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Bernard McDowell, lcsw
 Psychotherapy & Couples Counseling    
2700 SE 26th Avenue Suite D, Portland, OR  97202

Communication Skills--A Three Phase Model
 I.  Introduction:

At heart, resolving conflicts with others and solving people problems in general turns on effective communication.  Often, before people open themselves to guidance for a deeply rooted personal problem or a simple computer glitch, their need to feel listened to and respected plays a central role.  Perhaps, the most sophisticated model of communicating was dubbed “neurolinguistics” [NLP] by its developers, Bandler and Grinder.  Using Noam Chomsky’s transformational grammar model of how people learn languages, they studied the linguistic patterns of several very famous therapists, known for getting spectacular results.  Many common patterns were found among those therapists as well as noted  teachers and salespeople.  Later, they developed models of non-verbal behavior.  The following small slice of the main patterns is my take condensed from innumerable trainings, books, web resources, and my own experience. 
II.     Three Steps For Successful Commuinication:
1) Establishing rapport, 2) Gathering information, and 3) Setting agreements or outcomes.  Complex problem solving communications start with rapport, the foundation for all future exchanges of  information.  If that information describes the current state and desired outcomes in sufficient quality, it’s then possible to proceed setting workable goals or agreements.

A.    Establishing Rapport:  People in rapport respond to each other’s cues (It’s not a matter of whether they like each other).  Specific skills for building rapport:

1.      Style rapport” skills:  Here style refers to non-verbal behavior or cues.  It may seem like common sense, but research also supports that when people match each others non-verbal behavior they communicate better.
    (a).    Match the others’ voice tempo, tone, and volume
    (b).    Match the others’ posture, movements, and breathing.
2.       Content rapport” skills:  Here content refers to language: both the specific words a person uses but also the meaning and importance they assign to those words.   
         (a).  Acknowledge the other’s feelings    
         (b).  Mirror their language patterns— including, e.g.,  matching the other’s
                 visual, auditory, and kinesthetic predicates
         (c).  Refer to their criteria (what’s most important to them)
         (d).  Honor cultural and sub-cultural preferences throughout all
B. Gathering Information:  An ideal goal is to obtain a complete description of how the other behaves, thinks, what’s most important to them, what they want, what would motivate them to go for it, etc.; and the same for yourself.  This may seem obvious.  Yet, people rarely articulate what they want in a straightforward way.  Rather, they say what they don’t want without realizing they aren’t identifying what they do want.  Or they may be reluctant to share their criteria, feelings, etc. for a variety of reasons—fear, lack of trust, denial, powerlessness, etc..  It could take years to master the complete NLP model for gathering information and setting outcomes.  Only a few points are noted below: 

Ask “outcome questions” as opposed to “blame frame questions” to make a well-formed map of an outcome:
Blame Frame Questions Outcome Questions
What is wrong? What do you want?
Why are things not working? What would it look, sound, feel like?
How does it limit you? What will be evidence that you have it?
How have you failed? What is most important about getting it?
Who is to blame? What will happen in your life if you get it?
When do you want it? when not? How have you failed?

Get specific details in terms of what people see, hear, and feel.  If a co-worker frantically tells you that Char had an accident, it’s a mistake to assume that there was a car accident or computer crash.
3.   Find what's most important to the other party: their most highly held criteria. 
4.   Pace, pace, pace, lead:  Especially if there is any resistance, preface your questions and comments by acknowledging the other’s most highly held criteria.  Do this repeatedly before leading with more questions.
5.   Train yourself to listen without sidetracking energy to your own agenda.
Making rebuttals and getting angry are very healthy responses in very specific circumstances, but most of the time they derail energy that could be focused on the speaker back to the (so-called) listener’s agenda.  Try this experiment for three weeks:  Monitor your own listening patterns.  Notice the frequencyand intensity of  how your  attention  goes toward a rebuttal, a counterexample,  anger, etc. even if only in  your own internal dialogue.
6When encountering resistance, return to rapport building.
7.   Ask confirmation questions as you go along.  “If I’m understanding you, your complaint isn’t so much about the change of schedule, but that nobody consulted with you? That was terribly frustrating to you in the past and you felt ignored.  Is that it? am I getting it?
8.   Decode unspecified language:  “Mark and Jo are fighting” doesn’t tell us how (physically, verbally, etc.);  “unspecified referential indices”,  words like “it” and “they”, lead to misunderstandings when we assume what "they" refers to. 
C.   Setting Outcomes, Gaining Agreements:  This step is interwoven with the first two.  Again, without rapport, information gathering is too inhibited for goal setting.  Expect temporary blocks in coming to agreements.  They merely indicate a need to go back for more rapport or information.

1.    Welcome objections with rapport skills.  Don’t immediately rebuttal objections.  Expect objections and respond with acknowledgment before offering another path towards the goals.  Argue well for the other side!  It may seem counter intuitive, but a famous attorney who lost only one case in 40 years preaches exactly that.
2.  Utilize the “if…then frame”, a fundamental negotiating tool.  Ask questions of the form “if I do…, will you then do…?”  If the person says yes, you’ve reached agreement; if not, ask about what needs to be different:  “is there anything else you need to know to go ahead and make the decision to hire me?”  If they answer this question, you’ve identified a missing piece and now have the chance to supply it and get the job.
3.  Aim to finalize agreements.  Many agreements fail for lack of an explicit request for agreement:  E.g.,  “So, are we set? do you agree to this plan?”.
4.    Use the backtrack frame: summarize major agreements as you go along.
5.     Obtainable goals meet “well formedness” conditions:  a) keep the outcome stated in sensory based language of what the goal looks, sounds, and feels like in detail; b) ensure that goals can be initiated and maintained by the party you’re working with; c) shape goals consistent with the person’s values and abilities; d) specify the appropriate context (learn assertiveness, yes, but practice when a cop stops you for speeding?); and 5) preserve benefits of current behaviors.    
6.   When progress bogs down:
a.  Chunk up:  If two friends are going out to eat but each wants to go to a different restaurant, ask both “what is that you’ll get out of going to that particular restaurant”.  One may say, for the type of food (Thai), the other for the atmosphere (quiet).  With that info you have the opportunity to “chunk down” to find a restaurant that meets both criteria.
b.      Reframe by appealing to a higher criteria.  E.g.: [Client complains of the smallness of an apartment.]  “Exactly,it is small.  What is more important, feeling cramped at times inside this kitchen or feeling relaxed that you’ll get out of the house more often since its located near your mother who loves to do daycare sometimes.”
c.       Apply “as if” frames:  There a few handy phrases that can readily help people access inner resources by “pseudo-orientation” by time, person, or place.  “If you were the person in charge…”; “Imagine six months from now having attained your goal,  what did you do that enabled you to…”.