Why We Should Choose Our Friends Carefully

I once heard someone say, “You become like the five people you spend the most time with.” That idea has captured my thinking the past few days, and two questions have surfaced:

  1. Who do I spend the most time with?
  2. Am I really becoming like them?

I spend the most time with my wife, Diane. We have our own unique personalities, but have been married long enough that we finish each other’s sentences and respond to things the same way. Our interests have merged over the years, while we still have our unique areas of focus. In a healthy relationship, that’s a good thing.

I also spend a lot of time around people I work with, friends at church, and members of a small group that meets regularly. As I’ve thought about it, I do see how we’ve rubbed off on each other. We carry the “scent” of each other’s lives.

Those changes haven’t been intentionally crafted.  They just seem to happen as we spend time together.

So if that statement is true, it leads to two more questions:

  1. Are those five people becoming more like me?
  2. Is that a good thing?

I don’t choose to spend much time with people who are trying to change me. If they take me on as a project to “fix,” I don’t respond well. But when they simply enter my life and accept me unconditionally, I become a different person because of their influence.

Without my realizing it, their acceptance influences me to become like them.

I think it’s important to be intentional about who we hang out with. It’s comfortable to connect with people who are just like us, but it doesn’t encourage us to change or grow. To really stretch and develop as a person, we need to intentionally choose close relationships with people who are further ahead in certain areas of life.

In other words, find people of all ages whom you admire and want to be like — and hang out with them.

What happens in those relationships? They’re not giving you formal instruction or walking you through a curriculum; they’re just being themselves while you watch them in different life situations. Without even realizing it, you’re learning how to handle those situations in your own life.

They model effective living for you.

They’re not forcing you to change; they’re influencing you.

You become different by being around them.

Think back over the years to the people who inspired you to be better — to do something you didn’t think you could do, or to aim higher than you would have on your own. It might have been a teacher, a coach, a grandparent, or a family friend. Somehow, they made you believe in yourself. They came alongside when you were struggling and said, “I believe in you.”

How did that feel?

Question: Who do you spend the most time with today? How are you becoming like them? You can share your thoughts in the comment section (below).

The 3 People We Need In Our Lives

We hear a lot about “mentors” these days.

It’s a great idea, because there are people who know more than we do about a lot of things – including life in general.

We’re encouraged in articles, blogs, sermons and podcasts to find someone in that position, and try to develop a mentoring relationship with them. They agree to meet with us on a regular basis, and we learn from them and grow faster.

They’re the mentor. We’re the mentee.

It’s a fast-track to growth and success.

I’m a huge fan of the process, and have been in both roles over the years.

But sometimes, expectations can be misplaced. I’ve seen mentoring relationships where it’s one-sided, where the mentor is expected to give and the mentee is expected to receive.  The mentoring flows downward, from them to us.  It becomes more of a transaction than a relationship.

But that’s not how real life works. One-way relationships aren’t real, and they don’t last.

I not sure that mentoring only takes place from older to younger, from wiser to less experienced, from successful to a starter.

I think it happens when different people do life together.

Mentoring takes place any time two people come together in a real relationship, and have the humility to learn from each other. We’ve all had experiences that another person hasn’t had.  When we just simply listen to each other, we become different people.

It’s not a formal structure; it’s organic. It just happens because we care.

I’m not against formal mentoring at all. But if that’s the only way we define it, I wonder if we’re losing some priceless opportunities to impact others – and be impacted by them.

The purpose of a mentoring relationship is to “get better” and grow. Having (or being) a formal mentor is one great way to do that.  But in addition, there are three other people we need to have in our lives:

  • Someone we can follow – maybe someone older who’s further ahead on the path.
  • Someone we can walk with – a friend who’s in the same life stage we are.
  • Someone who we could lead – a person who is younger and further back on the path.

We’d revise the idea of just one person pouring into another person. It would involve just being friends – and changing because we’re traveling together.

Someone said that if two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary

So what if we intentionally connected with others who are at different stages on the journey, and just walked with them?

Maybe we’d all get better.



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!

Don’t Let Your Crazy Person Ruin Your Holidays

Who irritates you the most?

Don’t overthink this . . . but who’s the first person that pops onto your radar that makes you frown instead of smile? I’m not thinking of public figures or politicians that drive you crazy (that’s another blog post). This is someone you know personally:

  • An overbearing friend.
  • An extended family member that you’ll see at a holiday meal.
  • A boss or co-worker that drains the energy out of you.
  • Your teenager who seems to be in the “pre-people” stage of development.
  • Your spouse – who changed since your married them.

Got them in mind?

OK – how do you feel when you think about them? If it’s negative, you might have given them control over your emotions. They can’t ruin your life unless you let them.

We have the ability to choose our how we respond in any situation. It just seems tougher when we see them often, like barnacles attached to the hull of an ocean liner.  We feel like there’s no escape from their craziness.

So how can you begin taking control? Here’s one simple place to start, and you can do it today:

  1. Write down the five things that bug you most about them. Seriously – write them down.
  2. Ask yourself if you can change those things. Probably not. It’s hard enough to change ourselves, much less someone else.
  3. Now write down five strengths that person has – things you’d be grateful for if the negatives weren’t there.

Those things that irritate us might be accurate. But focusing only on those things gives us a lopsided view of another person.

The best people have faults, and the worst people have strengths.

We need to see both.

stainsFocusing on the negatives is like seeing dark stains on a white sheet. When we focus on the stains, we don’t even notice the rest of the sheet.  The stains are real, but so is the sheet.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore the negatives.

But they lose some of their power when we see the whole person, not just their issues.

Will this solve the problem? Probably not.  But it can give us perspective.

Try it before they show up during holiday celebrations.

You might just feel a little more in control – and you won’t have someone else ruin your holidays.


How do you keep your sanity when others try to steal it from you?  Share below in comments . . .

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.






The Gift that can Change Somebody’s Life

During my years as a college prof, students would often drop by my office to talk.  Some had questions about assignments, while others were wondering about what courses to take next semester. 

But usually, those conversations turned into life conversations.  They were negotiating the real world away from their parents, and trying to figure it out.  They just needed someone they trusted to bounce ideas around with.

It was one of the best parts of the job.

ListeningI loved those conversations.  But I was also amazed at the impact those conversations had.

I didn’t realize it at the time.  But they were listening.

They would share their thoughts, their dreams, their challenges.  They would talk about . . . well, just stuff.

I almost never had answers.  I just had ears. 

I felt like I should have better advice – better things to say.  I should have been able to draw deeply from my well of experience and wisdom, delivering pearls of insight that would blow then away.

The well usually felt pretty dry.

So I just listened.  And whenever possible, I would simply affirm something I had noticed about them that was an area of strength.

Surprisingly, they often had no idea they had that strength.  It simply never occurred to them.

To me, it was a casual conversation.

To them, it was a turning point. 

People are starved to have someone listen to them.  It tells them they have value, when they don’t value themselves.

People are starved to have someone believe in them.  If they don’t believe in themselves, they borrow that belief from us – until it becomes their own.

It’s a gift we can give that – pardon the cliché – “keeps on giving.”

Teachers do it.  Parents can do it.  Grandparents can do it.  Friends can do it.

You can do it.

Do it.

You’ll change someone’s life.


Thoughts? (Leave a comment)





A Simple Way To Keep Perspective on Thanksgiving

Millions of blogs are written every day, about millions of topics, and read by millions of people.

I wonder how many of them will talk about being thankful today.

It makes sense, because blog writers tend to write about what’s on their mind at the moment.  And today, it’s Thanksgiving.

I’ve been thinking about that leading up to this post.  What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

Nothing.  There are really no new ideas – just new perspectives (because each writer is unique).

So, here’s my perspective on thankfulness today:

It’s all about people.

SnoopyWhen someone does something for us, we say “Thank you.”  We teach our kids to do that.  It’s polite.  And if done with intention, it’s meaningful.

It says, “Somebody thought about me, and did something for me.  They didn’t have to, but they did.  They cared.” 

When that happens, we’re thankful – and we express it.

We don’t say “thank you” to inanimate objects.

When a cool breeze blows, we don’t say, “Thank you, wind.”

When we find our car keys after a lengthy search, we don’t say, “Thank you, keys.”

When we discover a deposit in our bank account that we forgot to enter, we don’t say, “Thank you, Wells Fargo.”

We thank people.

The opposite of thankfulness isn’t ungratefulness.  It’s selfishness.  It says, “I don’t need anybody else.  I can live life on my own.”  It devalues the role of other people in our lives.

We value independence in our society.  We don’t want to depend on others.  As a toddler says, “I want to do it by myself.”

So we do it by ourselves.

And we live lonely lives.

Independence is actually a good thing, where we have the ability to make healthy choices in life.  But when it turns into selfishness, it gets in the way of relationships and sucks the life out of us.

Thankfulness is all about people.  It turns independence into interdependence.

Today is Thanksgiving.  Here’s a simple exercise to keep today in perspective:

  • If you’re celebrating with family or friends, pick one person to focus on today – someone you often take for granted.  Think of one thing about them that you’re grateful for, then tell them – and say “thank you.”


  • If you’re alone today, pick one person to focus on that you tend to take for granted.  It might be a friend or family member, or it could be a delivery person, restaurant server or someone you pass on the street occasionally.  Think of something about them that you’re grateful for, then find a way to let them know.  Maybe seek them out, or make a quick call, or hand-write a letter or invite them to go on a walk.  Then, say “Thank you.”

That’s it.  One person.  Be intentional about it, and be creative.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Just find a way to express thanks to them, in the simplest way.

It could change their entire day, and maybe their life.

It will definitely change yours.

Today, I’m grateful for you.  I don’t take it lightly that you wander on this journey with me a couple of times a week.  You’re good company, and you keep the journey from being lonely.

Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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?

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.

Keeping Your Kids Curious

Curious babyKids are naturally curious.  If you’ve spent any time around four-year olds, you know how many times they ask, “Why?”

Because of that curiosity, they explore.  When they discover how to do something they repeat it, over and over again. 

Nobody forces them; they do it for the sheer enjoyment of discovery. 

Most adults have lost that curiosity. We get busy with our lives and our work, and don’t have time to investigate.  After all, what we’re doing is working; why would we want to consider doing it differently?

So where did we lose it?

I think it often happens when kids try to be curious, but it’s not a positive experience for them. 

One psychologist says that there are three main reasons kids quit being curious:

    • Fear.  If a child doesn’t feel safe in his/her environment, they don’t have a secure comfort zone to return to after they’ve been exploring.  A family crisis makes kids uncertain, so they hang tight to whatever they can just to survive.
    • Disapproval.  If parents show disgust when their child comes in with muddy shoes, the kids will quit digging for earthworms and exploring the ground.
    • Absence.  When parents have their back, kids feel safe roaming.  But when parents are physically or emotionally absent, those kids lose the foundation from which they can explore their world.  They also don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with, which is what encourages them to stay curious.

So, how can we make sure our kids keep their curiosity as they move through life?  Here are 10 ways:

    1. Model curiosity. When they’re in the car with you, always take a different route home.  Order something new every time you go to a restaurant. Tell them it’s because you want to know what else is out there.
    2. Ask open-ended questions that allows them to think.  Instead of, “How was school?” ask, “Tell me something you learned today that you didn’t know yesterday.” Instead of, “Who’s you’re best friend?” ask, “What is it about your best friend that makes you want to hang out with them?”
    3. Whenever they demonstrate curiosity, affirm them.  “That’s so interesting – the way you look at that.  I love it when you observe things that nobody else sees.”
    4. Take a walk with them in a crowded area of your city, and listen for sounds that are not man-made – like birds chirping, water running or the wind blowing through trees.  Teach them the value of listening and observing their environment.
    5. Ask the journalist’s questions about everything: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why.
    6. Don’t get bored.  They’re watching.  Whenever you’re bored, acknowledge it, but use it as a trigger to explore something.  Help them develop that pattern.
    7. Teach them that failure is OK.  Failure means you’ve learned one more thing that doesn’t work, so you’re that much closer to success.  Then keep moving forward.  That’s a skill they’ll use the rest of their lives.
    8. Teach them the value of good questions, and make it safe to risk answering – and safe if they’re wrong as well.
    9. Limit their media input.  Sure, TV can be educational – but it’s simply handing them content, not whetting their appetite to explore and question their world.
    10. When they share discoveries with you, don’t add your knowledge to it.  Let it be their moment.  Ask probing questions about what they’ve shared, so they’ll want to explore more – and share more.

Try one or two of those ideas today.  It’ll help your kids stay curious – but it might awaken your curiosity as well!


What have you tried that keeps your curiosity sharp? Comment here:


How to Initiate a Conversation

When the space shuttle used to launch, it burned up 90% of its fuel in the first few minutes to escape the earth’s gravity.  After that, it’s just a fraction.

For many people, starting a conversation is the hardest part of communication.  It seems to take 90% of our energy just to make the initial contact:

  • We don’t know how to start the conversation.
  • We don’t know what to say first.
  • We’re not sure the other person will want to talk to us.
  • We don’t know how to approach someone.

Bags on headBut once the conversation has started, maintaining the momentum is easier than getting it going in the first place.

An effective conversation begins before the first word is spoken.  Both people go through an unconscious dialogue about each other.  We read their facial expressions and body language, using those visual cues to decide if it’s safe to connect with them.

If the signals look positive, we go ahead.  If the signals look negative, we assume they won’t be interested.

But often, those assumptions are inaccurate.  It’s important to separate what we observe (facts) from our interpretation of those facts.

There are two ways to start a conversation:

  1. Wait for someone to approach you.
  2. Approach them.

The first option seems safe, because we assume a person wouldn’t approach us if they weren’t interested.  But that approach has some inherent problems:

  • If nobody approaches, we feel even worse.
  • We focus our attention on ourselves instead of them.
  • We don’t have control over the outcome.
  • The whole process can be painful.

The second option works for extroverts, but is scary for introverts – so they don’t consider it.  But that fear is based on certain assumptions:

  1. “I don’t want to intrude.” (But they’re probably waiting for someone to approach them, too.)
  2. “They might not like me or think I’m interesting.” (That’s assuming that we’re boring – bad perspective.)
  3. “They’re more confident than I am.” (Most people try to appear more confident than they really are, including the other person.)
  4. “They’re standing alone because they prefer it.” (They’re using option #1.  If they didn’t want to interact, they would have stayed home.)
  5. “I don’t know them, so I don’t know what they would like to talk about.” (Huge advantage – you don’t have to know a lot.  Just start exploring and follow the trail.)
  6. “I’ll feel like a failure if we don’t have a great conversation.” (That puts all the responsibility on you.)

The purpose of conversation isn’t to show how clever we are.  It’s to make a connection between two people.

The biggest advantage of being the one to initiate a conversation?  You get to pick who you spend time with.


(These ideas are adapted from the upcoming “How to Communicate With Confidence” – hitting bookstores on July 15.  More in the next couple of posts . . . )

Finding Common Ground

The phone call came on Monday: “Can you fly to Mexico City tomorrow to teach a seminar on Wednesday?”

Normally, my first thoughts are about logistics: arranging flights and hotels, finding the seminar location, and making the right contacts.  But this time, my first question was, “Do they speak English?”  My Spanish consisted of the one phrase my grandmother knew: Como se llama su gato? (What is your cat’s name?)

That question could be handy in the right circumstances, but I wasn’t sure I could turn it into a full-day seminar. 

I was assured that my participants would be English speaking.  The company sent a driver to pick me up at the airport for the three-hour drive to the hotel.  I assumed that he would be able to communicate in English, but that wasn’t the case. Somehow he figured out who I was and approached me as I entered the terminal.  He had written out a sign with my name on it, so I followed him to the parking structure.

The language barrier was immediately obvious.  I made a few simple comments about the crowded terminal, the weather, and the time of day.  He just smiled and raised his hands as if to say, “Sorry – I don’t understand.”  He also made a few comments; I smiled and raised my hands in the same way.

It was obvious that our long ride would be a quiet one.

When he didn’t understand me, I found myself speaking a bit louder or a bit slower, thinking that would make a difference.  But there was no getting around one simple fact:

            He didn’t speak my language, and I didn’t speak his.

Nothing I could do would change that.

Mostly we just smiled at each other.  We couldn’t understand each other’s words, but we could smile.  Somehow, that began to form a connection between us.  As he drove, we accepted the language barrier and looked for other ways to communicate.

The best moment came when he remembered something he had in his glove compartment.  He reached over, fumbled through a pile of cassette tapes and pulled one out.  His huge smile appeared when he showed me one that he had obviously made himself with the words “American Music” written on the label with a blue marker.

We both laughed as he proudly inserted the tape and turned up the volume.  Who would have thought that old Sonny and Cher songs could be the common ground between two people?

To communicate effectively with my driver, I had three choices:

  1. I could learn Spanish.
  2. He could learn English.
  3. We could find some other common ground.

Option 1 would work in future situations, but not in that moment.

Option 2 assumes that it’s the other person’s responsibility to make the conversation work.

Option 3 can make effective communication a reality: finding common ground.

black-and-white-baby-togetherEveryone is human, which means they share a number of life experiences and emotions.  Those similarities can be the touch points that connect people at the heart.

A lot of people feel like they have to be really smart or well-read to be a good conversationalist. 

There’s an easier way:

Instead of trying to impress another person, try understanding them.  Look for the common ground between you, no matter how different they are.

Try it today with your boss – a stranger – your spouse – your kids – your colleagues.  Look for what unites you, not for what divides you.

It’s the foundation of every healthy relationship.

Forgive AND Forget?

I’ve read a ton of stuff about forgiving the people who cause us pain.

Forgive and forget matrix

It’s valuable information.  It provides a great blueprint for handling relationships that hurt.  It keeps us from becoming victims.

The advice is usually focused on one phrase:

Forgive and forget.

The first word (“forgive”) is where we usually put our energy.  It takes a series of conscious choices to forgive someone who has wronged us.

If we don’t forgive, we put the other person in control of our emotions.  We say, “They ruined my life.”  In effect, we shift the blame to them for anything that’s wrong in our lives.  We feel like they messed everything up, so we don’t take responsibility for moving forward.

I get it.  I buy it.  I’ve seen the value of taking responsibility for our own emotional health.

It’s good to forgive.  Not easy, but good.  It’s worth the effort.

But I’ve always had a problem with the second word – forget.

Somehow, it feels unhealthy to forget. It’s like saying, “The hurt never happened.”

But the greater the hurt, the harder it is to forget.

And I’m not sure we should.

Forgive and forget matrixMaybe it’s a co-worker who stabbed us in the back on their way to the top.  Maybe it’s a close friend who betrayed us.  Maybe it’s a spouse who damaged us with their choices.

We’ll probably always remember the damage that was done – especially when we live with the scars. We’ll always remember what people did to us.  If the relationship is important, we’ll forgive – but not forget.

If I forget the hurt, I set myself up to be hurt again.

If I remember the hurt, I can choose what to do with it.  I might be able to let it go . . . but I might establish boundaries in our relationship to keep it healthy in the future.

Trust doesn’t happen immediately when it’s been broken; it takes time to rebuild.

What if we said, “Forgive and remember?”

Maybe our forgiveness would gain meaning, because it’s based on reality.  Remembering allows us to be realistic instead of bitter.

It’s like growing up with an emotionally abusive parent who’s been gone for years.  “Forgiving and remembering” doesn’t ignore the hurt.  But instead of obsessing about the wrong done to us, we can use it to heal.  “My life is tougher because of what they did – but I can make choices about how I live.”

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Got someone you’ve been trying to forgive and forget, but it’s just not working?  Is there someone who has their emotions in their grip?

What would it look like if you could break free?  What would it look like to forgive and remember?


A blog (at least this one) isn’t a teaching tool; it’s a conversation starter.  I’ve been sharing my often unfinished thoughts over these months, and you’ve picked up the conversation by reacting and commenting.  That’s awesome – it’s how we learn from each other and grow.

Keep sharing your thoughts.  Invite others to join the discussion.  Keep interacting with each other.

Maybe we’ll all grow a little in the process.

Today ONLY – Your After-Christmas Gift (and a request for a favor)

Today only, you can get an electronic copy of my book, People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keysfor free.

People Can't Drive You Crazy

I’m asking you to do two things:

  1. “Purchase” a copy of the e-book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (or both – it’s free!).  (See the links below)
  2. Share this on Facebook, tweet it, and email it to your friends.

My publisher has made an agreement with Amazon and Barnes & Noble to offer the e-book at no charge on December 28 for 24 hours – midnight to midnight.

People Can't Drive You CrazyEven if you already own a paper copy, you’ll want to download this.  Keep reading.

Even if you don’t have a Kindle or a Nook, you’ll want to download this.  Keep reading.

The 209-page paperback version of the book came out on October 1.  So far, the reviews have all been positive, on blog, review sites and Amazon.  Seems like everybody has crazy people in their lives, and they want some help!

The publisher (Revell) has found that if they can get a distributor (like Amazon) to give away the electronic version of the book at no charge, it gets more exposure as people notify their family and friends to pick up a copy online.  When more people are able to read the book and benefit from it, they tell their friends or buy paper copies for them.

In short:

  • It’s a way of spreading the message to people who feel trapped by the crazy people in their personal world.
  • It’s a way of providing great exposure for the book by letting people have it for free.
  • By doing it in a 24-hour period, it also helps the “rankings” on the distributor’s websites.
  • It will help me write other books in the future.  When publishers are considering a new book, they want to know how many of the author’s previous books sold – regardless of the cost.

So even if you have a paper copy already, purchasing an electronic copy is considered another book sold.  Sounds crazy, but that’s the way it works.  Buying it from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble counts as two sales.  Go figure . . .

Here’s what’s even crazier: You don’t have a Kindle or a Nook?  It doesn’t matter.  You can purchase a free copy anyway, whether you download it or not (and it’s considered a legitimate sale).

  • You can download a free app for your phone or computer so you can read it (that’s what I’ve done – I read my electronic books on my phone).
  • When someone buys you a Kindle or Nook in the future, you’ll already have your first book to put on it!

So, here are the links:



Barnes & Noble:


It’s also available today at http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=33586EB&item_code=WW&netp_id=1049944&event=ESRCG&view=details

I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide this at no charge, because it’ll provide help for a whole herd of people.  And I’m grateful for you participating in making the book a success (by downloading it yourself, and sharing it wherever you can today).

Those of you who know me well know this is somewhat uncomfortable (asking for help).  When I started this blog, it wasn’t to get a big audience so I could sell stuff.  I just wanted to have a real conversation about real life issues with real people I’ve met along the way.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated you participating; it’s felt like we’ve been hanging out at Starbucks – which is my favorite way to connect anyway.

So in asking you to help me spread the word, it’s really about providing something that could impact the people you care most about.

If that happens, I’ll be more than grateful.

I’ll make you my BFF for the day . . . !

Thanks! Mike

Do We Really Need Other People?

When I was a kid, our annual family vacation was usually at Sequoia National Park in central California.  We would rent a “housekeeping cabin” where we’d cook on a wood stove, then put the leftover food scraps in metal trash cans on the canvas covered porch.  Shortly after dusk each night, we would watch through the windows as black bears would rummage through our trash cans, three feet from us.   (They don’t let you do that anymore.)

Giant Sequoia Trees

During the day we would visit the general store, take day hikes out to Crescent Meadow and climb Morro Rock.  We would hold peanuts on our laps and watch the chipmunks climb up our legs to grab them, and we’d watch blue jays fight for the ones that dropped (the peanuts, not the chipmunks).

Good times.

My favorite adventure was the nature walks, led by the park rangers.  Every day we would go on a different excursion where these experts described the intricate details of our surroundings.  One day it would be about trees.  The next, it would be about animals.  Then we would learn about the conditions on the forest floor that enabled seeds to grow.

Even at that young age, I was fascinated.  I remember how I felt when the ranger said, “We’re surrounded by the largest and oldest living things in the world – the giant Sequoia Redwoods.”
She told us that when the first explorers stepped onto the shore of the New World, these trees had already been alive for over a thousand years.

Giant Sequoia TreesGeneral Sherman was the granddaddy of them all.  By volume, it’s the biggest tree in the world.  Other trees are taller, but Gen. S. is the beefy one.  Weighing about 2 million pounds, it’s been around for about 2200 years (which means it was already 200 years old when Christ was born).  Our whole group would circle the tree and touch fingertips, but we never had enough people to reach around the tree.

“What do you think keeps this tree from falling over?” the ranger asked.  I had paid attention in science class, and remembered what my teacher told me.  “The taproot,” I said.  “Trees have one huge room going straight down that holds the tree in place.”

“Good guess,” she said, “but these giant Sequoias don’t have taproots.”

Now I was confused.  Taproots kept trees from falling over during storms, earthquakes and other natural events.  Now this ranger was telling us that the largest trees in the world are missing their taproots.

So what holds it up?

“These trees have surface roots that extend sideways for a huge distance – often covering a whole acre of ground.”

She continued:

“But that’s still not enough to hold them up.  These trees grow in groves, close to other trees.  Their roots reach out and intertwine with the roots of every other tree That’s where the strength comes from.”

“In simple terms, the trees hold each other up during the worst conditions.  If one of these trees were alone, it wouldn’t survive.”

We value independence.  I know I do; it’s hard for me to ask for help or depend on someone else.  It’s like a two-year old telling her mom, “I can do it all by myself.”

I don’t want to be dependent; I want to be independent.  I want to do it all by myself.

But we weren’t made for independence.

We’re made for interdependence.

We don’t realize that we need each other until the storm hits.  That’s when we discover that we don’t have taproots.

We need to hold hands through life.


When have you needed others to stay upright in the storm?


A New Perspective on High School Reunions

My high school reunion takes place this week.  Actually, a mini-reunion.  I can’t be there.  I’m bummed.

PCHS Cougar logo

I really wanted to be there, because I’ve had to miss other reunions in the past.  I know who’s coming, and I’d love to see them again.  The list includes casual friends, good friends, and best friends.  There are a few names on the list I can’t remember, as well as a couple of girls I had a crush on (but never admitted it).  We’ve lost a few friends over the years, and others just seemed to have disappeared.

I’m going to miss catching up and seeing where our journeys have taken us.

PCHS 1965That got me thinkingWhat is it about a high school reunion that impacts us so much?  What makes us work so hard to lose weight, appear successful and impress people we haven’t seen for years?  I’ve known people who skipped their reunion because they were embarrassed about their life.

We remember people the way they were.  They remember us the way we were.  Even though we know better, we picture them as the same person they were when we were classmates.

But life takes us all in new directions.  I’m not the same person I was in high school.  Neither are my classmates.

Neither are you.

Here’s what I’ve figured out about high school:

  1. It was the time we started sniffing out adulthood.  We were still living at home, but experimenting with the adult world for the first time.  We wanted our curfew extended, but wanted to be tucked in when we got home.
  2. We did it together.  All of us were sticking our toes in the water of real life.  We were afraid to jump in, but we got courage from doing it together.  We had dreams, and helped each other believe they could come true.
  3. Once we jumped in, we moved in different directions.  We tried to stay connected, but found our different passions took us on individual paths.
  4. We’ll be forever bonded to the people we started the journey with.  They have a special place in our hearts, because we began that journey together — no matter where we ended up.
  5. It’s OK if we’re not best friends anymore, because we’re different people with different values and priorities.  We were fellow-travelers for a season, and we can always be grateful for the times and memories we had.
  6. Reunions give us a chance to be grateful for what those early relationships did for us, hear each other’s stories, and celebrate our unique places in life.

After the reunion, we go our separate ways (mostly – some have reason to stay connected).  But it gave us a chance to talk about those early days, apologize for the unkind things we did in our adolescence (recognizing that we’ve grown out of that behavior – hopefully), affirm the value that others brought into our lives, and move ahead better for it.

I miss my old friends.  I wish I could be there.  I don’t care what they look like, how much they weigh or what they’ve accomplished.  I don’t want to just see their picture in my yearbook. I just want to hear their stories, grateful that we got to share an important chunk of life together.

They’ve changed.  I’ve changed.  Isn’t that awesome?

We can’t go back.  But revisiting that foundation can motivate us to move forward.

Enjoy the evening, Friends.  Wish I could be with you.  Make it an evening of encouragement!