Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

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This post was originally written and published on Thrive Global on August 12, 2021. You can find it directly at : Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills (thriveglobal.com)

We are now rounding the corner on the DBT pillars! In my previous posts, like DBT and Distress Tolerance Skills and Emotional Regulation: The Power to Control our Emotions, we discussed how these fundamental pillars of Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) assisted our brains to rein in that darn amygdala’s response to stress. In this next series of posts, I will be going over the third pillar of DBT: interpersonal effectiveness!

First off, what in the world is interpersonal effectiveness? To keep it basic, interpersonal effectiveness skills are all about how we attend and maintain the relationships in our lives. There are many parts to keeping our relationships (including work, family, friend, and romantic relationships) working like a well-oiled machine and benefitting us. Some of these parts include:

  • How we cope and balance demands and priorities
  • understanding the difference between what we want to do versus what we should be doing
  • keeping respect for ourselves and others
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Sounds difficult, huh? If we break it down into a simpler form, interpersonal effectiveness is all about how we communicate with the world and with ourselves in order to maintain healthy and helpful relationships. Why is this so important? In my posts, The “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters and How to Release Them, and Neurotransmitters: The Language of the Brain, we discussed the importance of oxytocin for mental health. By using clear communication skills, we are able to create a bond with other people in our life, naturally boosting that release of oxytocin. This not only helps us feel connected to others (and not so alone), it also helps our prefrontal cortex talk to the hippocampus and say “see, this is a good feeling.” As that is going on, BAM! Dopamine and serotonin start to flood in the brain, allowing that darn amygdala to relax and enjoy the company. On the other side, by learning what our own boundaries need to be, asking for help, and learning to say “no” (say what?!), also allows our prefrontal cortex to remind that darn amygdala what it really needs: to feel safe.

Why do so many of us struggle with interpersonal effectiveness skills when our mental health is, well, less than shit? Think about it. When we are in a heightened state of stress, what is going on in that darn amygdala? You guessed it! That darn amygdala is trying to keep us safe, so it is doing a bunch of things:

  • Throwing cognitive distortions at us
  • Preparing us for the triple F response
  • Telling the thalamus to release adrenaline and norepinephrine
  • Directing the thalamus to tell the hippocampus and hypothalamus to go over all the other times that we have been screwed over in past relationships
  • Heightening our physical senses
  • Going on the defense as a way to protect us from getting hurt

As our darn amygdala is getting the brain all geared up because of the stress we are already under, communication with the people around us becomes, well, sensitive. Our hippocampus and hypothalamus are having cognitive distortions filter out any positive information or facts the prefrontal cortex is (trying) shoving at them. The thalamus is flooding our brain with the stress neurotransmitters. All of this hog ties our poor prefrontal cortex, allowing that darn amygdala to let the stress response dictate how we react to people. Sometimes, we don’t react the nicest when our darn amygdala tells us we are in danger.

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions become easier.”

– Roy E. Disney

In these next couple of posts, we are going to explore some ways to improve our interpersonal effectiveness, which will help when we need things, like asking and taking a mental health day without feeling guilty (who’s with me?!) These skills will also help you understand how by attending to our relationships we can get our needs met all while maintaining a healthy respect for ourselves and those that are part of our safe support system. How freakin’ neat is that?

Coping Skills Alert!

One of the most important things to know about interpersonal effectiveness is knowing the purpose of your communication. How many times have you said something and later realize “oops! I shouldn’t have said that! It didn’t even relate to the conversation!”? Before we allow whatever our darn amygdala wants us to say, we have to check with ourselves FIRST:

  • What is the priority of the message I’m saying?
  • Is the person I’m talking to capable of meeting me in this conversation?
  • How will this meet my own needs?
  • Do I have enough information about what I’m trying to communicate about?
  • Will what I want to say change how I respect myself or who I am talking to?

What to learn more about asking clarifying questions? Click here to get a full overview of them

These broad questions are all part of making sure we are communicating effectively, respectfully, and clearly, plus, it demonstrates effective interpersonal communication. In order to use these questions effectively, we have to slow down and STOPP (Don’t know what STOPP is? Check out my post STOPP and Take Time for Emotional Regulation). These 5 basic questions can be broken down even further to ensure your prefrontal cortex has all the information it needs to make decisions about what to say.

Thank you for stopping in today to read about the importance of interpersonal effectiveness skills. By reading this, you are gaining the knowledge on why communication seems to go by the wayside when our darn amygdalas are stressed. In the next blog, I will go over more interpersonal effectiveness skills to ensure you are able to keep your communication strong with those around you.

To recap this post:

– Interpersonal effectiveness is how we interact and communicate with the world around us

– Stress and cognitive distortions can filter how we interact with people

– By slowing down, we can improve our connection with people around us

Bonus Material

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With your purchase of the Worksheet bundle , you get fun (and helpful) handouts. These handouts are designed for your personal use and to help you remember the facts of each post. This week’s handouts (that’s right, handouts!) go over what interpersonal effectiveness skills are and clarifying questions to ask yourself when you are preparing a response to people. Enjoy!

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