McKay et al (2007) describe a number of habits, thought patterns and other factors that can get in the way of using new more effective interpersonal skills (p189-197).

Most prominent are ‘Old habits of the aggressive kind’ (p189-190). These include ploys such as blaming, belittling, threatening and guilt-tripping. 

Old habits of the passive kind include surrendering and shutting down or withdrawing.

McKay et al also provide an exercise called the Conflict Log. for observing our use of aggressive and passive strategies, and the consequences of these.

After completing the Conflict Log, the following questions can be used to raise awareness of these old habits:

  • What kind of needs or situations trigger your use of aggressive or passive strategies?
  • Which strategies do you rely on most frequently?
  • Are you getting what you want when you use aggressive or passive strategies?
  • What are the most frequent emotional consequences for using these strategies?

Other important Blocks to the use of interpersonal skills are:

  • Overwhelming emotion – When you are upset your best laid plans can go up in smoke. Be aware of the signs of anger and upset.
  • Failure to identify your needs – Interpersonal skills won’t do you much good if you don’t know what you want in a situation. Return to Knowing What You Want.
  • Fear – When you are afraid of something interpersonal skills often go out the window. If you are full of catastrophic ‘what ifs’ you can’t think clearly.

If we are aware of fear or other overwhelming emotions we may be able to choose to postpone encounters that will require the use of new skills, until we are calmer.