Effective Communication and Counselling Skills

Notes from 
A workshop given by Dr. Sid Jordan at CNS Sweden

This experiential four-day workshop on Communication and Counseling Skills led by Dr. Sid Jordan delved into the world of Getting to Know Oneself; Ways of
Active Listening; Interpersonal Dialogue; Conflict resolution; Understanding Cultural Biases/Gender Inequities; and Counseling in times of Stress, Traumas, Disasters & Special Situations.
Good communication skills are very important for us to bring across our message and to do service.
1. Communication with Ourselves – Self- Awareness

In order to communicate with others we have to know ourselves first. We need to be authentic and honest about who we are, our feelings, thoughts, desires and needs. Without this self-knowledge we might find ourselves projecting onto others our thoughts, feelings or desires. It is said, “What we conclude about others says most about ourselves.” We have to become aware of our sensations, emotions, feelings and beliefs. We have to go inwards and see from where we are being influenced; through external elements such as sounds, light, cold, hot etc, through internal body processes such as pain, breath, blood flow, muscle movements, or through an internal thought projections. Once we are aware of these things it will be easier to strengthen ourselves and move our vritties to higher kosa’s through biopsychological processes.

Identifying our beliefs – To become more aware of our beliefs we should identify them and express them. What do we think of fear, anger, grief, despair etc.? If our beliefs seem to be negative we should turn them into positive affirmations. Affirmations can be made on all levels physical, mental and spiritual. Art is another way of expressing these beliefs, through this process we come to a synthesis of our beliefs and feelings in a drawing.

Eidetic Imagery (ISM) – ISM is a visualisation exercise to identify, release, and surrender certain feelings. ISM stands for Image (multi sensory), Somatic (bodily response), and Meaning (making sense of it). Through visualisation you imagine yourself in a specific situation when a certain feeling like anger was aroused, including the details of setting, surroundings, bodily responses etc., and become aware of the meaning of this situation. In the next phase you create a new image of the situation where you handle things differently. The image should be spontaneous, plausible and beneficial to all involved parties. After the visualisation you can also role play your new image to make its effect stronger. Through these types of exercises we can build our self-confidence of dealing with things in a positive way and not letting our feelings of fear, anger etc. control our lives.

Psycho synthesis – This psychology combined with spirituality is helpful in encountering our sub personalities, desires etc. Visualisation is again a useful tool to see our desires (in symbolic way) and bringing them to a higher (spiritual) level. We should develop a dialog with our desires and intuition.

Truth Mandala – In this group exercise we learn to express our higher vrittis. The mandala consists of a stick (despair), a ring (hope), a flower (love), and a stone (fear). While standing in the circle we come to a synthesis of these feelings by expressing our truths about each of them. For progress we need to find a balance between positive and negative elements.

2. Communication with OthersAfter becoming aware of ourselves, we should become aware of others and their needs and feelings; one cannot go without the other. It is important to know when we are in contact with others what message we give (verbal or non-verbal). Sometimes people need to hear something other than our message. Generally what we conclude or say about others says more about us than the others. We don’t really listen to what people are really telling us.
Participants of workshop in Sweden
Johari Window – There are certain areas in our lives that are known or unknown to ourselves and known or unknown to others. The public area (A) is what is known to self and others, the blind area (B) is known to others but not self, the secret area (C) is known to self but not to others, and last the unconscious area (D) which is unknown to both self and others. When we want our communication to be more transparent we should move from the unknown areas to the public area thru feedback (others telling us things we don’t know about ourselves) and self-disclosure (we will tell others our secrets).Awareness exercise – We should become aware of others, who leads, who follows, what are their qualities, their characteristics etc. We have to be careful not to judge and mix our observations with past experiences, leaving aside our own things and being totally with the other person.Communication Skills – Observations, feelings, needs and requests are the ingredients for communication both for expressing and receiving.Observations – The concrete actions we are observing (seeing, hearing etc.) that are affecting us. We should not mix observation with evaluation and neither make generalizations.
Feelings – Emotions or sensations in relation to our observations. We should discriminate thoughts from feelings. We are responsible for our own feelings not others (emotional slavery vs. emotional liberation).
Needs – Connecting our feelings with needs, values, principles or ideology (I feel… because…). We have to be clear about our feelings and needs, only then can we have a clear communication.
Requests – Requesting clearly that which would enrich our lives without demanding. A request is an objective relation of honesty and empathy.Active Listening – When communicating we have to become aware of observations, feelings, needs and requests, to do so we have to be with the other person 100%. For a better understanding we should restate the feelings and needs of the other person, but not too quick as it might be offensive as well. We should empathize with the sender and touch deeper levels and not try to advice, sympathize, interrogate etc.

“I” Messages
 – These messages are direct and honest expressions of our feelings and perceptions of others’ behaviour without evaluation or interpretation. This leads to a better understanding of effects of the behaviour on the sender and the relationship. The messages can be positive and negative. An “I” message consists out of four parts: the other person’s behaviour, the effects of the behaviour on you, the feelings you have about it, and the needs you have.

For clear communication we should use both active listening and “I” messages so that we become more transparent (public area in the Johari window).

Socio-sentiments and Social Equality – Sentiments for a certain culture, group, sex etc. can be obstacles in communication. We should become aware of our own sentiments as well as how others perceive us. To overcome socio-sentiments we should develop a proto-spiritual mentality. Through that, devotion as a practice transforms into devotion as a principle. In knowing ourselves and communicating with others, we need to respect the unity in diversity. We need to acknowledge and remain aware that each of us is affected by the lifelong influence of our cultural background, to various degrees and in different ways. Social equality therefore can only be attained if everyone, individually and collectively, makes efforts towards that goal. On a personal level we need to take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. On a social level for the dissemination of true spirituality, activities to raise awareness and understanding of the issues and psychological and emotional education of the public are a must to achieve gender equality. None of these is possible without communication, to which we each individually and collectively as a family are to contribute. The goal of coordinated cooperation is without doubt only feasible if an understanding of another’s thoughts, feelings and needs is established. Until then, a universal family remains a concept of theory only, deprived of the warmth and love flowing from hearts open to listen and share.

3. Conflict Resolution

On the road to unity, conflicts are surely to come. Critical is the resolution of these in a Neohumanist manner.
A conflict is any situation in which people have incompatible goals, interests, principles or feelings. There are four types of responses to conflicts:
Active-Constructive – Through individual effort the conflict will be reduced.
Passive-Constructive – Without individual effort the conflict has dampened.
Active-Destructive – Through individual effort the conflict has escalated.
Passive-Destructive – Due to lack of individual effort the conflict continues.

Win/Win resolution – This means to seek a mutual understanding of the problem and mutually agree upon solutions that are beneficial to all parties. Everyone should be treated equally and active listened to without preconceived ideas. Steps to take: problem definition, alternative solutions, solution evaluation, mutual agreement on solution, implementation of solution, and re-evaluation of solution.

Neohumanist Approaches to Conflict Resolution – Many conflicts find their origin in elements of geo-sentiments, socio-sentiments and gender inequality, we should replace these sentiments with a devotional sentiment to resolve all conflicts and achieve social equality and cooperation. Only then can the obstacle of conflict be turned into a friend, a helping force that aids to establish us in the achievement of social equality and cooperation. At the base of conflict resolution is trust, a prerequisite factor for open and benevolent communication. And for trust to develop communication is needed, alongside our sincere efforts to raise our self-awareness.

According to Shrii P.R. Sarkar’s “The Liberation of the Intellect – Neohumanism” there are 5 principles for conflict resolution and decision making:
Study – Defining the conflict and solutions through acquiring all the relevant knowledge related to the conflict according to time, place and person.
Rationalistic mentality – Analyze all the positive and negative sides of the points, accepting what is positive and rejecting what is negative.
Final Analysis – Collective decision to the decision/resolution to accept what is conducive to the welfare of all and then propagate it.
Social Equality – The decision making and conflict resolution should follow the principle of social equality, representing the “collective march of all in unison”.
Proto-spiritual mentality – We should move towards the Supreme Entity, once established in proto-spiritual flow, devotion as a practice is transformed into devotion as a principle and only then we can fight against socio-sentiments.

Communication Steps
1. Enhancing relationships of all parties, through expressing love towards everyone, developing unity, active listening and creating an open and accessible and open atmosphere.
2. The next step is to transform emotions through acknowledging our own feelings and those of others and transform them towards compassion for self and others, goading all our thoughts, feelings and actions toward the welfare of all.
3. The last step would be to resolve the conflict through creating a safe environment with clear guidelines for the dialogue, looking for consensus, communicating openly and honestly in a benevolent manner, seeking solutions that honour the dignity and needs of all, and strengthening the collective decisions and solutions with concrete plans for ongoing cooperation and collaboration.

4. Stress Management 

Stress – An external pressure that leads to disorganisation (external) and emotional distress (internal). Many things can cause stress in us such as environment, people, disasters, work etc.
Everyone has some kind of stress and it is not per definition negative, it can also work for us, in fact stress is a normal reaction of the body to compel us to action.

Stress management – We need to find out what is the optimal level of stress for us and how to manage stress instead of eliminating it. The following steps can help in stress management: we should become aware of our emotional and physical reactions, recognize what we can change, reducing the intensity of our emotional reactions to stress, learning to moderate our physical reactions to stress, building our physical reserves and maintaining our emotional reserves.

Transformation through visualisation – Eidetic Imaging (ISM) is useful to change our stress experiences, like we can do with our emotions. While doing the visualisation about a stressful event we can feel our bodily responses such as sweating, heart beating, anger, frustration, fast breathing etc. All these bodily responses are related to our cakras and vrittis (second, third and fourth cakra). Through bio-psychology (asanas, mudras and sadhana) we can change these body responses and reduce our stress reactions. To establish ourselves in higher cakras, we have to pay attention to all levels of our being, physical, mental and spiritual. Through mythic imaging another type of visualisation we can transform stress feelings related to persons or situations into something subtler (transforming fearful love into fearless love). Again in this exercise we can feel our body responses, but this time they relate mostly to our fourth and fifth cakra.

5. Crisis Intervention

Once an external hazardous event (a traumatic experience) influences ones life, stressful symptoms will occur. Depending on the individual’s reaction to an intense stressful situation professional help may be sought, or support from peers might be sufficient. The level of distress however, does not depend solely on the event itself. Rather the level of distress as experienced by an individual is determined by the perception of the individual, depending on the individual’s samskaras, state of mind, etc. With respect for the individual’s reaction we can listen and observe how best to serve the person, realising that the individual’s defences are there for a reason. When it is not be within our capacity to help a person we can refer them to professionals.

Individual Crisis (Individualistic patterns) – Natural disasters, human disasters, losses of any kind (death, jobs, relations, divorce etc.).
Generic Crisis (predictable patterns) – Related to development of person (ex. going to college), family life cycle etc.
Trauma Symptoms – Symptoms may vary from crisis and person, but general stress reactions can be listed as follows: sleeplessness, excessive sleep, irritability, startle response, nightmares, weight loss, flashbacks (images, sounds etc.), depressed mood, anxiety, fear, social withdrawal, emotionally flat, dissociated, preoccupied, intrusive thoughts, physiological arousal (shock), anger, compulsions to re-expose self to traumatic stimuli, hopelessness, loss of control, undoing things, survivors guilt etc.

Crisis Intervention – We should become aware of the trauma symptoms in people and try to help in dealing with the trauma or when needed referring them to mental health professionals. If possible we should intervene within the first two weeks after the event. In that case the persons involved can readjust to their lives as before (status quo) or even to a state of being better than before. If no help would be offered to the persons they might get a chronic post traumatic stress disorder, and not come back to their status quo.

Acute Crisis Intervention (6 weeks-2 months) – If intervention happens in this period the chances for recovery are still good.

Chronic Crisis Intervention (from 2 months)
 – Two months or more after a traumatic event the stress reactions can turn into a stress disorder (PTSD), and will be more difficult to deal with. In this case extraordinary stress causes biological changes in the people.

Actions after crisis – When a traumatic event occurs we should take the following steps:

Natural Grouping – In case of big disasters where more people are involved we should group the people for the debriefing and defusing. Groups can be such as neighbours, families, helpers (police, fireman) etc.
Debriefing/Normalizing – Normalization of symptoms frequently experienced by individuals who are exposed to extraordinary stress of natural and human made disasters of trauma. It can be done in groups of max. 20 people or to individuals but it should be done by leaders.
Defusing – Through active listening defusing feelings of the people, letting them express their experience, feelings, needs etc. This should be done in smaller groups.
Referral – If people have severe reactions referring them to mental health professionals.