Thursday, July 23, 2009

Three parts to communication; Listening, Telling and Being Heard

Everyone talks and most everybody listens. Most of us are better at one of those skills than the other. However, all of us could probably use a little improvement in another area of communication which may be the most important and least considered……..Being heard.

What do I mean by being heard? Being heard means not just hearing, but listening and understanding. Great teachers are often great communicators. They also can tell when their message is not getting through or being understood. When that happens, they go back and repeat, re-phrase or ask questions. Great teachers know that it is not enough to just give students the information. It must be received and understood as well. Great teachers, and great communicators, make being heard and understood their responsibility.

There are a number of ways to improve being heard. Some very simple suggestions are as follows:

Get permission.
Most of us are guilty of walking in on someone and telling them what we have to say, never bothering to see if we have their time and attention. If what you have to say is important, get permission first.

Pay attention to if you are being heard and understood or not.
Ask questions. That may be the best and easiest way to see if people are listening and understanding.

Be sure that your thoughts are clear.
If you are uncertain or unclear about what you have to say, then how can you expect others to understand? Make sure that you know what you want to communicate.

Explain why it is important.
Tell people why you are telling them this before you get started. A classic model for giving a speech is:
1. Tell the audience what you are going to tell them.
2. Tell it to them.
3. Tell them what you have told them.

While that may sound redundant (it is), it does work.

Repeat, rephrase, and re-clarify.
Good communicators can sense when the audience is not listening or understanding. When that happens, they say it again, or find a new way of saying it. They make sure that they are understood.

Clearly, not all communications require this level of thought or forethought. If your goal, however, is to be heard, than taking a few minutes to prepare yourself and the listener, will be time well spent.

Remember, good communicators do more than listen and talk. They take responsibility for being heard and understood. When it comes to communication, what could be more important than that?

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From 13 to 30

Once I reached my thirties (I am now 51), I was able to look back and realize that I was not as smart as I thought I was. In fact, arriving at this age and time was actually a very humbling experience for me. Maybe you have had a similar experience. That experience was this: From the age of 13 to 30, I thought I knew everything there was to know. It wasn’t until I got to be in my thirties that I realized that I didn’t know anything at all.

For me, this observation was reconfirmed by being a parent. I have two wonderful and extraordinary kids (now in their twenties) who certainly know more about life and the realities of the world than I do. Just ask them.

If your children are anything like mine, then more than once you were told “You don’t understand” or were greeted by a rolling back of the eyes as you spoke to them. The obvious reason for this must be due to one thing: They know more than we do. I am certain that I did the same thing with my parents and I was a great kid (Naturally!).

It is part of the growing up process. A little independence goes a long way towards causing us to feel pretty good about ourselves and the world around us. If we have some independence (part of the growing up process) and are doing well with it, than we must know what we are doing….certainly more than our parents know. That is why and when as younger people we tell our parents things like “There is nothing to worry about” and “Nothing is going to happen.” I am sure that this confidence and belief serves us well as we begin to find our way in the world.

I am also sure that the humility that comes from learning, experience and recognizing that maybe we don’t know it all serves us well too.

The fact is that the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. That is a good thing. It makes me a better listener. It keeps me a little more open minded. It help[s me tolerate being told “You don’t understand” because maybe, just maybe I don’t.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cynic or Optimist. Which are you?

If your experience is anything like mine, than you probably know people who can only be described as “cynics.” What I have found to be universally true among my cynical friends is that they all deny being cynical and all say the same thing. “I am not a cynic. I am a realist.”

Non-cynics see them as cynics. We (and I include myself in that group) see their “realist” approach to the world as cynical, jaded, pessimistic and down right negative. Their reality is different than our own. It is shaded by skepticism, distrust and an expectation of disappointment. They also and always have tons of evidence to prove their point.

Non-cynics, on the other hand, tend to be positive, trusting, optimistic and filled with hope. We (including myself again) are the kind of people who really annoy the cynics in our world. They see us as being in denial, Polly Anna’s and unrealistic. The question is who is right? The answer is it depends on who you ask.

When we believe that something is true, than we are constantly looking for evidence to prove our belief. Below are some examples.

The cynic says “The weather is awful.”
The optimist says “There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.”

The cynic says “Everybody lies.”
The optimist says “People only lie when they don’t feel safe telling the truth.”

The cynic sees “the glass as half empty.”
The optimist sees “the glass as half full.”

Ironically, cynics have not always been the pessimists we know them to be today. According to Wikipedia ( ), “Cynicism originally comprised the various philosophies of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics, founded by Antisthenes in about the 4th century BC. The Cynics rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in a simple and unmaterialistic lifestyle.” That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Wikipedia continues saying ” By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to a new and very different understanding of cynicism to mean an attitude of jaded negativity, and a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of other people. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities which are unfulfilled. Cynicism can manifest itself by frustration, disillusionment and distrust in regard to organizations, authorities and other aspects of society, and can result from a negative evaluation of past experiences.”

Hmmmmmm……..based on that definition, (rejecting conventions, advocating the pursuit of virtues, and being unmaterialistic) maybe I should be telling people “I am not a realist. I am a cynic.”

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Choosing our perspective

What is perspective? It is more than just how we view everything. Perspective is how we choose to view everything.

Do we really have a choice about our perspective?

We make decisions all day long: what to eat, what to wear, what to do, etc. We are in complete control over those decisions. Yet somehow, we think or have decided that there is a distinction between those seemingly ‘practical’ decisions and the decisions we make about the feelings that we have.

The fact is each and every one of those practical decisions is based on feelings. We even use language that confirms that we have control over these feelings. “What do you feel like eating?” “What do you feel like wearing?” “What do you feel like doing?” At a minimum, we all have to agree that we have control over at least some of our feelings. That leaves us with only one question: why is it that we control some of our feelings and not all of them? The answer is simple. It is because we choose not to.

Aren’t some of our feelings beyond our control?

Choosing not to have control over some feelings, serves some people very well. If we do not have control over something, than how can we possibly be responsible for it? There is a certain logic there, albeit flawed logic. The reason it is flawed is because it is not true: if we agree that we can control at least some of our feelings, then logic says we must also have the ability to choose which feelings we control.

As adults we make decisions all day long that are based on our feelings. The next question is what distinguishes the feelings that we control from the feelings that we do not control? Is it the strength of the feeling? Is it rage? Depression? Euphoria? Whatever the reason is, who determines the controllable feeling from the uncontrollable one. The answer can only by us, ourselves. Yes, it is true and it does happen that sometimes decisions are made for us. But no one other than ourselves can decide how to feel. In other words, we may not be able to control all that happens in our lives, but we are always in control of how we respond. We get to choose our perspective.

Perspective is deciding how we feel.

Only we can make the decision about how we feel. Only we can know the reasons or reasoning behind our decision. It may be that we don’t know the reasons why we feel a particular way. But whether known or not, our perspective is our decision. It includes every moment of our history, every feeling that we have ever had, the sum of all the experiences that brought us to this time and place. Our perspective is our choice and no one else’s.

Do we always exercise control over our perspective? No, because we are still human and still fallible. But knowing that we do have a choice and that we can often do better, may help us in choosing a better perspective.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.