How to Increase Your Interpersonal Effectiveness and Decrease Your Stress (Friendships examples)

Do you have stressful interpersonal situations that recur and leave you feeling overwhelmed or attacked?

You might need to do some “top of the cliff” problem solving.

Here’s an example.

You’re a lawyer and people often ask you for legal advice in social situations. When this happens you feel uncomfortable. You often give advice to avoid awkwardness even though you don’t see it as appropriate.
(In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a thinly veiled personal example. People rarely ask me for psychological advice in social situations – thank goodness!)

My favorite model of interpersonal effectiveness

My favorite model of interpersonal effectiveness, developed by psychology PhD Prof Marsha Linehan, is that interpersonal effectiveness involves meeting and balancing the following three goals

1. Getting what you want
2. Keeping the relationship positive (if applicable)
3. Keeping your self respect (i.e. not behaving in ways that cause you to lose respect for yourself, like lying, exaggerating, or making threats/ultimatums)

Back to the example.

You come up with an alternative coping idea for the recurrent problem situation.

– You decide to keep a stack of business cards in your purse that have the phone number for a free legal advice service.

– You practice a few sentences you can trot out when you’re asked for advice. You try to find something you can say that meets the 3 goals above (getting what you want, keeping the relationship positive, and keeping your self respect).

For example, “It’s important to me that you get good advice for your situation, and lawyers often don’t give the right advice when they know someone personally. I can give you a card for where you can get some completely objective free advice. That way our relationship won’t cloud my ability to give you good advice”.

In this example, you might want to also practice a 2nd followup phrase for if the person who is asking for advice doesn’t initially respect the boundary you’ve set. Aim for caring and positive but firm.

DIY Psychological Challenge.

What recurrent situations do you need to find a top of the cliff problem solving solution for?

Pick ONE recurrent situation and come up with a “top of the cliff” problem solving solution.

Role play your new alternative coping plan with someone you trust. Ask them for honest feedback about how you’re coming across, and tweak as needed. (With therapy clients we do this together, and take turns switching roles).

Another example

Problem: You’re trying to have more personal time but find it difficult to turn down invitations to go out in the evenings with friends you genuinely want to see. You end up going out most nights of the week.

Alternative coping: A couple of times a month you plan on going out to a venue/activity that can accommodate a flexible number of people and that would appeal to most of your friends. When you want to decline invitations you can give friends the alternative option of coming along to a group gathering. You’ll still get to see each other but you can also have some nights at home.

Apply your alternative coping idea flexibly

The idea of deciding on and practicing an alternative coping plan isn’t that you apply it rigidly. Having/practicing a plan just means you have something available to you that you can apply if you think it’s a good fit for the situation.