The One Problem with Mockingbirds

It’s June in Southern California.  That means it’s mockingbird time.

As we sat on the patio for dinner tonight, a mockingbird serenaded us.  I’m always amazed, because they have so many different songs in their repertoire. They’ve been created with the ability to “mock” other birds, duplicating up to 200 different calls – clearly and loudly.

It’s the aviary version of having a Kindle.  You get hundreds of bird calls for the price of a single bird.

Turns out it’s all about romance.  Most often, it’s the male that makes the most noise, trying to attract the attention of the females.  They often sit on the peak of a roof or the highest branch of a tree.  They want to be seen, and they want to be heard.  They’re not shy about advertising their presence.

Sounds like some guys you’ve known, right?

During the day, it’s amazing to listen to.  I often take my work outside so I can hear the serenade.  It doesn’t get much better than that, listening to a bird do exactly what it was created to do – and do it well.

But there’s a problem: They often sing all night, too.

At 3:00 AM, I’m not nearly as amazed.  Their song isn’t very relaxing when I’m trying to sleep. It’s very well done, but I don’t care.  I want it to stop.

It’s all about timing.

That’s true with people, too.

We have a lot of things to say – words we think others will want to hear.  Sometimes, it’s exactly what they need – and they appreciate those words.  But sometimes, those good words are spoken at the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances:

  • Giving advice when someone just needs a listening ear.
  • Suggesting solutions when someone just needs empathy.
  • Focusing on our own problems without noticing the pain in another person.
  • Making it all about us instead of about them.
  • Assuming that they want our opinion instead of seeking their perspective.
  • Talking about tough stuff first thing in the morning when they’re a night person (or vice-versa).

See the common thread?  It’s listening.

Too many people are like mockingbirds – talking all the time, sharing their opinions from the rooftop, hoping to attract the attention of anyone who will listen.  But when we talk before we listen, we can’t discern when our words are needed.

That can be irritating.

Someone said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

In fact, the biblical book of Proverbs reinforces the importance of timely communication:

  • “Wise people always think before they speak, so what they say is worth listening to.”
  • “Fools have no desire to learn; they would much rather give their own opinion.”
  • “It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.”
  • “A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up.”
  • “Observe the people who always talk before they think; even simpletons are better off than they are.”

We all think we have good things to say, and that other people need to hear them.  It’s probably true.

But listening is what gives us an audience with others.  It builds trust and credibility, and we earn the right to share.

Mockingbirds don’t know any better.

But we should – and can.

Go listen to someone today that you really care about.  Don’t have an agenda; just listen.  Period.

They might actually want to hear what you have to say.

Introverts Don’t Need to Be Healed

I was always intimidated by Jack Barnes.

Jack was the quarterback on our high school football team. Tall, good-looking and always had the right thing to say. Nice guy.  Articulate.

I was short and played in the band, and never knew what to say.

Jack and I would talk occasionally, and I was always amazed at how quickly he could think on his feet. He would ask me what I thought about something, and my mind would go blank.

That is, until about 30 minutes later. Then I had the perfect response.

I wasn’t shy; I just couldn’t think fast enough. I was tongue-tied when a teacher called on me for an answer. I couldn’t hold my own in tough conversations, and always came in last during debates.

I thought there was something wrong with me, and I needed healing. Jack never seemed to mind. I felt intimidated, but he was a good guy and always overlooked it.

So I went to the bookstore to see if there were any books on effective communication. There were, but they were mostly filled with tips and techniques for becoming more assertive and bold.

I felt like these books were written by Jack, teaching me how to communicate more like he did.

It was like a bird teaching a turtle the best way to get around.  If I was going to be successful, I had to become more like him.

Years later, I discovered the truth: I was a practicing introvert, while Jack was an extrovert.

It didn’t have anything to do with being outgoing or not. It’s about how we process information, and where we get our energy

Extroverts think by talking. They form their thoughts aloud, shaping their ideas as they come out.  Introverts think first, then talk. They need time to process their ideas before expressing them.

Extroverts usually think faster. Introverts usually think deeper.

Extroverts go to a party, wondering how many people they can talk to before it’s over. Introverts pick one person they can have a deep conversation with for the next hour.

When an extrovert is in a noisy crowd, their energy rises – and it’s depleted when they’re alone. An introvert can function in a crowd for a while, but it drains them – and they need time alone to recharge.

Here’s the problem: Extroverts seem to have it easier in society, and introverts wish they could become more like them.

But we need both.

Jonathan Rauch, a columnist for Atlantic Monthly, said that introverts are “among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.”

Healing an introvert is like an oak tree becoming a sailboat. It’s just not going to happen, and will lead to frustration if we keep trying.

Instead, we need to celebrate our strengths. I couldn’t imagine participating in a political debate.  But give me a couple of days to put my thoughts in writing, and I’m all in.

We need proficient talkers in society. But we also need reflective thinkers. Together, we can take a synergistic approach to solving the world’s problems.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s OK that I don’t have quick answers. I’ve learned to say, “Hmmm . . . that’s really an interesting perspective.  I’m going to have to think through that before I respond.  Let’s revisit this the next time we talk, OK?”

Jack Barnes passed away recently. I really wish we could have had a few more conversations.  I think we both would have enjoyed the dialogue – in our own, unique way.

Someone said, “God don’t make no junk.”

‘Nuff said.


If you feel like you’re at a disadvantage because you’re an introvert, there are several recent resources that celebrate the value of the quieter temperament. My two favorites are Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — and Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

Break Time’s Over

Let’s start with the most important thing: Today is launch day for my book, Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication.

Today would be a great day to pick it up.

Or not.

The reason to get it today is that a strong launch gives a book more quick exposure, which builds momentum. If it’s a helpful book, it’s a chance to get it into more hands so it can help more people.

So, it would be great if you could:

  • Pick up a copy or three on Amazon or your favorite online retail outlet.
  • Share this post with your “tribe” through your social media accounts, and encourage others to do the same.

There is one reason, though, why you might want to pass it up:

You might already have it.

Here’s the scoop:

A couple of years ago, Revell published my book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: RealCommunicationNeeded.
It was a book about learning to communicate effectively when conversations get challenging and uncomfortable. But people read the title and thought it was a book about the evils of social media, and how it messes with our relationships.  Even the media interviews I did focused on technology, not communication.

People agreed strongly with that idea, but they didn’t need a book to tell them.

So they said nice things about it, but didn’t buy it.

I approached my publisher and asked if we could make a change in the packaging so it would be more accurate. They had already been thinking that direction, so they agreed.

The result? The book that’s launching today – Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy CommunicationIt’s a revised version of that original book. So if you bought that one, you might not need to get this new one (though it’s a little different).

But you can still spread the word . . . which I would deeply appreciate.

I just read through the book again. It’s been awhile, so I wanted to see what I said.

Here’s the interesting thing I discovered: It’s a really good book. In fact, I think it might be the most helpful book I’ve written.  When the focus was on technology, it was an OK book.  But now that the focus is on communication, it was a surprisingly helpful read.

If you’re challenged by tough, uncomfortable conversations, I think you’ll find some real help here. It’s full of practical tips and advice of what’s needed to build your conversational toolbox, and how to use those tools effectively.

Know someone who’s struggling in a relationship? This could make the difference for them.  It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s proven.  It’s not stuffy (as evidenced by the cover).

So, this isn’t just about making a book successful (though that’s part of it). It’s about getting a tool in the hands of people who are stuck in their relationships.


That leads to the second part. I’ve been “on recess” for the most part over the past year.  There has been a lot going on – from job changes to multiple surgeries and a few other things that make life interesting.  So I’ve really missed connecting with you in this way.

But it’s time to come back.

There’s a new website coming in a few weeks (I actually hired an expert). It’ll be our “coffee shop” where we can connect about life.  I’ll be your barista, and you can drop in anytime.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m also jumping back into this blog again. So, you can expect to hear something about once a week.  (If you’d like to receive these posts automatically, sign up at the top of this page.)  You’re going to help pick the topics.  It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

And I’m working on the next book proposal. You’ll be part of the writing process on this one.

I also stuck my toes in the Instagram pool today. If you’re on there as well, we can go exploring together.

This “season” has helped me see how much I enjoy writing and connecting. So I’m looking forward to having you along on the journey. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful that you’re along for the ride.

Now – go spread the word about elephants . . . and we’ll talk again next week!

How to Actually Change the World

When my son, Tim was about 10 years old, we went to a sporting goods store and tried on ski goggles. Each one had a different color lens.

The clerk suggested that amber-colored lenses gave the best visibility in poor weather conditions, such as fog or haze. When I put them on, the entire store became brighter and sharper.

The problem was that everything was yellow.

We tried on other pairs of goggles, and found that the color of the lens impacted how we saw things. Red goggles made everything red; blue goggles made everything blue.

Tim put on blue lenses, and I put on red. I saw a jacket on a rack across the room and said, “Tim – what color is that jacket?”

“It’s blue,” he said.

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s red.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “It is not.  It’s blue.”

Finally, we took off our goggles.

The jacket was white.

kids-gogglesWhen we looked through those lenses, we were actually seeing the jacket in those colors. We believed we were right.  We couldn’t understand why the other person didn’t see it the same way, because it was so obvious.  We could have argued all day, trying to convince each other of our position.

But the lenses didn’t change the reality.

The jacket was still white.

Sound familiar? When we have people in our lives that we disagree with, we’re often on a mission to convince them that their position is wrong, and ours is right. We use logic and passion to explain why our position makes so much sense. We do it on Facebook and politics and marriages and work relationships.

They do the same thing with us.

How many times has your mind been changed in that way? Probably none.  We want to get our point across, so we say it louder or use more logic.

But as someone once said, “If I believe I’m right, do I really want your opinion?”

We’re not caring about the other person. We’re only focused on getting them to change and agree with us.

Everybody’s talking. Nobody’s listening.

On the other hand, think about a time when someone deeply listened to you. They didn’t agree with your position, but they let you talk.  They gave you a chance to share your position instead of forcing theirs. They gave up their agenda of changing you and switched to an agenda of caring about you.

They looked through your lenses.

How did that feel?

When we listen, it builds trust.

When trust is built, relationships grow.

When relationships grow, we feel safe looking through each other’s lenses. We can still disagree, but it doesn’t divide us.

It connects us – and opens the door for genuine dialogue.

Want to make a difference in the world today?

Talk less. Listen more.

Make it your mission to love somebody, no matter what they think.

Maybe they’ll do it back.

Are You Talking to an Extrovert or an Introvert?

A Simple Test

Fifteen years ago, you didn’t hear much about introverts.

Everybody assumed that extroverts had better social skills, and that introverts were shy and needed to be healed. It seemed like they were lacking the tools to function well in society.

But in 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an essay for The Atlantic that went viral (before we knew what that meant).  He said that introverts make up 25% of the population, but are among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America – possibly the world.

He put words to what introverts were thinking, and started the dialogue. That was followed by Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World that showed how introverts had a distinct place in society.

  • Extroverts tended to think faster, but introverts think deeper.
  • Extroverts are like solar panels – energized by group interaction. Introverts are like rechargeable batteries – they recharge when they’re alone, which allows them to function in groups.
  • Extroverts tend to think by talking. Introverts think before talking.

In 2013, Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It quickly hit the bestseller list, because introverts were given a voice.  She told us that introverts had the strongest role in making a society solid, and they could make a serious difference in the world.

It’s a great book, if you haven’t read it. She’s the voice that extroverts are actually listening to, and her TED talk is a now a classic.

I’ve written a lot about introverts and extroverts in my books. As a practicing introvert, I’ve learned that we can actually celebrate the way we’re wired.  We have no desire to become extroverts, because it robs the world of our unique contribution.

Relationships get interesting when you mix and match temperaments.

  • Put two extroverts together, and the energy is nonstop.
  • Put two introverts together, and the connection runs deep.
  • Put an introvert and an extrovert together and it’s . . . well, interesting. If they don’t value the differences, they’ll be constantly frustrated with each other. If they learn to celebrate those differences, the potential exists for a world-class relationship.

So, how can you tell if someone is an introvert or an extrovert?

eye-contact-1Pick up Cain’s book or read Rauch’s article and you’ll gain a wealth of wisdom on the topic.  They’re a great overview to understanding the differences.

But here’s one simple thing you can do to test it out in a conversation.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s an interesting place to start.

The next time you’re sitting across a table from someone at Starbucks or a restaurant, observe their eye contact.

  • Extroverts usually make really good eye contact with you while they’re talking, and tend to look around more when they’re listening.
  • Introverts tend to break eye contact when they’re the ones talking, but give solid eye contact when they’re listening.

Why? Because we make eye contact when we’re comfortable. 

When an extrovert is talking, she’s in her “sweet spot.” It’s what she does best, so it’s natural to focus her attention on the other person.

When an introvert is listening, that’s her unique sweet spot for the same reason.

Like I said, it’s only a place to start. Observe someone for a while, then talk together about it.  Ask them to do the same for you.

Isnt’ that what healthy conversation is based on?

Paying attention to each other, and talking.

Sounds like a good reason to go to Starbucks . . .

How Will You Be Remembered?

I lost at Monopoly.

And I loved it.

Last weekend, our 11-year old granddaughter, Averie spent the weekend with us. We rotate having all three grandkids, and it was her turn.

It was an amazing weekend.

We finished a jigsaw puzzle.

She and I went to Starbucks at 6:00 AM, and sat outside and just talked while the sun came up. Then we went out to breakfast.

We went to a home and garden show.

She and Grandma made a “spa day,” then worked on sewing a skirt together.

She baked. She drew.

Then we played Monopoly.

monopolyMost people either love Monopoly or hate it. In our extended family, Averie and I are the only ones who really like playing it. She got out the board, set everything up, and the three of us sat down to play.

She managed to buy every property on the cheapest row – from Mediterranean Avenue to Connecticut Avenue. She quickly put up hotels on each property.  They must have been really nice hotels, because I stayed at all of them multiple times.

I managed to buy every property on the most expensive row – from Pacific Avenue to Boardwalk. I couldn’t buy hotels because I kept spending my money to stay at Averie’s hotels.

Averie won. Grandma and I lost.

It was awesome.

Partway through the game, Averie told us about playing a video version of Monopoly with a friend. She described all the things that happened that were unique.

“When you land on “Go to jail,” a big cage slams down over you,” she said. “Then a crane picks you up and carries you across the board to the jail square.”  She described how different characters move across the virtual board, and the cool things that happen when you draw cards.

It sounded great, and I’d love to try it with her. It would be fun to play it like that and see the clever things they’ve built into the game.

I thought about that for a few minutes, and realized that I’d still rather play the board game.

  • When you’re playing a video game, you can still talk – but you’re looking at a screen.
  • When you’re playing a board game, you can still talk – but you’re looking at each other.

I realized why I love playing Monopoly so much that day – because of the dynamics that happen between the people who are playing.

Whenever Averie made a good move, she would glance up at us to see how we were reacting.

We made eye contact. We laughed.  We talked.

We were playful about our facial expressions, acting frustrated when someone hopped right over our best property.

We were being entertained by each other, not distracted by animation.

I spend my life looking at screens. I’m looking at one right now while I’m writing this.  For many of us, it’s our default setting.

Screens aren’t bad. But someday when I’m gone, I don’t want Averie’s mental image of me to be where I’m looking at a screen.

I want her to remember me looking in her eyes.

Producers of video content know exactly how to grab our attention with the right kind of graphics and movement and content. It’s not that it’s bad – but it can easily distract us from what matters most in our lives.

Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

We focus on the things that we love and value the most.

Where are you looking?

How will the most important people in your life remember you?

Maybe it’s time to play Monopoly with someone who means the world to you . . .

What Cows Can Teach Us About Tough Conversations

I don’t know much about cows, except that they seem really peaceful when I see them on the side of a hill munching grass.

Low stress. No hurry.  They’re just enjoying being cows.

But they don’t like rain.

The other day, I read about a rancher in a Midwestern rural community who has hundreds of cows. His cows roam freely over miles of pastureland, and they lead pretty comfortable lives.

At certain times of the year, cloudbursts come through on a regular basis. They only last about five minutes, and they move pretty slowly.

But the cows don’t like those mini-storms. So they try to run away from them.

The problem is, cows don’t run very fast.

The storms don’t move very fast.

So the cows run along with the storm, and they get soaked a lot longer. If they just stood still, the storm would be uncomfortable – but it would be over a lot quicker as it moved over them.  By running with the storm, they prolong the pain.

Relationships are like that.

When there’s something uncomfortable that needs to be addressed, we don’t look forward to it. We put off talking about it.  We procrastinate. We hope it’ll just get better.

The longer we put it off, the more it grows – and the worse it becomes.

By putting off the tough conversation, we prolong the discomfort.

We run with the storm.

It’s uncomfortable to deal with tough issues when they first surface, but it’s the best time to address them. If we wait, it always gets worse.

Issues that are procrastinated on are always magnified.

Cow runningAre you dreading a tough conversation? Now’s the time to make it happen.

Don’t be a cow.

Don’t run with the storm.

Deal with it now, and it you’ll get past it more quickly.

Maybe it’s time to mooooove into the conflict.

(Sorry – couldn’t resist.)

For Women Only . . .

"I Wish He Had Come with Instructions"

Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of do-it-yourself furniture. It’s become a familiar process:

  • Open the box
  • Look for the instructions
  • Lay out all the pieces
  • Try to follow the instructions
  • Get frustrated
  • Eat cookies

The instructions read as though they were written by someone who had never seen the actual pieces. Their “step-by-step” process becomes more like “stop-by-stop.”  We think, If I stay focused, I’ll figure it out.

But it doesn’t happen.

Women – does it ever feel like the same thing is true of men? You find one you like, and the picture on the box looks promising.  But when you look inside, there are no instructions.

“That’s OK,” you think. “He comes preassembled.” You won’t need to figure out how to put the pieces together.

But it’s not just the instruction manual that’s missing. There’s also no operation manual to describe how he works:

  • You can’t find the power button.
  • He turns on all by himself at random times and turns off suddenly when you least expect it.
  • He usually seems to work OK, but there seems to be no way to control him.

Most of the time he does what you expect him to do. But there are those unexpected times when he doesn’t cooperate.  You think he’ll help with the housework, but instead he plops down on a couch and plows through a bag of Cheetos while watching people run around a field on a big screen.

That’s when you notice the warning labels on the box that you overlooked:

  • “Fragile” (he needs an ego boost to keep functioning)
  • “This end up” (if he gets upset, he doesn’t work right)
  • “Batteries not included” (he runs out of energy at the worst times)

So, what do you do when there’s no operation manual? You end up writing your own.

Most women have experienced something similar with the men in their lives. So they talk to each other, trying to figure out what their men are thinking. But without knowing exactly what’s going on in a man’s mind, it becomes an exercise in futility.  They write their own operation manual from their own female frame of reference.  It’s what they know.

That can be dangerous, because those male differences can be seen as problems to solve. I’ve seen a number of books that focus on two approaches:

  1. Fixing those differences
  2. Coping with those differences

Both of those can be unhealthy.  They ignore the fact that differences are essential for a relationship to grow and thrive.  That’s the third option:

Embrace the differences.

When I was getting ready to write my latest book, “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions: A Woman’s Guide to a Man’s Brain,” I went to the bookstore to see what had already been written.  I found two categories:

  • Books written by women about how men think
  • Books written by men giving advice to women

I decided to fill the obvious gap – a book about a man’s brain, written by someone who’s lived in there for a long time.

My wife, Diane started me in the right direction. “There are too many books written by men telling women what to do,” she said.  “Men don’t know how women think, either – so they shouldn’t be giving them advice like that.”

Bechtle_Instructions.inddSo, in this new book, I’ve chosen to simply be a tour guide. I’ll take you on a journey of a man’s brain so you know what’s going on.  I won’t tell you what to do.  I’ll just show you the scenic lookouts and the switchbacks on the trail and the toxic waste spots to avoid.  I’ll just walk with you on the journey.

It’s an understanding manual, not an instruction manual.

It was a fun book to write – and I think it might be my favorite. It’s gotten some great reviews already, and I’ve had some pretty energetic media response during interviews.

Now, it’s your chance to find out for yourself . . . and I’d love your help getting the word out, so others can benefit.

The book launched this week. The first couple of weeks is important for the success of a book, because it shows how much interest there is in the book.  The more “buzz” that takes place initially, the better the chance of it taking off.

Since you’re the people that have allowed me to have good conversations with you every week or so, I’d like to ask your help. Here are some things you can do as part of my “team:”

  • Buy a copy for yourself (you can purchase or download it here), and maybe an additional one for a friend.
  • Rank it with “stars” on Amazon. (Yeah, I look at those, too when I’m buying things.) Add a short review if you’re so inclined. That also applies to Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
  • Let people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. know that you’re reading it. Add a cat video to capture their attention.
  • Share this blog post with others and invite them to join our discussions.
  • If you have a blog, post something about it there. If you use guest posts or author interviews, I’d be happy to drop by. If you do book reviews, I’ll get you a copy to give away. We’re in this writing thing together, and I’d love to help you out.
  • Donate a copy to your church or public library. Or put it in your dentist’s office so people have an alternative from reading a copy of Reader’s Digest from 2006.

Let me know your thoughts as you read. I’d love to hear your input, especially how it helps you understand the men in your life.

And if your man reads it, that’s OK. It could make for some interesting discussions!

Thanks – just know how much I appreciate the chance to connect through this blog every couple of weeks. Soon, you’ll see a new website and a new approach – so stay tuned!

The World’s Quietest Book Launch

Today, I’m breaking all the rules.

I’m launching my new book without fanfare. No parades, no book tours, no carefully-orchestrated campaigns.

I’m ignoring the many promotions I receive about how to make your book a New York Times bestseller by following someone’s program.

It’s a quiet launch, not a noisy one.

And I’m doing it on purpose.

Writers are often introverts, but they’re told they need to become extroverts to get the message out. If you don’t have a big launch, nobody will notice.

There are a ton of books being released each day that are clamoring for attention in the marketplace, and they’re all shouting, “Hey! Buy me! Buy me!” Success comes to the one who yells the loudest, who makes their voice heard above the others.

It’s true. I’m taking a risk.

But this time, I’m choosing to announce this quietly. I’m letting you know in a casual conversation at Starbucks, not in a stadium with a Jumbotron screen.

That’s the relationship we have. It’s a real one, connecting quietly through words.

I want to respect that.

There’s a reason for this quiet launch – the title of the book.

bookToday, my newest book is available in bookstores and online retailers like Amazon. It’s called You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: #RealCommunicationNeeded. It grew out of seeing people talking less and texting more, and seeing what the shift to electronic communication has done to our relationships.

I love technology. I’m not villainizing it. But technology is a tool. A tool is something we use to do a job better than we can do it without the tool.

Real relationships need real communication. Technology is a great tool when it enhances our communication, but dangerous when it replaces it.

This book is written to get our relationships back, and protect them in the future.

It’s about restoring human moments – face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, voice-to-voice. It’s about talking first instead of texting.

It’s about how to control our technology instead of being controlled by it.

So . . . it makes sense to launch a book like that through real conversation rather than a commercial campaign.

Let’s do this. Ready?

The Official Book Launch

  1. My new book comes out today. I think you’ll find it helpful.
  2. Please buy a copy and decide for yourself. You can click the following link to find it on Amazon: You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: #RealCommunicationNeeded (it’s also commonly found in grocery stores, airport bookstores, etc.)
  3. Read it.
  4. If you like it, take someone to Starbucks and tell them about it. Or buy them a copy. If you don’t like it, let me know – I’ll refund your money. Seriously.
  5. Share this launch on Facebook or other places where you hang out with friends – so others can experience a quiet launch. Maybe they’ll find it refreshing.
  6. Review the book on your personal blog or Amazon. Be honest about it – people need to know what they’re getting.

That’s it.

I might not sell as many books this way, but that’s OK for this one. I’d rather have the word spread through conversations than coercion.

I might do a traditional launch in the future. My next book comes out next summer on August 1, and I might have trumpets and prizes and airplanes carrying banners (the topic lends itself to that).

But for now, enjoy your day. Get some coffee and curl up with a good book for a while.

Enjoy the quiet.


“What a fantastic book!  Mike Bechtle is not only entertaining and compelling, his advice is rock-solid and practical.  Anyone who is serious about having healthy relationships – at work or on the home-front – will love this book. Don’t miss out on Mike’s message.”
Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott
Authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts


Virtual Coffee

Writing can be a lonely task. You do it by yourself, because you have to think.

Speaking is anything but lonely. But it’s short-lived. You stand in front of a group and interact with them for 8 hours, but they leave at the end and you’re alone again.

I make my living doing both.

It’s not a bad gig for an introvert.

friendsI love the speaking days – especially the chance to connect with people one-on-one during breaks. But constant interaction can be draining, and I’m usually pretty drained by the end of the day. I recharge on my drive home – alone.

On writing days, I love the chance to think and process ideas. I often don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. My ideas take shape during the writing process. (That’s happening as I write this; I don’t know how it’s going to end yet. I almost always get a surprise ending!)

But I’ve also learned that I need human interaction on writing days. If I don’t have it, I can get stuck in my own thoughts or get too introspective.

Going out for coffee with a friend is probably my favorite thing to do.

And maybe the most important.

When I have coffee with a friend, it’s a chance to get outside my head. I get to explore their life and their thoughts and their passion and their ideas. I always learn things I didn’t know before, and get to feel like we’re sharing life together.

When I come home and start writing again, all my thoughts are different. Interacting with a friend hits a “reset” button in my brain, even though we weren’t talking about the subject I’m writing about.

We were made to do life with other people.

We communicate through email, social media and even phone calls, and it can be a great way to connect. But something different happens when we’re face-to-face, relaxing over a cup or a meal: We have what Dr. Edward Hallowell calls a “human moment.”

Human moments refresh us. They restore us. They remind us that we’re . . . well, human.

If you’re one of the people I have coffee or a meal with, you need to know how much it means to me. Doing life with you gives me the ability to write and speak. It keeps me from being alone and introspective.

It also gives me a different perspective on blogging.

Most of the blogs I’ve read are people sharing their ideas with other people. That’s not a bad thing, but it can feel one-sided. The blogs that seem to have the biggest impact are the ones that feel like you’re having coffee with them – virtually.

Those blogs don’t seem to be about teaching; they’re about connecting. It’s about the writer laying a few thoughts on the table, and readers responding with their thoughts. It’s a true conversation, not a monologue. It’s real, and it’s vulnerable.

It’s about mutual curiosity.

It has the scent of a human moment.

Connecting through a blog doesn’t replace human moments. It’s a way for thousands of people to feel like they’re actually having an intimate conversation at Starbucks.

That’s what “comments” are for. It’s not something to stroke a writer’s ego because they get lots of comments. It’s a chance to do what we would do across from each other at a table: notice each other, hear each other, respond to each other.

It reminds us that we’re not alone. There are other people working their way through life, and we get to encourage each other on the journey.

I can’t have coffee with all of my readers. But I’m grateful we have a chance to connect in this way.


Go find a real person to have coffee with today.

They need a human moment – and so do you.


I’d love to hear your thoughts, and so would your fellow readers . . . comment below.






A Better Approach to Relationship “Issues”

My wife and I had a disagreement last week.

It was about money. (It usually is, right?)

It started a week earlier, and we shared our feelings about the issue.  But we couldn’t find a resolution, so we put it on the back burner for a while.  Then we got busy and didn’t talk about it, even though it was smoldering in the background for both of us.

Until Sunday, when it resurfaced.

People don’t usually argue about things they have in abundance.  Diane and I have never had strong emotions about air.  There seems to be enough to go around, so we’ve never argued about it.

But when something we need becomes scarce, it gets our attention – and our emotion.  If we were trapped underwater, air would be the only thing we would think about.

We need money.  Not tons, but enough to do what needs to be done.  When it’s limited, it gets our attention.

When those strong emotions come up in any relationship, it’s easy to let it become a wedge between two people.  The issue comes between us and pushes us apart.  People begin fighting about it, trying to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.

The issue divides us.

But there’s a better way:

We need to put the issue on the outside, so it pushes us together – not between us, where it pushes us apart.

The issue always shows up between people – right smack in the middle.  When that happens, the other person becomes the enemy – the problem to be solved.  So two people that care about each other start fighting each other instead of fighting the issue.

We need to fight the issue.

Issues come up in every relationship, so we can’t wish them away.  So what should we do when they show up?

  1. Remind each other that the relationship is important.
  2. Point out that the issue is the problem, and that we need to attack it together.
  3. Express emotions genuinely, without attacking the other person. Stick with “I’m feeling this” instead of “You did that.”
  4. Realize that the issue might not be resolved quickly. But commit to working on it together.

Diane and I sat in the car and talked through our emotions and how we perceived the issue.  But we reaffirmed our care for each other and our relationship.  We realized it wasn’t a matter of who was right or wrong; it was a matter of staying connected so we could attack the issue together.

We still haven’t resolved it.  But we still like each other.  We’re in this together.

Issues are sneaky and deceptive.  They always try to convince us that they’re not the problem.

They’re lying.

Always make the issue the problem, not the person.

Relationships are a team sport.

Move the issue where it belongs, and you can work as a team.

It’s the healthy way to deal with issues.

Dog & Cat

Why We Need to Clarify Expectations

Years ago (back in the 70’s ), I picked up four boxes of old magazines that someone was getting rid of. By “old,” I mean from the ‘60’s.  There were travel magazines, food magazines, business journals and a few random topics thrown in.

I was just starting to write professionally, and thought it might be a good source of ideas. I figured that I could just look at the table of contents to see what had been written, and get ideas that might be interesting to pursue.  I wasn’t going to copy anything – in fact, I wasn’t even going to read the articles.  I just thought I’d use the article titles for inspiration.

There were probably 100 magazines in each box, so I had about 400 total.

Those boxes sat in my garage for years.

I had great intentions, but never opened the boxes.

My wife said, “Why don’t you throw those away? They’re just taking up space.”

“No,” I said. “I’m going to get to them someday. I just haven’t had time.”

A couple of years later, we moved to Arizona. The magazines moved with us.

Eleven years later, we moved back to California. The magazines moved with us.

Ten years after that, we had a yard sale. Diane said, “Why don’t you sell your magazines?”  I started the same excuse I had given for over 20 years.

But she continued: “Put a price on them that you’d be comfortable with. If they sell, you have the money.  If they don’t, you still have the magazines.”

It made sense, though it was hard to part with them. I felt like there might be buried treasure in those magazines, and I hadn’t captured it yet.  But I agreed to the plan.

I took the four boxes out to the driveway, opened them and marked “25 cents” on the box. I figured that if I sold 400 magazines for 25 cents each, I’d make $100.

I went in the house for about 20 minutes. When I returned, Diane said, “I sold your magazines.”

“All of them?”

“All of them,” she said. “Somebody bought all four boxes.”

“How much did you get?” I asked

She handed me a dollar bill.

I had written “25 cents” on each box, meaning that it was the price of each magazine. She thought it was the price of each box.

So I was a dollar richer, and had space in my garage. She had done exactly what I asked her to do when I put that price on the box.  But I assumed she understood what I meant.

pool soapWhen anyone tells us something, it’s easy to take their words at face value. But that can lead to misunderstanding and disappointment later.  I’ve learned that it’s always healthy to ask for clarification instead of assuming I understand.

Here’s a simple approach:

  • Someone tells us what they want.
  • We respond like this:
    • “OK – when you say __________ , what do you mean?”
    • “Can you tell me more about that?”
    • “What, exactly, are you thinking?”
  • We summarize back what we heard: “So let me make sure I have this right. What you’re really asking is _______________; is that correct?”

That gives them a chance to clarify to make sure you’re on the same page. It also shows them that you were listening.

Try it with someone at dinner tonight. See how it goes (and let us know).

If I had done that a few years ago, I might be $99 richer.



Which are Better – Morning People or Night People?

It’s 5:13 AM.  I’m sitting by an open window and it’s dark outside.  The air is cool; the coffee is hot.  In a few minutes, the horizon will hint at a sunrise.

It doesn’t get much better than this, I think.

I love mornings.  Even on the days I’m not working, I’m up early.  I don’t want to miss the stillness, and the “firsts” – the first sounds of birds waking, the first rays of light, the first movement in the streets. 

It feels like a fresh start.  No matter what happened yesterday, morning gives me hope.  It’s like a “do-over.” It has the potential to be a great day.

My daughter, Sara is also a morning person (though it’s tougher now that she has three little kids).  When she was growing up, we’d get up early every Saturday morning, sit on the couch before anyone else was up, and talk for hours.  It was our time. 

It was awesome. 

Not everyone shares my joy, however.

morning and nightMy son, Tim is a night person.  It’s tougher now, because he manages a restaurant and often has to be there between 5:00 and 6:00 AM to open the store.

When he was little, he would sleep in until we woke him, and would fight his early bedtime every night.  He absolutely loved nighttime – the later, the better.  I never understood the attraction.

One year, we took a family vacation to Hawaii when the kids were in their early teens.  Sara and I would get up to watch the sunrise and grab some juice or coffee. 

Tim wanted to sleep in.  We would wake him up, but he was pretty grumpy.  We’d go for an early breakfast, but he wouldn’t talk.  He barely ate his food, slumped over his meal and disengaged from conversation.

I thought it was because he was a teenager.  I was concerned about his attitude, and felt like he was just being rude and rebellious.  I was worried about our relationship.  I tried to connect, but nothing happened.

I tried to “fix” him.  It didn’t work.

He was perceptive enough to know what was happening.  One morning, he mustered up enough energy to form a few words.  He put his head up, looked me in the eye and said, “Just give me two hours.  Don’t talk for two hours.  We’ll be fine.”

And we were.

I would feel the same way if somebody tried to engage me in conversation late at night.  I didn’t understand, but I came to appreciate it.

A few years later, Tim gave me an unusual gift for Father’s Day.  He made a certificate that said he would take me to a midnight movie.

I said, “Hey!  I thought you were supposed to give gifts that people actually want!  A midnight movie?  I’ll fall asleep!”

“Take a nap,” he said.  “You’ll be fine.”

I really wasn’t looking forward to it, but he really wanted me to go.  So I took a nap.

It was an action movie, so I actually stayed awake through the whole thing.  We walked out of the theater about 2:15 AM.  There weren’t very many people in the theater, so we stood on the street by ourselves.

It was quiet. 

It was peaceful.

It was amazing.  I had the same feeling I do when I get up at dawn.

He stood quietly for a minute, staring into the dark quietness as if to just take it all in.

“This is my world,” he said.  “I wanted you to see it.”

I saw it.  I felt it.  And I loved him for sharing it with me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a night person.  And I’ll always prefer mornings – like I’m doing right now. 

But I don’t debate which is better any more.  I don’t have to be right.

I’ve just learned the value of looking through someone else’s eyes.

How to Argue With an Extrovert

I wish I could think faster.

Sometimes I’ll be in a conversation with someone who just makes sense.  It doesn’t matter what we’re discussing; they just seem to instantly have the right thing to say.

I think of the right thing to say about 30 minutes after the conversation.

I was on a radio interview a few years ago about one of the books I had written.  For some reason, the host decided to attack a position I had taken.  I don’t remember what it was; I only remember how I felt. 

He peppered me with accusing questions, one after the other.  It was his style, and I didn’t know how to respond.  So to the average listener, I’m sure it sounded like his position was obviously correct, since I didn’t counter his arguments well.  After the interview, I had developed a perfect set of responses – but it was too late.

That was a tough day.  I had to eat cookies to recover.

dogsSince then, I’ve learned some things about introverts and extroverts.  They’re different in a lot of ways.  But one of the primary ones is the way they process information.

Extroverts think out loud.  They actually formulate their ideas by verbalizing them.  When they’re talking, it might be the first time an idea has ever entered their minds.  They figure out what they think by talking. 

Introverts process by themselves.  During a discussion, they really don’t know what they think yet.  They take in the information, then process it for a while to determine their position. 

Extroverts tend to think faster.  Introverts tend to think deeper.

It’s important for introverts to understand this, because it’s easy to get intimidated by the extrovert’s approach.  Extroverts figure that since an introvert doesn’t have a good response to what they’ve said, that they (the extrovert) must be right – and they won the argument.

Introverts simply need to realize that reality.  When an extrovert shoots out quick, forceful arguments, it doesn’t mean they’re correct.  It means they have a different style.

So here’s an idea:

When an extrovert is talking, introverts can say something like, “Wow.  You make some really good points.  Right off the top of my head, I’m not sure how to respond.  I need a little time to think it through – I really do.  Look – let me play with your ideas for a day or two, and I’ll get back with you.  Maybe I’ll shoot you an email with my reaction.  Then I’d love to hear what you think about my ideas.”

Writing and pondering gives introverts a chance to think first, then respond well.  That’s our strength, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about.  The extrovert does what they do best, and we get to do what we do best.

It makes it a fair fight.

10 Better Things to Say at Your Christmas (or other) Gathering

Pick one or two of these, and try them out when family or friends show up for your celebration:


Instead of: “Did you get everything you wanted?”

Better: “Did you give everything you wanted?”


Instead of: “I worked really hard to get ready for you.”

Better: “I’m so glad you’re here.”


Snowman popsInstead of: “Time for dinner.”

Better: “Time to hang out with my favorite people.”


Instead of: “Let’s say grace.”

Better: “What a gift – to have all of you here.  I’m grateful – let me express that.”


Instead of: “Turn off that TV.  This is family time.”

Better: “They’re enjoying watching the game.  How about you and me go for a walk?”


Instead of: (Any type of complaint)



Instead of: “What a mess! I’ll be cleaning forever.”

Better: “The best part of a mess?  It means there was love in the house today.”


Instead of: “I have to cook for so many people.”

Better: “I get to cook for so many people.”


Instead of: “Christmas is so commercial.”

Better: “Yeah, Christmas is commercial – but it’s an excuse for us to get together.”


Instead of: “I love you.”

Better: “I love you.  Always have.  Always will.  Don’t forget.”


Words are powerful.  Choose them wisely.  Choose them intentionally. 

Try a couple out – and tell us how it goes! (Comment)



How the Elephant Got In the Room

My daughter, Sara asked me if I could build her a certain piece of furniture.  I said, “Of course.”  In fact, I gave her a certificate for it for Christmas.

Two years ago.

The problem was that I didn’t know how I was going to build it.  I do well with plans, but not making things up.  This one didn’t have plans.

So I would think about how to do it, but couldn’t figure it out.  So I set it aside for a week or two, thinking it would percolate in the background and I’d know what to do.

A week or two later, nothing had changed.  I wasn’t any closer to a solution.  So I kept putting it off week after week, month after month – because I was stumped.

I’ve learned that when I don’t know how to do something, my default setting is to procrastinate instead of jumping in and tackling something.  (For writers, it’s called “writer’s block” – not feeling inspired, so we put it off for another day.)

Whenever Sara and I would talk, I carefully avoided the subject. For some reason, I didn’t want to let her down or appear incompetent.  Sometimes I would say, “I’m going to Home Depot tomorrow to buy wood.”  And I went and got the wood – but still didn’t know what to do with it.

Since we weren’t talking about it, she didn’t know what was happening.  I assumed she was either irritated or disappointed in me.  But I never asked, so I never knew for sure.  I didn’t want to know.

A few weeks ago, I realized that it had created an unspoken barrier between us.  Here is one of the people I enjoy talking to the most on the planet, and want a close, loving relationship with.  But my silence was building a wall – and had been for two years.

Once I figured out what was happening, I went to her and told her what I was feeling.  I apologized, wanting to do my part to remove the barrier I had created.

As we talked, she said, “Yeah, it was the elephant in the room.”

elephant-room11That’s a word picture we’ve all heard and experienced.  It happens when there’s something that’s obvious and nobody talks about, and we pretend it’s not there. 

I pictured the scenario.  I’m sitting on one side of the living room, and my daughter is on the other side.  We’re peering through the elephant’s legs, trying to make conversation.  It smells, and it fills the room.  It’s noisy.  It’s huge.  But we don’t talk about it.

Once we acknowledge it, we think, “How in the world did that huge elephant get in this room?  It doesn’t even fit through the door!”

That’s when I figured out the answer:

The elephant came in when it was little.

If we wanted to remove it when it first entered, we would simply guide it back through the door.  But by letting it stay, it grew and grew and grew.  Getting rid of it would be a much bigger issue because we waited.

My daughter said, “You know, if you had told me you couldn’t figure it out, we could have spent a day together working on it until we knew what to do.”  That would have been an awesome day with her.  One of our favorite dates is to get coffee at Starbucks and cruise around Home Depot.

I love my daughter.  And I love the fact that we got rid of the elephant. 

The furniture still isn’t done.  But I have the wood.  I figured out the plans.  I’ll be cutting the pieces in the next few days and putting them together.

Mostly, I’ll be letting Sara know how I’m doing.

We might need to go to Home Depot soon.

What’s the lesson in all this?

Watch carefully for baby elephants in the room.  If you let them stay, they’ll get really, really big.


Have you had to deal with the elephant in the room in your best relationships?  Comment here . . .


The Value of Wasting Time

I have a group of friends who get together and play a board game called “Settlers of Catan.”  They make whole evening events of it, bringing snacks and spending hours on strategy.

A lot of people would think they’re wasting time, because they’re not doing anything productive.

My friends don’t see it that way.  It has value to them.

I think it’s probably a cult.  Actually, I’m just jealous because I’m not smart enough to keep up with them.  (I find “Chutes and Ladders” challenging . . .)

socSo, who’s right?  Are they wasting time, or not?

Am I wasting time when I watch a baseball game on TV?  When I go out for coffee or lunch with friends?

Matt is a teacher, and has a short lunch hour.  When we get together for lunch, it takes longer to drive there than we get to spend together.  Is that a waste of time?

Some people want to be super-productive all the time.  If they’re not getting results, they feel like they’re wasting time.  They feel like every moment has to have some type of productive outcome.  As Tim Hansel wrote, “When I relax, I feel guilty.”

So, what determines if time is wasted or not?

If it provides value for me or someone else.

Downtime isn’t wasted:

  • When it helps me recover from a hectic schedule
  • When it restores my energy, my focus and my capacity
  • When it provides true enjoyment, rather than just mindless activity
  • When it allows me to create
  • When it gives me more in return than the time I spend on it

Creativity can’t be rushed. (Imagine telling Michaelangelo to hurry up and paint the Sistine Chapel faster.)

Relationships can’t be rushed. (Time with people isn’t time spent – it’s time invested. In fact, it’s the only way relationships can be built.)

When we waste something, we throw it away.  It has no value to us or anyone else.

When we invest something, the return is multiplied.

If we weigh time on the scale of productivity, downtime will always be a waste.

If we weigh time on the scale of relationships and renewal, downtime will always be a wise investment.

Downtime prepares us for uptime.

It’s great to be productive and make great accomplishments.  But life isn’t just about productivity.  It’s about relationships.

The point: I want to do more things that bring value to myself and others, and less things that don’t.

Maybe Settlers of Catan has value after all – it’s an excuse for friends to hang out with friends and just enjoy being together.

Would you agree?  What high-value ways have you found to waste time?

Blog Post #100 – What I’ve Learned About Blogging

Yesterday, we sat with lifelong friends in the patio of Islands Restaurant in Encinitas CA.  We just talked and enjoyed each other. 

For four hours, we enjoyed each other.

We didn’t have an agenda.  We just wanted to be together. Because of it, I’m refreshed today. 

Human moments do that.

I think we need more of them.

friendshipsWhen I started this blog a little over a year ago, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. People were reading my books and looking for ways to stay connected, so I thought it might be a good way to do that. 

I’ve done that myself with other authors in the past.  If I really like what they’ve written, I want to hear more – especially their current thoughts.  The publishing process means that their book was written a year or more before it hits the shelves, so the content is already a little dated.

I started by reading books about blogging.  I studied blogs I already liked.  I visited websites with suggestions for getting more followers, building a platform, optimizing my site for search engines, and adding all the bells and whistles that draw people’s attention.

I’m sure it’s great advice.  But most of it seemed like a distraction to what I really wanted to do:

I just wanted to have a conversation.

I didn’t want to teach or lecture. I didn’t want to force my views on people, convince them to change their favorite team or buy a different car.

I wanted to just sit on the virtual patio and have a virtual conversation about . . . well, whatever comes to mind.

Just the way we would talk if we were together.  No agenda, no expectations – just enjoying each other’s company.

I actually had a list of topic ideas when I started – about 70 of them that I had collected.  But I think I’ve only used two off that list.  Mostly, I’ve just observed what happens in my week, and write about it.  That’s what we would do on the patio; we’d talk about what happened in our lives since the last time we got together.

You’ve been gracious to meet me there, and you’ve stuck around.  Some of you have invited your friends to the table, because the audience has grown steadily.  What a privilege that you’re willing to hang out! It’s an honor to be with you, and I don’t take it lightly.

I’ve learned that different people are interested in different things – just like in a live group conversation.  Once in a while a topic hits a hot button, and everybody goes home and tells their friends what they heard (it’s called “Facebook sharing”).  A couple of posts are still being shared months later (it’s called “viral”).

We have a lot of introverts around the table.  Not too many comment, but you send a lot of emails with your thoughts.  That’s OK. 

It seems like you’re most interested in stuff about relationships and communication.  Productivity ideas get some attention, but that doesn’t pull anybody’s heart strings. 

If you want to steer the conversation a certain way, just let me know.  My goal is to provide “starter thoughts” that you can take into your personal and professional relationships to move them ahead.

So, this is Post #100.  I’m ready to go for a few more, if you’ll stay at the table.

Final thought: Blogging will never replace face-to-face, eye-to-eye, smile-to-smile.  Diane and I have stayed in touch with our friends Marc, Cheryl and Laurie for years through mail, email and Facebook.  But it couldn’t replace what happened yesterday on the patio at Islands Restaurant in Encinitas.

We had human moments.


In case you’re interested, here are the 8 most popular posts from the past year (in order, most popular first) – click the link to read it.

Why Kids Draw Big Nostrils

Have you ever noticed that whenever little kids draw adults, they usually include big nostrils?

There’s a reason for that. Think about a kid’s perspective.  When they’re about three feet tall, and they look up an adult that’s five or six feet tall . . . what do they see?

Nostrils.  Big nostrils.

When they’re looking straight up, it’s the first thing they notice.  From their vantage point, those nostrils are rather obvious. So, why wouldn’t they draw them?

Big nostrilsMakes sense.  But it got me thinking.

When adults have conversations with each other, they’re normally at the same level.  Even if there’s a difference in height, we can look each other in the eyes.  We connect.  We communicate.  It feels like an adult conversation.

Eye contact makes all the difference.

With kids, it’s different.  Adults tower over them, so it’s hard to have the same level of eye contact.  Sure, we get down and play with them.  But in the routine of day-to-day living, adults tend to talk down, while kids listen up.

I don’t want to put too much weight on this.  But I think it’s worth considering.

A friend is in a wheelchair because of a car accident years ago.  He was speaking to a group of young adults at our church once, and allowed people to ask any question they wanted about life in a wheelchair.  People wanted to know how to treat the disabled, whether they should open doors for them without asking – just common courtesy questions.

Someone asked, “Is there anything you’d like us to do differently?”  He responded, “When you’re holding an extended conversation with me, sit down so we can be at the same level and look each other in the eyes.”

I never thought of that.  But that’s what real conversation is all about – looking each other in the eyes. 

I think that applies to kids as well.  When we’re having an in-depth conversation with a child (especially our own), we need to get to their level so we can make that connection.

That might mean squatting down while we talk.  It might mean plopping them up on the kitchen counter so we can see the whites of their eyes, and they can see ours.  It means we’re able to see into each other’s soul.  Eye contact is an emotional hug that says, “You’re important to me.”

So I’m not suggesting that we have to do that in every conversation.  We just need to be aware of how often we do connect at that level, and how often we don’t.  Then make intentional choices based on what we discover.

Bottom line: My goal is that when my kids or grandkids draw pictures of me, it won’t be with huge nostrils.

It will be huge eyes – because that’s what they’re used to seeing.

ThoughtsComment here.

How Our Conversations Shape Our Kids

When our son was little, someone asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We expected him to say, “a fireman” or “a doctor” or “an astronaut.”

His answer surprised us all: “I want to be honest.”

Now, at age 32, Tim has fulfilled his childhood dream.  He’s one of the most honest people I know.

That doesn’t mean he’s always made good choices.  When you’re growing up, you make mistakes when you’re finding your path.  He didn’t always volunteer information – but when we asked, he told us the truth.

But honesty is simply a part of who he is.  It’s important to him.

I don’t know if he remembers giving that response, but he’s heard us tell that story often.  The more he heard it, the more real it became for him.

We’ve also pointed out how sensitive he was to the feelings of others when he was growing up – how he could just “sense” what was really going on inside a person.

That’s also who he is.  Now, he’s managing a restaurant near San Diego – and his intuitive skills have made his customer service world-class.

kidsAs kids, we were all influenced by what people said about us.  When someone pointed out a hidden skill or strength that we didn’t know we had, we listened.  The words stuck.  And if others pointed out the same thing, we began to believe it.

The opposite is also true.  If someone devalued us as a child or pointed out a negative trait that we hadn’t noticed, we listened.  The words stuck.  If others pointed out the same thing, we began to believe that, too.

Kids are impressionable.  Before they have skills of discernment, they believe what people say about them.

They believe the good words.

They believe the bad words.

They become what others see in them.

It’s not that different for adults, is it?  We tend to believe the perceptions of others, even if those perceptions are inaccurate.  People’s words can either give life to us, or they can steal it from us.

The Bible says, “The power of life and death is in the tongue.”

So, what does it mean?

  • Our kids are listening to what we say about them, even if we don’t realize it.
  • We need to acknowledge – to their face – the unique strengths we see in them.
  • We need to tell others – with our kids listening – about those same strengths.
  • We need to be intentional about the way we describe our kids – to them, and to others.
  • We need to avoid praising our kids for characteristics they don’t have, but that we hope they’ll get.  That’s flattery.  They sense it’s not true, and we lose integrity and influence with them.
  • We need to look for the strengths in the adults around us, and affirm them honestly in those areas.  People assume that adults don’t need encouragement, because they look like they have their act together.  They don’t.  Nobody does.  It’s part of being human, and we need each other.

Our words will make a difference in another person’s life, whether we know it or not.

Choose those words carefully.