Attack Transformation and Coaching


  • Gain skill at transforming your own attacks into more productive communication
  • Gain skill at coaching another person to transform their attacks into more productive communication

Estimated time: 30–60 minutes

In this exercise you’ll take turns with a partner, so each of you gets to practice transforming your own attack while the other practices coaching. Before you start, review the strategy in the “Intervention Skill” section of Chapter 8. Then decide who will transform their attack first.

Whoever goes first, think of an upsetting situation in which you might feel tempted to verbally attack someone. Describe the situation to your partner, who will coach you through the three parts of the strategy (recognize, strategize, and verbalize), followed by a role-play and debriefing.

1. Recognize: Identify your feelings, state them clearly, and rate their level of intensity.
(Coach: Listen, with empathy. If necessary, point out feeling look-alikes, such as betrayed or abandoned, and gently probe for the true underlying emotional states.)

2. Strategize: Identify a goal for what you want to have happen with the person you feel like attacking.
(Coach: Check to be sure that the goal is productive, and encourage your partner to come up with the most productive goal.)

3. Verbalize: Practice clearly stating the feelings, facts, proposals, or questions you would like to communicate to the other person. Continue practicing until you’re certain your message is free of blame, outrage, and other negative overtones. Then identify a good place and time to talk with the person.
(Coach: Check to be sure that the way your partner is communicating is not likely to cause additional problems. For example, point out any hostility or blame that is still leaking out.)

4. Role-play: With your coach taking on the role of the person you’re upset with, role-play the conversation you prepared for. Keep practicing until you’re satisfied with the outcome.

5. Debrief: Talk together about how this exercise went. What do you think worked well, and what didn’t work well? What did you find helpful or not helpful in what the other person did? What could either of you change in order to use this strategy more effectively in the future?

Repeat this exercise as many times as you’d like, over several days or weeks. Keep switching roles, so you get opportunities both to use the strategy for your own attacks and to practice coaching.

When you feel fully comfortable working on your own attacks and coaching someone else through their attacks, you can move beyond role-playing to 1) talking directly to a person you’re upset with, and 2) coaching in a non-practice situation. Use caution before trying your coaching skills with someone new. Wait until you’ve had multiple successes as a coach in this exercise, and review the sidebar entitled “To Coach or Not to Coach” in the “Intervention Skill” section of Chapter 8.

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