The Contributor Forum Technology Centre Business Development Personal Development

How to Use Negotiation Skills to Save Your Relationship

Personal Development, Professional Development Comments Off

In a previous article (click here to read) you witnessed how easy it can be to find yourself in a relationship with someone who is practically a stranger. But you also saw how it was possible to take steps to get to know yourself and your partner so as to determine whether or not you both wanted the same things from your relationship.
John and Sue-Anne had taken this journey of discovery and realised that even though they had not been aware of this before, there was plenty of potential in their relationship and they had a good chance of building a life together.
There was just one niggling point: John’s non-stop playing of computer games. In the past these games had been a source of companionship and support when life got too hard, and he went into shut-down mode. Now they had become an obstacle impeding his way forward in creating a satisfying relationship.
Depending on individual tastes computer games can be replaced by card playing, snooker, You Tube marathoning or endless browsing on the internet. You may be thinking: “Why is this a problem? Even if you are in a relationship are you not entitled to ‘me time?” And of course the answer to this question is “Yes”.
The problem arises when ‘me time’ evolves to all the time, and you and your partner are not sharing any time together. If eventually one partner is totally consumed by their extra-curricular activity the other partner may begin wondering why they are in this relationship.
And this is where we find John and Sue-Anne. They had appraised their relationship and had both decided that they wanted a life together. John too had agreed that he wanted to spend time with Sue-Anne; however he was having difficulty doing so.
Fast action was needed to prevent this ‘niggling’ concern escalating into a relationship breakdown. Even though they had just recently examined their values, wants and needs another review was in order.
Companionship, fun and friends were not high on John’s list but he did own up that these values did have some influence in his life. For Sue-Anne these values were central to her being and she was glad to note that they did play a role in John’s life.
With this awareness that these values were significant to both parties- although not to the same extent- a common ground was established which now opened the door to negotiation.
Negotiation is not limited to some strange trade union interaction aimed at getting a fair deal for workers. It is a communication skill that should be found in all relationship tool boxes. Couples facing similar issues to that of John and Sue-Anne, and even more serious ones, may be able to find some acceptable solutions by working their way through the negotiation process.
The aim of this process is to help couples state their views and demands in a safe non threatening environment, allow them an opportunity to provide proposals and counterproposals, and encourage them to find a solution that can work for all involved, whether this be through a win/win outcome or through compromise.
Mastering Negotiation
Step 1
Before you begin the arduous task of presenting arguments for your case, you and your partner need to determine what resolution you expect from the negotiation process. In your mind you need to establish what would be your best outcome, what would be an acceptable outcome and what would not be acceptable. As you draw your line in the sand and make your stand, you are ready to sit firm on what you want so as to be able to walk away from the negotiation table satisfied with your results.
Step 2
Before any serious talk can begin it is crucial for you and your partner to establish communication guidelines so you will both feel safe to share your thoughts throughout the negotiation process. Some common basic rules include: avoid judgements, name-calling and threats; do not blame or accuse; stick to the facts and avoid using emotional blackmail; keep your language as positive as possible.
It is important to note that the above rules also pertain to your nonverbal communication as you want your body language to be supportive and friendly as opposed to hostile and threatening. Accusing fingers, rigid body posture and closed facial expressions are not conducive to healthy negotiation.
Step 3
You are now both ready to describe the situation as you see it. At this stage you merely want to objectively without emotion explain what you consider to be the concern. Once you are both clear on this and understand each other’s views on the matter you are now ready to leap into the Talk.
Step 4
At this point you are not as yet looking for solutions to the issue but are allowing each other an opportunity to further express the facts as you see them, and voice your own feelings which may have been suppressed so far.
Each of you is given a chance to communicate how important the matter is to you and how important you think it is to your partner.
The outcome you want is tabled and discussion begins to focus on what can be an acceptable solution and what can’t be.
By this time you and your partner have a good idea as to how you each view the situation and how far you are willing to budge from your position. It is now time to work towards a solution that is acceptable to both of you.
Step 5
With insights gained from the discussion you are now ready to start making suggestions, brainstorming options, and being proactive in introducing change. Proposals are made and are answered by another proposal. Suggestions are voiced and then slightly modified by your partner. You agree to some of your partner’s wishes but submit some of your own demands as well.
Step 6
Although ideally it would be gratifying to end all negotiations with a win/win result (and this does happen), a more realistic resolution may be found in compromise. This means that you and your partner both get some of what you each want but not all. A compromise may require both partners taking turns doing something neither enjoy but is necessary; it may be an agreement to respect and accept each other’s differences; or it may be a tit for tat response in which you do something for me and I do something for you.
What is important is that both partners feel that they have been heard, their interests and desires considered and an acceptable solution has been found.
John and Sue-Anne quite easily moved through the negotiation process. They both agreed that the concern was John’s excessive game playing which resulted in little time being spent as a couple.
In a non threatening manner they were able to clearly communicate their wants, state their case and draw their line in the sand. John had no intention of giving up his computer games and quietly insisted that he wanted to spend the priority of his time playing these games, while conceding some weekend time for couple activities.
Sue-Anne had no desire to stop John’s game playing and clearly accepted his need for winding down and enjoying himself. She however did not want to see herself in second place to computer games, and wanted John to shift his priorities so as to spend the majority of his time with her. Their wants were not really that diverse, but at this stage pegs had been placed in the sand and neither John nor Sue-Anne was shifting them.
It was only as John and Sue-Anne began to share their feelings and clarify their position in the Talk stage that hopes for a mutually satisfactory solution could be viewed as a realistic possibility. There was room to maneuver on how much computer time and couple time would be acceptable to both John and Sue-Anne.
Sue-Anne eventually realised that she was more important to John than his computer games, and began to really accept that John had a greater need for ‘me’ time than she did. She saw that it was up to her to find other ways to fill her time and could not depend on John being a constant companion.
John also became aware of how much he did enjoy his time with Sue-Anne and was happy to give up some of his computer playing to explore different couple activities.
Eventually John and Sue-Anne drew up a time table which outlined what each of them planned to do with their time outside of work. Included in this table was some couple time and computer time that was acceptable to both of them. The plan was always subject to review.
Although this sounds a bit mechanical such a plan can work as couples relax into their relationship knowing that their needs and concerns are important to their partner.
Ideally it would be wonderful if all relationships avoided disagreements and conflict. However this is not the norm. It is therefore crucial for relationships to be equipped with some negotiation skills that can help them find acceptable solutions to those irritating issues that could become destructive if not resolved.
John and Sue-Anne by using negotiation skills had been able to work through the one issue that threatened their newly established relationship. It had taken hard work and time but their relationship was now on track heading in a positive direction.

Author: Zahava Starak

Enhancing Motivation in Sport

Professional Development Comments Off

Understanding and enhancing motivation is one of the most popular topics in sports psychology and coaching. Motivation is seen not only as a drive to engage in an activity, but more importantly as the driving force of human excellence. It is the level of motivation that will often differentiate those athletes who excel from those who do not. Motivation has also been defined as the ability to act. The term motivation is derived from a Latin word “movere” meaning “to move” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002).
It is through motivation that individuals can exert effort to meet the demands of a task or an activity. Motivation prompts enthusiasm, purposefulness and committed behaviour. Maintaining motivation can be a challenging task for most individuals. There are a number of contributing factors that can alter an individual’s desire to persist with an activity.
Signs of motivated Individuals include:

  • Energetic
  • Enthusiastic
  • Appropriately confident
  • Committed
  • Deliberate and purposeful in actions

Signs of amotivated Individuals include:

  • Disengaged
  • Distracted
  • Lack of interest
  • Half hearted
  • Uncommitted
  • Unprepared

In this article we explore the concept of motivational climate, and learn the importance of social support from parents and role models in the motivation-enhancing process for athletes.
Motivational Climate and Goal Orientation
There are social-psychological situations created by others that can have an impact on an individual’s level of motivation. Personal issues (e.g. aspirations, goals and expectations), environmental issues (e.g. selection, training, competitive environment, competition) and team issues (e.g. coach’s aspirations, and coaching styles) may all represent potential sources of stress in athletes (Duda & Balaguer, 2007). Thus, the environment created by the coach, the family and peers (i.e., the motivational climate) as perceived by the individual learner could affect them adversely, and provoke anxiety and possibly influence self-confidence and their level of motivation.
The importance of the perceived motivational climate (PMC), the situational structures seen by the athletes as emphasized in a particular setting, has been highlighted by Nicholls (1989) achievement theory. It is theorised that the PMC is composed of two goal structures. The mastery climate is a task-involving climate that emphasises the process of competition and skill development (Duda & Balaguer, 2007).
Performance climate is an ego-involving climate that focuses on the competitive outcome. The PMC may be fostered by the coach, parents, team or a combination of these factors. The motivational climate perceived by the individual has been related to the achievement goal orientations held by the athlete. For example, a perceived mastery climate has been related to task orientation, while a perceived performance climate has been related to an ego orientation (White, Kavussanu, Tank, & Wingate, 2004).
It has been reported that a task orientated climate adopted by the coach can result in positive cognitive and emotional responses in athletes. The relationship between climate and goal orientations has been found to affect aspects of performance. Nicholls (1984) thought that task orientation and the “compatible perceptions” of a mastery climate would be associated with:

  • Adaptive motivational responses such as increased effort, commitment and persistence in achievement settings;
  • Greater enjoyment, satisfaction and positive affect;
  • The belief that effort is an important cause of sport success;
  • Adaptive coping strategies, problem solving and reduced susceptibility to burnout;
  • Perceived competence.

On the other hand, ego orientation and performance climate perceptions would lead to maladaptive motivational responses such as:

  • Low effort;
  • Lack of commitment and persistence;
  • Higher anxiety and performance worry;
  • The belief that ability is an important determinant of sport achievement;
  • Dropping out in sport.

These maladaptive motivational responses were thought to occur due to the detrimental nature of ego orientations and performance climates which emphasized competitive outcome over skill development (Vosloo, Ostrow & Watson, 2009; Ntoumanis, Vazou & Duda, 2007). As such, in enhancing motivation, compatibility of goal orientation and motivational climate are essential as they may influence an individual’s cognitive, affective and behavioural responses in achievement setting (Duda & Balaguer, 2007).
Social support from Parents and Peers
The role that parents play in creating a motivational climate that is conducive to achievement goals is important. Generally supportive and involved parents create a climate that can lead to feelings of autonomy and competence. Such climate can result in feelings of joy, excitement and increased perception of ability. It has been said that children who are granted by their parents more opportunities to pursue their interests develop greater feelings of autonomy.
It is suggested that a supportive climate offered by the parents is likely to lead to greater motivation and participation in sport (Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005). However, parents can also be inhibitors of motivation. Parents who emphasize winning and excellence can discourage children form physical activity participation. In addition to that, a relationship that has been established between the child and the parent can create a positive motivational climate.
In particular, secure parent-child relationship leads to an internally developed set of goals, acting as an intrinsic type of motivation for that child. Similarly, an insecure parent-child relationship promotes detachments and emotional distress and the use of external control of behaviour. As such, children in such a relationship are more likely to be extrinsically motivated to pursue their desired activities (White, 2007).
Individuals may not always be related to or be explained by the need or desire to demonstrate physical ability. Social concerns such as demonstrating social connections have also been implicated as motives especially in young people (Allen, 2003). Social bonds are necessary for optimal psychological functioning and the need to establish such connection serves as an energizer for the individual. Motivation occurs when the need to belong stimulates goal directed behaviour designed to satisfy that need.
According to self determination theory, an environment that promotes relatedness support and autonomy support increases cooperation and individual initiative (Ntoumanis, Vazou & Duda, 2007). Relatedness support is the encouragement and facilitation by peers of being part of a group as well as the degree to which the peers create a friendly atmosphere. Autonomy support on the other hand refers to the individual feeling that their teammates and peers value their input. Therefore it is suggested that social relationships act as motivation for sports participation as such individuals are oriented towards potential gains associated with involvement in certain activities.
Such gains as social status and social validation through approval from significant others such as peers are propelling factors to persist. As a result, social relationships are ego orientated goals functioning as an extrinsic motivation for the concerned individual (Allen, 2003).
Role Models
Role models, heroes and mentors are part of everyday life and are believed to have great significance on the beliefs and actions of an individual. Role models that an individual identify with can act as a source of motivation. It’s a long standing assumption that human behaviour is learned by observation through modeling. From a motivational perspective, modeling is considered to be one of the most powerful means of transmitting values, attitudes and patterns of behaviour and thoughts.
According to Bandura (cited in Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005), there are 4 processes which are essential for effective modeling to occur: attention, retention, production and motivation. The argument is that an individual must attend to the appropriate information gathered from the model, be capable of producing the desired movements demonstrated by the model and be motivated to carry out the behaviour (Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005).
It is also suggested that the characteristics of the role model determine how that role model may influence individual‘s new behaviour. If the role model is similar to the individual rather than dissimilar and demonstrates high skilled activity, it is more likely that the learning individual will have increased motivation. It is easier for an individual to believe that they can accomplish skills or change behaviour if they see someone similar to them undertaking actions before they make the attempt themselves (Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005).
Self Modeling
Unlike role modeling, self modeling is where by an individual watches a “video” of themselves and only views their successful behaviours. Self modeling is designed to increase the self efficacy of an individual as it provides clear information on how best to perform skills and it strengthens beliefs in one’s capability (Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005).
Because past behaviour is believed to be the strongest predictor of current self efficacy judgements, by observing oneself executing successful moves, a learner is more motivated to continue progressing. Self modelling falls in line with the assumptions of Self Efficacy theory that there are three mediating factors that influence the individual’s response to modeling and these are:

  • Self-efficacy expectancy: This is concerned about the learners’ perceptions of how capable they feel they are to actually carry out the behaviour.
  • Outcome expectancy: If there is a high probability that the behaviour will result in the specific outcome, there is a greater chance that the learner will adopt the behaviour.
  • Outcome value: If the outcome of the behaviour is desirable then there is a greater likelihood of the behaviour being undertaken.

Feed forward
A specific mode of self modelling known as feed forward has also been said to have a potential of positively influencing motivation and performance. Feed forward modelling provides an individual with information about possible future behaviour rather than their past or current behaviour.
This strategy is similar to self modelling in that the individual views themselves performing successfully but it differs in that the performance shown to the individual is the skill or behaviour that the individual is yet to accomplish. It appears that through this technique, the learner’s perceptions are transformed so that what was previously viewed as beyond ones’ capabilities soon becomes part of one’s repertoire (Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005).

  • Allen, J. (2003). Social motivation in youth sport. Journal of sport and Exercise Psychology, 25, 551-567.
  • Duda, J. & Balaguer, I. (2007). Coach- Created Motivational Climate. in Jowett, S., & Lavelle, e, (Eds.). Social Psychology in Sport (pp. 117-130). Champaign: Human Kinetics.
  • Eccles, J., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 109-132. 
  • Walker, B., Foster, S., Daubert, S. & Nathan, D. (2005). Motivation. In Taylor, J. & Wilson, G. (2005) (Eds.). Applying Sport Psychology: Four Perspectives, Champaign: Human Kinetics
  • White, S.A. Kavussanu, M., & Guest, S. M. (1998). Goal orientations and perceptions of the motivational climate created by significant others. European Journal of Physical Education, 3, 212-228.


Relationship Coaching Scenarios

Personal Development, Professional Development Comments Off

Looking for insights into relationship coaching? In the following coaching scenarios, LCI’s Master Coach Terry Neal explores a range of strategies and skills to assist clients overcome relationship hurdles. Each scenario is headlined by common questions clients may ask you as their life coach.
How can I get my partner to understand my needs and appreciate me again?
This question quite often arises from one or both partners after the initial period of the relationship has passed. This could be only after a short time say after a few months or it could be after a period of some years. It could also be a wish expressed by one of the partners after a period of many years together in a relationship.
Relationships sometimes are entered into by one or both partners with a belief that their partner fully understands and appreciates them and their needs. Quite often, while acknowledging that those in a partnership will learn more about themselves and their partner over time and maybe apply it in their interactions with each other in an ideal situation, many people either haven’t been fully open in their discussions with their partner during the early phase of their relationship – or have assumed that their partner will know what they want and will act accordingly to support their needs.
Initially it’s important to ask what the client knows about their partner’s needs as well as their own. Therefore I would begin by asking the question: Do you know what your partner’s needs are?
If the answer is yes then you could ask: Are you supportive of their needs? From this you could also ask: How did you find out about what your partner’s needs are? Do you appreciate your partner for who they are? How do you let them know you appreciate them?
If the answer is no, you need to ask your client about themselves and their perceived needs. Do you know what your needs are that you’d like your partner to understand? Does your partner already demonstrate appreciation of you and how you are?
If your client indicates that their partner is aware of their needs and does demonstrate appreciation then you could continue with questions like: In what ways does your partner appreciate you already? How do you react to any appreciation of you by your partner?
The reasons for asking these questions is so that you can determine for yourself and for your client what’s already taking place with regards to awareness of their needs and appreciation of them by their partner. It’s also an opportunity to elicit from your client how they react to being shown appreciation and having their needs understood.
If your client indicates that their partner doesn’t appear to understand or appreciate their needs, then it’s time to look at two areas with your client. 

  1. The first is determining whether your client really knows what their needs are, and;
  2. Second the level of openness of communication between your client and their partner.

To assist your client be clear about their own needs you could ask them to write them down (if they would prefer to keep them private) or if they wish to say them to you while you write them down. 

To see if there’s any need that hasn’t been expressed, you could ask your client to think of any times in their life when a need of theirs was understood by someone else. Once again this need could be expressed to you or kept private by your client. If yes you could ask the question: Is this need still relevant in your life today? Do you want to add it to your list of needs?
After some time your client will have determined for themselves their current list of needs that they would like to be able to talk about with their partner.
The next and probably the most crucial step is looking at how your client can create meaningful conversation opportunities with their partner. Your client may indicate that they already exist and so you could question your client on when these opportunities take place. Do you know when the best times are to bring up an important matter that you want to talk about with your partner? Or how have you approached talking with your partner in the past about an important matter? This is then drawing on the experiences of your client in setting up these conversation opportunities to look at deeper personal issues.
If your client indicates that they and their partner have never really had a deep and meaningful conversation about personal issues then you could ask your client if they and their partner have had conversations where they talked about some activity that they enjoyed doing e.g. a sporting triumph or an academic achievement or something that their partner was passionate about, and to remember the setting (on holidays, at the beach, over a dinner, having a coffee whatever the setting was). Then ask if they’d be willing to invite their partner to a similar setting; start a conversation about a neutral but positive topic about themselves; and allow each other to talk uninterrupted for a period of time (say 5 minutes).
After listening to each other you could suggest to your client that they say to their partner what they notice that’s important for their partner about what they’ve said (e.g. winning at cricket is very important for their partner) and that they appreciate a particular quality of their partner (e.g. their keen competitiveness). Finally, your client could ask their partner if they notice what is important for your client through what your client has said.
While the scenario presented for your client may not go as smoothly as suggested here, remind them that if they and/or their partner are not used to talking this way about these topics, that the process may take time – but it’s worth giving it a shot.
What is the secret to having a loving caring relationship that can stand the test of time?
This question can come from a client who’s already involved in a relationship that may have changed in its dynamics recently, from a client who’s just started a relationship or from someone who would like to start an ongoing relationship and is looking for strategies to help create a long term loving relationship.
For the purpose of this scenario, I will assume that your client is already in a relationship that has changed in its dynamics and they are feeling concerned about this and wondering what they can do.
The activities that I will suggest to you could also be applied by those starting in a relationship. This could assist them to be prepared for some issues that could arise over time.
To begin you could ask your client to write down the qualities and values that they feel are important for them to give and receive in a relationship.
From this list you could assist your client to develop a vision or image of the way they’d like their relationship to be – a statement, description (something that it meaningful to them) or vision that indicates both what they are willing to give and what they’d like to receive.
From this personal statement I suggest that you ask your client to consider their partner and the level of communication that they have with them. You could ask questions like: How well do you think your partner understands what’s important to you? How well can the two of discuss a difficult issue? How often do you argue if at all? What interests do you have in common?
The purpose of these questions and others that you may ask as a result of your client’s answers is to assist them to acknowledge some of the feelings and thoughts they have about their current relationship, as well as for you to raise the important aspect of the need for honest and open communication between your client and their partner. This is an essential part of a long term, loving and caring relationship.
It could also highlight areas that your client may need to discuss with their partner, and indicate areas within their relationship which a referral to a relationship counsellor may be required for further investigation and resolution.
Depending upon what your client has said, you could ask them to consider what areas they feel they would need to improve to help strengthen their relationship. This could be both personal activities that nourish your client as well as activities that involve both partners in the relationship.
Finally, you could assist your client to understand that their needs, vision and ideas of supportive activities will not necessarily be the same as their partner – but that in their willingness to listen to and communicate with their partner they create a real opportunity to nourish a long term, loving and caring relationship.
I love my partner and don’t want to leave but I’m bored. What do I do?
This statement and subsequent question can quite often come from a person who feels two conflicting aspects in their relationship with their partner: there’s a need for space and autonomy, of being able to do “their own thing” as well as wanting to be close to someone, to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are – in other words, there is a longing for intimacy.
The opening statement of such a scenario could also arise due to a number of possible changes that can occur in a relationship over time. These changes are usually associated with changes in the pattern of a relationship (e.g. having children) or they could be associated with a particular stage in life that one or both of the people in the relationship may be experiencing (e.g. menopause or loss of their sexual drive).
Changes caused by unexpected events in a person’s life may also have contributed to this feeling of boredom and lack of direction (e.g. the death of a parent or child, the loss of their job or the diagnosis of a life threatening illness).
So if your client presents you with this statement, you as their coach would initially need to get some background information of both your client’s personal life situation and the general situation within their relationship. If you determine through initial questioning that there is a major difficulty or challenge within your client’s relationship with their partner, then you would be ethically bound to talk about a referral to a suitably qualified relationship counsellor.
This area of general relationship “health” is vital to explore because the actions that your client will choose to take in the future will depend on how and where they see themselves both as an individual person who happens to be in a relationship and also as a person who is part of a relationship. Their future actions could depend on having an understanding of how a particular stage of life, their relationship with their partner or an event that has happened or is happening in their life now, is impacting on them.
If all seems well in the relationship in general with no specific issues that need the attention of a relationship counsellor, you could start by encouraging your client to talk about how they see themselves at this stage as an individual and then as an individual within their relationship.
You could also ask specific questions to clarify what they’re saying to you and the use of the NLP technique of “Healthy Questioning” (more on questioning) your client in relating as clearly as possible how they see themselves as individuals as well as being a partner in their relationship. Questions at this time could focus around the areas of communication, work, money, children; in fact any area that your client may hint at and assist you and your client to focus on the current reality so the you both can have an honest and clear picture of your client’s current situation.
Once you’ve gathered basic information and then used paraphrasing and summarising to check back with your client as to the accuracy of what they’ve said, you could then ask your client if there is an area of particular concern that they feel that they’d like to address first. If there’s more than one (this could be quite possible), ask them if they can see any common links between these areas of concern that they have expressed.
With the focus of main concern identified, the next step would be to assist your client to develop a vision of what it will look like – what will be different when this concern has been addressed and solved. This could be done using the miracle question, a letter from the future or some other similar technique that projects your client into a future scenario where their issue or challenge has been dealt with and they are living exactly the kind of life they’d like to live.
With this vision in mind you could then ask your client if there have been times in the past where this issue or challenge didn’t exist or appeared to have been taken care of, and ask them to describe those times even if it was only for the briefest periods of time.
Ask them to talk about what happened then and what did they do to help create this situation either knowingly or without any apparent action on their part only. For example, your client could suggest that a change in their partner’s behaviour caused a momentary change in their own life.
If this is stated by your client, you would need to point out to them that while the different action of their partner felt appropriate at that time, that how your client chose to react to this different action was their own choice.
Therefore it’s important to keep on making sure that the client is focussing on what they have done in the past as although the actions of your client’s partner for example can orchestrate a change in your client’s life, that ultimately it is only your client who can decide on and create the changes that they’d like to see for themselves in their life.
From this questioning, encourage your client to acknowledge those actions that worked for them in their relationship as well for themselves as individuals in the past. If they say that they are unaware of any exception times in the past, ask them about any times when they could have done something that felt positive for them but which they chose not to do at that time. You do not need to go into the “why” they may not have chosen these actions but simply that this may have been a possible way of acting then and perhaps could be in the future if they so choose.
So assisting your client to decide upon some suggestions that they’ve used, could have used and/or have worked in the past, could help them to change the way they act within their relationship which in turn could change the feeling of boredom they have expressed about their relationship into something positive.
You could then ask them to state how willing they are to act on at least one of these suggestions in the next few days and to observe how they and how they feel their partner’s reaction is to this action and to be willing to report back to you either over the phone or via email or face to face and if they agree to then set a date and time to do this.
A final reminder to your client would be necessary around the fact that it can take time and persistence for change to happen naturally; that is it will take some time before any new action chosen by them will feel comfortable and more importantly that they are making a commitment to change their own actions and/or create new actions and not change and/or create any actions for their partner.
However their commitment to change and then carrying it out, may be the very catalyst that their partner uses to make their own changes within the relationship with the result that they both may help create a more positive relationship with themselves individually, and as a couple.

Happiness and Positive Psychology

Personal Development, Professional Development Comments Off

Positive Psychology’s primary focus is on what people do right to obtain and maintain optimum happiness (Compton, 2005), by striving to understand and help people develop qualities that lead to greater personal fulfilment. The premise of positive psychology is to promote factors that allow individuals to thrive and flourish by encouraging a change of focus in psychology from a preoccupation with repairing the worst things to a greater emphasis on discovering and building upon positive qualities.
The concept of happiness is the corner stone of the assumptions of positive psychology. Happiness is characterised by the experience of more frequent positive affective states than negative ones as well as a perception that one is progressing toward important life goals (Tkach & Lyubomirsky, 2006). Identifying factors that contribute to happiness has proven to be challenging. Interestingly though, one thing that does stand out in the research to date is that the attainment and pursuit of pleasure may not always lead to happiness.
Certain kinds of environmental factors or conditions have been found to be associated with happiness and include such things as; individual income, labour market status, health, family, social relationships, moral values and many others (Carr, 2004; Selim, 2008; Diener, Oishi & Lucas, 2003). Ultimately, in the pursuit of understanding happiness, there are two main theoretical perspectives which focus on addressing the question of what makes people feel good and happy. These are the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches to happiness (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002).
Hedonic well-being is based on the notion that increased pleasure and decreased pain leads to happiness. Hedonic concepts are based on the notion of subjective well-being. Subjective well-being is ascientific term that is commonly used to denote the ‘happy or good life’. It comprises of an affective component (high positive affect and low negative affect) and a cognitive component (satisfaction with life). It is proposed that an individual experiences happiness when positive affect and satisfaction with life are both high (Carruthers & Hood, 2004).
Eudaimonic well-being, on the other hand, is strongly reliant on Maslow’s ideas of self actualisation and Roger’s concept of the fully functioning person and their subjective well being. Eudaimonic happiness is therefore based on the premise that people feel happy if they experience life purpose, challenges and growth. This approach adopts Self-Determination Theory to conceptualise happiness (Keyes et al., 2002; Deci & Ryan, 2000). Self determination theory suggests that happiness is related to fulfilment in the areas of autonomy and competence.
From this perspective, by engaging in eudaimonic pursuits, subjective well being (happiness) will occur as a by product. Thus, life purpose and higher order meaning are believed to produce happiness. It appears that the general consensus is that happiness does not result from the pursuit of pleasure but from the development of individual strengths and virtues which ties in with the concept of positive psychology (Vella-Brodrick, Park & Peterson, 2009). The differences between eudaimonic and hedonic happiness are listed below:

Hedonic (Subjective Wellbeing)

  • Presence of positive mood
  • Absence of negative mood
  • Satisfaction with various domains of life (e.g. work, leisure)
  • Global life satisfaction

Eudaimonic (Psychological Wellbeing)

  • Sense of control or autonomy
  • Feeling of meaning and purpose
  • Personal expressiveness
  • Feelings of belongingness
  • Social contribution
  • Competence
  • Personal growth
  • Self acceptance

Positive Psychology views happiness from both the hedonistic and eudaimonic view in which they define happiness in terms of the pleasant life, the good life and the meaningful life (Norrish & Vella-Brodrick, 2008). Peterson et al., identified three pathways to happiness from the positive psychological view: 

  1. Pleasure is the process of maximising positive emotion and minimising negative emotion and is referred to as the pleasant life which involves enjoyable and positive experiences. 
  2. Engagement is the process of being immersed and absorbed in the task at hand and is referred to as the good life which involves being actively involved in life and all that it requires and demands. Thus the good life is considered to result from the individual cultivating and investing their signature strengths and virtues into their relationships, work and leisure (Seligman, 2002), thus applying the best of self during challenging activities that results in growth and a feeling of competence and satisfaction that brings about happiness. 
  3. Meaning is the process of having a higher purpose in life than ourselves and is referred to as the meaningful life which involves using our strengths and personal qualities to serve this higher purpose. The meaningful life, like the good life, involves the individual applying their signature strengths in activities, but the difference is that these activities are perceived to contribute to the greater good in the meaningful life. 

Ultimately, it is a combination of each of these three elements described above that positive psychology suggests would constitute authentic and stable happiness (Vella-Brodrick, Park & Peterson, 2009; Carruthers & Hood, 2004).
Flow and happiness
Another key contribution positive psychology has made to our understanding of the qualities and attributes of well-being is in the concept of flow. Flow is defined as an optimal state of engagement, happiness and peak experience that occurs when an individual is absorbed in an intrinsically motivating challenge (Norrish & Vella-Brodrick, 2008). Flow is typically characterised by being immersed in a specific activity that incorporates the following elements: 

  1. Concentration toward the task at hand that appears effortless and is not associated with mental strain or aggressive efforts to repress or control thinking (Vella-Brodrick, Park & Peterson, 2009), 
  2. Involvement in the task to the point where there is no need to think about what needs to be done before it is done (Vella-Brodrick, Park & Peterson, 2009), and
  3. Enjoyment through being involved in and doing the specific activity (Vella-Brodrick, Park & Peterson, 2009). 

The state of flow has been implicated in the pathways to happiness and thus expands further the concept of happiness beyond the pleasure state. To conclude on the influence of flow Csikszentmihalyi (1990) suggests that happiness is brought on by the experience of flow that allows people to enjoy life and function better in a number of different contexts (click here to watch Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on Flow).
Personality Traits and Happiness
Personality studies indicate that happy and unhappy people have distinctive personality profiles. For example, happy people tend to be more extraverted, optimistic and usually have high self esteem. Happiness is also considered to be an emotion produced by positive and negative events and experiences (Selim, 2008). Interestingly, a number of reports have shown that extraverted individuals are happier than introverted individuals in the context of a broad range of life experiences (Carr, 2004; Tkach & Lyubomirsky, 2006; Furnham & Christoforou, 2007).
This has been attributed to the idea that extraverts react more strongly to positive stimuli designed to induce positive emotions when compared to introverts. Extraverts are also reported to have a better fit with their social environment that may trigger positive emotions of happiness. As such, extraverts are more likely to experience happiness than introverts who may not thrive in similar social settings (Furnham & Christoforou, 2007; Carr, 2004).
Happiness has also shown to be associated with easy sociability that involves natural, pleasant interaction with other people, another attribute typical of the extravert. Happiness of extraverts can be partially explained by their choice of enjoyable situations while those that are socially unskilled (e.g. introverts) may avoid such situations.
In contrast, unhappy people tend to have high levels of neuroticism. Neuroticism is the tendency to be vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and depression when faced with potentially stressful situations. Thus unhappy people are believed to be more reactive to unpleasant emotional stimuli compared to happier counterparts under the same conditions (Diener, Oishi & Lucas, 2003). Hofer, Busch and Kiessling (2008) support this point of view in stating that neuroticism is negatively associated with subjective well being (happiness) while openness to experience, agreeableness, extraversion and conscientiousness are positively related to subjective well being (happiness).
Biology of Happiness
This view purports that Individuals are born with the genetic makeup to be either “very” happy, reasonably content, or chronically dissatisfied. Positive emotions have been shown to coincide with higher levels of activity on the left side of the brain’s prefrontal lobes. A key player seems to be the neurotransmitter dopamine, which carries “feel good” messages between brain cells. High levels of dopamine have been implicated in feelings of happiness while low levels may result in feelings of depression.
Lykken and Tellegen (1996) concluded from their study of twins that most people have an average level of happiness or a “set point” that is innate in them and therefore independent of environmental factors. They suggest that after we adjust to the effects of temporary highs and lows in emotionality (for example, happiness and sadness) we return to our biological “set point”. While it is understood that very intense feelings of joy or sadness may keep people off their “set point” for somewhat longer periods, it is believed that eventually every one returns to their baseline level of well being that is believed to be set by genetics (Compton, 2005).
From the biological perspective, depending on an individual’s genes, some people may have a natural enthusiasm for life, deriving pleasure from ordinary activities, or may require unusual adventures. But regardless of what makes us happy, a quiet walk or a jungle safari, after the initial high, we return to our happiness set-point regulated by our level of dopamine.   For some people it is suggested that their set point may lean towards positive emotionality (high level of dopamine) whereby they will tend to be cheerful most of the time. Those with a set point directed more towards negative emotionality (low dopamine) will tend to gravitate toward varying degrees of pessimism and anxiety. It is also proposed that the biologically-programmed set-point isn’t really a point, it’s a range.
In this context we can influence this rage thus being able to alter our “set point” by creating an environment that is more conducive to feelings of happiness. That is why factors such as family environment, education level, and cultural factors all have an impact on an individual’s sense of happiness and wellbeing (Compton, 2005). Thus, rather than being a carte blanche on the individual’s state of happiness, the biological view still considers environmental factors to be an influence on the more enduring trait of happiness but only within the confines of a set-point range.
Happiness and Culture
When it comes to happiness, culture is considered to play a significant role. Researchers have concluded that most people across the globe do desire some form and degree of happiness. But that pursuit of happiness varies greatly depending on one’s culture and circumstances (Carr, 2004). For example, very poor nations and those in dramatic political change invariably report the lowest levels of subjective well-being. Conversely, many of the wealthy and democratic Scandinavian countries consistently report the highest levels of happiness.
But a culture can also be poor in resources and rich in happiness as well. Latin American nations, for example, appear to have a more positive orientation and value happiness more than other countries (Maddux, 2004). At the other end of the scale, East Asian and African nations often place other values ahead of happiness, such as mastery and pleasing one’s family or group (Carr, 2004).
Thus, how we individually define and experience happiness has as much to do with our cultural influences as it does with our personality, biological dispositions, personal goals and other individual factors. What this means is that while most people in practically every society will likely desire some form of well-being (both psychologically and physically), what they value will greatly determine what shape that pursuit of happiness is and what it will look like once acquired.
Because of such cultural variance in what factors contribute to high levels of happiness and well-being, it must be concluded that there are more determinants to happiness beyond the scope of what positive psychology currently understands. What is perhaps important to understand is that each culture finds its own sources of well-being and maximises these by building from their own cultural resources to pursue their own individual happiness.
Authentic Happiness
Positive psychology uses the term authentic happiness to describe the combination of behaviours that constitutes happiness and a good life. Authenticity in this context refers to both the ability to recognise and take responsibility for one’s own psychological experiences and the ability to act in ways that are consistent with those experiences. Authentic happiness is thought to derive from the identification and cultivation of signature strengths and virtues (Robbins, 2009).
Thus, authentic happiness suggests that we all have signature strengths that we use in challenging times to bring about change. The idea is that individuals should focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses in order to attain authentic happiness. The focus is on drawing on those strengths and using them as tools to maximise meaningful life. Greater authenticity was also linked to less depression and less perceived stress and fewer complaints of physical problems, creating a conducive climate for happiness (Compton, 2005).  
Seligman (2002) differentiates between strengths and talents as they are often confused in the identification of individual signature strengths. It is suggested that strengths are moral traits while talents are innate. Talents are said to be relatively automatic whereas strengths are more voluntary. Although talent does not involve a choice about possessing it, there is a choice of whether to burnish it and where to deploy it. Strength on the other hand involves choices about when to use it and whether to keep building it (Seligman, 2002).
It is argued that signature strengths are built from the discovery and ownership of the strengths that an individual already possess. Seligman and his colleagues have identified 24 signature strengths and 6 virtues that are believed to be necessary for one to attain the authentic happiness.

Relationship Skills

Personal Development, Professional Development Comments Off

A coaching client approaches you with the following question: “How can I become the best partner possible?” As his coach, what would you suggest? Zahava Starak, LCI Master Coach, answers…
We will be addressing this question on the assumption that ‘partner’ in this question refers to the partner in a ‘couple relationship’.
Upon hearing this request the coach would initially be on alert as to the motivation behind this desire, as before working with this client the coach would need to briefly discuss the client’s relationship and ascertain if there are any serious problems that will need specialist attention.
An individual may want to become the best partner possible out of a fear that if they don’t they will lose their partner, or they may have an exaggerated dependence on their partner and are so completely enmeshed in the other person’s identity that they no longer have a self. If this is the case then it is the coach’s ethical responsibility to inform the client that they may require the specialist services of a relationship counsellor.
This not being the case and the client wanting to enrich what is already a healthy and well functioning relationship, then the coach can applaud this objective and begin the journey.
A Reality Check may be the starting point. And it would be beneficial to determine at what stage in their partnership the client is at and what is happening for them at this stage. Relationships go through developmental stages and there are challenges and opportunities at each stage.
These stages wear different labels but they basically are: the initial idealistic stage covering the first two years – often referred to in marriages as the honeymoon stage; the realistic stage – covering the 3rd through the 10th year – in which the task is to hang unto the relationship after reality strikes; the comfortable stage – covering the 11th through to the 25th years – in which the task is to maintain an individual identity along with a couple identity; the renewing stage- covering the 26th year to the 35th year in which the task is to rediscover intimacy after years of wear and tear; and the transcendent stage – the years thereafter in which the relationship transcends the tasks of the previous stages.
Most individuals seeking to improve their relationship will likely fall into one of the first three stages, and this can be explained to the client.
To continue the reality check the coach needs to determine the current state of the client’s relationship and what they feel they need to enhance in this relationship. Questions such as: “If you were the person that you wanted to be in this relationship, what kind of person would you be?” “Is there something missing in your relationship?” “What are you doing now to be the best partner possible?” What is stopping you from doing what you say you want to do?” “What do you see for yourself in this relationship now and in the future?” are the way forward.
These types of reality-based questions can start the client thinking about what it means to be a ‘better partner’ and how they can attain this objective.
The discussion so far serves as a background and the coach is now ready to introduce some more directive steps to help the client become the best partner possible. They could start by implementing a creative exercise in which the client produces (on paper) an image of themselves as the ideal partner.
This image can be represented in words, colours, a flowchart, a diagram or glued pictures and/or words cut from magazines or newspapers. Often clients are hesitant to draw as they are embarrassed by their lack of artistic skills – so cutting and gluing can be the answer.
This activity can take a while and often clients welcome the opportunity to continue the exercise at home. The end result becomes the starting point for verbalizing what this ideal partner looks like.
The visual depiction can lead into a discussion and such questions as “in this ideal picture what does the daily routine look like? If there are children what are your responsibilities? How do you relate to your extended family and your partner’s extended family? Are there any problems around finances? Is there fun in this relationship? How do you relax with your partner? And how is intimacy shared?” can add additional details to this picture.
For each aspect of the client’s relationship it becomes evident that there are certain criteria that have to be met and these are now systematically listed so as to become the client’s vision.
Now knowing what the client wants to happen the obvious step is to set goals. Before this however the coach may ask the client to undertake another activity to determine their values. The client is provided with a list of values from which they tick those that are important to them and then rate these values so that they have a list of their top five.
It is interesting to see what these values are and if the client’s vision supports these values. If not, then a new discussion explores the client’s reality once again. If values and vision are not in sync then the client works against themselves not only in their relationship but also in every avenue of their life.
Once there is a synchronicity between values and vision the client now begins translating the criteria necessary for them to become the best partner possible into goals. When looking at something as intimate as an interpersonal relationship it may sound a bit mechanical to work on goals, but if these goals are looked upon as practical steps to achieve the ‘Big Picture’ – an enriched relationship – this process is softened.
Goals are now set to fulfil all the needs listed and various strategies are introduced to help the client reach these goals. For example, if a goal is set for the client to undertake more chores in the daily routine then a time map may be implemented to help the client prioritise their time to allow this to happen.
If the client tends to have difficulties in maintaining a budget and thereby puts financial stress on the relationship then budgeting skills can be learned. If there are children and the client’s relationship is strained due to differences in parenting skills these skills can be taught along with basic communication skills and problem solving.
If the client wants to enjoy more quality time with their partner common interests can be discussed and introduced or reintroduced to the relationship. And if the client wants to bring the levels of intimacy to a higher level spiritual beliefs and ideologies can be explored.
The client has now taken the first steps towards becoming the best partner possible. As the client begins to feel the benefits of the changes they are introducing they will be motivated to continue this journey. For not only will they be enriching their relationship they will be enriching themselves as individuals.
Additional Reading: