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Stepping into others shoes

Guest Blog: Doris Prügel-Bennett - stepping into another’s shoes

Gaining Interpersonal Skills Through Working with Psychodrama’s Creative Methods and the Alexander Technique.

From the time in the womb we are in relationship with others. We are in communication with each other on many levels. From early on we develop interpersonal skills, first non-verbally later through verbal communication. Verbal communication seems overrated in our present world. Many more facets help to have good interpersonal skills:

• The ability to discern what level of relationship we are engaged in. The skill to act coherently in a relationship depends on our ability to communicate with the right means in the right relationship. It seems trivial but to successfully interact, we need to be able to identify whether we are interacting with a child, adult, adolescent, friend, friend, sibling, acquaintance, neighbour, supervisor, client, patient, customer, manager, etc. Depending on the level of relationship we chose our themes of conversation, our vocabulary and tone, physical expression, etc. Often the levels are blurred and the conversation does not flow or even goes pear-shaped.

• The ability to listen. This sounds easy but is another complex task. We listen with all our senses. We always “listen” with our eyes, noses and tactile senses. We are putting our listening into context with the environment we are engaged in. For instance it will change to whether we are in a factory, in a studio or in a hospital room.

• Emotional literacy plays a big part in interpersonal skills. Are we able to be authentic with our emotions? Are we able to understand the other person’s emotional messages? Are our and/or the other person’s words congruent with our/their emotional messages we/they send? • Physical literacy: To be an effective communicate we engage our bodies. Again, it depends on the kind of relationship how we do this. Engaging with a baby is different to giving a political speech. The same understanding of congruence applies as with emotional literacy.

• Assuming that we do not know anything is a good starting point for engaging with somebody else. Often, personal assumptions and values override the messages that are given and received in an encounter and we “lose” the person we want to engage with.

• Social interaction requires time. All these aspects seem obvious. However, as most of us experience on a daily basis, interpersonal encounters can be hard work. We often are involved in shallow, including cross-purpose, conversations, that leave us dissatisfied because we have not achieved what we set out to do. Successful communication is meaningful and that requires a refined sense of self-reflectivity and an appreciation of the complexity of the moment of social interaction.

At Southampton Solent University I work with level 6 students of the Performing Arts degree. As a teacher of the Alexander Technique and a Psychodramatist, I use physical and creative action methods to facilitate the learning of those skills. In any role, in professional or private situations, we are embedded in relationships. The ability to self-reflect and step into the other’s shoes is essential if we are to succeed in meaningful interpersonal interaction.

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Doris Prügel-Bennett (UKCP, MSTAT) Associate, Lecturer Southampton Solent University, Faculty of Creative Industries and Society

Southampton Solent University is a partner in the VIVID project

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