Archive for the ‘Other Awareness’ Category

Is your communication obsolete?

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” –Robert Frost

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Do you know your communication style?

The DISC assessment, based upon the theory of psychologist William Marston, and developed into a behavioral management tool by Walter Clarke, measures our style of relating to others, which directly effects how we communicate.  Of the four styles, which do you lean toward as you communicate with others?

1-DOMINANCE.  These communicators provide direct answers and tend to be brief, and to the point.  They ask “what” questions instead of “why” or “how” and stress logical benefits using factual information. They can tend to be blunt and demanding at times, and may seem to lack empathy or basic social skills. You won’t find these folks spending too much time with chit chat.

2-INFLUENCE. Those who communicate with this interactive style are relaxed and sociable, and enjoy verbalizing their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.  They enjoy social activities and will bore quickly if you dive into the details. Their communication is inclusive and motivational.  They like the limelight, and will quickly shut down if others attempt to persuade or influence them.

3-STEADINESS. Those who communicate in this style are agreeable, cooperative, and value knowing their individual role within a team setting.  They show appreciation with their words and focus on the “how” and “why”.  They tend to enjoy sincerity and a friendly, approachable manner of speaking. They may have difficulty prioritizing their ideas as they can be people-pleasers, but respond well to clearly defined goals and objectives, and thrive when assured follow-up and support.

4-COMPLIANCE. These communicators value accuracy and like to skip the socializing piece. They thrive on the specifics: precise expectations and uniform standards.  They’ll provide you with the straight-up pros and cons, support their ideas with accurate data, and communicate in a systematic and focused manner. They may resist vague or general information and you may find them double-checking everything you say or do.

Knowing yourself and your inclinations are a good first step in improving your communication. And understanding the communication style of others can help you better work as a team player and support them in becoming their best self as you learn to communicate in a way that enables their natural tendencies. But though each of these four styles can be effective, they also can become obsolete — depending on your behaviors.

The question to ask is not which style do I utilize, but “How well does my style enable me to listen deeply and send clear, convincing messages to those I’m communicating with?”

Here are some indicators that your way of communicating may need some updating:

  • You talk more than you listen in conversations with colleagues or loved ones
  • You fail to hear what others say, even though you thought you were listening
  • You catch yourself interrupting often
  • You don’t connect well with others and struggle to establish rapport
  • You judge the ‘why’ behind what others say before finding out their true motivations
  • You rarely ask for others’ opinions or insights
  • You fail to make eye contact or give non-verbal feedback when someone else is talking
  • Threats and emotional outbursts are a mainstay of communicating for you
  • You sometimes lack tact and diplomacy
  • You can come across dogmatic when expressing your own ideas
  • You refuse to let others change your opinion — even if you realize they may be right
  • You ask very few questions in conversations

No matter your style of relating and communicating with others, these negative attributes are behaviors — and behaviors can be changed.

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” — Brian Tracy

If you find you’re at a place where your way of communicating needs some updating, try some of these on for size:

  • Learn what an open-ended question is, and start using them in every conversation
  • Become a good listener. Make eye contact, tune in to what is being said, and ask questions for clarification.
  • Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next so you can focus on the person who is talking
  • Use positive body language like smiling, uncrossed arms, and nodding where appropriate to welcome others’ ideas and input
  • Hold back your judgments if you don’t agree and seek to understand the why behind what they are saying
  • Practice speaking your words with clear enunciation and well-thought-out ideas if needed to ensure accurate delivery
  • Express gratitude and appreciation often; validate what the other person is saying
  • Match your emotions to the situation  and refrain from outbursts of negative expressions of feelings
  • Be patient when others speak and give them the time they need to express their thoughts.  Try not to finish their sentences or sum up their words before they are done speaking.
  • Fill in the blank: What is one additional behavior you can try this week to improve your communication skills?  ___________________________________________

Now get out there and practice, practice, practice!

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” –Jim Rohn

 

 

 

 

When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

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What is an open heart?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The Practice:

Put No One Out Of Your Heart.

Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, work group, holiday party list –or bed.

In painful or extreme situations, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever. Take care of yourself, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. You may need to put them out of your life. And you can see for yourself if you need to put them out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

Speaking the truth with love

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

A few years back I met a group of  loved ones honoring a deceased friend at a celebration of life gathering. There were old faces I hadn’t seen in years, and it was great to catch up, rehashing stories from college days, sharing about our kids, families, and travels. I found it delightful to engage in the rich, connecting conversations, and despite our sadness over the loss of our friend, joy abounded — except with one. She was not someone I ever knew well, but we shared many friendships and experiences. Within minutes of a conversation with her, she had turned off everyone unfortunate enough to be standing within earshot. Not only did she share a disapproving comment about our deceased friend’s children, she found fault with the food (lovingly prepared and donated by some kindhearted women in the local church area), and went on to share with us all how her personal eating and exercise regime is what made her look as good as she did.  Huh?! One by one, people made excuses to leave the conversation. I noticed she didn’t look any of us in the eye as she spoke, and didn’t pause to ask many questions. When one friend pointed out she was being a bit rude, she defended herself with, “I’m just being honest.”

Justifying hurtful words

How many times has someone used these four words to explain away their hurtful, negative, and damaging behavior, as if somehow honesty makes it OK?

I am not talking about telling lies to appease people, or about being dishonest to win friends. Being honest, up front, and speaking the truth are vital components of building trust with others, and trust is the foundation of meaningful relationships. Those that make a habit of telling untruths, whether about important or seemingly trivial matters, ruin their dependability and trustworthiness. Speaking with honesty is a very good thing. But how we speak our truth matters.

“The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard.” –Henry David Thoreau

You can’t have one without the other

Honesty and kindness go hand-in-hand, and those who don’t learn how to speak truth with kindness will most often go unheard. These are the people who come across as a little “rough around the edges”, and have an approach when tends to chill conversations. They may appear to be arrogant and unapproachable, and are often impatient, distant, and insensitive. Without even trying, they’re able to devalue others and are quick to jump to their own conclusions, eager to share their own opinions without consideration of the viewpoints of others. They often appear to be ‘too busy’ to slow down and really connect with others, and often struggle with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

Does this sound like someone you’d want to work for, or hire, or work alongside on a team? Those who haven’t learned the art of  building bonds are not the most enjoyable to be around, and often not someone we even want to connect with. The absence of people skills can leave them isolated and lacking in the friendship department. They may think others respect them where often it’s just that others avoid them. Though they may pride themselves in “speaking the truth”, this inability to connect with others can limit their success.

“Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.” — Ancient proverb

What is kindness?

On the other hand, kindness can be translated as interpersonal effectiveness. It’s a competency of emotional intelligence that can be developed, and is a strong determinant of the quality of our relationships. It’s the ability to make others feel comfortable and put them at ease. People who are good at this are able to show compassion and empathy to build rapport…while they speak the truth.

How do they do this?

For one thing, they have a good understanding of how the social world works by tuning in to those around them. They’ve taken the time to understand and in turn, respect, differing cultural, religious, political, and socioeconomic belief system, even if it is not how they personally believe. They have learned to listen intently, reading body language as much as the verbal words they’re hearing, reflecting back for understanding, and use their words to build others up rather than tear down. They take a genuine interest in others and strive to understand who the other person is and why they do the things they do. They exercise solid conflict management skills and are able to diffuse high-tension situations with ease by being supportive and encouraging when they encounter strife. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share about themselves, because they’re being intentional about living a life that is above-board and honorable.

Developing good people skills

If you find that more often than not your truth lacks kindness, take heart. We’re talking about behavior, and behavior can be changed. Here are 7 tips to improve your interpersonal skills so that your truth spoken can be heard.

  1. Just put on a happy face. Seems simple, but recent studies show that those who express a genuine smile are able to connect better with others. Researcher Kostandin Kushlev says, ““Smiling is a really powerful social lubricant. When somebody smiles at you, that indicates approachability,”((https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563218304643) )  The positive energy a pleasant demeanor creates, not only in yourself, but others, can do a lot in building rapport.
  2. Make eye contact and speak their name. Have you ever left a conversation realizing you never even looked the other person in the eyes? Or have you asked someone their name only to forget it immediately? This is a fairly simple place to start, but looking at others in the eyes and using their name goes a long way in building rapport. Dale Carnegie said, “There is nothing more pleasant to a man than the sound of his own name.” No good at names? Stop making excuses and get good at it, because it is important. Using name associations and/or jotting down someone’s name when you meet them can help.
  3. Say thanks. Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude, found that expressing gratitude does several things to improve social relations. It enables us to become more helpful and generous and leads us to forgive others of wrongs. Gratitude can even help us feel less lonely and isolated by prompting us to be more outgoing. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good)
  4. Show you care.  Learning to tune into the whys behind what others think can help you understand what drives their actions. Become other-oriented. How? Ask them questions about the details of their day-to-day lives — inquire about their commute, their kids, and what they did over the weekend. Learn their dog’s name. Discover their hopes and dreams. People love to be asked about themselves (and talk about themselves!) so ask open-ended questions to draw them out. And in doing so, resist the temptation to turn the conversation back to you. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” — Steven R. Covey
  5. Be amiable and affable. People respond to a pleasant, friendly demeanor much better than when they feel criticized or judged. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, or agree with them, there’s no need to be demeaning or rude.
  6. Learn to fight fairly. No one enjoys conflict, but sweeping it under the rug or becoming combative and/or defensive doesn’t do much to fix the situation. Attempt to listen to the other side of the story and let your goal be a win-win solution vs. getting your own way. There is an old proverb that encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. If there’s someone you are at odds with, do your best to resolve the conflict sooner than later. Ignoring the issues at hand only encourages us to stew, ruminate, and plant a seed of bitterness.
  7. Lend a helping hand. Developing a servant-leader mindset can go a long way in developing strong relationships. If there’s someone you’re not getting along with, try laying your own hurt feelings aside and think of something kind you could do for them. Maybe it’s offering an encouraging word, or a sincere compliment, taking them out for coffee, or extending your help on a project.  As Arthur Ciaramicoli says in his book, The Stress Solution, “Doing good induces others to reciprocate.”

We all want to be heard, and learning to speak our truth with kindness can go a long way in enhancing our connections with others. As with any new habit, it takes hard work, and time, and consistency to  achieve results. But it’s worth the effort, as your success depends upon it.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James

 

 

A better way to fight

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m bad at fighting.

Most of my life I’ve been a conflict-avoider, sweeping potential disagreements under the proverbial rug. But these days I seem to face contentions head-on, boxing gloves poised and ready. This is good, for the most part–running from conflict rarely solves anything. However, now that I’m not afraid to take on the hard conversations and can bring up the minors before they become majors,  I realize I could use some fighting skills. It seems I’m doing it all wrong — taking things personally, bringing up past issues that have nothing to do with the present, throwing in hurtful digs, albeit slight and ‘hidden’ (but not really). I shut down after I speak my peace and am closed-minded and judgmental when the other person expresses their side of things, wounding my dissentient and getting my own feelings hurt in the process.

So I write this article for me. And for any of you who struggle when it comes to conflict resolve.

We’ve developed bad habits

Of course, we don’t make fighting a goal. In a perfect world, we’d tune into our emotions well before conflict arises and use these wise old friends to guide us as we manage our behavior, thwarting tensions before they erupt into battles. But then again, we’re human, imperfect and immature and insensitive at times, so it’s highly likely disagreements will evolve into fights. Most of us have picked up some poor habits, as early as childhood, and haven’t learned there is a better way.

But before we look into acquiring some new fighting skills, let’s determine first if your conflict management needs some work. Here are some things you don’t want to choose to do when troubles arise:

  • Fail to listen to the other person’s point of view with an open mind
  • Instead of seeking to find common ground, fight for your own way or ideas
  • Do most of the talking in disagreements
  • Feel extremely uncomfortable when conflict arises
  • Don’t use tact when voicing your concerns, rather, you demean the other person and/or their ideas and/or use crass language to prove your point
  • Say things like “always”, “never”, and “everyone thinks this way…” (as if you know how everyone else in the world thinks or does things)
  • Bring up the past to prove your point of “Here we go again…”
  • Use put downs and demeaning words, saying things you know you’ll regret later
  • View the other person as an adversary or foe because they don’t agree with you
  • Think things like, “If only they would change, this could be resolved.”
  • Quit and run away before the conflict is resolved
  • Use dishonesty to put an end to the conflict rather than being authentic with your feelings
  • View yourself as more superior, smarter, or ‘a better person’ because of how the other person is feeling/acting

Which of these best describes your boxing tactics?

It starts with Self-Awareness

Whether you choose one or all of the above when conflict hits, learning a new way of fighting can take some work. As with any behavior, we can make shifts in a new direction, but it’s not always easy. But devoting effort to the development of conflict resolve skills will serve us well when the next battle comes along.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

So where do we bad fighters start?

First of all, as with most things — becoming self-aware is a good initial step. Take note of the poor habits you use when fighting, write them down, and take a hard look at them. Do they serve you well or do they usually escalate the conflict, or cause further avoidance? How do you feel when you act that way? How does it make the other person feel when you act that way? Most likely the things you’re writing are not the most positive. It’s OK.  Recognizing the need to change often comes from acknowledging the hurt we are causing ourselves and others.

Managing our behavior

Now that you’re ready to make some shifts, simply acknowledging bad behaviors is not enough. And just erasing them won’t help either.  As with the breaking of any old habit, it’s beneficial to have a new toolkit at your disposal full of actions to replace ineffective behaviors.  Here are a few to try:

  • Separate the person from the problem.  Don’t let yourself go down the path of “this person is bad, wrong, selfish, etc.” because they have a differing opinion.  Fight the desire to label them and instead, focus on the disagreement at hand.
  • Lay down preconceived ideas. It’s easy to think you already have everything figured out before the conflict even begins. Be present and ask clarifying questions where needed so you’re sure you understand their viewpoint, not your interpretation of their viewpoint.
  • Take a deep breath and slow down.  An overload of feelings can cause an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes our emotions. Because the emotional processing in our brain happens much more quickly than the rational side, if the amygdala perceives the situation is at a “fight or flight” level of danger, it will trigger a response that shuts down the rational side of our brains, causing us to say and do things we’ll regret later. Trust me, this is something to avoid.
  • Listen to understand. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and tune in to what they’re saying, and not saying.  Watch for body language (are they agitated, are they scared, etc.) and attempt to hear what they need/want in this situation, not just what is coming out of their mouth.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will this help or hurt the situation?”  Sounds simple, but it’s very effective! Choose your words carefully and be sure not to throw out insults or put-downs in the heat of the moment.
  • Remind yourself that their way may be a better way. Be curious. Have an open mind and think of the conversation as a way to brainstorm creative new ideas rather than taking offense because they don’t agree with you.

“When we aren’t curious in conversations we judge, tell, blame and even shame, often without even knowing it, which leads to conflict.” — Kristen Siggins

  • Don’t attach judgments about their character because of their opinions. Again, separate out the issue from the person and fight the urge to jump to conclusions about their moral integrity just because you don’t like what they’re saying.
  • Be aware that the other person is experiencing his/her own set of emotions.  There may be drivers going on that you’re not aware of — past hurts, disappointments, or struggles that the other person is dealing with.  Offer some grace, in the moment, as you seek to understand the why behind their actions or words.
  • Find a way to say something valuing about the other person. Even if you don’t agree with them, making the other person feel valued for who they are, in the heat of an argument, can do wonders to diffusing anger and frustration levels. A great sentence starter is, “You know what I like about you?” then fill in the rest with a sincere, kind word.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — ancient proverb

  • Remember that the goal here is coming to a solution that works for both parties, not getting your own way. This may mean you have to reach a compromise where both of you give up a little to arrive at a peaceful outcome.

I know, easier said than done. If this list seems daunting, pick just one goal and focus on it for the next few weeks. Talk to a coach or counselor about the areas you struggle most with and seek an outside opinion on how you could begin to make some shifts. Then get out there and practice.

For those of you (us) who have done it all wrong, going back to that person and offering a sincere, “I’m sorry” can do wonders to soften pain of the blows you delivered. It takes humility and courage to admit our errors and ask forgiveness of the other person. They may reject you, scoff at you, or even attempt to continue the fight — but these three magical words can do as much for your own angry heart as it can the other person.

Unless you live on an uninhabited, deserted island, where you have no contact with others, there will be conflicts on the road ahead. Coming prepared with healthy, helpful tactics will enable both of you to stay standing at the end of each round. Even better, as you work on your own conflict management skills, you may come to realize that it was never a fight at all, but a passionate interaction between two unique and worthy individuals, on the same team, working toward the same goal, each offering the gift of learning something new.

“We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.” — William Shatner

Does it matter if others like you?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

How often have you heard someone say, “I don’t care if they like me, as long as they respect me”?

With friends and family, we seem to understand the importance of caring, compassion and connection. We grasp that exhibiting interpersonal skills can go a long way toward building effective, lasting personal relationships. But what about at work? Why is it that some, in the professional realm, think that the components of successful work relationships are somehow different, often replacing rapport, empathy and authenticity with stiff, formal mannerisms we label as professionalism?

Interpersonal effectiveness is a competency of emotional intelligence and is vital to connecting with others. It means being attuned to others, showing sensitivity and understanding in their interests, putting them at ease, and being able to relate well to all sorts of personality types. Those with strong interpersonal effectiveness are empathetic and seek to understand others. This competency involves using diplomacy and tact — in other words, learning people skills and putting them to use.

Those who are good at getting along well with others have an understanding about how the social world works. They know what is expected in social situations and pick up quickly on social cues. They know how to take a genuine interest in other people, what they do, and why they do it. They are curious about how others think and have developed excellent listening skills.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” — Theodore Roosevelt

You can tell you’re good at this if you stop and listen to yourself in conversations. Do you ask more open-ended questions than closed ones, and let others do most of the talking? If so, you’re probably demonstrating strong interpersonal effectiveness. You most likely are good at building new relationships and mending broken ones. You respect differences in others (religious, gender, political, socioeconomic, communication styles, etc.) and know how to mirror others to build rapport. People strong in this competency have a contagious, positive, enthusiastic outlook and others want to be around them.

Do you know anyone like this in your workplace?  If yes, do you like being around them and working on projects with them? If you could name one quality you appreciate most about them, what would it be?

On the other hand, some have difficulty connecting to others. These are the type we describe as being a little ‘rough around the edges.”  They may come across arrogant, insensitive, unapproachable, or cold.  In meetings, they may demean others’ ideas and be quick to jump in with their own opinions and solutions before hearing others out. They may keep to themselves and not take the time to build rapport, because they’re either too busy or don’t see the need.

Can you think of anyone like this in your workplace? If yes, do you like being around the and working on projects with them?

“I will pay more for the ability to deal with others than for any other ability under the sun.” — John D. Rockefeller

But does it matter if our colleagues like us?  It does. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, vibrant social connections at work help you be more productive, and can even ramp up the passion you have toward your work — causing you to be less likely to quit. In another study, by Officevibe, researchers found that 70% of the participants said having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life, and 58% of men said they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers. (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/workplace-friendships).

Relationships are relationships, whether personal or professional. And all relationships require nurture and effort in order for them to be successful. Whether you are a good team player or not, you’re not going to get far trying to go it alone.

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin

Interpersonal skills are something we can all develop, if we devote some time and energy into learning a new way of interacting. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Self-awareness is always a good starting point.  Consider completing a 360 assessment that measures your social and emotional intelligence skills to serve as a launchpad to your growth.
  • Notice how others respond to you when you walk in the room or open your mouth to speak. In order to do this, you’ll need to make eye contact. Do others seem nervous, speaking quickly or stumbling over their words? Are they too quick to agree with you (out of fear of upsetting you) or rarely speak their mind? Watch for verbal and non-verbal signals.  This practice of noticing will help you begin to focus on others in each moment.
  • Seek to understand. When you speak, is it all about communicating your own ideas, or are you open to hearing what others have to say? Asking open-ended questions which draw others out will help you understand the why behind their behaviors and actions.
  • Get rid of distractions. Put down your phone when you talk with others and stop multi-tasking when others speak. Show them that you can make time to listen to them and that what they have to say is important.
  • Share about you. You don’t have to tell every person your entire life story or the play-by-play of your current drama, but let your teams and colleagues know the why behind your decisions, or the methodology of how you got there.  Splash conversations with bits of  your personal life and ask about theirs. As you model authenticity, you’ll encourage others to feel safe in opening up to you.
  • Be open to learning.  It’s OK to admit your interpersonal skills may be lacking. If needed, take a class, read a book, or talk to a coach about how to grow in this area. Think of someone who is good at getting along with others and seek advice from them.
  • Start today. Even if your interpersonal skills need work, you can still get started today by taking small steps. Simple things like smiling, expressing gratitude, putting down your phone in conversations, and using appropriate humor are a few ideas you could try as you get started.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice your new-found skills with everyone you meet, whether it’s your boss, a coworker, or the janitor who cleans your office. The more you try out your people skills, with all types of people, the more natural they will feel and become.

Remember, to begin to interact with others on deeper levels, you’re going to need to slow down. If you normally work through lunch, consider asking a colleague to join you once a week. If you work with your door closed, try leaving it open sometimes so others know they can pop in if needed. Take an extra five minutes each day to ask your coworkers and employees about their personal lives — their kids, their dogs, their last vacation, what are their holiday plans? People feel valued when you take the time to get to know them and it builds trust.

You may think you don’t care if others like you. And you may think all that matters is that you have others’ respect. Yet I find that often when people like you (and know you, and understand you), the respect comes naturally, as a next step, and they begin to value the real you. If you have any hopes of being a leader–a good one, that is–growing in interpersonal effectiveness is an invaluable skill set you simply must take the time to develop.

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” — Mahatma Ghandi

 

What’s the difference between being cocky, cowardly, and confident?

“Knowing who you are is confidence. Confidence, not cockiness. Cockiness is knowing who you are and pushing it down everyone’s throat.” — Mila Kunis

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Do you know anyone who constantly tells you how great they are? Whether it’s a blatant statement of bragging or a masked self-compliment, it’s easy to recognize those who swagger. They are the ones who like to ‘up’ your story, who always have a better, bigger, or bolder experience than the one you shared.  They often are the loudest one in the room (though not all loud people are cocky–don’t confuse that!), are able to speak over others, and are inclined to tell long, detailed stories, rarely pausing to read the expressions of those around them, assuming everyone is deeply fascinated with their tale. They interrupt. They have this uncanny way of steering every conversation back to them. When you speak, if you get the chance, you wonder if they are hearing anything you say.

There’s something in them, some sort of inner need, that has to let you know that they are smart, successful, and superior. It’s the kind of person we try to avoid at the office, at a party, or when we’re out and about. And though they can appear to be quite confident, I think, deep down, their need to boast comes from a place of inferiority.

“Let another man praise you and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” — ancient proverb

And then there are those who struggle with having any confidence at all. These people live a cowardly life, tending to avoid confrontations and have difficulty speaking their truth. They sometimes stumble over their words and/or don’t speak loud enough for you to hear clearly. They lack confidence in their own judgment, hesitate to try new things, and avoid challenges like the plague. Because of this lack of trust in self, they question their own abilities and often feel powerless. Those who struggle with personal power tend to have difficulty setting appropriate boundaries and can be “yes” men/women.

Somewhere in between the two extremes lies the emotionally intelligent competency of personal power.

“Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.”  — Marianne Williamson

Personal power, that sense of self-confidence and an inner knowing that you can thrive through life’s challenges, can sometimes be confused with cockiness, but it’s not that at all.

Those who have personal power — who are strong in this understanding of their strengths (and areas of growth) believe they can set the direction of their lives. They are not victims to the winds of change but sense when things need to shift and take action to make that happen. They have a calm inner conviction about who they are and their abilities.  Those rich with this competency tend to know what they want and go after it, and can speak their truth and give voice to their values and convictions. Though they are the ones that make things happen, those with strong personal power don’t always have to do it brashly and loudly. One important aspect is that they can distinguish between the things they can control and the things that are out of their control, and can let go of the latter when needed. They are always learning and never propose to have it all figured out.

Listen for how they define self. You’ll hear them speaking about qualities of the heart, not about what they do. Try asking at your next social gathering, “Tell me about yourself?” and listen for whether or not they tell you what they do or who they are.

Think of those you lead — or those who lead you — your colleagues, your teammates, your manager, the boss, your pastor, your significant other, or someone you just admire. Which of these three C’s does he/she lean toward: cockiness, cowardice, or confidence? Which type of leader would you rather follow? Which would you rather work alongside? I daresay we all are most drawn to those with true confidence.

Even more importantly, can you discern when you are being cocky, cowardly, or confident? It’s an awareness worth developing.

“There is a fine line between confidence and cocky. Confidence can bring you many things, but cockiness can make you lose many things.” — Azgraybebly Josland

Those who take the time to develop this competency of personal power unleash their ability to convey their ideas and solutions in an assured manner which gives others confidence in their ability to solve problems and achieve results. In other words, those that have personal power can lead, and lead well.

Most of us dance between the three, cockiness, cowardice, and confidence, depending on the day, our mood, and our behavioral self-control. In other words, we all have room to grow. Here are nine practical steps to begin moving toward true confidence/personal power:

  • Remember the glory days. Success breeds confidence, so take a moment to remember the things you’ve achieved in life so far. What are your success stories? Where have you excelled?  When did you accomplish a goal you set out to reach and how did you go about accomplishing it?  Remembering past successes — even those you achieved as far back as childhood — can help boost your levels of personal power when you begin to doubt your abilities.
  • It takes a village. Now think about who helped you accomplish those goals? Who believed in you or gave you the inspiration to keep going even when things got rough? Did anyone provide financial means which enabled you to succeed, or come alongside you as a friend or mentor to be there when you needed them? Reminding ourselves that our successes most always are a team effort can help us avoid the full-of-self syndrome. And leaning into friends as you accomplish goals can be a source of encouragement and help ensure success.
  • Identify the voices. I led a women’s group once and we attempted to get to the root of our insecurities. In almost every case, as children, we had been told by someone that we couldn’t — or shouldn’t — and now, as adults, we still believed that lie. Think on the areas where you lack confidence and see if you can remember where you first heard that maybe you were no good at it.  Identify who said it and when…not to hold a grudge but to realize it was just someone’s ill-spoken opinion. Recognizing the source of negative thoughts can help put them in their place as you move toward a more positive outlook.
  • Stop the hurtful self-talk. Even if someone was hurtful with their words,  it’s most likely you who continues the negative self-talk. Notice when you say, “I can’t” or start a sentence with “I’m only…”, diminishing yourself.  Try not to begin with “I’m sorry, but…”.  Learn to state your truth without apologies.  Also listen if you tend to tag “isn’t it?” at the end of a suggestion, or “right?” Those words are a way of seeking approval of others and teaches them to treat us as lacking power.
  • Build some fences. Setting boundaries and learning to say “no” can free us up to accomplish the things that are important to us. Being a yes man/woman actually limits us to doing only what others ask of us vs. moving in the direction that we want. You may need to spend some time reviewing your values and clarifying your goals to begin setting appropriate boundaries.
  • Lay down the remote. Determine which things in your life you have control over, and which areas you don’t. Hint: you can never control others’ thoughts, behaviors, or actions. Trying to control what you can’t will only lead to frustration. What you do have control over are your own thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
  • Dream a little dream. Whenever we create something new, it appears first as a thought. Envision yourself as smart, competent, articulate, poised, admired…and humble.  Use the prompt, “In a perfect world, I would ___” and fill in how it would look if you were teeming with personal power.
  • Shhh. In your next conversation, and those that follow, determine to listen more than you speak. Ask open-ended questions with the goal of learning more about the other person and the whys behind their thoughts and actions. If you tend to tell long-winded tales, shorten your stories and pause often to ask the other person to share as well.
  • Follow the leader. Find those in your life that exhibit true confidence and strive to emulate them. Watch how they interact with others — in meetings and in one-on-one conversations. If possible, ask to meet with them for lunch and learn from them.

As with all change for the positive, it’s easier if you work with a coach to help you stay on track. Consider engaging a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you. Shifting behaviors, especially habits we’ve been practicing for a long time, can take time and effort, but the benefits of moving away from cockiness and cowardice toward confidence will be rewarding.

“As is our confidence, so is our capacity.” — William Hazlitt

 

 

Starting the year on the right foot

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

It’s a new year, which means a blank canvas for new goals, objectives, and intentions. How can you be sure to get started on the right foot?

Being intentional is a competency of emotional intelligence. It’s that ability to act deliberately, moving in the direction you want to move, and knowing what it takes to get there. It’s possessing a sense of confidence that you’re able to control your own outcomes by acting ‘on purpose’. Living with intention is a great first step toward attaining the life you want.

People who are good at this are able to make decisions that match up with their goals and values. They are able to stroll past distractions and stay focused on the objectives. They are consistent in their efforts and are clear, to themselves and others, about what they want to see happen in their lives. Their actions are deliberate and full of purpose.

“Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.” ― Richie Norton

When we struggle in this area, we tend to shy away from setting goals. We allow ourselves to be tossed around by the prevailing wind of the day…often by others’ opinions of what we should or shouldn’t be doing. The outcomes we seek are not clear and we are easily distracted by lesser important tasks and duties.

“Control your destiny, or someone else will.” — Jack Welch

When we succumb to letting others design our morning, day, week, month, year…life…we end up with a strong sense of missing out. Acting as if we lack the control to design our lives can lead to depression and a feeling of insignificance. On the contrary, being intentional about how we live and where we’re going can bring about an amazing sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

“It is only those that live intentionally that can accomplish and come to the significance meant for them.” ― Sunday Adelaja

So how do you get started on the right foot down the path of intentionality in 2019? Here are a few tips to try:

  • Start by asking yourself, “What do I want?”  Think in terms of the ideal — not just ‘good enough’ — in all areas of your life — career, family, education, relationships, travel, finances, health, etc. Grab your journal and write down what each of those areas would look life in a perfect world. Give yourself permission to dream. If you’re struggling with categories, check out the CTI Assessment Wheel.
  • Create a statement of positive intention for each. For example, in the area of career, you could write, “I will approach work with a positive attitude each day despite the circumstances”, or “I will ask my employer for a raise in March.” Be  bold.
  • Believe that you can. Tune into the negative self-talk that you may be telling yourself and instead, replace those “I can’ts” with “I cans”. Positive thinking can go a long way in helping us reach our goals. Put a halt to negative self-talk immediately.
  • Build a support team. Share your goals and ideals with your teammates, colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Let them know you’d like their help in cheering you on as you head toward these goals. Knowing others believe in you can help when you start to give in to self-doubt.
  • Lay out a plan. This is when you get specific with your intentions. For each statement of positive intent, brainstorm ways to reach that goal. Cross out the ones that don’t make sense and narrow it down to 2-3 attainable steps. Bounce these off your support team and ask them for input. Set a timeline for each step.
  • Remove the distractions. What hurdles are in the way of you attaining your goals? Maybe you need to delete a social media app from your phone for a while or cancel your online movies subscription. Possibly it’s best that you empty out unhealthy foods from your fridge, or lay out your exercise clothes each night before you go to bed.  List the distractions that are in your way then come up with some ways to move those aside.
  • Give yourself a break. You’re going to have short-term fails, discouragement, and times when you miss. It’s OK. It’s normal to fall short here and there, but don’t let these stumbles knock you off course. Get up, brush off the dirt, and keep moving forward.
  • Celebrate along the way.  Don’t wait until you reach the final outcome as you work toward goals — celebrate each step along the way! Lost 2 pounds? Hooray! Wrote the first sentence of that book? Yay! Brainstormed some ideas of kindnesses you can do for your loved one? Awesome! Learn to congratulate yourself as you go along, and treat yourself with the rich emotions of astonishment, joy, satisfaction, giddiness, and jubilation which come with carving out the life you want.

Sure, you could let another year pass you by not putting your best foot forward and setting intentions. It would probably be easier and take less effort. But before you resign yourself to a life where you are subject to circumstances, consider taking just one small area of your life, setting intentions, and going for it.  The joy you’ll receive in the endeavor will most likely prompt you to continue to live out other areas of your life with intention, and in doing so, you’ll inspire others to do the same.

“We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.” — Benjamin Disraeli

 

Diffusing family feuds over the holidays

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you dread holiday gatherings because you have to spend time with your family, you’re not alone. I’ve talked with so many who say they wish they could just skip the holidays so they don’t have to ‘deal’ with certain family members. And if you’ve ever had conflict with someone you’re ‘supposed’ to get along with, you know how rough that can be. With certain members of your tribe, you probably can even predict exactly how long it will take before a disagreement will begin–10 minutes after walking in the door–as soon as you sit down to dinner–when Uncle George brings up politics–it seems to happen at the same time and around the same issues, year after year.

Unless you’ve opted to ditch the family altogether and hop a plane to a tropical island, it’s most likely you’ll be interacting with the clan a good deal over the next few days. But it doesn’t have to be a place of arguing and bickering. I’d like to offer an alternate solution…something you can do to help to keep negative situations from escalating into an all out family feud. But before we go there — I want to suggest three things you can’t do:

  1. You can’t control what others think of you.
  2. You can’t control what others say about you.
  3. You can’t control what others do.

In other words, you can’t control others. No matter how much you may want to, you don’t get to be a puppeteer and pull the strings to make everyone act in a way you would like. But what you can do is control your own thoughts and actions, especially your own communication skills. Choosing to be intentional about how you communicate with your family can have a direct influence on the nature of  interactions at your upcoming holiday celebrations.

Communication is the ability to listen deeply to understand what others are saying, and in turn send clear and convincing messages back to them. It can take the form of verbal or non-verbal — often people say as much with the expression on their face as with the words that come out of their mouth. And again, though you can’t control how others communicate with you, you can manage how you communicate with them.

What does it look like to be a good communicator?  Some seem to think if they talk loudly enough to command others’ attention that they have this competency down pat. But I beg to differ. People who have strong communication skills often aren’t the ones doing most of the talking. They are able to put others at ease so they feel comfortable sharing openly. They are effective in give-and-take, knowing when to talk and when to let others speak. They listen to understand, as opposed to listening to prep what they want to say next. They are able to hear feedback without becoming defensive, can deal with difficult conversations straightforwardly without the need to retaliate or run away, and make others feel valued for their opinions and outlooks, even if they differ from their own.

Those who struggle with communication–and a few particular family members may immediately come to mind–can be difficult to connect with and come across as unapproachable. They may interrupt, or talk too much, or fail to listen when you speak–and isn’t it so easy to tell when someone’s not listening? They lack tact when expressing their opinions and tend to think it’s their way or the highway. They often don’t ask open-ended questions or seek to understand the why’s behind what someone is saying. They rarely make good eye contact and often won’t pause to let others respond or jump in. They may even ridicule others or have emotional outbursts when things get heated.

Sound familiar?

Again, you can’t control those who are poor communicators. And that should come as a relief. Knowing there’s not a thing you can do to keep Aunt Ethel from sharing too much information about her bowel troubles, or to prevent Cousin Mike from bragging about his recent promotion, or to prevent dad from hurling insults about your career aspirations (or lack of) is very freeing. It’s hard enough to control yourself, let alone attempting to herd everyone around you. Who has time and energy for that? What you CAN do is manage and modify your own behavior to make interactions with family members as pleasant as possible.

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It takes effort to be intentional about your conversations, and preparing ahead of time can help. Thinking about behaviors which can enhance conversations as well as knowing which ones to avoid will enable you to walk through that door with confidence, no matter whom you’re about to face. Then, in the moment, you get to choose to act appropriately despite what others say or do.

To keep conversations positive and prevent them from going downhill this holiday season, here are some behaviors you can try:

  • Smile.  Sounds simple, but mustering up a genuine smile when you first see the family can help diffuse negativity from the start. Your body language communicates attitude far before your mouth forms words. As well, a warm hug, when appropriate, can work wonders. Research has found that a 20-second hug actually releases oxytocin, one of the feel-good hormones, into our system, which can work miracles toward melting down tension and negativity. I realize that long of a hug may be a little awkward–and not appropriate with some–but you get the idea.

“Peace begins with a smile.” ― Mother Teresa

  • Ask to understand. Think of conversations as a portal to learn more about the other person, rather than a chance to speak your peace. A good rule of thumb is to ask more than tell. Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, try asking the hows and whys.  “How do you like your new job?”  “Why did you choose [insert location] for your vacation?” “I’d love to know more about how you [insert topic]. ” Asking open-ended questions can make the other person feel valued and help you see things from their frame of reference.

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective.” –Sterling K. Brown

  • Actively listen. Have you ever caught yourself asking a question then not even listening to the answer? We all do it. Tuning into what the other person is saying, asking questions to clarify, and repeating back what you heard shows you care. Nod when you agree. Mirror their expressions as you hold eye contact. Try to picture what they’re describing (except maybe Aunt Ethel’s bodily function details!). Good listening makes others feel valued and enables you to learn more about them.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton

  • Discard distractions. Simply put, put your phone away.  There’s nothing more devaluing than someone glancing at their phone while you’re talking…so don’t do the same to others. Even better, turn it off for a few hours so you can really focus on the person in front of you.

“Cell phones bring you closer to the person far from you, but take you away from the ones sitting next to you.” — Anonymous

  • Build bridges. Look for “me too” moments–common ground upon which you can both agree. Listening for shared experiences, shared dreams, and shared emotions, and letting them know you can relate, builds rapport and connection. Focusing on what you agree upon can diffuse tensions that arise from being at odds.

“No matter what message you are about to deliver somewhere, whether it is holding out a hand of friendship, or making clear that you disapprove of something, is the fact that the person sitting across the table is a human being, so the goal is to always establish common ground. ” –Madeleine Albright

  • Resist rivalry. When someone says something that feels like an insult, it’s easy to come back with a retort of your own. If possible, try not to take things personally, even if comments sound as if they’re (or are!) directed to you. Usually when someone puts another down, it is coming from a dark and empty place within their own heart. Offering compassion and realizing they may in a struggle you don’t understand can help you resist the temptation to view them as an opponent.

“Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you.”  — Don Miguel Ruiz

  • Express appreciation. Everyone likes to hear a compliment. Try to find something about the person or what they’re saying that you like, even if most of what’s coming out of their mouth is annoying you. Offer a sincere compliment–it is better-received than any festively-wrapped gift.  It could be as simple as, “I like the way you think about that” or “I value the direction you’re going”, or “That was a thoughtful thing to do”, etc. A great sentence starter is, “Do you know what I like about you?”

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” — ancient proverb

  • Find the fun. It’s hard to keep your sense of humor when others are stomping on your last nerve. But retaining your ability to ‘laugh at the craziness’ can go a long way in keeping things positive.  Of course your humor should never be demeaning or hurtful, but stepping back and grinning at the ‘uniqueness’ of each family member can help keep spirits bright.

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight David Eisenhower

Intentionally steering your conversations down a positive path this holiday can be a great start toward building better family bonds. It won’t be perfect…bad habits can take a while to break. But doing your part to create uplifting, engaging conversations is vital to developing authentic, amicable interactions with the family and can help avoid feuds. And you’ll feel better knowing you showed up with your best. Will it be easy? No. But will it be worth it?  Yes.

“Getting along well with other people is still the world’s most needed skill. With it…there is no limit to what person can do. We need people, we need the cooperation of others.” — Earl Nightingale

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