Positive Interpersonal Style

Here are thirty words that describe interpersonal traits, attitudes, or characteristics that are found in effective relationships. Your being a person with style who is good at relationships depends on how often these traits and characteristics are present in your relationships. Using a scale from five to one, rate yourself in terms of how often these traits and characteristics are present for you in your relationships with your family members. Five equals almost always, four equals usually, three equals sometimes, two equals seldom, and one equals almost never.



Using one word at a time and rating yourself on each item, think in terms of a statement that says, 'In my relationships with people in my family, I am _____.' Fill in the blank with each of the thirty words below and then rate yourself in terms of the thirty statements.





















































1. Accepting

2. Affectionate

3. Ambitious

4. Assertive

5. Attractive

6. Considerate

7. Consistent

8. Dependable

9. Decisive

10. Energetic

11. Fair

12. Flexible

13. Gentle

14. Giving

15. Hardworking

16. Helpful

17. Honest

18. Involved

19. Loyal

20. Moral

21. Open

22. Patient

23. Playful

24. Positive

25. Predictable

26. Relaxed

27. Responsible

28. Spontaneous

29. Supportive

30. Tolerant


Discussion



(Note) As a general guideline, the client may wish to add together her thirty numerical responses. This will result in a total interpersonal effectiveness score of from thirty to one hundred fifty. That total may then be divided by thirty resulting in a number from 1.0 to 5.0. This represents, for the client, her interpersonal effectiveness score. Generally, family members who maintain interpersonal effectiveness scores of 4.0 or higher are relating well within their families. When there are difficulties, it may be useful for the client to focus on increasing those characteristics that are already a 3.0 or 4.0 level, with the idea being that it is easier to do more of what you are already doing reasonably well. Over time, focus can be developed in terms of the more problematic characteristics. The exercise is also useful in terms of having the client rate other members of her family and discussing these perceptions with the consultant and with the other family members.



Traditionally, focus on interpersonal relationships has been in terms of problems, difficulties, and explanations as to why things are not working. This activity addresses the same type of issue in a positive direction asking why things are working, why things are going well. What is found is that interpersonally effective individuals develop and maintain relationships that reflect an individualized mix of the 30 traits and characteristics. If one wants to be more interpersonally effective, the key is to simply maximize the extent to which these traits and characteristics are reflected in her relationships.



Increasing a particular trait or characteristic may be achieved by either directly increasing the trait or characteristic on the one hand or decreasing the alternative or opposite behavior on the other hand. For example, one may focus on the positive traits and characteristics of a specific family member. Focusing attention on these positives will have the effect of increasing the general acceptance of that family member. Alternatively, the opposite of acceptance is rejection or indifference. Increased acceptance will be achieved if rejection is decreased and indifference is exchanged for interest and involvement. The consultant may facilitate focus on the specific behavioral correlates involved in either approach to increasing acceptance.



Being more affectionate needs to be understood in physical, emotional, and social terms. At a physical level, the client may need instruction in touching, holding, and caressing in more gentle and affectionate ways. In addition, verbal tone and content along with facial expression will need attention. At an emotional level, the need is for increased positive emotion, expression of pleasure and satisfaction with the other person, and an increased calm relaxed approach to the other family member. At the social level, more spontaneous, positive interaction is needed with the content of that interaction emphasizing activities and involvements that the other family member values and enjoys.



Increasing the level of ambition in a client is difficult but straight forward. The alternative perception is of the client as being lazy. The client will need to bring more energy to her activities and family involvements, will need to actively participate more, and will need to more clearly function in the interest of the well being and welfare of the family in physical, emotional, and social terms.



Assertiveness training is explored in great detail in both the popular and professional literature. Basically, it operates in two ways. First, assertiveness falls between passivity and aggression. The passive client needs to learn to stick up for herself, press her point of view, and more spontaneously share her thoughts and ideas. The aggressive client must learn to tone down and modulate her physical, emotional, and social aggression in ways that make her more attractive and acceptable to other family members. The key to either strategy is staying more relaxed, taking more responsibility for individual participation, and developing specific physical, verbal, emotional, and social techniques through which one can be an equal and effective participant within the family. The key to this is assuring that the client avoids playing 'games.' Honest, congruent, responsible participation within the family will, by itself, gradually lead to a more appropriately assertive style of family participation.



Increasing attractiveness comes primarily through understanding that 'attractiveness' represents the extent to which other members of the family are attracted to the client. People are attracted to each other for different reasons in different ways. Importantly, this attractiveness mix includes characteristics but also includes behavioral characteristics such as language, helpfulness, personal appearance, and other aspects of the physical/doing dimension as discussed in relationship to other activities. One way to get at this is to simply ask other family members what kinds of things they find attractive within the physical/doing dimension. Attractiveness also includes emotional attractiveness in terms of one's moods, general emotional positiveness, and the way one manages her emotions. Attractiveness goes on to include moral/ spiritual attractiveness, social/interpersonal attractiveness, sexual/ sensual attractiveness, and intellectual/cognitive attractiveness. Real attractiveness is seldom limited to one or two areas and virtually never depends more on superficial qualities than on more general characteristics of the individual. Of course, it is also important to decrease those factors that other find unattractive.



Considerateness is a similar characteristic and involves taking the other person into consideration. This includes consideration for their physical needs and interests, need for privacy and physical space, need for physical noninterference with their person or possessions, and a general consideration of them as physical/doing people. The other dimensions within the multidimensional functioning of individuals also become focal areas for consideration. Perhaps easily overlooked is the need to be considerate of the values and beliefs of others and the need to be considerate of their individual styles related to intellectual and cognitive functioning. In addition, people want to have their feelings taken into consideration and their social styles understood and considered. Generally, each person in the family needs to know that each of the other people in the family takes her into consideration fully, sensitively, and caringly.



The multidimensionality of consistency is similar to that seen with characteristics already discussed. It is also closely aligned with dependability in terms of interpersonal style and interpersonal effectiveness. Both consistency and dependability can be understood in terms of physical/doing behavior and activities, following through with commitments and agreements, and being there when others need someone to be there for them. Importantly, both also have a feeling/emotional dimension. Emotional consistency and dependability are perhaps as important as physical/behavioral consistency and dependability. The same holds for social consistency and dependability as one is involved in family activities, relates to other family members, and functions as part of the family's social environment.



All of these characteristics require the individual to bring enough energy to family participation to reflect the characteristics with style, all the time, on purpose. This applies to physical energy and also applies to emotional and social energy.



Fairness and flexibility are additional characteristics of the interpersonally effective individual. Both are closely linked to consideration and convey a fairly simple approach to other family members. 'I will deal with you fairly, responding to your needs, interests, rights, and responsibilities. If necessary, I will adjust my thinking, behavior, and attitudes to develop an appropriate congruence with yours. This means that along with being fair, I will also relate to you in a flexible way that allows each of us to be comfortable with ourselves and with each other.'



Gentleness may, in fact, be one of the more important interpersonal elements to cultivate for most individuals experiencing interpersonal difficulty within the family. At a system level, most families would function much better if each family member would simply increase the level of gentleness she brings to family relationships. Of course, gentleness is multidimensional as are the other traits and characteristics. This then includes emotional gentleness and a gentle approach to social involvement and participation as well as physical gentleness. The consultant will find that people frequently need specific instruction in being more physically gentle but also in being more emotionally gentle with each other.



Being helpful and hardworking are fairly straightforward ideas related to doing things that are useful for other family members and for the family as a whole. Importantly, though, helpfulness and being hardworking also extend to the emotional and social environment of the family. Positive social and emotional environments within the family do not necessarily occur naturally or spontaneously. They are a result of effort and the investment of time and energy, requiring skill and sensitivity. Essential here is a high level of physical, emotional, and social involvement in the family and the life of the family.



Honesty, loyalty, and a high priority given to personal morality give emphasis to the values and beliefs that underlie and support the family system. Collectively they may be thought of as representing the individual culture of a family and represent the base on which all other aspects of family life and involvement rest. They, of course, relate to the actions of individual family members and to how family members relate to each other verbally. In addition, though, honesty, loyalty, and morality also underlie the emotional and social environments with the family. Focusing specifically on loyalty, it should be understood that loyalty is a manifestation of the morality and fundamental honesty of the family and its members. At a basic level, loyalty is the commitment to 'hang in there' with each other in positive and supportive ways. A commitment to morality and honesty drive loyalty and become the underlying reason for family members being loyal to each other.



Openness is very closely related to honesty and thus to loyalty and morality within the family system. Developing emotional and intellectual openness is the key and represents an honest, congruent approach to relating to and participating with others. It has to do with not masking, disguising or covering up feelings on the one hand and with not over expressing feelings and emotions on the other hand. Similarly, it has to do with candidly and straightforwardly expressing one's thoughts, views, and ideas without making them seem stronger or more fixed than they really are. Openness is, perhaps, at the opposite end of interpersonal styles from games. Everything is out on the table where one can see it, deal with it, and respond to it. It is not possible to fully and congruently deal with each other within the family unless each member is willing and able to develop a high level of openness with other members of the family.



Patience, playfulness, and positiveness combine with being relaxed and predictable to develop a level of receptivity and safety for others that allows them to seek out the individual and relate to her in an easy and pleasurable manner. An important part of interpersonal effectiveness has to do with not only how the individual relates to others but also how easy and facilitated it is for others to relate to her. Patience generally conveys a willingness to allow the other person to be who she is and to relate in her own time and on her own terms. The other person does not develop a sense of demand or expectation with the relationship. The positive opportunity and feedback the other person receives encourages further relating and involvement. When all of this takes place within a playful, 'enjoying each other' relationship the interpersonally effective individual becomes a source of comfort, fun, and escape from the tensions and turmoils outside of the relationship and outside of the family.



Essential to these and other interpersonally effective characteristics is a lack of anxiety, tension and turmoil. To achieve this, the individual needs to learn to consciously and intentionally stay reasonably calm, reasonably slowed-down, and reasonably free from anxiety and tension. Here the consultant may be of specific assistance in terms of teaching breathing and other relaxation exercises, such as self-hypnosis and focused relaxation, or guided imagery. The consultant may also want to interest the client in some of the relaxation activities found in the study of yoga. The progression usually follows from relaxing one's respiration and muscles to mental focus or imagery leading to the relaxation of the mind and rushing thoughts. These two steps in turn lead to emotional relaxation and a sense of calmness or equanimity. For clients who have a tendency toward excess anxiety or tension, the consultant may want to start with the relaxation element as a prerequisite to effective work in developing the other positive traits and characteristics.



All of the traits and characteristics discussed to this point begin to mix and combine to develop the interpersonal presentation or projection of the individual to other family members and to develop the interpersonal environment within which others can comfortably relate and interact. The individual will relate with style, all the time, on purpose, reflecting a high degree of consistency and predictability.



Predictability in particular becomes an additional central factor in relationship to being responsible and being tolerant. The latter let people know how they will be dealt with while predictability lets them know that tolerance and dependability are something they can count on and at times can simply take for granted. It is sufficient to note that responsibility not only applies to physical/doing behavior and action but also applies to being emotionally responsible, morally responsible, socially responsible, sexually responsible, and intellectually responsible.



An important part of being responsible involves being tolerant. It is an attitude that is conveyed making it clear that no one is expected to be perfect, expected to do all things correctly at all times. In addition, it conveys an acceptance of others that lets them know that it is okay for them to be who they are without criticism or ridicule.



As can be seen by this point, spontaneity is, then, more than being verbally or socially spontaneous. When something is spontaneous, it occurs without any obvious or external cause or stimulus. It happens simply as a function of the situation, the circumstances, or the general environmental mix present at the time. Family members who are ambitious, assertive, consistent, dependable, decisive, energetic, helpful, involved, open, and responsible in physical, emotional, and social terms will be spontaneous as a part of their effective family participation. Alternatively, individuals who are not relating physically, emotionally, and socially in spontaneous ways need to first understand the extent to which they are also not manifesting other positive and effective traits and characteristics. This insight usually leads to increased spontaneity, especially if the consultant will take a coaching role with the individual in terms of teaching and encouraging relative to spontaneous behavior and opportunities for spontaneity.



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