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Issue #21

What is this Really About?
by
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. 

"I know he is angry when I start getting the silent treatment. Then a few days later he explodes and tells me about everything I have ever done wrong. I donít even know what I did to make him angry, and no matter what I say, I canít seem to get through to him. I dread waiting for the explosion." Betty was telling me about Phil, her husband and business partner, but I have heard this story, with variations, many times.

"And after the explosion, what happens?" I asked. "If I fight back, the argument could go on for days, if Iím quiet, the next day he acts as if nothing happened and we get back to work.." Betty replied.

I explained that a recurring pattern like this one usually means that the people involved are trying, unsuccessfully, to communicate something important to each other. I asked if Phil would join us for a coaching session to try to decode the unsuccessful communication. He was happy to, he hated the arguments and lost time as much as she did.

I listened closely as they started to discuss an unresolved business problem, I noticed that Betty was doing most of the talking. Whenever she paused and Phil started to speak, she would interrupt him and continue speaking. I stopped the conversation and asked Phil how he felt. He said he felt frustrated.

When I asked if the frustration could be because he had no space to express his thoughts, he looked relieved. That really was the problem. Betty was stunned. All she was trying to do was contribute to solving a problem (the business issue) without any awareness that she was helping create another problem (their pattern of unsuccessful communication.)

Once we all understood how the pattern worked, we designed a series of steps to interrupt it as soon as it was recognized. Phil agreed to make a time out signal when he wanted to speak. Betty agreed to stop talking and listen. Betty agreed to stop her current conversation as soon as she noticed the silent treatment, and simply tell Phil that she recognized that she was back in the pattern again. They were elated at how quickly they succeeded.

Coaching Tip: Recurrent patterns of unsuccessful communication were identified as "Games People Play" by Eric Berne, M.D. in his popular book by that name. It is difficult to stop such a pattern when you are inside it. Getting help saves enormous time and energy.

 


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Jonathan B. Weiss, Ph.D., and Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., have helped thousands of people make significant changes in their lives. Working together at Empowerment Systems for 30 of their 42 years of marriage, they maintain a coaching, consulting, and psychotherapy practice in Littleton, Colorado, USA.

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To arrange a free introductory coaching session with either Jon or Laurie Weiss,  email us or call us at 303-794-5379.

Laurieís email: laurieweiss@empowermentsystems.com
Jonís email: weiss@empowermentsystems.com

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