I got this right. Ricky told you in first bell that he saw Leah and Jack holding hands at the movies. At that point you probably felt pretty ticked off so you planned to fight Leah in the hall at the next bell. When you saw her, you punched her and continued fighting her until the vice principal stopped you. You got sent to his office and were told you were suspended. That’s when I got a call and came to pick you up. Did I get that all right?”
Marie: “I guess”
Mom: “You felt angry and hurt so you decided to fight Leah.”
Mom: “I understand that you feel betrayed, but your behavior led you to getting suspended. What could you do differently next time so that you don’t get into trouble, but can still deal with your emotions?”
Marie: “I don’t know.”
Mom: “When you’ve felt angry before, what has worked for you?”
Marie: “I guess talking about it to you or someone could help.”
Mom: “Absolutely. What might be something else incase you don’t have someone you feel comfortable talking to there in the moment?”
Marie: “Ask to go to the counseling office and talk to one of the counselors or ask to listen to my music there or something.”
Mom: “That would definitely be better than getting into trouble.”
Mom: “It sounds like you are more likely to talk to someone. Who would you have asked to talk to today if you could go back and do it differently?”
Marie: “Probably Sarah. She’s in my second bell and lunch and knows a lot about me and Jack.”
Mom: “Sounds like a good plan. What are you going to do when you go back to school or you get your phone back and see someone messaged you about it?”
Marie: “I guess ignore them and talk to my real friends about it.”
Enter back into routine:
Mom: “You know your consequences at home and that you can’t go back to school until Monday. How about you get started on your homework, and we’ll have dinner when your sister gets home.”
This scenario walked through all of the steps. When actually doing it, try to be genuine and keep in mind the age of the individual you are talking to. If you are talking to your spouse, you may discuss what you both can do differently next time to have a better outcome, but will likely not role play the situation with one another. Doing this skill will likely not feel natural the first few times. The more we use this skill, however, the more we will get into a healthier thinking pattern of how can I grow and change my behavior to be more effective.
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