First, don’t be planning what to say next in your head, which means you come across as distracted. Just fully focus on what the person is saying, repeating it in your head if it helps.
Then do what is called ‘reflecting back’. This means you take what they said and repeat it back, with slight variation. “I ran the marathon ten times and hurt my back.”/ “You ran the marathon ten times but and ended up with an injury?”. The other person rarely realises you are repeating what they say, but will continue on, feeling good they are being listened to.
This is also a great technique to use if you are stuck talking with a family member who tends to be nosy or to upset you. It stops you from reacting. And if you have misunderstood their seemingly rude comment, it gives them a chance to clear up the mistake and explain what they really meant.
Questions break up all your reflecting back, and help you connect over things that interest you.
But if you ask people ‘why’ questions, it can first sound accusatory. It then also sends the person down a ‘rabbit hole’ of analysis. Why did they do that, after all? It makes them think of the past, when they might not want to.
If you are often accused of being too ‘intense’, you are probably asking too many ‘why’ questions.
‘What’ and ‘How’ questions, on the other hand, are more forward looking, or more factual.
For example, imagine someone tells you, “This is the first year I am away from my kids”. “Why is that?” is very wide and can seem judgemental. But, “How is that going for you?”, or “What are you going to do instead?” are more manageable and useful.
3. Set clear boundaries.
A good therapist is very focussed on boundaries. In your first session, he or she will let you know what theirs are — how early you need to cancel sessions, behaviour that isn’t tolerated, etc.
How are your boundaries with family? Do you feel like each get together you end upagreeing to things you don’t want to do? Or end up humiliated by the retelling of the same horrible childhood stories?
And take aside that family member who loves to tell stories. Keep it calm and friendly, and between you and them. You appreciate they love making people laugh and mean well, but this year you don’t want the stories told, end of (if you are worried, read our article, ‘How to Communicate Under Stress.”
UPR isn’t about pretending to like others, or overlooking their bad behaviour. And it certainly isn’t sympathy, feeling sorry for someone, or codependency, agreeing or helping even if you don’t want to.
UPR simply means you see others as resourceful humans doing their best. No matter how grating your uncle’s new girlfriend is, just accept she has resources and is doing her best, and notice how the annoyance fades away.
And when you find yourself dying togive advice (note that unwanted advice is a fast route to upsetting others) then just remind yourself, that person has their own resources. You can trust them to find their own way forward.
5. Make it present (not presents).
A good therapist is fully present to you. They are not thinking about their life outside the room, or distracted by anything. Their attention is on what is in front of them — you.