Interpersonal Effectiveness

By Joe Alberts
Clinical Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

To use interpersonal skills effectively we have to decide the relative importance of:

  1. Achieving our objective
  2. Maintaining our relationship with the person(s)we are interacting with, and
  3. Maintaining our self-respect

It is important for us to know what we actually want – in other words what our goal is.  This is easier said than done and many interactions go off track when emotions interfere with knowing what we want.

Try this before your next “difficult interaction” with someone.  Decide before hand what you want to achieve and be clear in your communication.

Objectives Effectiveness 

The key question to ask yourself here is “What specific result or change do I want from this interaction”?  It may be what the other person is to do, to stop doing, to commit to, to agree to, or to understand.  It is important for the objective to be as specific as possible.  The clearer you are about what you want, the easier it will be to apply objectives effectiveness skills, and the clearer you will be as to whether or not you succeed in reaching your goal.

Examples are:

  • Refusing an unwanted or unreasonable request and making the refusal stick.
  • Requesting others to do something in such a way that they do what you ask.

Relationship Effectiveness 

The key question to ask yourself here is “How do I want the other person to feel about me after the interaction is over (whether or not I get the results or changes I want)?” At its best, you will get what you want and the person may like or respect you even more than before.

Examples are:

  • Acting in a way that makes the other person actually want to give you what you are asking for.
  • Focus on their needs and happiness and listen attentively. People who feel understood often wants to help in return.

Self-respect Effectiveness 

The key question to ask yourself here is “How do I want to feel about myself after the interaction is over (whether or not I get the results or changes I want)?”  Self respect effectiveness means acting in ways that fit your sense of morality, and that make you feel a sense of competence and mastery.

Examples are:

  • Standing up for yourself
  • Defending a friend
  • Stepping forward to say something courageous.

Deciding on the Relative Importance of the Three Effectiveness Types 

  1. All three types must always be considered
  2. Each type of Effectiveness may be more or less important in a given situation
  3. Each type of Effectiveness can be overused to our own detriment

As always balance is the key: 

Objectives Effectiveness – If we always focus on achieving our objectives others will feel unimportant or even used.  Choose wisely when you pick your objectives.

Relationship Effectiveness – Always subverting your needs in an interpersonal relationship does not work.  You lose yourself in the relationship and also lose the respect of others.

Self-respect Effectiveness – Some individuals make maintaining their self-respect the major issue in almost all interactions.  Always wanting to be on top or to have control or power, wanting to prove a point or defend  a position no matter what will compromise long term effectiveness.

This key lesson in Interpersonal Effectiveness was taken from the Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) Skills Training Manual by author Marsha Linehan and published in 1993.  Dialectic Behaviour Therapy is proven to help with emotion dysregulation, including people who have traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, suicidality, self harm and addiction problems.  The Resilience Centre offers a fully adherent Comprehensive DBT program consisting of Individual Therapy, Group based skills training, telephone coaching and therapist peer support.



People are amazing! One thing amongst many that sets us apart from the other creations is our ability to reflect on the past and learn from our experience as well as dream about a desired future and work towards attaining our dreams.

I do not believe we use this capability enough.

The STOP. START. CONTINUE model is a great way to grow yourself, your relationships, your family unit, your team and even your organisation.


What am I (are we) doing currently that isn’t working ? – STOP doing them

What should I (we) put in place to improve ? – START doing them

What is working well ? – CONTINUE doing them


Here are some ideas how to use the model:

For personal growth

Find a quiet place. Remind yourself of your dream for the future.   If you do not have a dream for the future this will be a fantastic time to  start dreaming about your future.  Then consider your current behaviour in relation to your dream.  Apply the model and answer the questions.  What are you doing that is preventing you from realising your dream? – STOP doing it.   What can you put in place to move towards your dream? – START doing it.  What are you doing currently that is helping you to realise your dream? – CONTINUE doing it.  Make a STOP. START. CONTINUE list (two things under each heading is ample) , and put it up where you can see it.

For your relationship

Give your partner a copy of the 3 questions to help them prepare. Ask them to think about your relationship and to answer the questions.  Agree on a time to share your answers.  Decide on one or two things to change and revisit a month later.

For your family unit

Kids love family meetings. Schedule one (remember to include treats) and give every family member a copy of the three questions.  Help the little ones to formulate answers.  Give everyone a turn to share their ideas.  Decide on one or two things to change and revisit a month later.

The application potential of the STOP. START. CONTINUE model is endless.  Use it to enhance your friendships, Bible study group, parent child relationships, and ……….?

Joe Alberts  

Joe is a Clinical Psychologist in Private practice. He holds a masters degree in Clinical Psychology and is a member of the Australian Psychological Society. Joe has been practicing psychology since 1986 and has extensive international experience in the public and private sectors. He delivered psychological services in various working environments including corporate organisations, mental institutions and at the war front.   Joe has a keen interest in the treatment of  anxiety, depression and relationship difficulties.  He is a lecturer at Morling College and  regularly presents workshops and seminars both locally and internationally.  


Living with chronic pain

Sally (not her real name) walked slowly into my office and chose an upright, less comfortable chair. She took quite a while to find a comfortable posture and then looked at me with eyes that knows suffering. After the normal introductions I asked Sally how I can be of help. She started to speak and then, eyes brimming with tears, she continued to tell me about her struggle with her debilitating, excruciating and seemingly never ending chronic pain. It all started 18 months ago with a cycling accident and subsequent soft tissue injury to her back. The pain however never subsided and is in fact getting worse. Sally stopped cycling, spends a lot of time in her bed and had to resign from a job that she loved. “I am not even half the person I used to be” she said and “I am surprised my husband has not left me”

For most of us, our past experience of injury or surgery is that the pain fades away once we have recovered from the illness or the wound has healed. For people like Sally, who suffers from chronic pain, the pain just continues or just appeared out of the blue and is ongoing. In Australia three out of ten Australians have experienced chronic pain and twenty percent of us live with someone with chronic pain.

It is normal for people with chronic pain to experience a deep sense of loss of the old pain free self. Not knowing what sort of a day it will be makes it very difficult to plan ahead and hard to look forward to a holiday because of the knowledge that the pain will follow you there. It goes without saying that no one ever chooses to have chronic pain. One of the most challenging for us is to accept physical limitations and a body that is not functioning as it is supposed to.

Most people want their pain to be fixed. Many individuals try to fight the pain and believe that with enough tenacity they can break through the pain barrier. Unfortunately this mostly leads to aggravated pain and being worn out. Pain saps energy and all the willpower in the world will not make it go away. Ignoring pain only works in the short term. Chronic pain is tenacious in its ability to make itself known and will eventually be too much of a presence to ignore.

Chronic pain not only robs people of their sense of a wholesome self but often severely restricts their physical functioning and significantly impacts on their lifestyle. Remember Sally ?, her beloved bicycle lived in the shed and her memories of early morning rides with friends felt like a dream.

Living with chronic pain, really living, means that sufferers come to terms with the idea that despite the best efforts of the medical profession it is unlikely that their pain will go away in the foreseeable future. Accepting your pain does not mean that you are giving into it. It means that you adopt a stance of “it is what it is”. Instead of focusing on how badly you want the pain to stop, you accept the pain as is and find ways to continue living.

You need to find people who will take your condition seriously. Talk honestly about how you are feeling and obtain support for your actions to continue living. It may be a family member, your GP or someone at the many specialised pain management clinics (PMC’s) around Australia.

Psychologists are becoming increasingly more involved in helping people with chronic pain to live fulfilling lives. You will discover how to use Mindfulness to pay attention to your pain with inquisitiveness rather than judgement. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques will help you to develop a positive mindset and a Solutions Focused approach will help you to action your plans. Over time you will be able to increase the amount and quality of things you can do. This may be different from the things you did before but your life can be full of meaning and enjoyment again.

Sally discovered that as a person she is infinitely more than her pain. Being curious rather than judgemental about her pain helped her to discover that her pain varies in intensity throughout the day and with good planning and resources many tasks can be accomplished.

You don’t have to be pain free to really live!

Joe is a Clinical Psychologist at Alpha Psychology.  He has extensive experience in helping people to manage chronic pain.

Choose life


Posted by Joe Alberts, Clinical Psychologist.

You are urged to choose life so that you and your children will live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Even though living life is becoming more challenging and you may feel increasingly out of control, you still retain CHOICE as the most important aspect of being human.  You choose moment by moment and create your reality through choice.  Choose then to make life affirming choices, consciously and mindfully.

See what great thinkers have to say:

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.                                   Carl Jung  

You will either step forward into growth, or you will step back into safety.            Abraham Maslow    

“I worry about my age” Worry is self-attack. In truth, no one will hold your age against you if you don’t. Remember, you are never too old, to love, to smile, to give a compliment, to think positively. Be ageless today. Let your inner light shine today.                                                                                                                        Eckhart Tolle  

Whenever you fall, pick something up.                                                                     Oswald Avery

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.                                                                                                         Winston Churchill

You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savour it.                                                                                                                                       Dr Wayne Dyer

It’s not what happens to you that matters. It’s how you respond to what happens to you that makes a difference.                                                                                                  Zig Ziglar

If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.                                                                                                      Roald Dahl

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.                                                                                                                              Anon

Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.                                                                                                       James Cook

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.                        .                                                                                             Albert Camus 

Choosing life, even when faced with severe adversity, brings life 

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.                                                                                                                Elisabeth Kübler-Ross



Coping with Difficult People

Posted by Joe Alberts, Clinical Psychologist

If you are like the rest of us, you will have to cope with difficult people from time to time. Some people are mildly annoying, but then there are also those who go to astonishing lengths to be difficult. Examples of this could be the boss who keeps moving the goal posts, the client who acts and speaks aggressively or the ex that seems to spend all day planning how to make life miserable for you! Their behaviour causes you to overreact, run away, freeze, swear, cry, a combination of the aforementioned – and others. How do we cope with the difficult people in our lives?

A wise sage advised long ago that the secret to dealing with a person with a malevolent disposition is not to change the person but to change yourself. A modern sage, Stephen Covey, counsels us to “Seek first to understand and then to be understood”. What needs to change in you to help you cope better with the difficult people in your life?

Let’s face it, we are all animals and as such we tend to react when we feel threatened. Walter Cannon, an American physiologist, first described the fight-or-flight response in the 1920’s. This physiological reaction, also called the acute stress response, is a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside your body that help mobilise you to deal with a threat. A sudden release of hormones increases your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. You can run faster, jump higher, scream louder and hit harder. Your rational thinking brain switches off and your reptile brain kicks in and this turns you into a fighting machine that has no regard for the consequences of your behaviour. This is a good thing and has saved countless lives but unfortunately also often escalates the conflict between two people who react to one another’s stress reactions. Some of us, however, freeze when we feel threatened enough and are unable to respond appropriately.  We are all unique and so is your specific response to feeling threatened. Know what it is and when the first sign appears take a long and deep breath. This will slow you down and in most instances greatly reduce the intensity of your fight-or-flight response, making it a lot easier to cope with your difficult person.

It is also helpful to identify your specific anger button(s). Do you react with anger when you are criticized, blamed or threatened? Some of us cannot stand whinging, nagging or people who tend to find excuses and not accept responsibility. The list of anger buttons is unending and you need to know what triggers your anger response. Knowing this will arm you when your difficult person pushes your anger button, in that you will immediately become aware of your acute stress reaction and you can breathe to calm yourself down and defuse the situation rather than escalate the conflict.

This does not mean that you always have to let your difficult person get away with it. Making your needs known in an assertive (not aggressive) way will help you maintain yourself when dealing with difficult people. One way to effectively communicate your needs in to use an ‘I message’. The term was first coined by Thomas Gordon in the 1960s while doing play therapy with children.

An I message has three components:

1. A specific and non-blaming description of the behaviour of the other person,
2. The effects of that behaviour on you (and significant others),
3. Your feelings about the behaviour. If appropriate you could also communicate a preference for different behaviour.

An example would be:

1. When you say I am always acting childish,
2. I feel frustrated and even angry and
3. I would prefer that you give me more specific feedback and allow me to explain why I chose to act the way I did.

In some cases, simply becoming aware of the effects of one’s behaviour and the feelings it provokes is enough to make people change negative behaviours. There is however some of you who find yourself in a toxic relationship(s). Toxic relationships are verbally or physically abusive and the difficult person does not respond to your repeated I-messages. If this is you it is time to take action. Talk to someone you trust and start to care for yourself. You may also need professional help. Psychologists are experts in the area of human behaviour and will help you to cope with your difficult person or find a place of emotional and physical safety.\

To find out more about Joe and his professional profile please Click here