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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Crock-pot Italian Chicken for a Rainy, Rainy Day

The forecast has scattered thunderstorms for twelve days.  Some days it rains a wee bit and is sunny or party cloudy the rest of the day.  Some days it's just overcast and threatening rain.  Today is not that day.  It is POURING!  Today is the day to go back to bed.  Seriously.  Today I avoid doing all the things I should do ... which winds me up on Pinterest.  I find a picture of Italian Crock-pot Chicken.  Looks yummy and easy - but I don't have all the ingredients.  By that, I mean I don't have Cream of Chicken Soup or Dry Italian Dressing mix. I have chicken (frozen).

Enter Google.  Search on "Cream of Chicken Soup Substitute," and "Dry Italian Dressing Recipe."  I have tons of spices and plenty of staples in the house and was able to accomplish the recipe.  I mixed up some Dry Italian Dressing mix - which has lots of awesome spices in it and I'll keep that on hand for other cooking.  And Cream of Chicken Soup substitute is just butter, flour, milk, chicken stock.  

I dumped everything into the crock-pot   Let me be clear - I dumped it in.  I did not "mix up" the cream of chicken soup substitute over low heat on the stove.  That's an extra step and I'm praying I can skip that step.  I'm really hoping the crock-pot will do it's thing and everything will bubble together beautifully and create the texture and taste I'm hoping for by three o'clock today.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  Stay tuned!

The recipe:
  • 4-6 Chicken breasts
  • 1 packet Italian Seasoning (I used three tablespoons of my mixture)
  • 1 pkg cream cheese
  • 2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup (mine looks yummier already - no gloppy goo)
  • Serve over rice or pasta.  I bet this would be great over a baked potato, too!
  • I turned my crock-pot on high and will give it four hours.  The chicken is even frozen ... fingers crossed! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Responsibility Equals Restoration

Successfully winding up difficult conversations restores relationships.  Restoration is a gift refilling each party with renewal.  Accomplishing Restoration means seasoning your words with salt and love rather than blame and indignation.  However, it does call for positive involvement from all involved.   

Restoration requires you to accept responsibility for your own actions or inactions in any given situation.  It means knowing you were a jerk and not excusing your behavior away.  It means accepting you could've done things better or differently and taking the proper steps towards correction.  It also means letting others make necessary amends without making it more unseemly for them to do so.  It means hearing someone out or saying, “thank you” to an apology. 

If you’re blaming someone else for any given situation, restoration cannot happen.  Finding a scapegoat or reasoning away failure frustrates Restoration.  Your response, not reaction, leads towards healthy growing relationships.  In short:
Responsibility = Restoration; Blame = Frustration.  

Series Highlights

Monday, June 3, 2013

Doormat or Helpmate?

“Do you shoot first and ask questions later?” was how we began this series.  We've been exploring many ways to communicate well in the midst of confrontation.  The inspiration behind this series was this:  I ask you to do something.  You do not do it (for whatever reason, valid or not, it really doesn't matter).   Further discussion has occurred about the lack of action.  Agreement may or may not have been reached.  The lack of action results in a complication.

Do you shoot first?  Do you explode, “Look!  I asked you to do this and NOW look what’s happened?!!”  You can imagine the conversation that ensues.  Is there more to it?  Of course: feelings, interpretations, the way I see it vs. the way you see it.  But, it’s all expository.  The basic message remains: conflict happened.

Do you react or do you respond?  Do not react!  Respond thoughtfully.  Reacting is impulsive.  Take some time and cool off.  Go for a walk.  Leave it overnight.  PressPause.  There are very, very, very few things that must be handled NOW.  In the light of eternity, does this said offense really matter?   

We live in an instant messaging,
instant information, 
instant gratification world –
it’s time we get over ourselves.  

This is where Grace enters in.  Those who've been extended much grace have much grace to extend.  Meaning, those who've screwed up the most give others the most leeway (or they should).  

Are you a doormat by extending Grace?  By not saying why feelings are hurt are you allowing this to happen again?  Only you know the answer to that.  There isn't a logic flow chart for relationships that fits every scenario and mindset.  I would wager if you’re having the same negative experiences over and over again, it’s time to discuss it and make some changes.  Not all changes are fair for each party; and mostly they involve your changing your own behavior - yikes!

Was it a major conflict?  It depends on how it’s handled.  Period.  You could be talking about large sums of money and debt; a child’s safety; or not turning in your homework.  It’s all about how you have the conversation that follows.  Conflict requires “fixing” a problem.  It is possible to fix a problem without getting at the heart of the matter right away.  Let’s get the homework done, turned in, create a system empowering the student toward success.  You can do this without investigating the why behind the action (the heart of the matter).  You can create checks and balances for your child's safety to meet your needs without addressing why you are so concerned.  You can reallocate funds, borrow money, sell assets to build a stronger financial picture without discussion the why behind each answer that lead to the situation.  However ...

Restoring balance is foremost.  Having the emotional conversation behind the situation might best occur once the circumstance is stable.  As you talk, remember the basics of connection and listening.  

Successfully winding up difficult conversations can restore relationships, make them healthier and stronger for the long run.  We’ll talk about assigning blame/fault as we wrap up this series.  

Series Highlights

Friday, May 31, 2013

Part 5: Hiding Behind Your Computer

Have you ever received an email, a post, a tweet with a zinger?  Not necessarily something someone would say to you “in person,” but feel perfectly comfortable saying it virtually.  After speaking with various professionals spanning occupations, I've concluded this hiding is a virus sweeping the nation.  People feel empowered through their computer (look at this blog, for instance), and feel free to fire off unseemly correspondence without great contemplation.  Whereas if they had to stand toe-to-toe with a living, breathing human being, most of their words would not be uttered.  

I have a few firm rules when posting online or in using email: 
  1. If you need to see my face to truly appreciate my comment, don’t type it.  We discussed the importance of body language earlier in the series.  Tone of voice is another biggie.  People read tone into messages that are intended to have a completely different tone than the sender proposed.  I could forward you a message from a third party and ask you, “What do you think of this?”  You could read it as inflammatory, curious, or sarcastic.  I could forward you the same message and TELL you what I think of it and wonder what your thoughts are – this comes across slightly different.  It's all about tone.  I've already stated my position and am asking for your feedback.  Tone of voice and body language go a long way in communicating.  Don't forget it.
  2. If it’s confrontational in any sense, don’t type it.  If you need to file a complaint with a company, by all means, bone up on your vocabulary and sound professional.  If you have a beef with a neighbor, friend or colleague, by all means, state your position and go to them directly.  One on one!  “I really don’t like it when you leave your old coffee cups on my desk.”  Hey, your co-worker may be less than enthused with your comment, but they don’t have to wade through a tirade on desk clutter, bacteria, and the attributes of recycling.  Be forthright, direct, and kind and end the quiet seething you're doing.
  3. If it’s implying any sort of contrary behavior, don’t type it.  If you think someone is acting in a way that is contrary to what you believe is appropriate, tell them.  Or let them learn through natural consequences – it’s the best teacher, anyway.  Do you really think your explaining poor behavior in an email will somehow be less offensive than having the conversation?  Look at it from the outside in and think twice.
  4. If you wouldn't say it directly to the person the message is intended for, don’t type it.  Often taking the time to craft your message could be spent in dialogue ending the issue.  When you receive lengthy correspondence (often condemning), the absolute BEST response to this is no response at all.  Why bother?  They don’t really want your reply.  They want you to apologize for some unforgivable sin and promise to never, ever do it again – all the while praising them for glorious insight and saving the world.  Okay, that may be a bit dramatic – but I’m right, and we both know it.  Also, know full well when someone goes ahead and does whatever the said unforgivable offense is anyway, that if you've sent that long message, you've gone a long way toward alienating them versus finding a workable solution.  
  5. If it’s longer than five sentences, just pick up the phone.  How many of you have even made it to the end of this article?  In a Twitter world, I need a soundbite not a diatribe.  Unfortunate, but true.  If it’s too long we don’t read it.  We scan, we pick out highlighted, bold, important words/phrases.  When it’s longer than five sentences (I cut myself off at three .... and a bulleted list is even better), so much gets lost in translation and you wind up with more questions than answers.  Maybe you need the obligatory email, “sounds like we should talk.  I have time this evening.  Schedule it and avoid phone tag.  Usually, the actual conversation is much better than how you've built it up in your mind.

Remember, people don’t really 
want conflict –
they desire resolution.  

Conversations go much better than email rants.  Is having the conversation hard?  Maybe.  So’s life.  So put on your big girl panties and develop a new skill!

I said it before and it bears repeating: in all correspondence and conversation, assume the best until proven otherwise.  Begin with the end in mind.  Be truthful, kind, and gentle.  Both parties should leave the conversation better for having the discussion.

Series Highlights

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Part 4: Listening Well Helps Get Your Message Across

Has someone said to you, "Thank you so much! You've been a big help," when you said next to nothing during the conversation?  Most of us have experienced this phenomenon.  It's the art of listening well.  Sometimes it happens because you can't get a word in edgewise.  Sometimes you realize in the midst of the other person talking, this conversation isn't about you and your offering to it, but to listen and let the other person tell their story and become unburdened.  Either way, listening well is a developed skill that will serve you well as you move through life.

What if I told you, by listening well, your children would never tell you, "You don't understand!" or "You never listen to me!" When I learned this to be the case, I grabbed hold with both ears and started living this out from inside my home outward.  There are two mother/child listening exchanges at the bottom of this post that use the techniques outlined below.

We've talked about Reflective Listening.  This is where you repeat back exactly what has been said to you.  You don't paraphrase, you use the exact same words.  This is especially important in the youngest of children and the most heated of exchanges.  Using the exact same language lets the other person know they have been heard.  I know, you're thinking it's great they feel heard, but I haven't gotten in my two cents, yet.  Hang tight, your time will come.  

When someone feels heard they feel better.  They feel as though you understand - whether or not you wind up in agreement is another matter entirely. Once your conversation partner(s) feel heard and can relax that they've gotten their point across, you can do the same.  Seize the moment!  "I completely understand where you're coming from.  Let me explain my perspective so we fully understand one another."  It would be rude for them to say no.  Not that that would stop anyone, but mostly, you'll get to have your say.

Making the Most of Reflective Listening

Use Their Words.  When it's time to make your point - use their words.  Are there "guidelines" being referenced? Is it a "special circumstance?"  Use their words in your reply and they'll make the connection.  

Don't Rush.  Don't rush your thoughts into words!  Speak thoughtfully and hold up your hand as a non-verbal cue to let the other person know you're not done talking and they shouldn't interrupt.  When you hold up your hand, do it like you're saying "one minute."  Don't shove your hand out in front between you both.  Be sensitive, but firm.  Don't be afraid to say, "I listened fully to you, I'd like for you to do the same."  It's at this point you'll be able to assess whether or not they are invested in conversation that will take you to the next level or if they are solely interested in winning you over to their perspective.  Are they willing to concede they see your point of view?  This doesn't mean they agree with you, but that they understand.  This is a very mature stance to take and not everyone has the ability to do it.

More on Listening Well
The best way to listen is to NOT TALK.  Close your mouth.  Shut up.  Nod in agreement to keep them talking.  Remember, the more you hear, the more you understand - so that your message can be fully grasped when you guide them through it by way of their talking and their own words.  

Remain Focused
Do not think on your response.  Do not wait for your turn to talk.  When you do this, you stop listening.  How do you remain focused?  Two things to listen for:  connections and curiosity.  Listen for connections not so you can share your story, but so you can remember the conversation better.  Curiosity - listen for what you don't know so you can ask good questions.  Questions are the absolute best way to keep someone talking and learn even more.  When you listen well, you'll have fodder for specific questions - but you'll also be able to ask more probing questions: how did you figure that out? what did you learn from it?  would you do it again? would you recommend it? how could you know if that were about to happen again? how could you avoid it in the future? 

Five Levels Of Intimacy
If listening well means keeping your mouth shut and using reflective listening, what occurs from it?  Intimacy.  You won't necessarily achieve this with colleagues or neighbors (although you could), but you can easily foster this connection in close friendships and family.  If you interrupt, if you start talking and challenge any part of the exchange, you won't get to heart of the issue.  

  • Level 1: Safe Communication.  Grocery line chit-chat.  "This is great pizza."  "Thank goodness it's Friday."  "Can you believe all this rain we're having?"  
  • Level 2: Others' Opinions/Beliefs.  "Mom always said ...."  "My first boss used to say ...."  This is where you share someone else's statement, but can easily abandon it if challenged.
  • Level 3: Personal Opinions/Beliefs. We begin to offer small truths, but like Level 2, can back-peddle and say we've changed our minds if we wind up feeling too vulnerable. "Seinfeld is hilarious."  
  • Level 4: My Own Feelings/Experiences.  This is a risk and you cannot change your feelings or experiences. We are vulnerable.  If challenged, the only thing we can do is convince others these events no longer impact us.  "I felt like I wasn't good enough when my parents split up."
  • Level 5: My Own Needs/Emotions/Desires.  This is it.  There is no escape from this level.  And our greatest fear is that someone will use this information against us.  That we aren't worthy.  "I'm hurt when you don't call." 

Real Life Listening Well Examples

Mom holding a toddler at the mall.  Toddler sees a fountain far away.  Toddler reaches his hand outward toward the fountain, opens his palm and says, "Water down there," then closes his hand into a fist.  Mom says, "There's a fountain!  I see the fountain!"
Toddler repeats with the same hand motions, "Water down there."
Mom responds, "Do you want to see the fountain?"
Toddler repeats with the same hand motions, "Water down there."
Mom says, "Do you want to see the water and the fountain?"
Toddler repeats with the same hand motions, "Water down there."
Mom says, "Water down there."
Toddler puts arms down and relaxes into Mom's shoulder.  

Mom and Uncle Pat are getting ready to head home with the kids from Grandma's house who lives closeby.  There is a playground around the corner.  Ten year old son comes up to Mom and asks, "Can we go play at the playground?"  Mom replies, "We're just about to leave."
Boy says, "I want to go to the playground."
Mom says, "We really don't have time."
Boy says, "I want to go to the playground."
Mom finally says, "You want to go to the playground."*
Boy says, "Yes."
Mom says, "Can we go to the playground the next time we're at Grandma's?"**
Boy says, "Yes," and runs off.
Uncle Pat says, "What just happened?"  Mom explains reflective listening.  
*Reflective Listening employed
** Uses his words and seizes moment to get her own point across

Husband comes home from work and says, "I don't want to go on vacation this summer."  (L1) Wife is thinking about the beach vacation they always have.  Instead of asking "why," she responds with reflective listening.
"You don't want to go on vacation this summer?"
"No, I'm not sure I'll have enough vacation time," says husband. (L2)
"Oh, you're not sure about how much vacation time you'll have. Hmmmm," she replies nodding.
"Well, we're moving contracts and the positions are all up in the air," he says. (L3)
"Huh.  The positions are all up in the air because the contract is moving," nodding the whole way through.
"Yeah, I'm not sure I'll have a job come summertime."  (L4)
"Oh.  You're not sure about your job by the time summer gets here" she replies.
"I may not have a job or money for us," he says.  (L5)
Encouragement follows.

The exchange between the husband and wife could NOT take place if the wife cuts him off at any point.  It could also not take place if this were the first kind of intimate conversation they'd had.  This relationship has established intimacy where the husband feels safe going through each level.  Sometimes our spouse or someone very close to us will start with level one or two and jump emotionally to level five.  We need to fill in the blanks between 1 and 5 to uncover how they are linking thoughts and possible outcomes in order to listen well.

Read more about the five levels of intimacy.