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How to Converse
Stunning fact: anxiety disorders afflict nearly ten percent of Americans during any six-month period.
Most of us encounter such persons every day in the workplace, neighborhood, or shopping center. Some of them are relatives, friends, and co-workers.
Anxiety refers to an unpleasant and overriding mental tension that has no apparent identifiable cause. Fear, on the other hand, causes mental tension due to a specific, external reason, such as when you're startled by a loud explosion, or when a pit bulldog snarls and barks at you.
Often people confuse the two, or even refer to both fearful and anxious persons as merely 'stressed out.
Further, there is anxiety of a more passing kind and anxiety that is more chronic and becomes an actual disorder that interferes with normal functioning, such as the types described below.
We accept that it's helpful to make adjustments in how we talk to other persons. For example, with a hearing-impaired person, we may speak more loudly and slowly; with a child, we might adjust our language and use simple words; with a person who speaks little English, we may pronounce our words more carefully.
Similarly, it is appropriate that we make adjustments to our usual talk with seriously anxious persons.
Make observations, such as "You've turned down our dinner invitations for several months now. That's not like you. What's happening?"
Show your concern: "We've been friends a long time, and I think I know when something's not going right for you. I've been concerned about you."
Ask questions: "Everything going OK with you? You haven't seemed like yourself recently. Something troubling you?"
Be respectful. "You're a good person and a good friend. Whatever is happening with you, you'll get through it, and I'll be there for you."
Anxiety is often accompanied by a feeling of being alone. Therefore, making a feeling connection with anxious people can be very supportive and helpful.
1. Scold them: "1 think you're over-reacting."
2. Give chin-up advice: "Try not to worry."
3. Try to make it go away. "Lighten up; loosen up; just relax."
4. Ask the impossible: "Don't worry about it."
1. Be congruent with their feelings: "I sense that this is a hard time for you."
2. Offer assistance: "Tell me how I could be of help."
3. Be steady:"You can count on me; I'll be here for you."
4. Show respect:"I admire you for facing this issue."
5. Sometimes silence is best:"If you want to talk about it, I'll just listen."
We cannot talk a person out of something they haven't been talked into.
It is best to take persons as they are and relate to them gently while being fully present. When we act judgmentally, or when we try to quickly fix their anxiety as a problem to be solved, we may do more harm than good.
Reprinted from Conversation Pieces (see below)
Loren Ekroth ©2005.
Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life. His articles and programs strengthen critical communication skills for business and professional people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out a wealth of resources and archived articles at ConversationMatters.com, where you can also subscribe to Loren's e-zine, Conversation Pieces.
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