Trevor Mumby

Company director, writer, thinker, trainer, UK National Health Service. King Abdulaziz University Hospital Jeddah. Visiting consultant to multi-nationals. Co-Director. Mumb

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Stop throwing verbal hand grenades

There are twelve mannerisms; I call them “hand-grenades”, which cause conflict. I discovered them working over 50 years as a consultant in behavior problems and the last fifteen with people experiencing dementia.
It was the families and carers who really highlighted them, but on reflection, it was seeing what goes on in every day relationships. They are all-pervasive. We humans are swimming in a medium, and like fish in water, we do not know they constitute our medium.
We contradict. We expect gratitude. We express pessimism. We ignore .We interrupt. We irritate. We opinionate. We talk loudly. We undermine. We provoke. We control and We ask too many questions.
These mannerisms have been with us since we started our first conversations in the Stone Ages. They are primitive and second nature to us.
Evidence of their destructive influence is best demonstrated through observing the effect they have on people who are emotionally fragile through the development of dementia.
What confirms the evidence is demonstrated when you STOP using any one of them with a person close to you.
For this debate, may I suggest you reflect on your most frequently used “hand-grenade” and stop using it for 24 hours with the person closest to you?
My wife’s first reaction to me was “are you alright, you haven’t interrupted me all day?” My son said “Dad you have not contradicted me!” Many people, from all walks of life are telling me what difference it has made to them. The “New” word I use is “distinguished” conversation. Once we stop our addiction to using hand grenades, our relationships create well-being, not conflict. I guarantee you will be delighted with the results and enjoy distinguished conversations!

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    Mar 8 2014: Trevor,
    You say..."There are twelve mannerisms; I call them “hand-grenades”, which cause conflict". "We contradict. We expect gratitude. We express pessimism. We ignore. We interrupt. We irritate. We opinionate. We talk loudly. We undermine. We provoke. We control and We ask too many questions."

    You suggest to STOP using these mannerisms. I agree with consciously discontinuing some of them, like an attempt to control, or having expectations for example.

    Do you think/feel that HOW we use some of these mannerisms.... our intent, attitude, and presentation have anything to do with the outcome? I believe it does.

    Asking questions for example, can be provoking to some people, as you have demonstrated in this conversation. Asking questions can also be a very good way to get information. As I wrote previously....little kids ask questions ALL the time, and it is their way of getting information, and kids are sensitive, vulnerable people. Would you say they are asking too many questions and accuse them of throwing hand grenades?
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      Mar 8 2014: There is something I wondered, given the references here both to everyday relationships and, in contrast, to people with dementia.

      Asking questions of parents, colleagues, and people with whom one means to engage in mutual sense-making is typical positive if the questions are sincere and, for example, turn-taking is taking place.

      Asking questions of a person with dementia might be a special case. For example, asking lots of questions in sequence that involve memory that a person with memory loss shows he cannot answer may be stressful and depressing for the person.

      Similarly, if you and I disagree about something, we would express our different opinions and come to learn something from each articulating how we came to our different conclusions. In work teams also it is important for people to speak up when they believe there is a better way of doing something.

      I would want my colleagues to speak up rather than agree just to be nice! As a teacher, I would want a student to point out something he thought I had said in error rather than thinking he shouldn't contradict. Challenging a statement or point of view can be done with civility and stands to benefit everyone in the learning situation.

      If a person with dementia says things that don't make sense, perhaps are an incorrect recollection, but are not hurtful to him, I have been less clear on what is the best course. There may well be situations then in wish it is kindest not to contradict.
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        Mar 8 2014: I agree is recommended NOT to ask a lot of questions with people who may have dementia or Alzheimer's because as you say, the memory may not be good and/or they are often confused. Sometimes, asking too many questions reminds them of their confusion, thereby causing frustration. I think it may depend on what stage of the dis-ease that determines how a person might act/react. So, it is a totally different scenario than other "normal" everyday interactions.

        The author of this discussion however, suggests that there are 12 "hand grenades" that we ALL need to be aware of with everyone, and asking too many questions is supposedly one of those hand grenades, which I do not agree with.

        I agree with the rest of your comment Fritzie.
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    Mar 8 2014: Hello Trevor,
    An interesting experiment you are proposing.
    Regarding the debate below about "too many questions", my input is this:
    In the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, one of them is "Don't make assumptions". This requires asking questions until one is clear what the other person means; and by so doing so much misunderstanding and its consequences can be avoided.
    Perhaps the difference between constructive and destructive "asking many questions" lies in the manner of its asking and the motivation behind the asking?
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      Mar 9 2014: I must find The Four Agreements". Thanks Joshua.
      My thing about too many questions hinges on the person who is at the receiving end?
      My experience with hundreds of people who have some form of dementia has shown me that when relatives who really love their cared for person, " bombard" them with questions, they create a negative reaction.
      It is the simplest questions which cause them. e.g. would you like a cup tea dear? How are you today dear?
      Which shirt shall we put on today, has anyone visited you, would you like some food..........etc.
      It is painful to watch, especially when there are many visitors in the Care Home.
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        Mar 9 2014: Hello Trevor,

        Below is a summary of the four agreements from the inside flap (which seem to be advocated in a similar manner to your agreement not to do/say the 12 hand-grenades).
        I have tried to live with these 4 agreements for about 10 years now. All 4 are far-reaching if you really inculcate them into your life. It is a short book of ancient Toltec wisdom, and very readable.

        1). Be impeccable with your word:
        Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.. Use the power of the word in the direction of truth and love.

        2). Don't take anything personally:
        Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

        3). Don't make assumptions:
        Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, yo can completely transform your life.

        4). Always do your best:
        Your best is going to change from moment to moment;it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

        I can see from your experience with carers of people with dementia that the "asking questions" issue is a special case, or at least a case-situation which where it is more pertinent.
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          Mar 9 2014: Thank you so much Joshua.
          I totally agree.
          Profound teachings are mixed in with the every day medium of conversation we live in.
          I have taken twelve mannerisms which have become blatant to me over the years.
          Nothing wise, just blatant?
          My analogy of fish not knowing they are in water is like us not knowing the four agreements.
          Thanks again.
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          Mar 10 2014: Hi Joshua,
          I like the "agreements".....very useful information. They remind me of the "Rules For Life by Angeles Arrien, (Basque shaman), which have been posted on my refrigerator for years.

          1. Show up
          2. Pay attention
          3. Tell the truth without blame or judgment
          4. Be open, not attached to the outcome
  • Mar 7 2014: No contradictions? But what if they are flat out wrong?

    Oh, sorry, that is too many questions.

    Hmmm.... Maybe there is a need for some conflict.
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    Mar 13 2014: Stop throwing verbal hand grenades: Does this mean "keep your mouth shut unless you have something good to say"?

    "If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut." - Albert Einstein
  • Mar 12 2014: I usually wait too long when I'm going to throw verbal granade which usually results in it blowing up in my face.
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      Mar 12 2014: Hi Craig,
      That is why it dawned on me! It was because I suddenly found myself feeling bad about things I said to the kids or wife.

      I am improving slowly!
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      Mar 12 2014: Craig and Trevor,
      Throwing verbal grenades generally impacts the giver as much as the receiver. Have you heard the saying.....what goes around comes around? Verbal hand grenades come back to bite us eventually. Discontinuing the use of them, not only helps those we interact helps us as well. Glad you realize that Trevor:>)
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    Mar 10 2014: this premise depends entirely on the context of the conversation.

    rather than not stir the pot in order to spare someone's potential feelings, i think it's better to learn to accept differences of opinion. it is possible to disagree and get on.

    really, one only has to work at improving their communication skills. i know that I vacillate between being eloquent and being emotive, depending on my state of mind.

    but, while I believe in decorum and respect for others, i do not believe that should take precedent over feisty debate and argument.

    hand grenades are my calling card. most times, a discussion needs someone to play the devil's advocate.
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      Mar 12 2014: I agree Scott...
      I think/feel that learning to accept differences of thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs, perceptions, perspectives and opinions with respect, is an important part of the process of communication. HOW we communicate something is often as important as WHAT we are trying to you insightfully is important to improve communication skills.
  • Mar 10 2014: I will try but it is boring at the top of the food chain.
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    Mar 10 2014:
    It is in most cases,
    when the hearers do not agree with you.

    It is not in some cases,
    when the hearers agree with you.
    Then, it is like strong magnets.
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      Mar 10 2014: Totally agree.
      It is deeply enriching when there is a mutual frequency and understanding between ourselves and others.

      Thank you
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    Mar 8 2014: When is it appropriate to say something no matter how "painful or unpleasant'?
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    Mar 8 2014: I am in the wrong box!
    One of the most enlightening books I read in my early 20's was your title for TED. Wonderful book.
    I am in full agreement with you
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      Mar 8 2014: It is not the "wrong" box is another option. If you go back to the top of the page to reply to someone, it helps if you put his/her name, so people know who you are replying to.
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        Mar 8 2014: Thank you Colleen,
        Your guidance is truly welcome. This form of conversation is fraught with misunderstandings!
        I hope I will develop my ability quickly.
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          Mar 10 2014: Thank you for the feedback Trevor.

          It helps to be clear with our communications as often as we can, and part of communication in my perception, is being aware of the circumstances of those we are communicating with.

          I think I understand what you are suggesting, because when regaining consciousness after a near fatal head/brain injury and craniotomy years ago, I experienced feeling mentally bombarded at times with simple questions, choices and communications.

          It is not surprising that with a brain injury or disease, the filters and neural pathways in the brain may be impacted, thereby compromising our cognitive abilities. I totally understand how information may feel like "hand grenades" in these situations.

          That being said, I do not agree that your 12 "hand grenades" impact everyone in our everyday lives, as you suggest. If one is totally unaware of how s/he is communicating to others in the everyday life adventure, and continually throwing "hand grenades" at others, it may be an opportunity to evaluate oneself and learn better ways of communicating.

          You suggest that everyone is throwing "hand grenades" in everyday discussions, and I do not agree with that. I believe that when we are mindfully aware of other people's condition or circumstances, and aware of our own communication style, we can feel, act, and communicate compassionately. Our intent, attitude, presentation, and communication style has a lot to do with whether or not a person feels bombarded or not. That is an important part of the communication process. The receiver is another part of the communication process, and if we are as aware as possible, we can help support those who may have compromised cognitive abilities.
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    Mar 8 2014: OK
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    Mar 8 2014: I am sure you are a lovely person and it would be a pleasure to meet for a while.
    May I respond to the " who decides how many questions are too many?"
    My own awareness of the recipients behavior together decides.
    The other thought your response created in me was that; having the knowledge that I am carrying a bag of twelve hand grenades and being aware of their destructive force is like a form of deterrence. Knowing discourages their use, especially in the presence of sensitive people.
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      Mar 8 2014: Trevor,
      I guess this is a response to me since I asked the question....who decides how many questions are too many.

      Techinical tip:
      You can reply directly to comments by using the "reply" option in the upper right corner of the comment, then it is more clear who you are responding to.

      Ok....your "own awareness of the recipients behavior together decides".

      How does that apply to the exchange with Ariel in this conversation?

      "Ariel Ramirez
      1 day ago: Fascinating! Is there existing research for this or any literature? Sorry, I instinctively want to research everything when I'm interested in a subject... This would be great for a scientific study! Totally agree with your points sir!"

      "Trevor Mumby
      1 day ago: Dear Ariel,
      What a marvellous response. I burst into joyous laughter!
      You have, with true human curiosity, thrown the 'asking too many questions' hand grenade!"

      Why do you say that Ariel's question was a "hand grenade"? Ariel's only question..." Is there existing research for this or any literature?"

      Are you that sensitive to questions that you perceived that question to be a "hand grenade?"
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      Mar 8 2014: P.S.
      I realize I am opening myself to the possibility of being accused of throwing hand grenades by asking so many questions:>)
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    Mar 8 2014: Thank you Bob.
    I liked you response a lot. It had that air of radical warrior about it!
    My current mental state has become more of a quiet revolutionary. I most certainly did the tail twisting in my warrior days!
    The deeply satisfying feeling of having a framework, the twelve hand grenades, rather than no framework, is like having a bag full of grenades I will NOT be throwing. Good fun really.
    Kind regards
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    Mar 8 2014: I have replied but TED rejected my first contribution? I thought it was a calm polite response. Wander why?
    I will try again.
    Throwing any of the twelve hand grenades at a sensitive person causes harm.
    Not throwing them in any relationship fosters well being.
    The balance, as you so wisely say, depends upon us. My thinking is that at least we have twelve "pegs" which are conceptually available and with practice, are likely to alleviate conflict.
    Thank you
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      Mar 8 2014: If the TED moderators deleted something you wrote Trevor, you can contact them and they are usually open to communication so you can discover why it was deleted. If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you will see "Terms of Use". Perhaps that might provide some answers to your questions. If you are genuinely promoting the idea to "Stop throwing verbal hand grenades", you might want to model that behavior:>)
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      Mar 8 2014: I notice the added edit to your comment Trevor, beginning with "Throwing any of the twelve hand grenades at a sensitive person causes harm...."

      I agree that there is a balance, which fosters better relationships. Some of your "pegs" feel a bit imbalanced. For example... "We ask too many questions" is a broad statement, which doesn't make sense to me. "Too many questions" is a judgment, and as I asked in a previous comment.....who decides how many questions are too many? I guess I was asking too many questions because you didn't respond. That's obligation:>)
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    Mar 8 2014: These verbal hand grenades are manifestations of our humanity. It is human to continually oscillate between charity and selfishness.
    Awareness of these weakness does help us to work on ourselves so that selfisness would not be our top choice.
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    Mar 8 2014: Trevor, As you may have already discovered TED is a mostly Liberal discussion site. I am a Independent and am often pelted with all sorts of names and assumptions of facts that do not belong to me. Not that I do not deserve a lot of this abuse because I do twist tails. I should be ashamed but I enjoy this at times.

    The reason for paragraph one is to say that I do not always accept a thrown "verbal Hand grenades". Would you allow that taking offense is a large part of the problem.

    Also that verbal bullies are not always loud, abusive, and obvious ... nor do they throw the verbal hand grenade ... many use land mines and snares ... but are still verbal and conservational bullies with the only objective is to destroy your credibility and win the day in the discussion.

    In our personal relationships I totally agree with you .... but I want to keep a few firecrackers for use in politics and TED discussions against some radical warriors. .... Just for fun.

    Enjoyed the discussion and reading the replies.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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    Mar 7 2014: Hi Darrell, Love your comments. ....." and you are flat right"
    If a person needs to protect their grasp on their reality?
    Is our believing we are flat right and telling them so, worth anything?
    Contradiction is a hand grenade if (a) it is thrown vehemently at a fragile person. (b) thrown because the person throwing it is trying to gain control and feel better at the expense of another person.
    (c) the evidence of an intelligent, articulate conversation based upon mutual appreciation.
    KInd regards.
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    Mar 7 2014: Hi Trevor and welcome to TED conversations.

    I do not agree that asking too many questions is a "verbal hand grenade". Who decides how many questions are too many? Kids generally ask a LOT of questions, and that is how they get information. Glad you are making progress with your wife and son.

    There is a good book and program I participated in about 40 years ago when it came might find it interesting. Although it is called P.E.T. (Parent Effectiveness Training), I found it very valuable as a guide with any communications.....have fun exploring more ideas:>)

    "P.E.T., or Parent Effectiveness Training, began almost forty years ago as the first national parent-training program to teach parents how to communicate more effectively with kids and offer step-by-step advice to resolving family conflicts so everybody wins. This beloved classic is the most studied, highly praised, and proven parenting program in the world"
  • Mar 7 2014: Yeah, good luck with that. I watch my own tongue (not as well as I should) but good luck convincing any wife of this.
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    Mar 7 2014: Excellent awareness Ariel.
    Just remind yourself, as I do, frequently, our human-ness has never become aware that it is " swimming" in conflict promoting "water". We have been in it from the Stone Age.

    Great fun to see it and get the hell out of it!
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    Mar 7 2014: Yes. yes, yes, BUT something amazing happens. The more we refrain from using the other eleven.
    There is some sort of synergistic effect? It is as tho I start WANTING to refrain. Life gets to be fun when I see the good effect it is having on me and others.
    I would love you to keep in touch with news about your experiences.
    Kind regards
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    Mar 7 2014: Fascinating! Is there existing research for this or any literature? Sorry, I instinctively want to research everything when I'm interested in a subject... This would be great for a scientific study! Totally agree with your points sir!
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      Mar 7 2014: Dear Ariel,
      What a marvellous response. I burst into joyous laughter!
      You have, with true human curiosity, thrown the 'asking too many questions' hand grenade!
      Please feel free to do research, but give the other twelve some exercise before you start.
      I guarantee you motivation will be 100x's greater after you have seen the results!
      Try the 'ignoring' one and see what?
      Kind regards
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        Mar 7 2014: I seem to get that a lot. Now I know why I, even though i had no intention to, seem to attract quarrels and criticisms, especially with my dad... Is it really that bad being curious? Yeah okay i'll try to practice those first thanks sir!
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          Mar 7 2014: It is NOT a bad thing to be curious Ariel.....I think curiosity is a GREAT asset:>)
      • Mar 7 2014: "Too many questions" is not a hand grenade. The assautlive, verbally violent, and oppressive accusation of "You ask too many questions!" is the hand grenade. Accusing someone of "too many questions" is just a way to shut that person up and turn that person into a conversational submissive.
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        Mar 7 2014: I agree with Colleen and Bryan that asking many questions is not a "hand grenade" and that those bothered by it may benefit from learning a bit of patience. Both parties can learn from questions.

        There are, however, questions that are not really questions but rather are attacks or ways of embarrassing that are framed as questions. It is the content of what is said that might be an issue. A question that starts "Why do you always" (followed by some negative accusation) might be a hand grenade. Making an attack a question, saying "cheers" or "have a great day" afterward does not mitigate the fundamental nature of the message.
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          Mar 8 2014: In the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, one of them is "Don't make assumptions". This requires asking questions until one is clear what the other person means; and by so doing so much misunderstanding and its consequences can be avoided.
          Perhaps the difference between constructive and destructive "asking many questions" lies in the manner of its asking and the motivation behind the asking.
          So with that clarification I agree with you, and Colleen and Bryan.
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        Mar 7 2014: Trevor,
        Why did you open another account for your recent comment?

        You write..."You have, with true human curiosity, thrown the 'asking too many questions' hand grenade!" You appear to be accusing Ariel of asking too many questions.

        I totally agree that a sense of intelligence and reason is important in most communications. Also, respect, and patience is good, as Fritzie points out.
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    Mar 7 2014: First time I read someone use these three words - verbal, hand, and grenade - as one phrase. I like your post a lot, Mr. Mumby. I already learned something and looking forward to learning more.
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      Mar 7 2014: Thank you Rodrigo,
      The major bonus I get from learning, is the really deep feeling of satisfaction with the results.
      Whoever I relate to and notice myself not throwing hand grenades, I find the other person really warms to me and we have enjoyable conversations.
      I guess the method is giving us a sense that we will not be oppressed by other people's mannerisms anymore?
  • Mar 7 2014: I think the basis for not using these techniques starts by listening to the other individual.
  • Mar 6 2014: How do you handle someone that uses these methods?
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      Mar 7 2014: With astonishment!!
      The people you meet who converse by NOT using them are very rare indeed.
      My problem is learning how to do it myself and I find that as I improve, the people I meet, anywhere, gas station, supermarket...anywhere naturally respond pleasantly.

      Wayne. Do me a favour please.
      Set yourself the challenge of not using what you believe is your most frequently used hand grenade.
      i.e interrupting? Let me know what you experience!
      Kind regards
      • Mar 7 2014: will do, probably the one I use the most is asking a lot of questions.
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    Mar 6 2014: Congratulations to you, your family, and your associates for making this progress in civil and thoughtful speech.
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      Mar 7 2014: Thank you Fritzie,
      There is something quite thrilling about using a style of interpersonal relations which actually creates a sense of well-being.
      It is really amazing to read feedback from family members who report the positive changes happening in their homes.
      What excites me most is that the method can be applied in any language and carries no religious or political baggage with it.
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        Mar 7 2014: One challenge is that many people do not recognize how they come across through their speech, particularly if their style is not overtly hostile in the sense of, say, name calling but is a quieter style of belittling others. There are also challenges that arise in cross-cultural communication in which speaking plainly might be taken as aggressive.
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          Mar 7 2014: Ah! Ah! "Expecting gratitude" Do I use that one!!!!
          The pleasure of not "expecting gratitude" and not "ignoring" and not "opinionating" and not "interrupting" etc begins to emanate from us. It seems that when we have " disarmed" ourselves, others do not pick up any conflict vibes from us.
          I would love you to give it go and let me know the responses