Emotional Assertiveness: The Happiness Equation – with John Parr [Podcast]

Posted on June 12, 2024 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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Of all the guests I’ve had on my show, this one might be the one I’ve known the longest. John Parr has been a dear friend, colleague, thought partner, and sounding board for me for nearly 20 years. We met through through the Process Communication Model community, and are both Certifying Master Trainers in PCM. John has guided me in many situations over the years, both intellectually and emotionally. He’s a deep, caring, and genuine person and a true friend.

In this episode, I learn about John’s Emotional Assertiveness Model, outlined in his book, Fore-play, Fair-play, and Foul-play: Emotional Assertiveness, the Happiness Equation

Enjoy the video, audio, and transcript. If you like what you hear on The Compassionate Accountability Podcast, will you please like, share, and review on your favorite platform?

What’s In This Episode

  • How John’s childhood and experience in the Navy formed his philosophy.
  • What is emotional assertiveness and why is it important?
  • What’s the difference between EQ and EI?
  • What gets in the way of emotional assertiveness?
  • Overview of John’s book, Fore-play, Fair-play & Foul-play.
  • What does emotional assertiveness look like in action?
  • Overview of John’s books, trainings, and certification offerings.

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Nate Regier: Hello, I’m Nate Regier, your host for the Compassionate Accountability® Podcast. I’m the founder and CEO of Next Element, a global consulting and training firm, helping organizations transform their cultures with Compassionate Accountability. I’m the author of four books about compassion at work, including my new book, Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results. Thank you for joining me and I hope you’ll implement the tips and tools featured in this show. If you benefit from my podcast, please subscribe, rate, and review to help us reach more listeners. Also, be sure to visit our website at next-element.com, where you can learn more about the work we do as well as find all of our previous podcast episodes.

Of all the guests I’ve had on my show, this one might be the one I’ve known the longest. John Parr has been a dear friend, colleague, a thought partner, and a sounding board for nearly 20 years. We met through the Process Communication Model® community, and we’re both certifying master trainers in PCM. John has provided guidance for me in many situations over the years, both intellectually and emotionally. He’s a deep, caring, genuine person and a true friend.

Professionally, John has quite a resume. He served in the Royal Navy as an electronics engineer, has managed a substance abuse recovery center, has been a therapist, a corporate consultant, an executive coach, and a professional trainer. His customers include Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Agilent Technologies, Alcatel-Lucent, Coca-Cola, and Orange Digital. He’s recognized for his work in the field of communication skills and emotional assertiveness. He’s an author of books on these topics and the creator of the Emotional Assertiveness Model, a practical framework anyone can learn to authentically express emotions and build relationships.

When I read John’s book about his model, I immediately saw connections to Compassionate Accountability. Emotional assertiveness builds connection and gets results. I’m delighted to share some of this with you today.

Great. So John, welcome to the Compassionate Accountability Podcast. It is so great to have you here.

John Parr: Thank you, Nate. It’s good to be with you.

Nate Regier: Wonderful for you to join us from your home in the UK, and your life is full of so many amazing experiences and stories and chapters. I know some of them and I’ve gotten to enjoy some of your incredible stories, but for my listeners, would you be willing to give us a brief overview of maybe some of the foundational influence that have shaped your view on life?

John Parr: Wow, that’s a huge question. What has shaped my life? I guess probably my time in the Navy was the beginning of shaping my life. I grew up in an odd family. My mother wasn’t married when I was born. I lived with my grandmother and my grandfather, my mother, my uncle, a huge group of people living in what I now know was a tiny house. So had a limited experience of the world from my little nest. And then I joined the Navy in 1962 and began to experience what the world was really like finding contact with other people. So that’s probably one of the biggest influences on my life. The next one was while I was in the Navy becoming a Christian. So I actually had a religious experience in there too.

Nate Regier: Wow. That was before you started getting into the area of coaching, consulting, mental health. I understand that you ran a substance abuse prevention and treatment center.

John Parr: Yeah, that’s when I came out of the Navy. I bought myself out of the Navy and lived in a residential treatment center for three years, managed the place, did the counseling, did everything for three years with no training whatsoever other than the training that I’d had dealing with all kinds of people in the Navy.

Nate Regier: And you have for so many years, been interested, a student of communication, of healthy emotional intelligence, you have a background in transactional analysis, you have background in psychology. I’m curious how you started getting interested in the power of effective communication and interpersonal skills.

John Parr: Yeah, that’s another interesting question, Nate, because I think that it’s to do with nature and nurture. I think that I was born being the kind of person that likes people. My grandmother particularly was a very warm and caring person, and taught me a lot about the importance of having good relationships, but good boundaries. I remember one of her early expressions that I still use was good fences make for good neighbors. And then I think through the work that I did in the rehab center and then studying to become a psychotherapist, I think all of those things, it was like a winding path, but everything was pointing in roughly the same direction. So it was nature and nurture blended together, I think.

Nate Regier: Well, nature and nurture brought us together because we crossed paths because of our mutual involvement in the Process Communication Model. Which for those who don’t know, it’s a behavioral model of communicating and being able to adapt how we connect and motivate and resolve conflict with people. So when I met you, you were a student of effective human communication, and I’ve always experienced that with you. And appreciate your mentorship, your example. So emotional assertiveness is your thing. It’s the thing that you have really become passionate about. You’ve researched, you’ve written books on it, and we’re going to dive into that today. So will you tell us what is emotional assertiveness and why do you believe it is so important?

John Parr: Well, I think it’s important because first of all, being assertive to me is the bedrock of having healthy relationships. Assertiveness is a skill and it’s a skill that can be learned and taught. I think in childhood, many of us are taught how not to be assertive, actually. We’re taught how to be manipulative. But assertiveness in itself is a skill. I learned, I think in the early 90s when I was beginning to be a psychotherapist, I learned the importance of joining up our thinking and our emotions. How the emotions are a very important part of information about what’s going on within the context of relationship. And I began to work with that with my clients, finding ways to help people who either got blocked in their thinking or blocked in their emotions, to release the power of joining both together, problem solve.

And then I read Goleman, I think about 1994, 95. I liked Goleman’s book, his first book about emotional intelligence, but was disappointed that he never said anything about how to be. And I thought, well, I know how to be because I’ve been developing this, and decided to study some more on it and write a master’s thesis. So that’s where it all began. And so for me, the ability to be in touch with my emotions, to know what I’m feeling, to know what my feelings are telling me, and to be in touch with what other people are sharing about their feelings, joining together is how we get healthy relationships. That’s where it was all born and where it came from.

Nate Regier: Wow. So you brought up-

John Parr: Did I answer your question, Nate?

Nate Regier: No, that’s wonderful. Thank you. And you brought up emotional intelligence. Goleman made that popular, it’s been a big theme. How does emotional assertiveness and emotional intelligence relate? Will you compare those for us?

John Parr: Well, for me, emotional intelligence is a measurement of how capable we are to be in touch with our emotions, so to have self-awareness, but also to self-manage, and to be aware of other people and to be able to manage the interpersonal relationship. So it’s like IQ. EQ is just another measurement of our capacity to do it. Emotional assertiveness is what I used to call applied emotional intelligence. So my early name for the model was applied emotional intelligence because I saw it as being taking our emotional intelligence and putting it into use, to actually applying it.

Nate Regier: That must be another area where you and I see eye to eye. We appreciate application, we appreciate real behaviors and making things real and practical and useful for people out there, and translating the research into things that we can use. And that’s one of the great things about your work and your model is that practical applied work. So before we get into your book and some of the actual structure and practices, what is it that gets in the way of human beings being emotionally assertive?

John Parr: Well, I think it’s actually mostly learned behaviors. Learning how to socialize from within families who haven’t actually learned how to socialize. So there’s a lovely poem that I often tell on my seminars by a guy called Philip Larkin. He’s got some bad words in it, but I’ll tell it to you.

Nate Regier: That’s wonderful. You were in the Navy, right?

John Parr: I was in the Navy, yes. Bad words are us. So Larkin wrote, “They fuck you up, your mom and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They give you all the faults they had and add some extra just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn by fools in old style hats and coats, who half the time were soppy stern, and half at one another’s throats. Man, hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as quickly as you can and don’t have any kids yourself.”

And that poem by Philip Larkin I think is really interesting. It answers your questions like we’re fucked up by the fucking up of the history of our whole families that comes down through our great-grandparents, our grandparents, our parents to us. And we have choices. And I think that where it goes wrong in the poem for me is he gets the idea, first and second verse are brilliant. And then the third verse, he sounds like he doesn’t understand that you can do something about that. That you can change the ending rather than have a bad ending. Larkin died age 63 with no children. So if you listen to that poem, you’ll hear his life script. It’s like, “Get out as quickly as you can and don’t have any kids yourself.” So that for me is where it comes from. We learn how not to be.

Nate Regier: We’re here with John Parr who has an incredible history of learning, studying, appreciating the interactions between humans that build healthy relationships. Emotional assertiveness is his model. It was applied emotional intelligence, now emotional assertiveness. And the hope that we just heard in your poem and also your sharing is that we don’t have to repeat the same things that we learned. We can make different choices. We can get off that shelf and learn different ways. So we’re going to learn about emotional assertiveness.

And I would love to share with people the title of your book on emotional assertiveness. I just love the title. It’s called Foreplay, Fair Play and Foul Play. What incredible three phrases. And what a provocative title. And I’m guessing, John, that this has something to do with the different ways that humans can use or express emotions in different ways. Is that accurate?

John Parr: Yes. Yeah.

Nate Regier: Will you explain these three things?

John Parr: Yeah. Well, I looked at relationships in terms of stages of relationships. The first thing is we meet someone like you and I met many years ago now in Taibi’s house I think was the first time that we met. And we stayed together for a while in a house with Rob, our friend, and we got to know one another. And we did that through playing together, through talking together, through just chatting and discussing things. For me, that’s foreplay. Foreplay is where we start to feel the relationship area. We come into contact with one another and we begin to explore how can we get along with these people?

When we’ve begun to get along with people and we’ve built a relationship, relationships depend on fair play. It’s that I’m okay, you’re okay, from the TA concept. It’s the win-win. It’s respect. It’s dealing with one another in a healthy and open way so that we can accept each other as who we are. I am me, and I begin to allow you to see what’s going on inside of me, who I am. You allow me to see who you are, and we negotiate our relationship and build a deeper and stronger attachment bond. So that’s what the fair play is about. We maintain and keep our relationships when we operate from a position of fair play.

Nate Regier: It seems like that’s also where maybe we establish what are our rules of engagement that make this work?

John Parr: Yeah. Yep.

Nate Regier: Yeah, okay.

John Parr: Fair play is where we begin to really experiment with where the boundaries are, but not only where they are, how we can approach one another and reshape.  How we can sometimes cross each other’s boundaries in a healthy way. Rather than invasive, we can actually learn to draw closer together and become more and more intimate. That to me is all about exploration and being willing to take risks to be vulnerable together.

Nate Regier: Foul play doesn’t sound like a place where people want to be vulnerable together.

John Parr: No, fair play goes badly wrong when it begins to become foul play. Foul play is when we take a position of being one up or one down on the other person, or treat both of us as though we’re one down. So I’m okay, you’re not okay. I’m not okay, you are okay. Or nobody around here is okay. And that for me is the stuff of foul play. We do things that really break the healthy relationship rules. So we show disrespect, disregard, we’re unkind, we don’t have compassion, we don’t have empathy. We seek either to win or to lose, but somehow or other it leaves nasty tastes in the math. And it’s a destroyer of relationship.

Nate Regier: What I appreciate about this part of your book, well your whole book is you give such real relatable examples. You don’t just talk about the theory, but you say, here’s what it sounds like. And you show us what people say to each other, the behaviors that they do, and it’s very relatable. And I also appreciate the way you use stories from your own life, and you’ve been in a lot of different kinds of relationships throughout your life. Your family is such an important part of learning, of experimenting, of living these things. And so I’d like to give my listeners a little bit about what might they expect. Will you tell us a little bit about what’s in your book and what’s the journey you want people to go on with you?

John Parr: Well, the book itself is actually the core of the first seminar. So if you read the book, you pretty much see what’s in the seminar. We look at why we have emotions in the first place. So I think a lot of people don’t really understand what emotions are about or even what emotions are. So I spend a bit of time breaking the ground, looking at very simple explanations of where emotions come from, how they occur in us, how we experience them in our body. The difference between, for example, a feeling and an emotion. Because we talk about feelings and emotions if they’re same, and actually they’re linked, but they’re not identically the same. So we talk a bit about those sorts of things, the background to the story.

We talk a bit about child development, about what goes on in childhood and families. How we learn to be fucked up by our mums and dads, to fuck ourselves up, who are mum and dad’s teachers. And how that works in terms of then us developing psychological defense mechanisms, and how those defense mechanisms, when they contain defective beliefs, get in the way of relationship. The book talks about recognizing the difference between the real me and the false me. The me that I present to the world that I want everybody to see because of the way that I’m told by society and all that other stuff, how I’m supposed to be. And yet what’s really going on inside me at a deeper level that I often don’t want anyone to know about because I’m a bit afraid what they might think when they see it. So I talk about that and how that relates to intimacy.

And then I explain the model. And the model itself is pretty much about refining emotions down to four basic emotions. I know that the theorists will say that there are emotions up to as many as hundreds. Some people build huge charts of emotions that go on and on and on. My model says, actually, there’s only four you’ve got to worry about. And those four are the bedrock of everything else. It’s a bit like a color chart. You start with three basic colors, you build all the other colors from them. You have four emotions, you build all the other emotions from them.

And that each one of those, the simple emotions, they tell us something very specific about what has gone on in the relationship environment. So what has happened that has disturbed my peace? When I’m at peace, I’m happy. And so that one of the core hypotheses that I came up with, which to me was very important, years and years ago, I said, happiness is our homeostatic emotion. We are designed to be happy, but happiness is not like whoopty do. Happiness is calm, relaxed, content, satisfied. That is happy. And that is our core homeostatic emotion. We start from there. But then when things happen that disturb the conditions that I need to be happy, we feel either angry, afraid, or sad. So we have those three that give us the nuances now of what happened and what do I need to do? What problem do I need to solve in the context of relationship to get back to being happy?

Nate Regier: So emotional assertiveness is about putting into practice our awareness of our emotions and what we do about that. And we are, our natural state is happiness. And there are three other emotions that give us information that maybe we’re getting out of bounds, a little knocked off track, maybe there’s a gap. And then you have a framework for how do we talk to each other, and how do we communicate to be able to regain that homeostasis?

John Parr: Yes.

Nate Regier: Wonderful. Wonderful. Would you be willing to walk us through maybe an example of what this would sound like? Emotional assertiveness in action.

John Parr: I was thinking while you were talking. I was thinking about the model itself and about, well, what am I feeling now? What emotion am I experiencing now or emotions? And I was thinking, I’m happy. I’m here talking to my friend, Nate. I love you, Nate. I’ve known you for a long time.

Nate Regier: Thank you.

John Parr: I love you as a human being. I value you at so many levels that I have connection with you. So yes, I’m happy. And then I thought, but actually if I step back a bit, I’m also aware I’m a little bit anxious. It’s am I going to give you what you want? Am I going to understand the questions, formulate answers that are useful and helpful? So there’s a little bit of anxiety that’s to do with threat. The threat that I might do something that is perceived as being not okay or not good enough or whatever.

Is that a big deal? No, it’s not. I know that the relationship is strong enough for you to be able to say to me, “John, didn’t like that answer. Would you give me it again or would you?” So it’s in this here and now I’m fully aware that I’m not 100% happy, and the little bit of anxiety is manageable and normal and healthy and is okay. So if you asked me, “What are you feeling, John?” I’d say, “I’m feeling happy.” Okay, that’s a here and now, what’s going on in my life at this moment.

Nate Regier: And you chose to disclose that other feeling. You chose to talk about it, to describe it, to explain it to me, and also take ownership over what you want to do about it. I’m guessing that there are some strategies in your book about, so how do we assert when we are feeling angry, anxious, afraid?

John Parr: Yes. I take each one of the emotions and look at them in terms of what I need to do to address the problem in an I’m okay, you’re okay way respectfully and healthily. So what I say in the book is that every move away from being happy actually takes us, first of all, through arousal. And I equate arousal with anger. I say that whenever we move away from being happy, we’re a bit angry. No, it’s not like the kind of anger where I take out my Colt .45 or my Smith & Wesson and aim it at you. That’s pretty angry. But every move away from happy goes through a little bit of anger, arousal. What do I need to do? I need to take that energy. Arousal is energy because it’s to do with adrenaline release. I need to focus that energy on problem solving.

So I say that you can’t be happy unless you know how to be angry. When you’re angry, you are driven towards the other person in a problem solving mode. Not driven towards them in an aggressive mode. It’s driven towards them to build a better relationship. So that’s what we do when we’re angry and what do I need? I have personal needs. I need to be heard. So how do I get heard? I tell you what I need, what is going on for me in a healthy, respectful way. And invite you to cooperate. I invite cooperation. I need to be aware when I tell you that I’m angry about something, that you’re probably going to not be happy about that. So you’re going to have arousal, you’re going to have adrenaline. You will move into anger. So I need to be aware of the fact that my anger will invite your anger, but we can both come together with our anger, with the declared intent to stay together and have a better relationship.

Nate Regier: Well, I’m feeling and sensing a lot of connection to the work that we do with Compassionate Accountability, where we are at the same time caring about our relationship, about our dignity, about our okayness, and we are talking about the hard stuff, and we are addressing behaviors and we’re working to problem solve a better future. And the thing I’m becoming more and more aware of with our clients lately, and I’m hearing you talk about it, is this process inevitably involves conflict, because we define conflict as simply a gap between what I want and what I’m experiencing. Which seems like a move away from homeostasis. And we have to take ownership over that gap and engage the conflict in a way that produces results.

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