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 . . .

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

What to Do in Case of a Moose

Most hotel rooms have printed instructions on how to handle natural disasters. 

In California, I’ve read what to do if there’s an earthquake.

In Oklahoma, I’ve seen instructions on responding to a tornado.

In eastern states, I’ve prepared for a hurricane.

But in Fairbanks, Alaska, I learned what to do in case of a moose.

MooseI was amused when I saw the sheet on the desk in the rustic-themed room at the lodge where I had come to train the hotel employees.  “Clever,” I thought.  “They wrote this up to sound like those other ones.”  I assumed it was just a joke, because a moose seems pretty harmless when the only one I’ve ever known was one on TV named Bullwinkle.

I walked the paper down to the front desk.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

The desk clerk looked at me as if I was from another planet.  “It’s about what to do if you meet a moose.  Just like it says.”

“So, do you get many of them around here?” I was expecting a chuckle or two as we shared the joke.”

“Every couple of days,” she replied without expression.

“Really?”

“Really.  They wander around the parking lot out here.  That’s why we have the low door frame here at the entrance.  Once in a while, they try to come inside.”

“Is it a problem if you run into one?” I asked.

“Could be.  If they decide they don’t like you, they can do some real damage to your body parts.”

“So what are you supposed to do if you meet one in the parking lot?”

After a brief condescending stare, she pointed back to the paper I was holding.  “Read that,” she said.  “That’s why we put it in the room.”

I was a little embarrassed, but now I was curious.  I looked down at the simple instructions:

If you encounter a moose, stand behind a tree.

“Are you serious?” I asked?

“Yep.  You don’t want to run away, because they’ll catch you.  But if you stand behind a tree, it’s hard for them to get around it with those big antlers.  Pretty soon they’ll get tired of trying and wander off.”

It didn’t seem very noble to imagine my obituary: “Killed by a moose.”  So I decided to follow her instructions.

I went for a long, frigid walk that day.  The scenery was great but it was hard to relax.  I was always looking for the nearest tree, just in case I caught the interest of something large and brown.  I didn’t want my obituary to read, “Man Who Ignored Instructions Killed by Moose.”

I didn’t see any moose that day – which was a little disappointing, since I was so well-prepared. And I haven’t been able to use my new-found knowledge in Southern California.

I did learn three valuable lessons that day:

  1. I don’t know everything. 
  2. Assuming that I know everything can get me in trouble.
  3. It’s good to listen to people who know what I don’t.

Today, I’m going to listen to the people I encounter. I’ll listen to my wife – and my kids – and my grandkids – and my barista – and the person I’m sitting next to right now on a plane.

I just might learn something that I’ll need if I encounter a moose today.

What trouble could you avoid today by listening to someone with experience?

 

A Case for Wrinkles

A young boy is watching his grandma at the bathroom sink, getting ready for the day.  “What’s that goop you’re putting on your face, Gramma?” he says.

“Wrinkle cream,” she replies.

“Wrinkle cream?”  He studies her face carefully in the mirror.  “Wow – that stuff really works.”

Probably not the perspective she was hoping for.  But it makes sense.  From a kid’s point of view, the only people they see using wrinkle cream are people with wrinkles.

As people age, their skin tends to . . . well, ‘relax.’  In a society that’s obsessed with looking young, that’s a problem.  Having wrinkles makes it obvious that we’re not as young as we used to be.  So people try to get rid of the wrinkles.

If we believe that people have less value as they get older, it makes sense to try to hang on to looking young.

But what if we saw those wrinkles accurately?  What if we focused on the truth about wrinkles?

Wrinkled dogWrinkles means someone has a lifetime of experience. 

It means they have stories to tell, if we’ll just listen. 

It means we could avoid a lot of pain by observing the path they’ve taken, the mistakes they’ve made and the wisdom they’ve gained.

That doesn’t mean they’re always right, or that we need to do exactly what they say. It just means they’ve walked the same road we’re on, and are a little further ahead.  They know the potholes and hazards they encountered, and are usually willing to point them out. 

We won’t follow exactly in their footsteps, because we’re not them. 

But we can learn from their journey.

Who do you know that has wrinkles?  What could they bring into your life?

Pick someone.  Sit with them.  Look them in the eyes and listen to their heart.

And if you’re the one with wrinkles – congratulations.  You have the opportunity to leave a legacy.

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

Observations From Seat 8B

Everybody has a story.

You have one.  I have one. 

And we want someone to listen to our story.  So we try to tell it – but nobody’s listening.  They’re busy telling their own story.

I’m sitting in seat 8B on a 2-hour flight from Portland to Ontario, California.   Sometimes on a plane, I read; sometimes I work.  Tonight, I’m observing.  I’m surrounded by different people, who are all doing different things.

I’m wondering about their stories.

Airplane seats8A is right next to me, sound asleep.  I can’t even guess his story, because he’s just leaning against the window.  But I still wonder.

Just ahead, 7A is probably in her late 80’s.  Through thick, black-framed glasses, she’s reading an article titled, “Modern Techniques for Dating.”  She’s been studying it for the past 15 minutes.

I’d love to know her story.

Behind me, across the aisle in 9C and 9D are two sisters – probably in their late 70’s.  They are talking nonstop, and totally amused with everything the other one says:

“Why haven’t we taken off yet?”

“I don’t know – let me look out the window.”

“What do you see?”

“Oh, there’s another plane landing.  I can see it way off in the distance.  Or at least I see the lights.”

“Then it must be a plane.”

“Or maybe it’s a bird.  Maybe it’s a bird with lights.”

And they start laughing so hard, they’re snorting.  Then they laugh harder because they snorted. 

We’ve been in the air for over an hour now.  They’re still laughing at the things each other says.

I’d love to know their story.  If I were close enough to ask them, they’d probably be laughing too hard to tell it.

8C – directly across the aisle – a late 20’s mom is entertaining her 14-month old.  He’s wearing a grey t-shirt with a red and white embroidered necktie, and has on a grey derby hat.  Look up “cute” in the dictionary and his picture would probably be there. He’s busy with his electronic etch-a-sketch, and loving the time with his mom.

He has a story.  It’s a short story, but it’s a story.

The last woman to board is in 7C.  Another elderly woman, she’s dressed in her traveling best.  A red blazer, tan slacks, and gold jewelry complete the look, evidence that she was stylin’ when she was younger.

And she has a story.

And she’s telling her story.

From the moment she sat down, she’s been talking to 7D – a mid-30’s woman who has the window seat.  It’s a small plane (two seats on each side), so 7D is a captive audience.

But she’s listening.

Actively listening.

I felt sorry for her at first, because 7C is telling her whole life story.  She’s talked about her upbringing, her kids, her late husband, her career, and her journey as a teenager.  She’s talked about where she lived and what she enjoyed throughout her life.

And 7D is asking questions, which prompts 7C to talk even more. 

7C is talking nonstop.  7D is listening nonstop.

God bless 7D.  She’s giving 7C a gift – the gift of listening.  7C will go home tonight feeling valued, because a stranger took the time to care.  7C did 90% of the talking – but she’ll always remember what a good conversationalist 7D was.

As a practicing introvert, I don’t go out of my way to talk to people on airplanes.  Usually, I’ve been talking all day in a seminar, so I’ve used up most of my words.  I usually want to just rest.

But I’m learning how much it means to people when someone listens to their story.  All I have to do is set it in motion, set aside my own agenda, and just listen – and enjoy hearing a good story. 

I want to know why an almost-90-year-old woman is reading about dating.

I want to know what makes someone laugh at nothing until they can barely breathe.

I want to know the 14-month journey of a little, tiny etch-a-sketch artist.

Listen to someone today, and ask them about their story. 

Look into their eyes, and you’ll see their heart.

You’ll fill their emotional tank, and give them a sense of their own value. In the process, you’ll experience the true joy that comes from giving.

When was the last time someone listened to your story?

 

 

 

The Value of Clear Expectations

Someone said, “There are no new ideas . . . only new combinations of old ideas.”

That’s probably true.  Any idea we come up with didn’t come from nowhere.  It came from all the ideas, experiences and thoughts we’ve tucked away in our minds.  When we make an unexpected combination of two old ideas, we say, “Aha!  A new idea!”

That’s why creative people are always looking for old ideas to shape into new ones.

I did that when I started writing a few decades ago.  Somewhere, I had picked up four boxes of old magazines.  Nothing I normally read – just random ones, at least 10 years old.  I figured I could look through the table of contents in each one, and stir up some possibilities of articles I could write.

Old magazinesI wasn’t going to steal anything or even read the articles; I just wanted to get some new ideas.

So those four boxes contained about 50 magazines each – about 200 total.

Shortly after my wife and I were married, she asked about those 4 boxes on the garage floor.  “I’m going to get ideas from them, so I don’t want to throw them out.”

A year later, we moved to Phoenix – and those 4 boxes went with us.

Eleven years later, we moved back to California.  My wife said, “You haven’t looked at those magazines for over 11 years.  Do we really have to move them again?”

“Yes,” I said.  “There are some really good ideas in there, even though they’re over 20 years old now.  I’ll get to them right after we move.”

I really had good intentions of going through them.

A couple of years later, we had a yard sale.  Diane said, “Those boxes are just taking up space in the garage.  Why don’t we put them out and see if anybody buys them?”

I made a few more excuses.  Then she said, “How about this: Let’s put them out, and you put a price on them that you’d be happy with.  If they sell, you’ve got some extra money – and you don’t even know what you’re missing.  If they don’t sell, you’ve still got your magazines.”

She was right.  It was time to let them go. 

I decided on 25 cents per magazine.  If they all sold, I’d make $50.

I carried the boxes outside, and marked “25 cents” on each box with a black marker.  Then I went in the house to make some coffee.

A few minutes later, I went back outside.  Diane said, “I sold your magazines.”

“Really?  All of them?”

“All of them.”

I asked, “So, how much did you get for them?”

She handed me a dollar bill.

“25 cents for each box – just like you had marked.”

It took a few minutes to catch my breath.  She had done exactly what I had asked, but I hadn’t been clear in my expectations.

But I was a dollar richer than before. 

And I had space in my garage.

And I have no idea what I’m missing, because I never looked at those magazines.

I learned two lessons that day:

  • Just because I know what I’m thinking doesn’t mean someone else knows.  It’s important to clarify expectations to make sure we’re on the same page.
  • Physical clutter creates mental clutter.  Those magazines didn’t just take up space in my garage; they took up space in my mind.  I didn’t realize it until they were gone.

What have you been hanging on to that needs to go? 

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.

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.

The Easiest Book I Ever Wrote

I have a new book coming out in a couple of weeks – sort of.

It’s called, “How to Communicate with Confidence.”

It took me a couple of hours to write.

Here’s the scoop:

About a year ago, I received an email from my publisher, telling me that they wanted to republish one of my earlier books, “Confident Conversation – How to Communicate Successfully in Any Situation.”  It was originally published by Revell in 2008 – a practical approach with a light Christian scent.

Cover photoNow, it will be coming out as a “mass market paperback.”  I didn’t know what a mass market paperback was.  I’m still not sure.  But I got the first copies today – and they’re much smaller, have a different title and cover, and sell for $6 instead of $13.

They said that with a more direct title, the topic is one that they can sell a ton of.  Evidently, it’s the kind of book you find at the checkout stand at a grocery store or airport bookstore – an impulse buy.

The original book will stay in print (in fact, I just saw a stack of them a couple of weeks ago at the Atlanta airport).  This is a new version for a new target market, appealing to a new type of reader.

Makes sense.  I think almost everybody struggles with conversation to some degree.  Introverts struggle with what to say, while extroverts forget to listen.  Our lives are built around talking, so we could probably all use a little help improving our skills.

Normally, they don’t make any changes when they turn an existing book into a mass market paperback.  But I begged them to let me update one chapter called “High-Tech Talking.”  It focused on the specifics of electronic communication – but in 2008, it focused on chat rooms and forums.  Smartphones were in their infancy, texting was a novelty and nobody had an iPad.

Graciously, they let me rewrite that chapter to fit our current environment.  That’s why I had to spend two hours on this new book.

So with two hours of work, I have a fourth book in print.  Wish they could all be that easy!

If you had the original book from a few years ago, it’s the same book (except for the tech chapter).  So you probably don’t need to upgrade.  But at the lower price, the new one might make a dandy stocking stuffer.  For business owners or managers, it would be great to hand out to employees who have to talk to people for a living – sales, customer service, etc.

Then again, I think the tech chapter turned out pretty well – and provides a solid, practical way of approaching technology so we use it as a tool, instead of being a victim of it.  That might be worth $6.

Officially, it comes out July 1.  The online stores have it listed as July 15.  Go figure . . . either way, they’re available for preorder of paperback or e-reader versions.

One more thing.  If you still want a copy of the original “Confident Conversation,” wait an extra week.  I can’t say anything yet (Amazon rules), but I’ll let you know about an opportunity similar to the one I shared last Christmas around my most recent book, “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys.”  Stay tuned.

OK – I try to make these posts things that bring value to you, not just tell you about me and my stuff.  So you won’t get these kinds of posts very often.  But when something happens that I think might bring you value, I’ll let you know.

This is one of those times.

I’ll make sure the next few posts focus on the topic – skills for gaining confidence when we’re talking with others.

Thanks for hanging in there with me week by week.  It’s a privilege to be invited into your inbox.

  • July 1 – “How To Communicate with Confidence” goes live (or it might not show up until July 15).
  • July 7 – You’ll have to wait to find out . . .

Have a great week!

10 Things Our Kids Need to Hear Every Week (no matter what their age)

10.  There’s nobody in the world exactly like you.

9.   I can’t get over how awesome it is to have you as my kid.

8.   You make a difference.  You can always make a difference.

7.   You’re valuable – not because of what you do, but simply because you’re you.

6.   What you think matters to me – whether I agree or not.

5.   Nobody’s perfect – give yourself some grace. It’s OK to make mistakes.

4.   Spending a day with you is an awesome day for me.

3.   Don’t let other people’s opinion of you define you.

2.   I believe in you.

1.   You can’t make me not love you – no matter what.  Ever.

baby with headphones

One Final Question To Ask Over Dinner (Part 3)

Several weeks ago, we talked about how any relationship can hit a dry spell, where the conversation lags a bit.  So we suggested 10 questions to ask over dinner to stir things up.  They were basic and fun – nothing too deep.  It was just a way to get people talking around a dinner table.

Then a week or so later, we added 10 more questions, slightly deeper than the first.  They were meant to build on the results of the first 10.

I’ve had several people tell me that the questions opened up some genuine dialogue.  All they needed was a few questions to get them started, and the momentum began to build.

So I have one more question.  This one’s riskier, and you want to think carefully about your relationship before you ask it.

It’s only for healthy relationships.  If there’s mistrust in the relationship, don’t go here.  Without a base of trust, it could just open a can of worms that you don’t want opened.

Here’s the question – a two-part question, actually:

  • On a 10-point scale (10 is best), how am I doing as a spouse?
  • If it’s not a 10, what would it take to get me to a 10?

imagesHere’s a couple of disclaimers:

  • Don’t just ask the question at dinner and expect an immediate response.  Talk one night about the question itself, to see if you’re ready to go there.  If not, work on the relationship itself, possibly using a counselor or therapist to grow through the tough issues.  In a healthy relationship, introduce the question one night, then take time for both parties to consider their responses for a few days before revisiting the question.
  • No matter what they say, don’t defend yourself.  You’re asking for their perspective so you can understand where they’re coming from.  You’re not trying to change them.  You just want to see through their eyes.  Thank them for taking the risk, then take a few days or weeks to process what you’ve heard before talking about it.
  • Keep the focus where it belongs.  The tendency is to focus on what we could do to get a higher score.  But it’s usually not about what we do; it’s about who we become.
  • In an unhealthy relationship, it’s obvious how this question could draw out a lot of pent-up criticism.  That’s why it’s good to save this question until things are going well in the relationship.  If things are shaky, don’t ask the question; just talk about the question.

Relationships take time.  There’s no rush.  These questions are all about getting us talking.  If we begin to talk more, we’ll begin to hear each other’s hearts.  When that happens, our relationships will grow . . .

. . . and we’ll be able to ask the challenging questions that can only make our relationships stronger.

Are We Missing Greatness In Front of Us?

Anyone who has taken a subway has encountered street musicians.  Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes they’re not.

But they’re always interesting.

I’ve seen them on the sidewalks in San Francisco.  One young man, probably 10-years old, wore an ill-fitting suit and tie while he squawked a few notes on his trumpet.  The coin-filled case in front of him held a sign of explanation: “Help me get trumpet lessons.”

No matter how good they are, one thing remains the same: almost no one stops to listen.

People avoid eye contact, talk on their cell phones, and rush to their next appointment.  Some appear irritated because the music is too loud or annoying (meaning the sound interfered with the music coming through their earbuds).  Others are so used to it, that they couldn’t even tell you someone was there.

Occasionally, someone will slow enough to drop a few coins in their case.  There might be one or two that slow down for a few seconds and listen – but they soon rush on with their responsibilities.

But what if the musician was really good?  Would we stop?  Would we allow a little beauty into our day, or would it be crowded out by busyness?

Joshua BellThe Washington Post decided to find out.  In 2007, they put Joshua Bell by the entrance to a subway station in Washington, D.C.  Simply stated, he’s one of the best violinists in the world.

A virtuoso.  He usually earns about $1000 per minute when he plays.

And he was playing a 1713 Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million.

Joshua wore a long-sleeved T-shirt and baseball cap, and stood next to a trash can.  For 45 minutes, he played six intricate classical pieces.

1,097 people passed by.  It took six minutes for anyone to acknowledge his presence, until a middle-aged man slowed slightly, looked for a moment – then resumed his pace.

A line of people buying lottery tickets a few feet away produced no glances.

In 45 minutes, only 7 of the 1,097 people stopped and listened for a few seconds.

For Joshua’s efforts, he collected $32 in change.

There was one person who tried to stop and listen, craning his neck and twisting to get a better view.  He did everything he could to get to Joshua and hear the concert.  He instinctively knew he was in the presence of greatness.

But he couldn’t.  His mom kept dragging him by the hand, because they were late.

Evan was three-years old.

We’re busy.  We’re doing important things, talking to important people, and attending important meetings.  We have important places to be and important deadlines to meet.

But what are we missing while we’re doing all those important things?

Are we missing greatness that’s right in front of us?

It might not be a virtuoso playing a priceless instrument.

It might be a child’s voice. Or a spouse’s heart.  A bird’s song, or a simple flower.

It might be slowing down enough to listen to our own thoughts.  Or just to listen, period.

The poet W.H. Davies wrote:

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?

There’s greatness all around us.  Let’s slow down a bit today and find it.

If we’re too busy with our important stuff, we’ll miss the wonder.

 

The original article is long.  But you’ll love it if you love writing/reading (it won a Pulitzer Prize), love music (fascinating perspective for musicians) or love reading about people and their behavior.  It contains video clips of the performance as well.  You’ll find it here.

 

 

 

Questions To Ask Over Dinner (Part 2)

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks.

Old coupleTwo weeks ago, I posted ten questions to ask during dinner.  We talked about how we sometimes just run out of things to discuss, and need a little catalyst.  So the first ten questions were designed to get things started again.

We haven’t finished them yet, but they’ve led to some interesting discussions.  I’ve heard the same from others — that it’s fun to put a little structure into a conversation once in a while.  Plus, people like talking about themselves and sharing their thoughts.  This is a legitimate way to do that.

So, let’s go for Round 2.  Here are ten more questions.  Print them off, and pick a different one each night to talk about.  Don’t have expectations — just enjoy the process.  You’ll probably be surprised at the level of connection you reach.

These are slightly “deeper” than the first batch.  A couple of weeks from now, I’ll give you a single question to ask — and you’ll probably have to think about whether you’re ready to ask it or not.

Here we go:

  1. What do you think makes you most memorable to others?
  2. What’s one life experience that you’d like to go back and live over again?
  3. Describe a time when you were embarrassed by a family member.
  4. What’s the correct way to squeeze a toothpaste tube?
  5. Describe the first funeral you ever attended.
  6. Are you hopeful about your future?  Why or why not?
  7. What’s a historical event that you would like to have witnessed – or participated in?
  8. What’s a hereditary trait that you don’t want to pass on to your kids?
  9. How much money would you need to call yourself rich? (Financially rich)
  10. If you could solve one crisis or problem in the world, what would it be?

Try it.  Share it.  Discuss it. Comment below with your experience and insights (and other topics).

See where it takes you!

 

How To Be a Great Conversationalist

People love to talk about themselves.

If you want people to think you’re a good conversationalist, don’t talk about yourself.  Talk about them.

It’s not a manipulative technique, though it can be used that way.

HandshakeMy friend Jeremy was a trainee at a large bank a number of years ago.  As part of his training, they taught him the subtleties of conversation with customers.

For example, he was taught how to read a person’s handshake.  They said that if you shake hands and the other person’s hand is on top of yours, it shows that they want to have control of the conversation.  If your hand ends up on top, it means they’re expecting you to take the initiative.  They were taught how to make conversation based on what they observed.

Jeremy expressed his frustration with the process.  “They’re teaching us how to pretend we care about our clients.”

There’s an easier way to show them you care: genuinely care about them.

Have you ever had a conversation where the other person did 90% of the talking, and you did 90% of the listening?  Yet they go away and tell other people what a great conversationalist you were!

It’s human nature.  It’s a basic need we all have to be recognized.

Most people think that to be a good conversationalist, they have to have lots of knowledge about lots of topics and show others how interesting they are.

But when they do that, they’re perceived as arrogant, not interesting.

So, what does it take to be a good conversationalist?

  • Listening.
  • Take a genuine interest in the other person.
  • Find out what’s important to them, and explore from there.
  • Make the conversation about them.

You can’t pretend.  You have to genuinely want to know what’s inside their heads and hearts.

I heard someone say that everyone carries a sign around their neck that says, “Make me feel important.”

How would it change your relationships if you took that perspective?  Instead of trying to impress them, you listen carefully until they’ve impressed you?

How would you feel if someone did that to you?

It’s not difficult.  It just the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

  • Think about the conversations that make you feel important.
  • Think about what happens in those conversations.
  • Decide how you can do that for someone else.

You might be the only person they encounter all day that gives them what they really need.

Try it with someone close to you.  You’ll refresh them inside and out.

And they’ll tell everyone what a great conversationalist you are.