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Archive for the ‘relationships’ 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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Nurturing Friendships

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Being busy and feeling lonely can often go hand-in-hand. In an effort to avoid feelings of isolation, we may become “joiners.” Soon we find that adding activities decreases the time we devote to friendships, leaving us feeling even lonelier. It becomes an exhausting cycle.

Cyndi is an outgoing woman who thrives on being busy. Her time is divided between her career, her family, and volunteer commitments. Because she is surrounded by so many people, it’s difficult to see how she might feel lonely, but she does.

When I asked what she wanted to coach about today, she said, “I know a lot of people, but I don’t have any close friends.”

“You sound lonely and disconnected,” I said. “What may have contributed to you feeling this way?”

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“Last week I had a terrible day at work. I had presented a report to my boss that I had been working on for two months. A lot of time and energy went into researching and preparing the report. As he read the executive summary, he said, ‘You must have misunderstood the project.’ He then explained what he wanted. He wasn’t mean, but I felt embarrassed and rejected.”

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Cyndi continued, “The worst part was when I left his office, I didn’t feel I had anyone to talk to about how I was feeling. Several people popped into my mind, but I hadn’t been in contact with them in so long, that calling to get emotional support felt uncomfortable. It made me realize that I have let many of my friendships dwindle. I don’t have any close friends…and I feel it’s probably my fault.”

“How would you describe a ‘close friendship’?” I asked.

“When I moved here, I met Marcia at the health club. We had a lot in common and never ran out of things to talk about. We spent a lot of time together, talked on the phone daily and really understood each other.  It was an equal partnership between listening, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.” She paused, “When I started to work, I didn’t spend as much time with Marcia and our friendship faded. We are friendly now, but the closeness is gone.”

“What got in the way of you nurturing that friendship or developing others?”

“I’m busy. Between work, my family and their schedules, life seems full. I don’t usually call a friend to ‘hang out.’ I don’t have time,” she explained.

“How would you like your friendships to look and feel, and how would you keep them alive?”

“I long for a friend like Marcia. We had such a close connection.”

I challenged her, “Think of an analogy that would symbolize you nurturing your friendships. What other things do you nurture in order for them to grow?”

“I think of the rose bushes in front of our house. When I pay attention to them, they grow beautiful roses.”

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“How do you nurture the roses?” I asked.

“I water them, weed out the beds, fertilize and trim them,” she answered.

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“And when you do that, the roses blossom, right? How could you nurture your friendships in order to help them to blossom?”

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“I could call my friend regularly to spend time together, letting her know I care. Listening, caring and sharing would all be part of how I would nurture our friendship.”

“What relationship would like to nurture and what is your first step?” I asked.

“I’d like to re-connect with Marcia. My first step could be to invite her to lunch. My goals would be to talk once a week and go to lunch at least once a month.”

“When will you take these steps?”

“I’ll call today to schedule lunch.”

“How will you remember to keep your friendships a priority?”

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“I have a photo of Marcia and me at Lake Powell. I’ll keep it in my planner to remind me.”

It’s amazing how quickly roses and friendships blossom with just a little nurturing, intent and energy.

Coaching Challenge: If you’d like to deepen a friendship, consciously decide to prioritize this relationship. Decide and commit to how you can best nurture this relationship. Take one step towards this goal by the end of the week. Be diligent to prioritize these relationships into your life; nurture them and watch them grow.

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She Loves Me But Not My Kids

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Being divorced with young kids offers many challenges. One of the most difficult situations is balancing parenting with dating. At first the two can be separate, but at some point, they are bound to come together.

Cole has been divorced for three years. His kids are six and eight years old and they are with him every other week. He is a dedicated father and supports his kids in their activities.

For the past six months he has been dating Marie who has two high school-aged daughters. Cole and Marie’s time together is concentrated during the weeks Cole doesn’t have his children.

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At our last appointment, Cole explained that their relationship had blossomed and Cole and Marie were planning to spend more time together by including their kids in more activities. As they integrated family time, however, Cole and Marie began to argue.

“Marie doesn’t like the way the kids behave and they act out when she is around. She has a different style of parenting and is critical about how I handle my kids,” he explained. “Since Marie and I get along better when it is just the two of us, I decided to separate the activities again and spend time with Marie apart from the kids. Now I feel pulled between the two and find there isn’t enough time or energy to be in both places.”

“What options do you have?” I asked.

He responded, “As much as I love Marie, I relish my role as a father. But running in between the two is wearing me out.  He said, “I could quit seeing Marie, but I don’t want that either. Other than the kids, we get along great!” He paused, realizing what he had said. “But I don’t come without kids, do I? I am a father.” голова болит секс

“You are a good, dedicated father,” I added. I had heard many stories of his interactions with his kids.

“If we can’t resolve this, I fear I will need to make a decision. Although I love Marie, I won’t give up my family responsibilities.”

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“It sounds like giving up or compromising your role as a father to stay in the relationship is non-negotiable. You are unwilling to make that decision. If that is true, what is your next step?” голова болит секс

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“I will talk with Marie to explain how important my kids are to me. If she can’t accept my role as a father, maybe we need to break-up.”

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I could tell how painful this was for him, but also recognized how firm he was in his conviction. “You are courageous to stand up for what you believe, even if it is painful.” I paused letting him take in the truth of my statement.

“I hope we can resolve this, but I’m not willing to compromise my responsibility as a father.”

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“What is your next step?” I asked, prompting him to take his conviction outside of my office and take action.

“I will talk to Marie this weekend,” he said. “I’m worried that I will cave-in or put it off. I enjoy being with her and don’t want to start over.”

“What is something tangible you could find to capture how you are feeling right now, something that reinforces your commitment to being a father?”

“When I look at my kids, I know exactly where my commitment lies,” he said. “To remind me of my priorities, I will look at a photo of my kids.”

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As Cole left, he said he would email to let me know that he had talked with Marie. We could then follow-up with the details at our next coaching session.

Coaching Challenge: If your time is pulled between two areas of your life, make a list of negotiable and non-negotiable items in each of these areas. This list will help you prioritize areas of your life and allow you to review what is important. When you feel pulled between two areas, it could mean two of your non-negotiable items are battling for first place. If so, list the non-negotiable items in order of priority. This can help you sort through confusing feelings and take a course of action that is in line with your top priorities.

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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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Empty Nest – Endings and Beginnings

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

As high school seniors contemplate what to do after graduation, their parents are wondering the same thing. When kids are young, new parents can feel overwhelmed and have a sense that time is standing still. Yet many parents of older children say, “It goes by too quickly…a blink of an eye.”

 

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Katie came into my office with an air of sadness and disbelief. Her feelings started when she and her husband began to plan a graduation party for their daughter, Shannon. Although Katie was excited, there were also feelings of sadness at the realization that Shannon was taking a significant step out of Katie’s day-to-day routine.

 

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Shannon is the youngest of three children, which meant that after she left, the large home that had once held a family of five would feel a bit oversized for Katie and her husband, Joe. Granted, as Shannon grew older and more independent, the level of activity had already diminished. With each stage, Katie and Joe’s lives had adjusted, but something about having the last child move out felt empty and sad.

 

“I have watched each of my kids grow up and become independent from me, which is how it should be. I know that my job as a parent is to work myself out of a job. I don’t want my kids to need me; I want them to have the skills they need to survive and thrive in the world. Joe and I have talked about the freedom of not having full time parenting responsibilities, but as it becomes more of a reality, I can’t believe that we will soon be ’empty nesters.'”

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She continued, “Parenting is an all-encompassing job. At the time you ‘accept’ the position, you have no idea what you are committing to.” She continued, “I have noticed my parenting responsibilities shifting. For a while I was the care-giver, the playmate, the referee, the taxi driver, the parent who waits at home and enforces the rules, and now who knows what?” It is the hardest job I have ever done! Yet in some ways I am reluctant to have this stage end.”

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“If this stage is ending,” I asked Katie, “then what stage is beginning?”

 

“Wow! I was so caught up in the ending that I didn’t think about the fact that I could also be starting something new,” Katie said. “I’ve just given so much to everyone else along the way, that I am not sure who I am anymore. What will I do when my schedule is not squeezed in around someone else’s? And how will my relationship with Joe be without the activities and chaos of the kids? It was crazy, but somehow I found comfort in the midst of it all.”

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As we talked about each of the questions, we came up with some action steps that Katie agreed to complete before our next session. First, she would write a paragraph describing herself, as though she were the author of a novel introducing her main character. She also agreed to make a list of three major endings she had experienced in her lifetime and the accompanying beginnings – identifying the gift she had found in each. In addition, she would re-connect with Joe and explore together how they wanted this stage of their lives to look and feel. Each of these steps allowed Katie to re-orient and prepare herself for the upcoming changes – both the endings and the beginnings. By gaining clarity and communicating, Katie and Joe could prepare and create how they wanted their “empty nest” to look.

 

 

Coaching Challenge:

Whenever you are anticipating a life transition, think about the phrase, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Focus as much (or more) energy on the “opening” as on the “closing.” To recognize both the “ending” and the gift of the “beginning,” reflect back in your life and find three major endings you have experienced. Next to each one, write down at least one beginning and one gift that accompanied the ending. Each time you anticipate a transition in your life, ask yourself, “What is ending and what is beginning?” and “What opportunities can I embrace?”

Baby Steps: For All Ages and Stages

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

High school seniors are preparing for graduation. Until now their lives have been fairly planned. As summer approaches, they realize they have come to the end of “the plan” and wonder: what’s next?

 

One of my clients graduates from high school in May. Chet’s mother had contacted me about life coaching to help him find direction as he approached this ending point/beginning point. Chet wants to pursue engineering, but he is not exactly sure where he wants to go to school.

 

Chet has no contact with his father, who left when Chet was young. His mother has provided for Chet his entire life and works long hours to make ends meet. Moving away to attend college has been a difficult concept for Chet to contemplate for a couple of reasons.

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First, he is unsure of leaving his mom; it has always been just the two of them. And then there is Ashleigh, his girlfriend of the past two years. She is a couple years older than Chet, has a full time job in her parents’ business and has recently purchased a home. She has no intention of moving and hopes that Chet will attend the local college.

 

“I’m really excited to graduate, but I am dreading the decisions I must make,” he confided.

 

When we talked, I could tell that family and relationships were at the top of his list of values. It was important for Chet to be available for his mother and he concluded that if he moved, he could stay in frequent contact via the phone, email and regular visits. “Who knows? Maybe a bit of separation will be just what each of us needs,” he said.

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Before we moved on to the subject of Ashleigh, Chet told me he had another month before he needed to make the decision about what to do after graduation. When I asked what he needs to make good decisions, he answered, “information and experience.”

 

“How can you gain the information and experience you need to make a good choice in this situation?” I asked. “What is one baby step that you can take towards gaining the information you need to make a decision?”

 

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Chet replied, “The school that I am really interested in is hosting an On Campus day where seniors are invited to visit and stay overnight in the dorms. I’ll go and see what it’s like.” That was a great step towards gaining more information.

 

Sometimes we get so caught up with the BIG picture, goal, or decision (in this case what to do after graduation), that we look for one BIG step to take us “there.” Getting “there” is not usually one large step, but a series of baby steps, which are easier to take and move you toward your goal. Each time you take a baby step, you are given an opportunity to reevaluate how it feels and ask, “Am I still on the right path?” If so, then you can determine what your next step is.

 

If it doesn’t feel right, you are given an opportunity to reevaluate and step forward, sideways or in a completely new direction. There will come a day when Chet will decide what to do after graduation, but by continuing to take baby steps and reevaluating, he can gain the information and experience he needs to make the decisions along the way with confidence.

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Coaching Challenge:

Once you have defined the outcome that you are working towards, brainstorm the steps that will move you towards your goal. Write each baby step on a sticky note. Then place the notes in order of what needs to happen first. If the first step seems overwhelming, see if there is an even smaller step that needs to come first. Then each time you take a step towards your goal, reevaluate to see if you are still on the right track. If so, then take the next step. If not, come up with another step that is more in line with your goals. The key is to continually evaluate where you are and ask, “What is the next right (baby) step?” Keep asking, evaluating and moving forward.

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?

The Beauty of Doing Nothing

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Anyone who knows me will laugh at the headline. I rarely do “nothing.” I’m like a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed at night for fear of missing something. Add in a family, my own business, and an eager desire to stay in shape, learn, and be involved and you have the makings for a very busy schedule. “Multi-tasking” is my middle name!

 

My clients will also get a chuckle out of the headline. Each time we meet, they leave with a homework assignment– which does not imply doing nothing. This isn’t the kind of homework you remember from school. These are self-identified, self-directed assignments to help the client move forward.

 

In the novel, Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert travels to Italy in hopes of discovering pleasure in new and different ways. In the book, she contrasts Italian and American cultures. She explains that in America, we don’t know when to say enough is enough. We tend to overdo everything and there is never enough time to get it all done. She asserts that Americans really don’t know how to do nothing. In Italy, however, they have mastered the art of il bel far niente – the beauty of doing nothing. In Italy it is the ideal…the goal of all of your work. It is the same in many spiritual philosophies. To master enlightenment often equals letting go and doing nothing.

 

I contrast this philosophy with my own life and with the lives of several of my clients. Take Sarah, for example. She is the owner and CEO of a mid-sized company. The past ten years have been a balancing act, to say the least. She started her company when her kids were little as a way to continue her career, but also to be at home with the kids. As they grew, so did the business as well as demands on her time.

 

Sarah can vacillate from being enthusiastic and wanting to take on the world, to feeling pulled like taffy. We looked at her calendar and there were only slivers of time in between the almost-fully blocked schedule. In each area of her life, there were people who needed things from her and she gladly gave as much as she could.

 

Last week she was talkative but exhausted. Sarah said that when she gets stressed, she goes into overdrive, trying to cover all of the bases. She gets a certain thrill in “getting it all done!”

 

“Take a minute to catch up with yourself,” I said as she flew through the door. We sat in silence for a few minutes to allow her to find her center. She explained how stretched she had been feeling emotionally, physically and mentally. “You GIVE energy most of the time – to your job, your family, etc. When do you RECEIVE energy?” I asked.

 

“I don’t have time and I feel guilty if I do,” she said.

 

Using the metaphor of a bank account, I explained that she can withdraw “energy” whenever she needs to AS LONG AS she has taken time to replenish the account.

 

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She said, “It’s like the emergency instructions on an airplane…put your mask on first and then assist others, right?” She understood so now the challenge was to help her integrate this concept into her life.

 

We brainstormed her homework assignment. She agreed to create a Replenishment List, which would include five activities that GIVE her energy (fill her energy bank account). Once the list is completed, she agreed to enjoy (with no guilt) at least two hours a week doing something from her list.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we would have had homework assignments like that in school?

 

Coaching Challenge: Create a list of five activities that you enjoy. If you feel selfish or self-centered when writing this list, you are probably on the right track. Over the next two weeks, find two hours a week to relax and enjoy any of these activities. To remind you of how important this is, create a sign that says, “il bel far niente,” which is Italian for “the beauty of doing nothing!” Hang it on your bathroom mirror so you will remember to do your homework.

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.