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Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

What Did You Say?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

We’ve all had it happen. Someone is talking and we zone out, not hearing a word that was said. Our thoughts wander – coming up with what we will say or do next – while the other person is expressing something he or she would like us to hear and understand.

Throw in a subject that you don’t exactly agree upon and the listening really goes downhill as each person tries to formulate a position and out-maneuver the other. No one is listening, words are flying, feelings are hurt and misunderstandings happen.

Hearing is literally processing sounds as they enter your ears. Actively listening and being fully present is hearing the words and being with the person as they speak. Not fully listening is one of the biggest factors behind miscommunications. How can you understand someone when you are only partially listening?

One of the reasons people enjoy being coached – including myself – is that someone is really listening to what they are saying – not just the words, but the emotions behind the words and the meanings between the words. Active listening is the practice of mindfully listening when someone is speaking. It sounds easy, but how often do we practice it? Add in the multitude of things that are happening, the various topics that circulate in your head, your own emotions and background, and it becomes perfectly understandable how the words go in one ear and out the other.

Think of a time when someone really listened to what you were saying. She gave you one of her most precious possessions – her time and attention. No matter what you expressed or how you said it, she was right there with you.

This doesn’t mean that she agreed with every word you said, but she listened. She asked questions to clarify and helped you find meaning behind your own words. You felt heard and understood.

The most important tools to actively listening are focusing on the speaker, hearing the words, listening for the meaning behind the words, and then paraphrasing back what you heard. These steps will significantly change how you interact with others. Here is an example of how these skills can be used.

Having three boys, I have witnessed how miscommunications easily turn into fights. Instead of talking about what they need, fists, feet and nasty words are flung at each other. Breaking it up I say, “This is NOT how we handle conflict. Let’s sit down and communicate.” A final push is given, nasty words are mumbled and eyes roll as we sit down to talk.

I play a combination of referee and talk show host as I invite each one to speak. “What happened?” I ask facing one of them. Kid #1 begins to explain his side of the story as I keep his brother from interrupting. When Kid #1 is finished, I look at the other and say, “Tell me what he just said.” Kid #2 paraphrases what the first one said and then relates his side of the story. We go through this until each one has described what happened.

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We move on to “I Statements.” I cue the words, “When you (describe the behavior), I feel (describe the emotion). I would like (what is desired) because (why is this important?).” Kid #2 paraphrases what he heard and responds. It sounds cumbersome, but this emphasis on listening and paraphrasing helps them to communicate and move through misunderstandings.

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Is there any place in our society where good communication is not important? Learning these basic skills – especially paraphrasing – will make a difference in your interactions with others. Giving someone the gift of fully listening is truly priceless.

Coaching Challenge:  This week when someone is talking to you, over-emphasize actively listening to him or her. Look at the other person. Focus on what he or she is saying and tune in to the meaning behind the words. Be with this person as he or she talks to you. Then paraphrase what you heard and ask if you interpreted it correctly. Note how you feel and what his or her reaction is as you fully listen and hear what is said. Note how this impacts your relationship.

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Reintroducing Fun

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

couple_silouette_editedMitch seemed agitated from the minute he had walked in. Something was on his mind. After the small talk, he paused and looked down at his hands.

“You know how much I love Meg,” he began. “She is the light of my life, the mother of our children and a great woman.” His pace slowed. “There is no question about my love for her or wanting to stay married. But there is a woman at work who is getting pretty friendly. To tell you the truth, I am enjoying the attention and the light-heartedness of our relationship. Nothing has happened that is out of line; I just enjoy having fun.”

“I’m curious if Meg knows about this new relationship, and how she feels about it,” I said.

“I haven’t told her anything because nothing has happened.” He paused and added, “I guess something is happening for me since I want to coach around this today.”

“How are you feeling?” I said.

“I feel torn. I love Meg and want to stay married.  But there is a part of me that is opening up with this other woman. It’s my fun, playful side. So much of my time with Meg focuses around duties and responsibilities. We don’t have the time to just hang out.”

“What did you used to do on your dates?”

“Before the kids were born, we were care-free, Mitch said. “We enjoyed going to our favorite Mexican restaurant. They have the best margaritas.”

“How often do you make time like this now?” I asked.

He couldn’t recall the last time. A look of guilt crossed his faced. “I guess it’s been a while,” he confessed. “When we get time together, we slip into ‘meeting’ mode. It’s as though we are working through an invisible agenda. I want to have fun, not feel like we are having a meeting.”

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“Tell me about the FUN agenda.” I said.

“The FUN agenda would begin with dinner at our favorite restaurant. Her parents would keep the kids overnight so we could stay out late and have time alone,” he said. “We could set up ground rules to keep us from slipping into our ‘business meeting’ mode. On our FUN dates, the point is to laugh, joke, relax and share time together. I don’t want to trouble-shoot problems. I want it to be fun.”

“You are creative and romantic,” I said. “When could you two talk about the serious subjects?”

“We have a difficult time talking about tough subjects. Meg easily talks about feelings and I don’t. She has suggested counseling, but I haven’t been open to it.”

“What are your goals for the relationship and how will you make that happen?”

“I want to focus on my relationship with Meg. It’s not the woman at work that interests me; I just want to have fun,” Mitch said.  “Meg and I need to be able to talk openly about anything, so maybe counseling would be a good idea. I could talk to her about it.”

“When will you have this conversation with Meg and how will I know that it has happened?” I pushed for accountability.

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“I will set up the FUN date and surprise her with it on Friday. I’ll talk to her about the possibility of counseling over the weekend,” he said. “I’ll email you on Sunday to let you know that the date and the conversation happened.” He added, “I’m a bit nervous, but I don’t want to lose Meg or ruin my family.”

Mitch had taken significant steps to shift his energy back into his marriage, including adding more fun (since that has been lacking for him) and by being open to professional counseling.  Taking a step back from the situation helped him to gain perspective and make a clear decision on how to move forward.

Coaching Challenge: Identify one relationship (significant other, friend, co-worker, etc.) where you’d like to introduce more fun.  Brainstorm three fun activities that you can do together. Talk to him or her and plan to do at least one event in the next two weeks. It can be as simple as taking a walk over lunch to enjoying a weekend trip. The point is to have fun with someone you care about.

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Getting Out of a Harem

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

If two is company and three is a crowd, what are four and five?” This sounds like a riddle with the answer of nine. But in the case of relationships, four and five becomes a harem. People who surround themselves with more than one potential romantic partner seem more comfortable with a harem, and have no deep emotional commitment to any of the people in it. One of my clients recently excused herself from a harem. Let me explain.

 

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One week Janie came into my office with a dreamy expression on her face. “He’s perfect,” she said. “He’s intelligent, funny, and loves the outdoors.” Janie is a smart business woman, divorced for 10+ years, has two teenagers, and began life coaching to focus on the relationship area of her life. She had dated, but longed to be in a relationship. Then Bob came into her life.

 

For several weeks she floated around and was “in love.” Extra time was spent thinking about, talking about or being with Bob. Their relationship was platonic, flirty and fun. Janie wanted more and was sure romance was just around the corner.

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Two weeks later, she expressed frustration. Even though Bob flirted and seemed romantically interested, he was careful not to cross the line between friendship and relationship.

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“He’s been hurt in the past and is cautious,” she explained. Janie also casually mentioned how Bob had recently been in contact with his ex-girlfriend who had called needing his help. She wasn’t upset by it, but more impressed by how caring he was towards his ex.

 

At our next session, Janie was upset. Bob was backing away. He had met a co-worker’s sister who had recently moved to town. Explaining how he wanted to be honest with Janie, he said he wanted to get to know this woman. Janie appreciated his honesty and wanted to be there for him. Plus, she didn’t want to give up their friendship. “He never said we were more than friends. Maybe I read more into it,” she said. “And, I really enjoy his company.”

 

Janie’s frustration level continued to rise. Now he was spending time with his ex-girlfriend, his co-worker’s sister, and his ex-wife had called needing his help moving. “Now I am now one of four women in his life. We were getting closer but now I feel like I am part of a harem.”

 

She vacillated from trying to understand his needs to saying that she would not tolerate being part of a crowd. She talked to him a couple of times, trying to express how she felt. “Each time he charms me right back into the fold. If I continue to communicate and be there for him, maybe he’ll figure out that he truly wants to be with me,” her voice trailed off.

 

Her homework was to describe what she wanted in a romantic relationship. She made a list of what was negotiable and what was non-negotiable. Bob passed all of the non-negotiable items, except for one – being emotionally available. Janie explained, “He keeps several women around him and is not close, intimate or vulnerable to anyone. This helps him feel safe.” Once this became clear and she saw that it didn’t align with what she really wanted, she decided to drop out of the harem. She would talk to him the next day.

 

Although sad that Bob wasn’t “it,” through the process, she became clearer on what “it” was and what “it” wasn’t. In the end she said, “I realized that I was compromising my needs for the comfort of staying in the relationship and I am no longer willing to do that.” This clarity will help her make better decisions in the future.

 

Coaching Challenge: When evaluating a relationship – romantic, friendship, or career –be clear about your standards and expectations. Create a list of negotiable and non-negotiable items to evaluate each relationship. If the criteria are not met, clearly communicate what you need. What that person then says and does is crucial in your decision on whether to stay or go. If you leave, it doesn’t make him or her a bad person; it simply means that your criteria are not being met. As painful as it is, it may be time to break up and move on.

Losing Me to Love You

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Have you ever been in a relationship where you compromised yourself to keep the relationship in balance? Whether it’s a romantic, professional or personal relationship, this realization usually comes too late – at least for the sake of saving the relationship. It typically happens as you are going through a break-up or after the relationship falls apart, sometimes many years later.

 

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Jon originally came to coaching because he was unsatisfied in his job. As we navigated through these changes, he seemed more alive and enthusiastic. He had started a new romantic relationship and described moving from the infatuation stage into, what he called, the “real relationship.”

 

As they grew closer, he noticed patterns from his previous relationships creeping in, ones he thought he had outgrown. In one coaching session, he said his ex-girlfriend, Liz, had called. They had broken up at least a year before he had met his new girlfriend. He had left the previous relationship out of anger and had harbored resentment ever since. Now that Liz had made contact, he was faced with the opportunity to clear some past blocks and possibly open more freedom in his current relationship.

 

“There is a part of me that wants to resolve this with Liz (the ex),” Jon explained, “but another part that just wants to forget about it. I don’t want to mess up anything in my new relationship.”

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It was heavy on his mind. I asked, “What is the gift of facing what happened and what is the cost?”

 

Jon realized that a part of him – a large part – had been consumed in the previous relationship. Normally quite independent, he had managed to bend so much during the relationship that he ended up resenting her, which is why he left. As he expressed his anger towards her, he realized that he was really mad at himself! He had allowed it to happen. By placing the relationship over being truthful with himself he had compromised his values and lost himself for the sake of being loved. In the end, he lost the relationship as well.

 

These realizations opened up several possibilities for growth. “What should I do now?” he asked. He had the answers; my job was to help him figure out which was most in line with his truth.

 

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To help him clarify his wishes, I asked him two questions. How did he want to handle it with his ex? And, how could he integrate what he was learning into his current relationship? Denying that it had happened would be easiest – at least temporarily – but that was not what he chose to do. Instead he decided to write a letter to Liz describing his feelings about how the relationship ended and his recent realizations for his part in the break-up.

 

In his current relationship, Jon decided to use this as an opportunity to explore any areas where he might be repeating the same pattern. Had he been bending too far? If so, he would identify these areas, and write about what beliefs lie behind these behaviors. Was he afraid of being truthful? Would there be problems or confrontations?

 

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Jon would then talk to his girlfriend about the situation with the ex, how he was feeling (being open and vulnerable) and any realizations he had had about their current relationship. He would use this as an opportunity to communicate with her and deepen the relationship. In effect, he was actively choosing NOT to repeat the pattern!

 

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Coaching Challenge: Think of an important person in your life… in a friendship, a romantic or a professional relationship. Where do you experience frustration in the relationship and how do you handle it? Are you honest or do you let things slide for fear of confrontation? If you are more on the “sliding” side, write down at least three reasons why you allow yourself to put the relationship above your truth. For each reason, answer the questions: Is this a valid fear? What is the gift of believing this and what is the cost? Then ask yourself, “Is it worth the cost?” Are you willing to do anything – possibly even give up your truth – to stay in the relationship? Or are you willing to break the pattern?

What Did You Say?

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

We’ve all had it happen. Someone is talking and we zone out, not hearing a word that was said. Our thoughts wander – coming up with what we will say or do next – while the other person is expressing something he or she would like us to hear and understand. Throw in a subject that you don’t exactly agree upon and the listening really goes downhill as each person tries to formulate a position and out-maneuver the other. No one is listening, words are flying, feelings are hurt and misunderstandings happen.

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Hearing is literally processing sounds as they enter your ears. Actively listening and being fully present is hearing the words and being with the person as they speak. Not fully listening is one of the biggest factors behind miscommunications. How can you understand someone when you are only partially listening?

 

One of the reasons people enjoy being coached – including myself – is that someone is really listening to what they are saying – not just the words, but the emotions behind the words and the meanings between the words. Active listening is the practice of mindfully listening when someone is speaking. It sounds easy, but how often do we practice it? Add in the multitude of things that are happening, the various topics that circulate in your head, your own emotions and background, and it becomes perfectly understandable how the words go in one ear and out the other.

 

Think of a time when someone really listened to what you were saying. She gave you one of her most precious possessions – her time and attention. No matter what you expressed or how you said it, she was right there with you. This doesn’t mean that she agreed with every word you said, but she listened. She asked questions to clarify and helped you find meaning behind your own words. You felt heard and understood.

 

The most important tools to actively listening are focusing on the speaker, hearing the words, listening for the meaning behind the words, and then paraphrasing back what you heard. These steps will significantly change how you interact with others. Here is an example of how these skills can be used.

 

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Having three boys, I have witnessed how miscommunications easily turn into fights. Instead of talking about what they need, fists, feet and nasty words are flung at each other. Breaking it up I say, “This is NOT how we handle conflict. Let’s sit down and communicate.” A final push is given, nasty words are mumbled and eyes roll as we sit down to talk.

 

I play a combination of referee and talk show host as I invite each one to speak. “What happened?” I ask facing one of them. Kid #1 begins to explain his side of the story as I keep his brother from interrupting. When Kid #1 is finished, I look at the other and say, “Tell me what he just said.” Kid #2 paraphrases what the first one said and then relates his side of the story. We go through this until each one has described what happened.

 

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We move on to “I Statements.” I cue the words, “When you (describe the behavior), I feel (describe the emotion). I would like (what is desired) because (why is this important?).” Kid #2 paraphrases what he heard and responds. It sounds cumbersome, but this emphasis on listening and paraphrasing helps them to communicate and move through misunderstandings.

 

Is there any place in our society where good communication is not important? Learning these basic skills – especially paraphrasing – will make a difference in your interactions with others. Giving someone the gift of fully listening is truly priceless.

 

Coaching Challenge:  This week when someone is talking to you, over-emphasize actively listening to him or her. Look at the other person. Focus on what he or she is saying and tune in to the meaning behind the words. Be with this person as he or she talks to you. Then paraphrase what you heard and ask if you interpreted it correctly. Note how you feel and what his or her reaction is as you fully listen and hear what is said. Note how this impacts your relationship.

Say What You Need

Monday, December 29th, 2008

 

A three year old sat crying in her bed and her mother let her cry, thinking she would eventually fall asleep. When the crying continued, her mother went to comfort her. “How can Mommy help you?” the mother asked. “I need you to hold me,” the girl said, stating clearly what she needed.

As adults, it’s easy to get caught up in the games and patterns that we have learned growing up. These have become our tools for survival, the masks we wear. But do they work?

Protecting ourselves with unclear communication becomes more apparent in romantic relationships. It sounds like this: “I can’t believe you worked late again tonight.” When in reality, the true message is, “I am missing you and want to spend more time with you.” The first statement can sound accusatory, leaving the listener feeling defensive. The second message gives more information, where true feelings – even vulnerability – are revealed.

Somewhere along the line, we learn to say something different than what we want. It’s as though we are playing a game of strategy. If we say this, then the other person will do that. We guess and second guess, until we have strategized so much that our communication becomes convoluted and unclear. Whether the intention is to protect ourselves or hide what we really want, wouldn’t it be easier to be clear not only to ourselves, but to the people in our lives?

As an example, one of my clients, Teri, wanted to be coached around a situation in her office. One of her co-workers had alluded to the fact that she receives special privileges because she has a flexible schedule to help accommodate her needs as a single parent. Their relationship began to suffer as the co-worker made biting comments to her face (with a veil of humor) and behind her back (to other staff members).

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She was irritated, but didn’t want to communicate with him for fear that he would know that his comments were getting to her.

“What do you think he is trying to communicate and who should he be communicating with?” I asked Teri. She thought for a moment and said, “It sounds like he feels he is being treated unfairly and should probably be talking to our boss.” It seems obvious when you break it down, but we don’t often do that. Instead, we react to the co-worker’s negative comments, or worse, say something behind his back. The problem only grows from there.

I asked my client, “What do you want, how can you communicate that…and to whom?”

“I want my co-worker to quit saying these comments to me and have the boss address the situation directly.” We worked through how that might sound and she even practiced saying it to me. We came up with an action plan for the week and created accountability: “What will you do, by when and how will I know?”

Teri addressed the problem that week by communicating what she felt and asking for what she needed both from her co-worker and her boss. She opened herself up to being real (and possibly vulnerable) and the dynamics of both relationships changed for the better.

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By asking the simple question, “What do I need?” and finding a way to say it, you gain clarity with the people in your life. Wouldn’t it be nice if people said things directly and quit playing games? The only “people” you can control is you.

Coaching Challenge: Identify three situations this week when you are not clearly communicating what you need. It could be something at work, in a romantic relationship or with someone in your family. Usually the intent behind your current form of communication is to protect yourself and not appear too vulnerable. It is helpful to use ‘I’ statements when communicating your needs. This can make the other person feel less attacked and genuinely speak to your feelings and needs. Your first step is to identify these situations.

Second, ask yourself what it is that you want. And third, communicate what you need to the other person. Even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, you have identified what you need and clearly communicated to the other person. From there, continue to be real in the relationship and speak your truth. Isn’t that better than wasting your energy playing the game?


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