Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

Active Listening to Avoid Conflict

Article contributed by guest author Grant Herbert.

Do you fail to listen, interrupt, or always find fault in what others say, or do you welcome mutual understanding by listening intently and allowing the sharing of information?

One of the most powerful skills that we can all have is genuine listening. It’s the key to effective communication. And for healthy relationships, it’s important to hear everything that’s being said and to be a tuned into what’s not being said so that we get the full picture and we’re able to interact and have mutually beneficial communication. This is one of the most important ingredients in Empathy.

When we get this skill to where it’s going to help us and give us a triple win, a win for us, a win for them, and a win for the greater good, we are not only interested in what we have to say and what our opinion is, but we’re open to what the other person or people have to say. And we filter that information in our logical brain to make sure that we have the entire picture to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid conflict.

Well, we’re still learning to do this well. We might be someone who interrupts all the time, where we’ve got our own agenda and we’re pushing that, and we’re not really all that interested in fully listening to what the other person’s saying. We might be giving the opinion that we are listening with our ears, but our body language and our response and reaction says that we aren’t really interested.

When we do this, we’re able to have conversations that are effective, that are mutually beneficial, and that allow us to be involved with Compassionate Empathy; to not just understand, but to be a part of the solution as well. 

So, let’s talk about some of the things that we are listening for. As we’ve already said, we’re listening to what’s being said, we’re also listening to what’s not being said. We’re listening to what’s not congruent, what doesn’t seem to add up. A lot of times, I’ll be having conversations or I’ll be communicating and what I’m saying here isn’t lining up to what I said here, and that creates confusion.

We listen for what’s needed, what’s missing, and we listen to what their goals are, what they want to achieve. By actively listening, we can also be attuned to what their strengths are so that we know where we can add value and where they’re doing okay.

So, let me give you three key tips that you can use to help you to be a more active listener and therefore, have more effective communication.

Number one, set aside your own agenda. When we have our own agenda out front, we’ve got all this noise and all this clamour going on in our mind. So, even though we are doing our best to listen, we’re not hearing. We’re filtering it through our own agenda. So, the best thing that we can do is to be totally focused on them, set aside our own agenda, and listen fully and be fully present. 

Number two is to avoid jumping in. A lot of times when I was learning to be a better communicator, someone would be talking and they could tell that all I was doing was waiting for them to take a breath so that I could jump in. I’d be trying to jump in and go, “Yeah, okay.” And every time they said a point, I’d have something to counter it with or something to add. 

So, when we avoid jumping in and leave the conversation open and collect the information in a logical way, not collecting it in a way that’s comparing it to what our beliefs are, we’re able to get the full picture. 

And number three is to reflect back what you heard. Remember last week, we talked about the communication process, being someone who is a sender, encoding their message, and sending it to a receiver. The receiver receives that information through the noise and then they decode what they thought they were communicated. And that’s where the confusion can come in.

What they then do is they encode their reaction or their response and they send it back through the noise to the original sender who is now the receiver, who decodes what they think they heard. The challenge with all that is we can make assumptions. We can think that we heard this and therefore make a belief around that, give that a meaning when in fact it may not be what was said at all.

So, by reflecting back what we think we heard, we were able to get clarification and or confirmation so that we can then move forward effectively; simple phrases like, “So, what I heard you say was…,” and then repeating what you thought they said. Now, this can be done, whether it’s verbally or whether it’s written text.

And that gives the person that you’re communicating with the opportunity to go, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said,” or give clarity and either go deeper to give further understanding or go, “No, that’s not what I meant at all. This is what I meant.” 

So, when we use these three tips, when we actively listen and we do it without assumption, we do it without jumping in, and we reflect to get clarity and confirmation, we take out all the misunderstanding and all the conflict. Active listening is a crucial component of Empathy, and one of the competencies that we teach in the work that we do in Social and Emotional Intelligence. 

Listen to the podcast here: https://youtu.be/xIxfZUKAb1o

Don’t miss the view

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I woke early and hopped on my bicycle, barefoot, and pedaled over to the beach in the first rays of the morning light. Pinks, oranges, and purples danced across the water’s surface. Sea gulls flocked together on the shore and sat silently looking seaward, dreaming of discarded sandwiches and half-empty bags of chips. A lone heron stood on one foot, stately and elegant, and a silvery fish jumped with a splash.The waves rolled in gently and the breezes whispered promises of peace and hope. Early mornings on the beach are the stuff dreams are made of.

That is, if you look past the trash strewn across the sand, remnants of yesterday’s revels. Broken glass, empty soda cans, bags of garbage, diapers, broken chairs, plastic sand toys, dismantled canopies, busted umbrellas, fast food wrappers, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and oh, those plastic water bottle lids by the dozens.

Here’s a thing I was thinking about. If I only focused on the garbage, and believe me, there was a LOT, and reflected on what kind of people would leave such a mess, the whole beach experience would be pretty crappy. I could get on social media and yell about it, criticize, and make snide remarks, making it clear I am not “these type of people”, and how the world is going to h-e double hockey sticks because of it. I could pretend “it’s my duty to inform you” of how degenerate people are and describe in detail their dastardly ways so you, too, can jump on my bandwagon. I could word my posts in such a way which breeds fear and panic about how polluted our world is, where no one would ever want to venture out to that dangerous, scary place called the beach again.

But look at this picture. Despite the messiness, the vista was breathtaking.

With a focus bent on the negative, I could have missed it.

Or, I could consider a different perspective. I could shake my head, then get busy picking up some trash. It’s not fun. It’s actually kind of gross. It hurts my back a little, too. But doable. Instead of scorning “them”, I could choose to offer forgiveness to those who don’t know better (or maybe do and make a choice to care about things different from me). And all the while, soak in the stunning beauty which surrounds me.

Every day we read and watch nothing but negative behaviors on our news feeds. There’s some pretty awful stuff going on, hurtful and shocking and scary. Is it tainting your view of all humans? Of our country? Of this world?

And what are you doing about it? Are you helping pick up the broken pieces during these crazy times, or just kicking them around, making an even bigger mess?

I know, the trash is real, and it’s ugly. And there are dangers associated with it, and things are not as we’d like them to be, and we’re scared. But try to keep living, humanely, despite it all. It’s easy to kick around the anger, fear, and worry, spreading it to everyone you know. It’s harder to bend down and pick it up, and put it in its place.

If you feel at a loss as to what you can do to help in these unsettling times, consider picking up some of the residue left by others who are hurting, angry, and struggling. Grab a bag and carry it for them, and find a place to discard it, even if you don’t think they deserve it. Maybe it comes in the form of sending encouraging words in a text. Maybe send some money anonymously to help someone who is struggling financially. Maybe share a positive post. Maybe make someone laugh. Maybe let them know you value them. Maybe share a meal, send a gift card, or ask someone how they are doing, and take time to really listen. Discover their needs, their fears, their dreams, and figure out how to help clean up the mess. Because we all end up in messes sometimes. And we all need others to help when we find ourselves in that messy place.

And while you’re doing that, look up.The sunrise is amazing. Sure, these days you have to look a little harder to see it, but it’s there, every morning, the dawning of a new day. So lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the north, and to the south, and to the east and to the west. You won’t want to miss the view.

13 Ways to Be More Collaborative

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Boy, are people cranky these days! And for good reason, right? Our norms have been turned upside down, and, combined with fear, uncertainty, financial strain, and worry — it’s a sure recipe for contentiousness.

Just take a look at just about any social media page. People can post the most innocent of comments — or not — but no matter, there’s always someone, or some-many, who will jump on their soapbox and argue, call names, sling insults, and make snide remarks, sometimes just to be disagreeable. Why is it when things get tough, we tend to throw teamwork and collaboration out the window?

Some would say it’s human nature and can’t be helped.

“Bad temper is its own scourge. Few things are more bitter than to feel bitter. A man’s venom poisons himself more than his victim.” — Charles Buxton

Oxford Language Dictionary defines human nature as “the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.” Why, then, if it’s something we all share, are some people kindhearted, uplifting, and encouraging, while others seem prone to be the thorn in everyone’s side?

It comes down to choice.

Contrary to popular belief, we get to choose how we react to the emotions we are feeling. Every single one of us can either choose the path of collaboration, or, decide to go down the path of contentiousness. We have the choice to either fall victim to our emotions and allow them to take us down the spiral of negativism, cynicism, and criticism, or use them as a vital source of data which can lead to greater connectivity and cooperation with others, leading to healthier, happier relationships.

No matter your circumstances, no matter how tough things are, no matter how utterly frustrated you may feel, you get to choose how you respond.

Experiencing negative emotions is normal. But we don’t have to act out on them. So why does it feel like poor behavior sometimes is an automatic reaction, one that can’t be helped? The answer has to do with how our brains are wired. When presented with stimuli which trigger a strong emotion, the signal first arrives to the emotional part of your brain, and communicates that you either need to fight or take flight, without delay. It takes another six seconds for the signal to hit the rational part of your brain and allow you to use reason in choosing your next steps.[How to best manage the six seconds that can change your life (for the worse)].

If you choose to react within those first six seconds, chances are your choices may be clouded by the hot emotions you’re feeling. Those are the moments when we shoot back that feisty text, fire off a heated email, or exchange hurtful words in a disagreement. This out-of-control response is a result of an amygdala hijack, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995. The amygdala, the part of the brain designed to respond quickly to  threats, in order to protect us from danger, can interfere with our functioning in our day-to-day lives where perceived threats are now rarely a matter of life and death. 

If we delay reacting by just a few more moments, allowing the brain to take the emotional stimuli and process it with the rational part of our brain, we have a much greater likelihood of making a thought-out, cooperative and productive decision. [Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response]

Easier said than done.

Becoming a team player, and leading others toward collaboration, takes emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management, to pull it of. These traits often don’t come easy. But with some focused effort and the help of a social + emotional intelligence coach, you can take steps in a new direction.

If working collaboratively with others is not one of your strong points, here are some things to try to work toward  a more cooperative approach:

  • Hit pause. When you feel your temper rising, take a break. Inhale deeply, step away, take a walk — anything to give your brain a chance to bring reason to the table.
  • Look for opportunities to team up with others. Instead of going it alone on your next project, find a few others to collaborate with and let them know you’d really appreciate their input.
  • Enhance your listening skills. When others offer their insights, even if you don’t like what they’re saying, tune into what they’re trying to communicate and take a genuine interest in learning more. Understanding their motivations may help you be more open to a differing viewpoint.
  • Keep others informed as to your goals, projects, timelines, and successes along the way. Communicating with others helps them feel like part of the team.
  • Be sure to say thank you to those who are working with you. Gratitude goes a long way in building rapport with others. Some people thrive on public recognition while others appreciate a private “thanks”. Learn your team members and be generous with your appreciation.
  • Lead without dominating. Seek out ways you can ask for input and allow for time and space for others to come up with suggestions, ideas, etc…especially those who may be quieter or less assertive.
  • Give validation freely. Letting others know their input is valued, even if the ideas presented are not ones you’d necessarily incorporate, goes a long way in building a cooperative spirit. An old proverb says, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” A variety of ideas, even the ones which sound crazy or far-fetched, can contribute to finding successful ones.
  • When conflict arises, attempt to resolve it sooner than later. Unresolved conflict can eat away at cohesion. Though avoiding hard conversations may seem easier in the moment, they’ll need to take place eventually. The sooner you can resolve disagreements, the sooner you can move forward toward your goals.
  • Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. There’s never a time when it’s OK to be rude, distasteful, or demeaning. No matter the job title, position, or lot in life, practice treating all people with high regard.
  • Share your resources with others. Don’t be an idea-hoarder. Who knows if your insights may spark imaginative ideas in others?“

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

  • Allow others to take credit. Your innovative ideas may spur others to come up with creative ways of doing things…so much so that they may forget the original idea came from you. That’s OK. Exercise enough personal power to not need to have all the credit all the time.
  • Empower others to be successful. Good leaders look for ways for others to be successful. Which of your behaviors turn others off? What hurdles may be keeping others from feeling like part of your team? What needs do they have? How can you go out of your way to meet those needs?
  • Get to know your colleagues. Learn their spouse’s names, ask about what their kids are up to, and seek to understand their motivations and personal interests. When team members feel understood, and appreciated, they’re much more likely to be strong contributors.

Learning to get along and work well with others will enhance your own sense of well-being, as well as contribute to happier, healthier relationships and a greater sense of community…something we all could use more of these days.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

When Disappointment Hits

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  — Ancient Proverb

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you’re human, you’ve most likely experienced the feeling of let-down when something you hoped for didn’t work out. Maybe it was that perfect job you wanted but didn’t get, or that relationship that finally seemed like the right one yet fell apart, or an offer you made on your dream house which wasn’t accepted. Maybe it was the chagrin of watching your teammate get promoted instead of you. Whatever the reason for your disappointment, the feelings of despair that accompany it can wreak havoc on your soul.

Unfortunately, when disappointment hits, we tend to turn inward and allow our self-doubt to be triggered.  “What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? It’s because I am ____ (fill in the blank with your go-to negative quality)!” are just a few of the responses that may be going round and round in your head.

“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.” ― Sarah Dessen

Though disappointment can be difficult, there’s no reason to let it leave you disillusioned. If you’re in the middle of a heart-sick event, here are some things you can do to help with the healing process:

  • Feel what you’re feeling.  Instead of trying to stuff your emotions inside, or pretend you’re not hurt, allow yourself to feel. Name the emotions you are feeling and accept them as part of the process. It’s OK to let the tears flow. “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.” (https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-crying-good-for-you#1). So grab the box of tissues and open the floodgates!
  • Write it out. Grab your journal and write about what went down. Include as many details as possible, and as you describe what happened, use “I” statements, telling the story from your perspective. Describe the feelings it evoked. Can you make a connection to what you felt and why you felt it? Write about that, too. Sometimes just getting it all down on paper can help you make sense of the event.
  • Talk it out.  If appropriate (and safe!), and your feelings are in control, you may want to have a conversation with those involved in the offense. Lay your judgments aside and try to have an open mind to their viewpoint. Try to use “I” statements when talking about the event (“When you said this, I felt…”, etc.) and ask them questions for clarity. Avoid name calling, yelling, and finger-pointing. Remember the purpose of this conversation is to come to an understanding of both sides of the story.
  • Find a friend. Often it’s helpful to have someone outside of the situation to talk to about the upset. Find a trusted friend, counselor or coach, to discuss your feelings. If you can, try not to defame the other person(s) involved, instead, focusing on the role you played in the situation. Having someone else listen, nod, and say “I see why you’re feeling that way”, can bring much comfort and assurance that you’re OK.
  • But be careful with whom you talk to. It’s one thing to find a trusted friend or counselor for support, but be wary of sharing the story over and over with everyone you meet, opening up the opportunity to trample upon those involved. There’s no need to make the situation worse by spreading it around. You may think it makes the other person involved look bad, but it’s really a negative reflection on yourself. Posting about it on social media, especially before your heart is healed, is probably not a good idea, either.
  • Try not to ruminate. It’s easy to replay the scenario of disappointment over and over in your mind, which only will reproduce the negative feelings you’re working through. It happened. Once. No need to keep reliving the event if it’s not serving you well to go through it again and again. When you find yourself ‘going there’ in your mind, try moving your thoughts to something more uplifting.
  • Avoid always and never. When disappointment hits, it’s easy to think “this always happens to me”, or “this will never get resolved.” If you can, eliminate these two words from your vocabulary and recognize that this particular instance is a one-time event. Instead, focus on possible positive outcomes.
  • Don’t play the blame game. When we feel bad, blaming someone else for the incident can seem like an effective pain reliever. However, research says differently:  “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game). This goes for yourself, too. Yes, own the role you played, but don’t go down the road of letting blame turn into shame.
  • Accept that it happened.  What’s done is done. Though you may wish you could roll back time and make it go away, accepting that it happened–and putting it in your past– will help you move forward. We all make mistakes — you do, others do, and we all are capable of hurting each other with our words and actions. Accepting that disappointment is a normal part of interacting with others can help relive the anger and resentment you may be feeling.
  • Choose your ending. Ask yourself, “How can this help me grow? What is one thing I can now do that I couldn’t before the incident? What did I learn and what will I not repeat? How can this have a positive effect on my empathy? In a perfect world, what would my next steps look like?” Though the event is probably not one you would’ve picked out for yourself, you can choose how the story ends.  Brainstorm all possible positive outcomes, and if you’re struggling to come up with any, ask a trusted friend for help. Sometimes those on the ‘outside’ can see the bigger picture and remind you of reasons why this may be a good thing in disguise.
  • Forgive — yourself and others. Easier said than done, I know, but deciding to move on will bring you the peace of mind you need and deserve. Forgiveness isn’t about pretending it didn’t happen, but letting go of the need to punish yourself or others for the wrongdoing. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope

I get it. It’s tough to experience disappointment. But we can do hard things. And the rewards of working hard to move through and on past your disappointment will be well-received.

“Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger.”―Chetan Bhagat

Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions

The best managers know how to keep their emotions in check and focus on building a healthy team.

Article submitted by guest author Harvey Deutschendorf

Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions
[PHOTO: H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/CLASSICSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES]

Soft skills have garnered increasing attention in the workplace over the last 20 years. In fact, emotional intelligence is one of the fastest growing job skills, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

Ironically, those are the very skills hiring managers say the latest crop of college graduates lacks as they’ve focused on honing their technological prowess. Yet managing our emotions effectively in the workplace is a major component of success for all of us.

Emotions running amok can damage those who work directly with us. Although employees may get away with an occasional lapse in emotional control, leaders are not afforded that leeway. A leader who is not managing his or her emotions well can wreak severe havoc on an organization, seriously damaging employee morale, retention, and ultimately the bottom line. Every reaction–positive or negative–will have consequences for all those who are under them and effect the overall success of the company.

Here are five ways effective leaders manage their emotions.

1. THEY KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO SHARE

It isn’t necessary or healthy for leaders to be unemotional robots and keep all their feelings inside. Effective leaders are able to use their emotions to connect with others through their ability to share the feelings that enhance relationships with their direct reports.

Whether an employee is feeling joy over a successful sales week or sadness over a family member passing, an effective leader is able to express emotions to let that person know they are connecting with them on a heart level.

While their emotions are under control, they know what to express and how much to let out in the circumstance. For example, if someone just lost a family member, the manager could express how they felt when they lost someone close to them and how good it felt to be supported. Then, they could ask the grieving person if they needed anything. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, they could put a hand on the person’s back or shoulder, or offer a hug.

2. THEY DO WHAT’S RIGHT INSTEAD OF WHAT’S POPULAR

There are many instances when leaders are tempted to make popular decisions as these will bring them instant feelings of relief from a pressing and difficult situation. However, effective managers overcome the urge to give in to what is popular and opt for what is right. This requires a great deal of self-confidence and courage.

If a particular unpopular employee was being subjected to ridicule and being ostracized, the manager could support that employee and confront his or her coworkers in order to stop the behavior. This may cause resentment from the offender, but it enforces the idea that bullying isn’t tolerated, and that’s more important for effective managers than being popular.

3. THEY TRUST THEIR INTUITION

When struggling with a decision, effective managers are able to tune into and use their gut instincts to make decisions, even though there may be compelling reasons for not doing so. That’s because they’ve relied on intuition in the past and trust it will be the best guide when there isn’t an obvious answer.

For example, they might make a decision to hire someone outside of the company who they feel would be a great fit instead of promoting someone from the inside who is popular, but doesn’t have the vision or initiative to take on the new role.

4. THEY ROUTINELY FIGHT APATHY, INERTIA, AND PROCRASTINATION

Ever have a day when you felt like doing very little, leaving things undone until later, or the next day? Perhaps you’re feeling tired, or just having a bad day or week. We’ve all had those days.

Leaders share this struggle but don’t have the luxury of giving in. Others depend on them to take action and get things done–even when they don’t they feel like it. They’ve disciplined themselves to do whatever it takes, regardless of how they feel. If they need to have a difficult conversation with an employee or customer, they’ll go through with it even if they’re tempted to put it off for another day.

5. THEY LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS, NOT SOMEONE TO BLAME

One of the easiest traps to fall into is to avoid responsibility when things aren’t going well. Poor leaders look for ways to shift the blame to others when things go wrong. It’s easier to avoid responsibility by pinning it on others or on outside circumstances–but that isn’t leadership.

Effective leaders immediately begin to look for solutions. They find out what went wrong to avoid the same problem in the future. They’re more interested in using the failure as a learning opportunity and moving on from it, rather than spending time and energy looking for scapegoats.

Often the reason for the problem is a breakdown in communication between leaders and those assisting them. Effective leaders find out where that happened and readily admit that their instructions may not have been clear enough.

This also creates an opportunity to reassure employees who are reluctant to admit they didn’t understand for fear of appearing stupid, and let them know their boss won’t think less of them for asking for clarification. It’s crucial for good managers not to show any signs of frustration if what they thought was a straightforward request wasn’t understood at first.

Effective leaders are acutely aware of their feelings and know their responsibilities toward staff, customers, and the organization. This isn’t easy–it takes effort. But they’ve worked on themselves to develop their abilities to keep their emotions in check when necessary and show them when the situation calls for it.

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

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

 

Self-Talk: Antagonist or Ally?

Article written by Dr. Laura Belsten, Ph.D.

What have you been telling yourself lately?

Self-talk is very revealing. That little voice that sits on your shoulder and whispers into your ear can be either an antagonist or an ally. What you tell yourself goes immediately to your subconscious where it increases or decreases your anger, frustration or other emotions. Repeated negative self-talk leads to exaggerated and irrational thinking.

If you struggle with negative self-talk, try this simple exercise:

Directions: Put a check in the left-hand column next to any of the following statements you have said to yourself lately.

 __    They always take me for granted.

__    I’m always late.

 __    No one ever helps me.

__     Everyone gets paid more than I do. 

 __    No one listens to me.

__    It’ll always be this way.

 _ _   Everything I do gets messed up.

 __    I never get the credit I deserve.

__    They don’t appreciate how hard I work/how much I care.

 __    Fill in your own:                                                                                       

Now that you are more aware of your self-talk, ask yourself why you say those things. Pull out your journal and underneath each remark you checked, list some questions that you could ask to help you change to become less negative. (Example: if you are late, why are you late? Are you only late to meetings? Be as specific as possible).

Also list the things you can do to change the situation. For example, if you feel your work is not appreciated, could you create a list of accomplishments and bring them in to a meeting with your supervisor? If someone else is taking credit for your work, what can you do to become more assertive? Again, be as specific as possible.

Finally, for each negative message you receive from your inner antagonist, craft a positive, “ally” message to replace the negative voice. Remember the law of attraction: Whatever we focus on is what we attract. If we think in the negative, we’ll attract the negative; and most importantly, if we think in the positive, we’ll attract the positive.

How can you be your own best ally?

 

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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