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Monday, January 24, 2011

Interpersonal Communication Diffuses Violence

With the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords and the ongoing war in Iraq, violence is certainly a part of our ongoing news.  I am struck by how anyone thinks it is effective to be aggressive rather than assertive.  

Aggression involves attacking, whether by words or weapons.  An attack is an aggression.  Damage happens as a result of aggression.

Assertiveness involves respectful communication between two parties in an effort to come to a meeting of the minds, an agreement of how to handle a conflictual situation.  Generally everyone walks away from an assertive interaction with at least some of their needs being met.  So good feelings are generally the result of an assertion.

In my car yesterday I listened to Bob Edwards’ weekend as Bob Edwards interviewed Gary Noesner.  Mr. Noesner was a hostage negotiator with the FBI for thirty years and has written a book about it: Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator.  

In the interview, he said “Interpersonal communication diffuses violence.”  What a powerful statement to make.

If communication is used effectively, then there should be no need for violence.  Wars start because negotiations break down.  People die in hostage situations when negotiation isn’t effective.  And on a smaller scale, angry interactions between two people result in really bad feelings.

If someone approaches you with an angry demeanor, your anticipation of their anger starts a level of inner tension.  As a beekeeper, I’ve been taught never to approach my beehives wearing black.  The bees think you are a bear and respond aggressively because they anticipate violence and an attack.  If I wear white or light colors, the bees are much more likely to allow my intrusion into their hive.

Assuming that an assertive interaction is possible and will work is the force behind hostage negotiation, as described by Mr. Noesner.  How to be properly assertive takes practice and is an art.  

If you want to review the basics of assertiveness, there’s a free class on my webpage.  It’s a Powerpoint presentation, hitting the high points of how to approach communication assertively.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Can Catch More Flies with Honey.....

Many people think that being assertive means getting your way no matter what. This is not the definition of being assertive.

In fact, being assertive means being tuned into the other person and approaching that person with a respectful comment or request in an effort to make your point or to influence the occurrence of a needed change.

If you think of the other person as someone with whom you want to join in order to effect a change, then out comes the honey. As a beekeeper, I love the expression: “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar…” While apparently science experiments show that sweet balsamic vinegar will catch more flies than honey will, in our folksy sayings in this country, honey wins out.

In an assertive interaction, you use honey to effect the change by employing empathy with the other person as well as trying to imagine what he or she might want out of the situation.

Recently Atlanta had a paralysis brought about by a snowstorm followed by a period of five days or temperatures well below freezing. The snow all turned to ice within 24 hours and the city came to a standstill. We had a major snow like this in March, 1993 (known as the Storm of the Century) and in January, 1982 (known as SnowJam '82), if I remember correctly.

Atlanta is in the deep south and it is not a cost effective plan for the city to own a lot of snow removal equipment which is needed once every ten years or so.   So with resources stretched to the limits, many city streets were not cleared throughout the five days of the ice.  Angry people were interviewed on the news and I am sure people made furious, aggressive calls demanding that their street be cleared.

I am part of a huge neighborhood e-blast group and an e-blast went out early in the week, explaining how to report a street that needed scraping to the Department of Public Works.

My friend called the number given for the Department of Public Works and let them know that she imagined they were being swamped with calls for street clearing.  She probably said something like, “I imagine you all are overwhelmed with people wanting their street scraped, so I’m sure hearing from me is an echo of many calls you’ve already had.  It must be difficult to talk to so many frustrated people.” 

After listening to my friend, the person on the other end would have felt like my friend connected with him/her and understood the frustration brought by all the angry callers.  Her comment was empathic and recognized the stress these people must have been under during those days.

Then she put in her request:  “My street is a cut through to Roswell Road (a major road in Atlanta) and cars are slipping all over my street.  I’m sure it would help the situation for people trying to get to Roswell Road if you would scrape my street.”

Her street was scraped and passable the next day. 

You can catch more flies with honey….. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Approaching New Year's Resolutions Assertively

As the new year begins, most people make resolutions to keep during the year.  Let’s look at how to set resolutions in a way that will allow you to be successful in both setting and keeping them.

A resolution is an assertion that you make to yourself and sometimes to others as well. 

Characteristics of an Assertive Resolution:

An assertive resolution is:
  • A stand that you take first with yourself
  • Enhances your self-esteem (the other side of this is that if you should fail at a resolution, it should not damage your self-esteem
  • Includes respect for yourself and others
  • Is realistic.  It is something to which you can make a real commitment
  • Is simple to accomplish
The difference between a Goal and a Resolution

Let's look at each of these concepts.

GOAL:  According to Webster's dictionary, "a goal is the end toward which effort is directed."  

Many times people make goals for themselves for the year and call them resolutions.  A typical goal at the turn of the year is about losing weight or exercising.  If I make a resolution to lose 20 pounds, then I will feel bad about myself if I only lose 19.  On the other hand, if I set the GOAL of losing 20 pounds, then I can feel great about my effort toward that goal.

In psychology, we have a concept called successive approximation.  Successive Approximation is a fancy way of saying that there are many little accomplishments on the way to a goal.  All of these accomplishments are to be celebrated and if we don't get all the way to the goal, we can still feel good about what we gained along the way.

So set goals toward which you can aim in areas that are hard to achieve.  If I say that my goal is to exercise more, and I aim in that direction, I can feel good about myself if I exercise one more day than I do now, or I can feel even better if I exercise two more days than I do now.  I'm celebrating success in either event.

RESOLUTION:  According to Webster's Dictionary is a "determination; a formal expression of will, opinion or intent (A determination is the act of deciding definitely and firmly.).

If I make a resolution, it's like making a promise to myself about something I am committed to and intend to keep.

Here's an example of a resolution that is assertive with myself and others:

One week before she was supposed to go to college, my youngest daughter was in a terrible automobile accident in which she pulled out in front of a speeding car.  She is fine now, but in the accident she broke her pelvis in three places, had to go to her freshman year in college three weeks late, and was on crutches for the first eight weeks of her time at college.

I made a resolution (that I have reaffirmed every year since then) that I would always drive the speed limit on Atlanta city streets and that I would always stop at yellow lights.  Let's look at this resolution for the characteristics of a good assertive resolution.
  • Driving the speed limit and stopping at yellow lights is a stand that I take for myself but which also affects others.  Drivers in Atlanta rarely drive the speed limit, so going 35 in a 35 mile zone makes those who go 50 quite irritated.  Sometimes I have a line of unhappy (but forced to go the speed limit) drivers behind me.  
  • Driving the speed limit enhances my self-esteem because I feel good about myself for doing the right thing.  I also know that I have control of my car so that if a teenager pulled in front of me, I could stop without doing harm.  If I fail to drive the speed limit, I will feel guilty, but it will not hurt my self-esteem.
  • Driving the speed limit is respectful of myself, the other drivers, and the laws of the city in which I live.  The driver behind me who is angrily hugging my tail is aggressive, not assertive
  • Driving the speed limit is realistic - after all, it's the law.  If I drive the speed limit, I won't get a ticket (a built-in reward!)
  • Driving the speed limit is simple to accomplish.  All I have to do is to remember to read the signs.
Here's an example of a resolution that is assertive with myself:

About twelve years ago, I set a goal of drinking eight glasses of water a day.  This goal has all the characteristics of a good assertive resolution:
  • By drinking more water, I am taking a stand with myself about staying in good health
  • Drinking more water enhances my self-esteem because I feel better about my skin, my body, and take some pride in choosing water over a soft drink.  If I were to fail at this promise to myself, I would not damage my self-esteem.
  • Drinking more water to make me healthier is by definition having respect for myself and my state of being
  • Drinking more water is realistic - always on hand and available.
  • For me this has been simple to accomplish.  I see people every hour in my office, so I decided to drink a glass of water with each client.  Sometimes I fudge a little and drink tea.  Mostly though I use a water bottle and drink water all day long.  I intended this as a goal for one year twelve years ago and it has become a regular feature of my life today.
With the arrival of 2011, set inspiring goals for yourself and make assertive resolutions that you can keep.

NOTE:  I do not drive 55 on the Atlanta Interstates - which is the limit.  If I did so I would be killed.  Nobody drives under 60 on the highways in Atlanta and most drive around 65 - 70.

If you'd like a good laugh, some GSU students made this movie several years ago in which five cars lined up on the Interstate in Atlanta and all drove 55. The results are pretty amusing and a little scary.