This section modifies the approach from earlier discussion
sections somewhat. Here, attention is on
both the above activity and the preceding activity dealing with interpersonal
priorities. It is, thus, important to
complete activity 9 prior to proceeding with this section.
The interpersonal processes in this activity may be thought
of as supporting and furthering the priorities in activity 9. As a preliminary step, it will be helpful to
extend the behavioral manifestations of the priorities in the earlier
activity. This is accomplished by simply
extending the behavioral directives associated with the priorities. Once this is done, the same extension
approach may be applied to the interpersonal processes. The result is a more extensive set of
priority statements combined with a similarly extended set of process
statements. When necessary for purposes
of clarity, these extensions are accompanied by brief exclamations and
Initiating reciprocal cooperation begins with the clients being clear
with himself and other family members about what is wanted and expected. Developing clarity with reference to
expectations requires careful work on the part of the consultant in assisting
the client to first see himself as having expectations and then in assisting
the client to define and articulate those expectations in terms that enable
other family members to respond. The
client needs to be additionally assisted in helping other members of the family
to define and articulate their expectations.
Within this environment of clear expectations, then, all members of the
family can better pitch in and work with each other both in terms of shared
expectations and in terms of those expectations that are unique to specific
members of the family.
Next, the client and the consultant will want to focus on
loyalty as a reciprocal and shared aspect of family life. At a very fundamental level, this depends on
the clients valuing being part of the family.
Do you value being a part of your family? Is being part of your family important to
you? Most clients will somewhat
automatically and reflexively respond to these questions in the
affirmative. At that point, the
consultant may help by facilitating the definition of valuing.
I hear you saying that you value being part of your
family. A lot of people feel that way
and were we to ask other members of your family, they would probably say the
same thing. I have found that it is
important that these types of feelings are given more than superficial lip
service. What do you value about being a
part of your family? The consultant and
client may then work on developing a prioritized list of four or five factors
that the client values. That which is
valued then becomes the driver or that which most nearly guarantees continuing
It also becomes the underlying reason for developing faith
in other members of the family as the client has experience with them as people
who provide and assure those things valued by the client. Experience with family members as providers
of those things valued by the client generalizes to valuing the members
themselves and having faith in them in more comprehensive and meaningful terms.
Caring for each other at a reciprocal level within the
family is encouraged and furthered by having pride in each other. This starts with the clients having a sense
of pride in each member of his family.
Are you proud of the other members of your family? If so, what are sources of pride for
you? Lets think about each member of
your family and see if we can develop a list of two or three things about each
person that results in your being proud of him.
We are not particularly looking for things that you like or appreciate
about other family members. Here, we are
looking for things that make you feel good about you just because you are in
the same family with the other person.
In addition to focus on the idea of pride, this exercise also encourages
and enables the client to begin to understand that his sense of self and
self-esteem depend, in part, on who the other members of his family are. Part of his pride in who he is depends on who
they are. At this level of insight,
then, the client may easily see that it is in his interest and in the interest
of his self-esteem to support and encourage other members of the family, to
support and encourage their activities, interest, and involvements.
Supporting and encouraging each other within the family
extends to sharing with each other in caring and meaningful ways. Along with talking with each other, this
sharing needs to include an atmosphere of openness and up-frontness with each
Failing to share with each other in direct and clear ways
what one thinks, feels, and believes about each member of the family
jeopardizes the caring environment and directly interferes with cooperation and
any continuing sense of loyalty. The
client may say, I think this is a good idea but being open and up-front is not
something I do very well. I know what I
think and feel but am not very good at expressing it. The consultant may then help the client
understand that the goal is not perfection, showing that he was already
interpersonally skilled, or being able to do things that one can not yet do. The goal within the family is for the client
to give it his best shot, to try being more open and up-front, to gradually
increase his ability to contribute positively to a sharing environment.
This level of sharing is best achieved within an environment
characterized by mutual respect. As
suggested in activity 9, respect begins with listening to each other patiently
and carefully. By reflecting this level
of respect with other family members, the client not only conveys respect but
begins to learn about sharing. He will
see how others express themselves, are open with the client, and try to deal
with him in up-front and candid ways. He
will also find that, having been given the opportunity to express themselves,
other members of the family are significantly more receptive to the clients
efforts to express himself.
Among other things, the clients respect for other members
of the family conveys to them a willingness on the part of the client to accept
them as they are. Following the
principle of reciprocity, this orientation on the part of the client increases
the willingness of other family members to accept him on an as-is basis. The atmosphere of mutual acceptance, then,
makes sharing and cooperation easier and smoother.
The above leads to a quality of trust within family relationships enabling each family member to
be more comfortable and at ease with other family members. At a fundamental level, trust is the key to
assuring the other five priorities: cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, and
respect. The effect is a give and take
relationship among and between family members, with an absence of significant
criticism, jeopardy, or potential rejection.
It is sense of or fear of rejection that is perhaps the
single greatest factor interfering with comfortable, satisfying, and effective
intrafamily relationships. Consciously
increasing trust within the family, then, directly reduces one of the major
negative drivers within the family: a fear of rejection or nonacceptance. The client moves into a position where he may
depend on other members of the family and count on them to be there and to do
what needs to be done. They may not
always be happy with the client, feel good about him, or relate to him in
positive ways. Nonetheless, the
underlying trust within the family assures everyone that they will all deal
with the ups and downs, good times and bad times.
PROCESSES: Direction helps move relationships in ways that
are useful to the client. As suggested
earlier, this process starts with keeping commitments and agreements with other
family members. In addition, the process
is furthered by an approach geared toward influencing other family members
instead of directing or trying to control them and or their activities. The client should learn to make suggestions
instead of giving directives, ask instead of telling, explain instead of
It is important for him to understand that, over time, it
really is true as the old saying suggests You accomplish more with honey
than with vinegar. People will usually
move in the direction you want them to move if they are asked, if they
understand why it is important, and if they know that their doing so is
This appreciation is expressed in general and direct
ways. At the same time, though, it is
important to focus any criticism in very direct and specific ways. Praise and express appreciation in lavish and
general terms. Express any criticism or
negative feelings in very limited and specific ways. Through the process, the client will
gradually get to a point where he is more clearly directing relationships in
ways useful to him, responding to those problems points or negative times in
very limited and specific ways, and clearly letting others know that their
helpful approach is appreciated.
The action process within family relationships encourages
others to respond to the client in ways that support and compliment his needs
and interest. Following the principle of
reciprocity, the action process is furthered by the clients understanding and
supporting the needs and interest of other members of the family. What do other members of the family
need? What is important to them? What can you do to support these needs and
interests? On a reciprocal basis, the
client is clear about what he needs, his interest, what he expects.
The client needs to be consistent with reference to his
needs and interest and the articulation of those needs and interest to
others. Additionally, he needs to be
firm about his needs and interest and the expectation that other family members
take them into consideration. This
firmness must not turn into aggression, a demanding approach, or an approach
that indicates that the clients needs and interests are more important than
those of others. Here, gentle firmness
is the key.
The process of attitude management encourages others to see
the client in a positive light. Attention to the first two processes
direction and action facilitates this positive perception of the client.
In addition, seeing each member of the family as an
individual and individualizing ones approach, relationship, and expectations
furthers the attitude management process.
How is your approach to each member of your family different from your
approach to each other member of the family?
How does this result in differences in your relationships with each
member? What are the differences? What do you expect from each member of your
family; and how are those expectations different from those held for other
members of the family? Implicit in this
individualization is a level of flexibility that will allow the client to
respond differentially to the special needs and interests of each family
member. This, in turn, enables the
client to emphasize and facilitate the satisfaction of each member of the family. On a reciprocal basis, this, in turn,
increases the likelihood of their encouraging and facilitating the general
level of satisfaction of the client. If
I help you be more satisfied with who you are and with being a part of the
family, the likelihood is that your functioning in relationship to me will have
a similar effect for me.
The distancing process combines with the other interpersonal
processes to encourage other members of the family to stay close and in touch
with the client and available to him. In
order to further this process, the client must assure that each member of the
family receives acknowledgement and recognition from him on a regular
basis. Importantly, though, it is not
enough to simply say hello.
Acknowledgement and recognition come through knowing of the other
persons interest and activities, keeping up with their involvement and
interest, and taking time to know who they are on a day-to-day basis. Collectively, these represent who the other
person is. It is to whom the person is that one gives acknowledgement and
The idea is to convey a real and felt sense that says, I
know who you are, am interested in you and who you are, and enjoy being close
enough with you to keep in touch and up to date. On a reciprocal basis, or course, other
members of the family are more likely to relate to the client on the same
basis. Important here is a willingness
to simply accept fluctuations in the attitudes, behaviors, and involvements of
other family members. Sometimes people
feel closer to each other and sometimes they feel a little more distant. Nonetheless, the client works toward
maintaining the distance at a close and relating level as much of the time as
Among other things, this means that the client is as willing
to adjust to and adapt to other family members as he expects them to be willing
to adjust to or adapt to him. This
principle of each adapting to the other in flexible and mutually accommodating
ways is especially important within parent/child relationships and within the
marriage dyad. The client should simply
keep in mind that accommodating and adjusting to others is not an unlimited
process. It should not develop into a
game as discussed in an earlier activity.
It is, instead, a process related to distancing within relationships and
to maintaining a close, in touch involvement with each other.
The process is probably best understood in relationship to
maintaining engagement leading to always feeling that one belongs and is part
of the family. This starts with assuring
that the client interacts with other members of the family on a regular basis
and that they interact with him. In
addition, though, maintaining engagement suggest that the client should take
additional responsibility to be sure that there is time and opportunity for
other members of the family to interact with each other. Importantly, the environment within which
these interactions take place should be maintained in a positive, comfortable
manner, to the extent that the client is able to influence these environmental
qualities. Within this process,
conveying interest needs to be managed in a direct way. It is not enough o talk with others about a
family member, to tell others about his accomplishments or achievements, or to
discuss with them problems or difficulties one may be having with another
family member. These things should be managed directly with
each member of the family following the processes of direction, action,
attitude management, and so on.
The client may encourage each family member to be experimental,
to suggest new ideas and approaches to be used to better manage engagement with
each other. At the family level, it
might be well to simply sit down with each other and talk about this process,
listening carefully to the ideas and suggestions of each member. The client may be surprised to find how much
assistance he will receive from other family members if they are simply invited
to participate in thinking about the process.
Conflict management is a critical process within any family
and represents one of the most important skill areas in the development of
effective interpersonal relationships.
When handled well, conflict management assures that members of the
family are as comfortable with the client as they can be. As suggested earlier, a fear of nonacceptance
or rejection is one of the primary negative drivers within families. Conflict fuels that driver perhaps more than
any other single factor. Managing conflict,
then, leads to minimizing any sense of rejection or nonacceptance on the part
of family members.
Effective conflict management starts with the clients
simply tolerating a fairly high level of ambiguity or uncertainty in the
behavior of other family members and in his relationships with them. It relates back to having faith in them and
to accepting them on an as is basis.
Much family conflict revolves around misunderstandings, differing
opinions, pressing for explanations where no explanation is readily available,
and pushing other individuals to remove any ambiguity or lack of clarity that
may be present. In addition, there are
going to be those points of tensions, conflict, increased negativism. Most individuals are somewhat naturally
tempted to try to deal with these points and resolve them. Much of the time, it is in the interest of
conflict management to simply absorb or tolerate these periods of high
dissonance or conflict and those occasional periods of mild dissonance or
conflict. The idea is to use an approach
that absorbs the intense negative feelings and tries to understand what is
happening, how people are feeling, and what is driving the tension or
conflict. It is at this level that a
response is appropriate, although many times one might be better off to simply
understand that people are in a bad mood sometimes, feel tense sometimes, and
behave in ways that cause conflict and negative feelings.
So long as the problems are not chronic or persistent, these
occasional episodes of dissonance or conflict are simply part of being in the
family and probably do not need any specific response. The family system really does crunch and bump
sometimes. The key is to be alert to
real problems, things that really do need resolution and continuing
attention. This is especially true if
the same difficulties keep coming up over and over again or if a specific
family member seems to be the brunt of or the source of the conflict on a
regular or recurring basis. In these
situations, attention is less to the conflict itself and more toward that which
is causing or contributing to the conflict.
Modeling is perhaps the most significant of the seven
interpersonal processes being discussed here.
Through the educational approach, the client not only learns to function
in more interpersonally effective ways with style but also beings to represent
a model or example within the family of interpersonally effective style. He begins to exemplify family priorities and
becomes an individual whom others emulate.
Part of this modeling process involves emphasizing positive things,
ideas, interpretations, and processes within the family, giving direct and very
clear attention to any problems or difficulties that may arise. I understand that you are feeling fairly
negative about your family relationships and about other people in the
family. Others in your situation have
felt much the same way. I have found,
though, that your continuing to verbalize and express these negative things and
ideas only tends to make the family environment more negative. I think you may find that working on the problems,
working on how you relate to others, working on the example you set for others
may, in the long run, do a lot more good than simply talking about how bad
things are without taking personal responsibility for your style, your
involvement, your participation, your role in what is going on. You may not be able to do much at this point
about what is going on with others. You
can and should, however, do what you can do to be a person with style, all the
time, on purpose.