Trying to Listen

Communication is something that I talk and think about frequently. I’m a huge supporter of communication and yet I’m far from a perfect communicator. I still have plenty of times that I don’t know what to say or can’t find the right words, and of course there are the times when I put my foot in my mouth and the wrong thing comes out or nothing at all comes out. A part of adult communication is learning how to apologize and fix your mistakes going forward. But the other side of communication, and the one I want to talk about today, and in some ways helps with not knowing what to say, is about listening.

There are hundreds of references to listening in the Bible, from people overhearing things, to people listening to God, to God listening to people’s prayers. Listening is one of the hardest things for us to do because sometimes we do misunderstand or misinterpret what we hear and react accordingly (usually poorly), and of course if we’re really listening, we’re being quiet and not talking. But if everyone is talking and no one is listening we’ll never get anywhere or make any progress. We also can’t hear what God is saying if we’re too busy talking to listen.

Matthew 15:10 shares a really important insight on listening: “Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” He said, “and try to understand.””

Listening isn’t about being perfect or getting it right all the time, but it does help move the whole communication process in the right direction. Listening shows that you actually care about what the other person is saying and are trying to understand what they’re saying. Part of the listening process is learning to ask questions and being brave enough to ask questions and get clarification when you’re just not sure about what’s going on or what they’re talking about. Which ultimately is exactly what communication is: a back-and-forth listening and talking exercise and opportunity.

I encourage you to do more listening this week, both in your times with God and with your times with other people. A little listening can go a long way.

Reality Reflection: The Whole Picture

Today I want to talk about a topic that has been bothering me for some time.  Personally I think it’s one of the biggest causes of failures, frustrated employees, dissatisfied relationships and general miserableness.  What is it?  It’s not taking the time to get the whole picture.  Let me give you a few examples:

Your partner asks you to go to the store for milk.  You go and get the milk the house typically drinks, and when you return they ask why you didn’t get bread as well or why you got that kind instead of the other kind.

Your boss asks you to write up a proposal for a project.  You do so based on the others you’ve done in the past.  You pass it to your boss expecting to be able to get back to your work and they ask you to do it again because they wanted it with different targets or goals.

Paperwork on your family car (insurance or government) comes up to be renewed.  Your partner is working so they ask you to do it.  You get there to do it only to be told that the only person who can renew it is the person whose name is on it, which isn’t indicated anywhere on the paperwork. 

You get the idea? In each case there was more to the story than was first known.  Why the full story couldn’t be told in the first place completely boggles my mind.  Is it a test that you want someone to pass or fail by not telling them the whole thing?  Do you expect someone to read your mind and know what you really meant?  Or is it just a case of you not really thinking things through and failing to communicate properly?

I do understand that sometimes we just forget to tell the whole story or sometimes we don’t say too much because we don’t want to micro manage or overwhelm with details.  But there’s a really big space between providing necessary details and micromanaging or over communicating.

This week I challenge you to take notice of how you interact with other people.  Are you a half-done picture person, or do you communicate the whole picture to them?

Stepping Up

It’s almost funny how we adults shy away from questions that kids sometimes ask. Yes, as adults we do know more answers than they do (for example about the birds and the bees), but there’s still a ton that we don’t know. For instance why don’t we ask or investigate when something doesn’t seem right with someone we love? Why aren’t we asking when something in our bodies doesn’t seem right or frustrates us? Why aren’t we talking with our partner before we get to the point of everything being a screaming match? Why are we still using products that are poisoning us and our world?

Why aren’t we asking for help? Are the potential answers and solutions so scary and unacceptable that we choose not to ask the questions? Or else why are we avoiding the questions, especially when asking them could do a lot of good in our lives and the world?

It’s easier than ever to find answers, even multiple answers. It’s easier than ever to connect with other people who have similar questions and experiences as you do. We could be celebrating more victories instead of dealing with more tragedies if we would just step up and ask some questions and do some research.

So go ahead and step into the coming season.  Choose to be brave and live your life to the fullest.  Choose to ask the questions that may be embarrassing or seem obvious if and when you have them.  Choose to be curious and explore what seems interesting to you.  Choose to make smarter decisions that will better support you and the world we all share.  Choose to take the best path, not (just) the fastest or easiest.  And encourage others to do the same so that we can all have more victories.

Missing Out on Communication

I’m back to a topic that alternately frustrates and excites me: communication.  This week I dealt with several non-responsive clients.  These are people who have already put money on the table to work with me and yet can’t be bothered to respond to my multiple communications with them over the course of several days. It results in a very frustrating experience for me, and they’re missing out on all they initially believed I could help them with by not responding. It boggles my mind to think that people pay good money for goods and services yet they don’t actually seem to care that they bought it. It’s like going out to the store, buying bananas and just putting them on the counter to turn brown because you think they look nice sitting there, meanwhile ignoring the facts that you’ll soon have fruit flies, you’re wasting money and (the big one) you’re actually allergic to bananas. Yet many people do this every day, and not just in the course of purchasing things.

My partner and I have a great relationship. It’s taken a lot of communication, time and effort to get there, but we’ve made it work. One of the things we’ve realized is important for us to do is to communicate if we’re not going to be reachable for a while. For example I have one client who doesn’t have good cell service at their location so I remind my partner each time I go there that I won’t be reachable for several hours (I’ve also learned that he forgets that I’ve told him and calls anyway, but that’s another story). But there were times when we would get frustrated because the other person wasn’t responding to texts and calls only to find out there was a nap going on or a phone was left in the car.

If we just take the extra 30 seconds to communicate an answer life would be so much less frustrating and we’d miss out on fewer awesome opportunities. No, you don’t have to have an immediate response to someone, that’s what society wants you to think with the fast food and super-speed internet. A response within a reasonable period of time or a heads up if that’s not going to be possible is all that’s necessary. I encourage you to be more attentive to your communications, and the people who matter to you.

Asking for Wisdom

Something that’s challenging for some of us is asking for help. Sometimes we know we need the help and ask for it but then try to place all kinds of conditions and limitations on the help or micromanage the person or people that we have helping us. All of that quickly turns into frustration for everyone involved, because the helper doesn’t feel as though they’re appreciated or able to truly help and the person who needs help gets frustrated by things not getting done to their limiting requirements.

I recently read a Bible verse that spoke to the topic of asking for help, James 1:5: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

First and foremost this verses say that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a failure or bad, it means you recognize you’re in too deep, out of your areas of expertise, struggling, overwhelmed or just unsure. You don’t have to be or know everything to be an amazing person, the person God created you to be.

Second, this verse doesn’t say how God will respond, only that He will respond. He may send you an article, video, social media post, radio show, bit of inspiration, random stranger or any of other countless answers. Sometimes it will be the wisdom you need to take the next step, other times it will be a revelation of several steps, sometimes it will be a firm no, and other times it may just be the reassurance that God is going with you on the path you’ve chosen.

This week I would encourage you to ask for help and release some of the rules, limits, pressures and requirements you may put on that help or the answer.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the way that God and people answer and support you.

The Value of Learning Communication

This week I was talking with a friend I see a couple times a year about the current political situation and the US President (no, this won’t be a political post). We’ve talked about it since he was elected and we’ll probably talk about it after his term ends. The one concept that we both appreciate is his willingness to talk directly to the people. Regardless of whether you think it’s a good thing that he tweets all the time or not, it has removed a significant barrier that has existed since the country began as far as anyone having the ability to hear from and talk to the president himself.

With kids around the country going back to school, one of the longstanding debates I have with the current education system is whether or not it really prepares anyone for what adulthood holds. I have no use for knowing cell names or literary history for example in my work or life, other than extremely rare clients in those specific industries, and when I do have those types of clients any research I need to do and answers I need to find are just a few clicks away typically.

But the one thing that is still being taught in schools and is incredibly important for every adult are communication skills. It’s more crucial than ever to be able to communicate your worth and stand up for yourself and also to be able to communicate yourself out of a difficult situation (without resorting to violence). Good communication skills allow you to harness any and all of the great communication tools online that can help you share your message with the world, and they also make your in-person life a lot better and more fulfilling.  One of the biggest keys to having more and more successful victories is learning how to communicate in the good and challenging times.

So what about you? Are you willing to put yourself and your thoughts out there for the world to see or are you hiding your thoughts from the world and those closest to you? If you’re not speaking up because you don’t feel you’re a good communicator, there are lots of courses and other ways of educating yourself. If you’re waiting for the right moment, don’t because you don’t know when you won’t have more time.

The Summer of Simple Relationships

It’s summer so many of us are living slower, simpler lives. We don’t feel like eating heavy meals, we do less, we take time off and we do more of what we enjoy. All of this got me thinking about relationships and applying slower, simpler summer principles to our relationships.

It starts with the why. Why do we live in miserable or less-than-awesome relationships? Sometimes it follows the ‘boiling frog’ concept, that it snuck up on us and now it seems like it’s too late (it is too late for the frog but not necessarily your relationship). Sometimes it’s a situation of you never really being right for each other but trying hard anyway. Sometimes it’s a case of poor communication or mis-matched expectations. But really, if there are simple things we can do to fix or improve our relationships why don’t we do them?

Why do we resist doing what our partner has asked? Maybe we forget, maybe we don’t want to do it or maybe we just can’t stand that they asked us to do it the way they did. If you or your partner honestly forgets, it’s time to implement a visual to-do list, whether it’s a text, app or piece of paper. If your partner doesn’t want to do what you asked them to do but you physically can’t do what you need done, and you’ve explained why you need them to do it and they still won’t, it may be time to hire someone for that task. If you/your partner doesn’t want to do what you/they asked, see if there’s something you can trade from the other person’s to-do list so you’re both doing work but not something you don’t enjoy doing.

If you can’t stand how your partner asks you to do something it may be indicative of a larger communication issue, one that may be resolved with some dialogue regarding how you communicate with each other, how that communication (including method and tone) makes each of you feel, what’s working and not working, and what you can do to improve your communication and thus your relationship. Communication is a great topic to work with a life coach or relationship coach on, they can help the conversation go in the directions it needs to go and help keep the peace.

Getting back to the topic of simple summers, what if you just did what your partner asked you to do? What if you told them you didn’t want to do something or physically couldn’t do something instead of just letting it go? What if you took time to communicate with each other throughout the day with texts, emails, calls and in-person time? What if you talked about expectations, goals, needs and challenges on a regular (at least yearly) basis? What if we took off some of the requirements that are hurting your relationship instead of helping like they’re supposed to? What if you worked more frequently on love and forgiveness instead of stress?

Making one simple change or adjustment each day can put you on the path to a healthier and happier relationship, what will you do today?