Four Ways to Increase Your Interpersonal Skills

Emotionally sensitive people experience more intense emotions that are more easily aroused and that last longer than those who are not emotionally sensitive. You react faster with greater emotional intensity that lasts longer. Your emotional reactions can be triggered by television shows, magazine articles, places that trigger memories, anniversaries and other events.  Interpersonal issues are one of the most challenging areas for you.

With a strong fear and sensitivity to rejection, even routine events such as a friend canceling lunch plans can bring on a tornado of emotions that are difficult to manage. With this difficulty in relationships, so much of life becomes stressful, such as attending classes, dating, participating in friendships, interacting in group activities, having roommates, and working with others. Some of you withdraw and become isolated as a way of avoiding the pain of relationships. Others experience anguish and suffering on a regular basis with little relief. Working on interpersonal skills and ways to manage emotions in relationships can help you reduce the suffering you experience on a daily basis. Improving your interpersonal resiliency and skills is complicated.  Four options for getting started (based on the work of Marsha Linehan, 1993)  include the following:

1.  Practice thinking dialectically

When you think dialectically, you are always asking yourself what you could be missing. You accept that no one has the absolute truth and that carefully considering the ideas of others can lead to a clearer, more accurate picture of events than only considering your own point of view. In practice this means not getting stuck in black and white thinking or in taking opposite sides. You aren’t looking for compromise; you are searching for the truth in all points of view.  If compromise is gray, then thinking dialectically would be plaid or polka dots. You don’t have to give up your view of the truth to accept that someone else has a different view and maybe even an opposite view. Dialectics recognizes that all views may be true and that a synthesis of those views may lead to a greater understanding. When you are thinking dialectically you are being cognitively flexible and curious about understanding other views. Using the word “and” often reflects dialectical thinking:  “I am worn out and can’t play anymore and my son wants to continue playing.” When you think dialectically neither person is judged for his view. Your son isn’t selfish or spoiled because he wants to continue playing. He is just enjoying your company. You aren’t a bad mother–you are simply tired.  Both your son’s wish to continue playing and your need to stop are valid.

2.  Use relational mindfulness 

Mindfulness in this situation is awareness of your mental state and awareness of how others are reacting. Dr. Alan Fruzzetti says that to be relationally mindful you observe the other person without judgment and participate fully with them in effective ways. That effectiveness means to focus on the relationship and not on the specific issue of the moment. Who forgot to put gas in the car is minor and not worth losing the relationship.  When you are calm it may be easy to let annoyances go and to remember that you don’t want to do anything to damage a relationship. When you are emotionally upset your thinking becomes narrower and you may only be able to think about what is right and wrong from your point of view. If you are upset, practice taking time to calm yourself before talking with those you care about.

To observe means that you only know what you can see, hear and touch. You don’t interpret or guess in negative ways. If your mind interprets a non returned text as rejection, ask yourself what other explanations there might be, such as his phone isn’t charged or he is in a meeting with his boss.

3.  Assume the best with wisdom

Often, perhaps because of your own fears, you may easily interpret actions of others in negative ways.  Negative interpretations become your default way of looking at relationships and other people. This habit can lead to repeated ups and downs that stress the relationship. Practice assuming the best of those you care about. Assume that they have your best interests at heart even though you may not appreciate their choices.

4.  Practice Acceptance and Letting Go

Relationships are often messy and difficult and stressful. Accepting that you will have disagreements, disappointments, and hurt feelings is part of the being in relationships. Practice holding onto and savoring the good times and letting go of the hurtful experiences.  Instead of replaying the hurtful conversations, replay the joyful ones. Set your intention to notice when you are dwelling on painful experiences, accept that the experience was painful, then visualize letting go of the thoughts. Replace the thoughts with memories of pleasant interactions which are the basis for the relationship.

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