Interpersonal Priority Setting

As you relate to people in your family, you will find that things go better if emphasis is given to cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, respect, and trust. First, simply think about your family relationships. Do people cooperate with you? Are people loyal to you? Do your family members care about you and share with you? Do you think you receive the level of respect and trust you would like to have? The idea in this activity is for you to evaluate yourself in terms of being someone who gets cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, respect, and trust from others.

Using the scale from five to one, rate yourself on each of the six statements below. Five equals almost always, four equals usually, three equals sometimes, two equals seldom, and one equals almost never. Once you are finished, add your ratings together and divide the total by six. This will give you a priority score. It will be in your best interest to relate to others in your family in ways that keep your priority score at 4.0 or higher. When you are having difficulties with family relationships, go back to this activity, think about the statements, and then devote some time for two or three weeks to being sure that your priority score stays above 4.0.

  • 1. COOPERATION I am consistently helpful to others in my family.

  • 2. LOYALTY I hang in there in a positive way with the ups and downs in the relationships with people in my family.

  • 3. CARING I am consistently involved and interested in others in my family.

  • 4. SHARING I spend some time talking with members of my family everyday.

  • 5. RESPECT I listen patiently and carefully whenever members of my family are talking, telling me about something, or trying to express their ideas or feelings.

  • 6. TRUST I do not get into blaming, accusing, or threatening members of my family.


This activity is designed to focus on and emphasize the importance of the relationship to the client and to articulate those qualities or characteristics within the relationship that are valued: those that result in the most satisfaction and sense of fulfillment within the relationship. The activity also emphasizes the reciprocal nature of these priorities and translates those priorities into behavioral, 'doable' activities and approaches. To the extent that the client manifests these behaviors and approaches within her relationships, she will experience an increased sense of cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, respect, and trust within the feedback loop from others. It is a fairly simple strategy, e.g., if you are more helpful to others they are more likely to be helpful to you, if you hang in there with them they are more likely to hang in there with you.

In more specific terms, the client wants to increase the level of cooperation she experiences in relationships with other family members. This will best be achieved by looking for and taking advantage of opportunities to be helpful to others in big and small ways. Importantly, though, this helpfulness must be something that is consistent and predictable to develop the optimal cooperative level of feedback from others.

The same principle applies to increasing the extent to which the client perceives other family members as being loyal to her. Importantly, loyalty is most clearly perceived in a direct and personal way and develops in terms of the relationship. The attitude and approach comes in terms of, 'We have our ups and downs, good days and bad days, times when we are feeling good about each other and times when we are not. Sometimes we handle these fluctuations better and sometimes less effectively; but our relationship endures.' It is also important that this commitment to each other through the relationship maintains a positive willing quality: a quality of conscious, voluntary participation in the relationship. The relationship never becomes a 'have to' type of thing. There is not room for either the saint or the martyr in the reality of a healthy family.

An illustration may be useful. A young boy came to his father, suitcase in hand, saying, 'I am going to run away from home.' Somewhat surprised and a little puzzled, the father said, 'No, you are not going to run away from home. I do not run away from home, your mother does not run away from home, and you are not going to run away from home. Running away is not the way we deal with each other or with our problems. We hang in there - good days, bad days, and all.' The five year old was somewhat taken aback but said, 'Oh, I thought it would be okay.' The father then said, 'Being upset is okay, and sometimes being really mad is also okay. Let's talk about what's going on.'

Being cared about is a high priority for the client. She best assures this by understanding that a sense of caring comes through seeing that others are voluntarily involved with and interested in her. Again, the process is reciprocal. The client needs to focus more time and energy in terms of being more actively involved with others in her family and demonstrating an increased interest in them and their activities. Importantly, this increasing involvement and interest needs to be pursued on a very consistent basis and should not fluctuate based on the immediate mood or interest of the client. She must consistently increase caring behavior if she is to increase the extent to which she feels cared about.

Sharing is, thus, very closely linked with caring and as the concept is developed here is primarily pursued in verbal, talking terms. The client needs to talk more with others on a consistent, daily basis if they are to spend more time talking with her. Talking with each other becomes, then, the sharing dimension within the caring family.

Respect and trust function in tandem, much like caring and sharing. They are also similarly reciprocal. Listening to others is at least as important as talking with and actively interacting with them. Simply taking in what is said is not enough, however. The client first needs to listen patiently, which involves being relaxed, actively trying to understand what the other person is saying instead of thinking about what she is going to say, and being sure that the other person has finished before responding. A useful technique is to clarify what the other person has said before responding to it. For example, 'I understand you to be saying...If I correctly understand, ... (now comes the response).' This assures that the client is carefully listening as well as patiently listening. She will find, over time, that through these techniques others gradually come to listen to her in more patient and caring ways.

It is additionally important that the response or reaction to either what the other person is saying or to her behavior reflects a quality of acceptance of the other person and does not involve blaming, accusing, or threatening. The goal is for the client to develop more effective communication. Arguing and negatively relating to the other person is never an appropriate approach to meaningful and effective communication. This in no way precludes disagreements, differing opinions and interpretations, or opposing points of view. It simply reflects an effective approach for communicating about whatever is going on, whatever the issues are.

The goal is to maximize cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, respect, and trust. Negativism, arguing, blaming, threatening, and accusing only serve to reduce the presence of priorities within the relationships.

By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. March 23, 2017