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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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend 2013

In a world peppered with the three-day weekend, please take at least a moment to remember WHY and WHAT we celebrate this weekend.  It's not a barbecue or a trip to the beach.  It's to celebrate the vast sacrifices made by men and women through the course of our nation's history to provide the very freedom with usually take for granted every day.  Some spent time too much time away from family, whether at home or abroad.  Some gave the ultimate sacrifice.    

My son's school has WWII day in June where veterans from all over our area come in and share stories of their service experience.  The middle schoolers are old enough to really take advantage of this day.  They listen intently, ask questions, and it's a memorable experience for all involved.  Thank someone this weekend for their service to our country.  Lord knows, they deserve it!

Blog series continues on Wednesday on Listening Well.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Part 3: How to Connect So Your Message is Received

Connecting so your message received is really a two-part answer.  We'll address the first part today; the second part is listening well, which we'll tackle in the next segment.

Emails laced with undertones and between the lines commentary do not offer the reader an open line of communication.  Someone conversing with you being vague enough to not answer questions fully makes you wonder what else you don’t know.  No doubt you've experienced some of this. 

It’s tragically pathetic - people not valuing others enough to have candid conversations.  Yes, conversations!  A verbal exchange of ideas filled with awkward pauses, eye to eye contact, fumbling through sentences, and losing your train of thought.  It's perfectly acceptable to admit during a conversation, "I don't know," or "I'm really not comfortable talking about that right now."  Not everything is up for grabs during a conversation - but there's no need for secrecy, just discretion.  
Conversation is a lost art and must be revived.  It is not tawdry or reliant on sarcasm – it leaves both parties feeling better (not necessarily resolved) about any given topic.  
Be fully present.  Don’t think about what you’re going to say next, focus completely on what’s being said now.  Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood.  Beginning with a diatribe, written or oral, does not make your message more worthy.  If anything, it puts your listener on the defensive.  If you want discord, you’re on the right track.  If you desire open communication – thoughtful, shorter replies and insightful questions win you bonus points every single time.

Body language.  Mimic their stance - this isn't new.  If they are leaning in, lean in.  If they lean back, do likewise.  Shift your weight accordingly.  Your conversation partner may see what you’re doing, but it still puts them at ease.  Be aware when someone else has become uncomfortable or you've struck an unknowing chord (crossed arms, step backwards, looking away or at their watch).   
Consider for a moment, when you walk up to someone to speak with them, when you join a group already talking, as you approach all your communication that’s happening before you open your mouth, is non-verbal.  
Meaning the other person uses all five senses in the interaction: 83% sight, 11% hearing, 3% smell, 2% touch and 1% taste.  How does your approach come off?  Have you set the right tone before you've uttered a word?  Or have you shot yourself in the foot?  Do not underestimate the importance of non-verbal communication in connection.  Love stories have stood the test of time by romantics who didn't speak the same language!  So smile and nod the whole way through. 

Agree as much as possible.  Yes, it’s possible to agree with someone else’s perspective and still hold your own differing stance.  Yes, you can still be friendly and agree to disagree.  How boring the world would be if we all agreed on every point all the time.  I’m glad all the books written and movies produced don’t have the same storyline.  Variety is Godly!  

Having your message received 
does not equal getting what you want.  

Having your message received means knowing you've been heard and understood.  I can receive your message and disagree with it, but I've heard it and understand its importance to you.  The reverse is also true.  As you’re smiling and nodding along, speak truthfully, yet with gentleness and reverence.  

When you've been diligent enough to understand someone else, I don’t think it’s too much to ask the question, “Do you understand my point of view?”  It’s a yes/no question, not in need of a “but.”  “Yes, but …”  If you've heard them and they've heard you, it’s perfectly okay to disagree knowing you fully understand one another.  A better response is “I do see your point of view.  And I’m so glad you've taken the time to understand mine.”  

What about the last word?  Hmmmm … we all know someone who needs to have the last word in a conversation, be it verbally or electronically.  And if you don’t know who it is, it’s you!  Be comfortable in your own right.  Those in need of the last word, need the perceived power the last word holds.  Let them have it and excuse yourself gracefully thanking them for the time to talk.  Let your last words be gracious.

Series Highlights

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Part 2: Choosing the Right Time to Talk (Talking When There Isn't a Problem)

When we were engaged, our priest didn't write down our wedding in the church calendar.  I had started making arrangements for flowers, photographers and reception sites.  I had called the church to find out who else was getting marred that day to share the cost of flowers on the altar and the secretary thought I was another bride.  I was incensed!  I wanted to fire the priest!  
My father, with great wisdom said, “Don’t do anything now, you’ll be perceived as impetuous and emotionally irrational.  Wait and speak with him directly at your meeting next month and ask for someone new.”  
He was right!  In the meantime, I had the church properly scheduled and when it came time for the meeting, I came across much more forthright than extreme. 

My father’s life experience and proffered advice speaks to two issues: choosing the right time to talk and speaking directly with someone.  We will talk about "speaking directly" later in the series.  As said in Part One, expressing each emotion you have the moment you have it is less than ideal.  Taking time to assess your dilemma is a gift you must choose to take.  The right time to talk depends on several factors: who you’re connecting with, how volatile the situation, how much delay you’re considering, if time is really all that’s needed for resolution, and how you’ll be able to assess when your subject is in an optimal place to hear your message. 

For instance, when your husband comes home from work is probably not an ideal time to chat about the ever-growing honey-do list, how much couple-time you've been able to carve out, that he never scoops the dog doo, or that his socks never hit the hamper (but land right beside it).  When is the best time to connect with your man?  Think about it.  When is he in a good place mentally?  During or after dinner?  Laying in bed before you both drift off?  After the kids go to sleep?  Do you talk better about details on the phone?  

As a general rule, men connect best side-by-side engrossed in activity:  take a walk with him (side by side), watch SportsCenter with him (on the couch, side by side), shoot baskets with him, watch him tackle a task.  Find his center of “respect,” meet him there and find his sweet spot so you can make the most of your conversation.  And remember, this is a conversation – not a monologue.  There’s give and take.  You must listen well as much as you speak to make sure you've understood one another.  But, we’ll tackle listening another day.

Neighbors, other parents, and co-workers are trickier.  You may or may not know them well enough to find the sweet spot for connection.  Being forthright works best here.  “I’d like to chat with you about the parking situation at the bus stop.  What might work best for your schedule this week?”  Be specific about your topic and make certain your wording doesn't sound accusatory but curious - this gives them time to let the idea roll around in their head.  Pose a time-frame instead of “what’s good for you?” to garner better results for a completed conversation.  Lastly, and most importantly: 
Assume the absolute best intentions of others until proven otherwise - this will go a long way in before during and after your conversation.  
If you've heard something inflammatory, assume it’s been taken out of context or misunderstood in some way.  Next up in the series: HOW TO CONNECT TO MAKE SURE YOUR MESSAGE IS RECEIVED.

Series Highlights:
  • Press Pause
  • How to Connect So Your Message is Received
  • Listening Well Helps your Get Your Message Across
  • Hiding Behind Your Computer
  • Doormat or Helpmate?
  • Response, Wrapped in Love, Equals Restoration

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Part One: Press Pause

Do you shoot first and ask questions later? 
Reacting vs. Responding is dangerous. 

Start your training now: will this matter next week? in a month? next year? in the light of eternity does this make the cut? I can let go of a LOT of things "in the light of eternity." Training is a journey - this is a mindset shift; a perspective overhaul. Come along!

Seven Day Blog series begins today!

PART ONE: Press Pause

We get the most practice on Responding to a situation instead of Reacting to a situation with those we are closest with – our family!  Is the offense scream-worthy?  Are my feelings hurt?  Who has wounded me?  Is it a perceived injury or a real one?  Am I lashing out at someone close because I cannot or don’t want to lash out at the true offender?  A slew of questions can run through your mind – and they should.

Sally said to Harry not to "express every emotion you have the moment you have it."  Press Pause.  Don’t “stuff it” and not deal with it – but give yourself time for proper assessment.  Press Pause.  Years ago, my husband and I attended a marriage retreat which gave us time to connect over pieces of our lives that might trouble us when they weren’t troubling us.  Let me say that plainly: we talked about the problems when there wasn’t a problem.  

When there’s something truly bothering you, it’s going to bother you later that day, week, or month.  Often, the thing that bothers you is a symptom of a larger issue and doesn’t truly hit the heart of the matter.  
Blowing up over the situation (reacting), put simply, doesn’t help.  It often hurts, alienates, and creates a rift in relationships to mend.
When you choose to pause, to “hold onto” that emotion for later, you give yourself and those you love most, the gift of time (this does not mean to stew in discontent).  Time is a precious commodity.  Time offers you the chance to be curious about the situation, interrogate yourself, look at it from another perspective, resolve it internally without others' involvement, or formulate questions to gain better understanding. Time lets you calmly and rationally verbalize your emotions and feelings in a way that another will properly receive them.  

How do you choose the right time and make sure I'm heard?  Stay tuned for the rest of the series.

Series Highlights:

  • Choosing the Right Time to Talk
  • How to Connect So Your Message is Received
  • Listening Well Helps your Get Your Message Across
  • Hiding Behind Your Computer
  • Doormat or Helpmate?
  • Response, Wrapped in Love, Equals Restoration