Tag Archive for communication

The Sacred Moment In Every Conversation

Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.

  1. The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
  2. The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
  3. The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
  4. The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
  5. The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
  6. The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.

Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?

A Slippery Slope Begins with Knockoff Truths

“It’s a slippery slope…” or so I’ve heard it said. But, now it’s more than just something I’ve heard. Research supports “It’s a slippery slope”…at least for the little white lie. Let me explain. A team of researchers completed four studies to explore how wearing “counterfeit sunglasses” impacted a person’s level of honesty and their tendency to judge other people as dishonest (Read the study in The Counterfeit Self: The Deceptive Costs of Faking It). In each study, the participants, believing they were participating in a study to evaluate types of sunglasses and were assigned to different groups of “sunglass wearing.” One group wore designer sunglasses. The other group wore knockoffs, counterfeits…you know, the ones that aren’t real but make people think you have the real thing. In essence, they wore a little white lie, a “knockoff” of the truth. In the first study, participants who wore the knockoffs were led to believe they preferred to wear counterfeit sunglasses for practical reasons. In the second study, they wore the knockoffs because the researchers assigned them to the group either wearing the “real thing” or the “knockoffs.” They had no choice. In both studies, the participants were given tasks in which they could cheat (or not) and opportunities to self-report on their performance. Those who believed they wore the knockoffs were significantly more likely to cheat and to inflate their performance when self-reporting than those who wore the designer shades.

In the third study, the researchers added a questionnaire related to judging other peoples’ tendency to engage in unethical behavior such as lying or behaving dishonestly. You guessed it. Those wearing the “knockoff” sunglasses were significantly more likely to assume others would engage in unethical behavior, lie, or behave dishonestly than those wearing the true blue designer shades.

Finally, in the fourth study, the researchers “teased out” what might mediate this “counterfeit sunglass” response. They discovered that feeling inauthentic led to the dishonest behavior and the tendency to judge others as dishonest. In other words, the “little white lie” of pretending to have authentic brand name designer shades when they did not, contributed to dishonesty and believing others to be more dishonest and unethical.

What does this have to do with marriage and family?  Good question. Sometimes couples tell a “little white lie” to avoid a conflict or confrontation. One person stops to get a beer on the way home rather than drink it in front of their spouse because “they don’t want to hear it.” Or, they tell their spouse everything is fine rather than discuss some irritating behavior because “they don’t want the stress.”  One spouse withholds information about finances to limit their partner’s anxiety…or a spouse makes a purchase in secret because they fear the purchase will upset their spouse. All little things, but they’re actually “knockoffs” of the truth. Real truth, designer truth, does not withhold information to avoid a confrontation or hide behavior to avoid the conflict. Real truth addresses the concern rather than trying to avoid the stress with a “knockoff truth.” But, this is where it gets worse, a little white lie, a “knockoff” of the truth, opens the door for more lies. Sure, we all know the person telling the lie may have to expand the lie to cover the first. According to the research, though, telling that “knockoff truth” increases the chance of further dishonesty, more significant dishonesty, bigger lies and bigger coverups. And, it increases the chance that the person telling the “knockoff truth” will become suspicious and judgmental of their partner’s motives and honesty. In other words, they may judge their spouse’s sincere motives and behaviors as dishonest and unethical. The stage is set. The slippery slope is covered with ice. The downward slide of dishonesty, mistrust, coverups, and paranoia begins. It’s better just to avoid the whole thing. Avoid the “knockoff truth,” the little white lie. Stick with telling the real truth, the whole truth, the designer truth. Don’t settle for less. Be honest.

The Way You Say the Things You Say

Have you heard the old song “The Way You Do The Things You Do”?  (You can listen to the lyrics here.) “The way we do the things we do” obviously communicates love and commitment, fills our spouse and family with joy,  and even brightens their day. But I want to focus on “the way you say the things you say.” Yes, “the way we say the things we say” can make or break our family relationships. Let me give you a few examples.

  • One area in which “the way we say the things we say” can make or break a relationship involves the cadence of our statements. My friend used to ask me about my thanksgiving every year. He would ask, “How was your Thanksgiving, turkey?” Did you notice that comma? That comma, that change in cadence, changed his question completely. He was no longer asking how the thanksgiving turkey tasted; he was calling me a turkey! Consider another statement I heard this weekend. Hungry children sat at the table and said, “Let’s eat grandma!”  Now, that sentence needs a change in cadence, a pause, because what they really meant to say was “Let’s eat, grandma!” As you can see, how we say the things we say makes a huge difference in how our spouse and children understand what we say.
  • Another area in which “the way we say the things we say” makes a difference involves volume. For instance, a whisper works well when we want to say something to our family without the whole world knowing. Sometimes though, we want to make a point. Our children have done something wrong and they need to stop. We begin to yell. But is that best? Probably not. Yelling scrambles our children’s brains. It signals that we are about to lose emotional control. Our children no longer hear what we want them to hear. Instead, they “shut down” or  focus on our immediate actions. They begin to think things like “There goes dad yelling again. I hate when he does that. He’s so rude. He always yells….” They miss the whole point of why we’re yelling.  Instead of yelling, use a firm voice. With a firm voice you are still in control of your emotions. You can turn to another person and speak in a normal conversational tone. Your children may call it yelling, but they are still able to listen. In fact, they are pulled in to listen. They are compelled to listen by the firmness in your voice. Keep your volume at a whisper, indoor conversational volume, or a firm volume when interacting with family. Avoid yelling and screaming…because the “way you say the things you say” does make a difference.
  • Tone of voice also impacts the “way we say the things we say.” Take the question “is she going out with him?” (I thank the same friend who called me a turkey for this example.) Notice how the sentence changes when the emphasis is placed on different words. “Is SHE going out with him?” “Is she going out with HIM?” “Is she GOING OUT with him?”  Each one says something slightly different and reveals the speaker’s different thoughts about the people involved. Aside from emphasis, you can make the same statement with a contemptuous tone, “Yeah I love you” or a loving tone, “Yeah I love you.” Tone makes all the difference in the world when it comes to “the way you say the things you say.”

Tone, volume, and cadence, “the way you say the things you say,” will endear your family to you or push them away from you. Listen closely and be sure “the way you say the things you say” matches with what you really want to say!

A Medicine to Cure What Ails You

I am not a medical doctor, so I can’t prescribe medication. Generally, I don’t even promote medications except as a last resort. However, I so like this medication that I will promote it whole-heartedly. It’s a strong medicine that can cure what ails you.  It can release us from so much stress…and that means it can improve our health. The Miami Herald (2014) reported that “according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75% of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.” I fear we experience stress at an even higher rate today than when that article was written. But, the medicine I want to tell you about is strong enough to cure what ails you, especially when it comes to stress! It’s a medicine that we have used less and less in this era of texting, Instagram, Snapchat, and instant messaging; but is so powerful we need to start using it more again. What is this medicine? The human voice. Studies has shown just how powerful the human voice is for reducing stress and increasing positive emotions. In 2010, a group of researchers recruited mothers and daughters (7-12 years old) to take part in a study exploring how the voice reduces stress, decreases stress hormones, and increases oxytocin (the feel-good, bonding hormone). They found that being able to spend 15 minutes talking with their mother on the phone decreased cortisol (the stress hormone) and increased oxytocin as much as face-to-face physical contact with their mother. There is power in a mother’s comforting words. 

A second study in 2012 by the same researchers showed that a mother’s voice reduced cortisol and increased oxytocin while twice the amount of time instant messaging did not. A third study in 2017 with a different group of researchers explore the power of personal interaction, vocal interactions, and texting in reducing stress. No surprises. Interacting over the phone had a similar impact as face-to-face interaction. Both increased the stressed person’s sense of positive emotion. Texting did not. 

The human voice offering words of comfort and support can decrease stress and increase positive emotion leading to healthier lives. Texting, instant messaging, Instagram, and other social media cannot!

Like all medicine, the human voice does have negative side effects. (This is where you read in a softer, more inviting voice like the medication commercials do.) Using the human voice to yell can increase cortisol levels and so increase stress. It can create changes in the brain areas responsible for processing sounds and language, making them more vigilant, even hypervigilant and more likely to misinterpret the intent of people’s speech. Yelling can also increase symptoms of depression. With that said, (please return to your usual excited voice) the human voice is a medicine to cure what ails you. Here are some ways to use this medicine most effectively. First, stop texting, instant messaging, and posting opinions on face book. Instead:

  1. Use your human voice to offer encouragement. Cheer one another on to greater success.
  2. Use your human voice to offer words of comfort to those who are stressed. Talk to them and communicate understanding.
  3. Use your human voice to express love and affection. Compliment one another. Verbalize your love for one another.
  4. When you must discipline your children, refrain from yelling. State the limits and consequences in a neutral tone of voice. However, when your children do something you like, acknowledge it “with feelings” of love and adoration.
  5. If you find yourself yelling, stop using this medicine (the human voice) and seek professional help immediately (or just go calm down). If you start name-calling while using the human voice, stop immediately. As your mother said, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all!”

The human voice, a medicine that can reduce stress and promote a longer, healthier lifestyle. That’s a medicine I can get behind! Ask your doctor about it today (Actually, forget asking your doctor. Just start using the human voice in a healthy way today!)

Communicating As An “Us”

The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.”  We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.

  • Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
  • Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
  • Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
  • Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)

Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!

Boost Your Children’s Communication Skills

Our children need to develop the ability to communicate well if they want to succeed in this world. Think about it. If you want to effectively resolve a disagreement, you have to explain yourself well. If you want others to understand you, you have to express yourself well. If you want to woo your love, you must declare your love in a way the other person will “hear” and appreciate. If you want to get the promotion at work, you have to make your desire and your ability known. Communication and language are essential to our growth, our maturity, and our success.  A recent study from MIT explored how children develop these language and communication skills (Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language). They discovered the number of “conversational turns” between child and parent predicted differences in language skills and even brain physiology. The more back-and-forth exchanges between parent and child, the greater the child’s language comprehension and expressive abilities. In addition, when children who experienced more back-and-forth exchanges with parents listened to stories, they exhibited a more activity in the area of the brain involved in processing and producing language (Broca’s area).  In other words, they were more “tuned in” to hearing, producing, and processing language. So, if you want your children to learn to communicate more effectively, don’t rely on Dora, language games, or other TV shows.  Engage them. Interact with them. Converse with them about topics of their interest. Play fun language games like Telephone, Mutual Storytelling, or Salad Bowl.

The two most important aspects of any activity geared toward helping your child grow is to 1) make it age appropriate and 2) keep it interactive. So have fun. Interact. And watch your children improve their communication and interactive skills.

Parenting “Down to the T”

Ever see those parents who seem to have the whole parenting thing “down to the T.” They just seem to have it all together. Their efforts seem to flow so smoothly. I’m pretty sure it’s not always as it appears.  But, it does get me thinking about to parent effectively, how to make parenting run smoothly, how to get our parenting efforts “down to the T.” If you want to parent “down to the T,” include these three “t’s” in your parenting repertoire.

  1. Touch Touch is one of our first connections to family. Gentle, peaceful, careful touch makes infants feel secure. Rough, impatient, nervous handling creates insecurity. Touch is not just important for infants. It remains important throughout life. One study demonstrated that harsh, aggressive touch from parents increased anxiety and somatic complaints in children while response and nurturing touch reduced withdrawal, decreased depressive symptoms, and decreased somatic complaints. Once again, healthy touch promoted a sense of security and positive emotional health. Even the NBA knows positive touch increases comradery and teamwork (Read A Page from the NBA Playbook for Your Family for more).
  2. Talk Keep the lines of communication open with your children from the time they are born until…well, never stop talking to your children. Tell them your plans before you start an activity. Talk over what will happen and the expectations. Then, when things happen as you said, your children learn they can trust your word. Talking about activities also lets your children feel included and respected. Tell your children what you admire about them and talk to them about areas of growth. Talking about strengths and areas of growth communicates how much you value your children and trust their ability to grow. Speak in a loving voice as often as possible. Even in the midst of anger you can speak with firmness and remain polite and respectful.
  3. Take it slow. Children move quickly, but they need more time to process information. They need time to transition from one activity to another. So slow down. Take your time. Talk about the transition and what to expect. You children will have more time to process what’s happening and they will transition more smoothly. Taking it slow also teaches your children the importance of pacing and resting. It builds a lifestyle of calm rather than a frenetic lifestyle of constant rush. A calm family life creates opportunities to connect and bond with one another. It will also reduce behavior problems (Read Managing Your Child’s Schedule for more).

Practice these three ideas and you will have parenting “down to the T.” Who knows, people may watch you and think, “Wow. They seem to have this parenting thing all together…right ‘down to the T.'”

4 Tips for Raising a Violent Narcissist…OR NOT!!

Have you ever wondered how to create a self-absorbed, entitled, child who becomes violent when they don’t get their way? Probably not. I mean, who wants their child to become a violent narcissist. But, you might raise an entitled violent child unintentionally, by accident, if you don’t watch out. Dr. Calvete and her team of researchers wondered about a possible link between narcissism and violence in adolescents. To explore that possible link, they interviewed 591 adolescents and identified four elements that contribute to the creation of a violent narcissist (Read a review of this study here). Just to make sure you don’t unintentionally practice any of these four elements in your family, let me briefly describe each one.

  1. A distant relationship between parent and child was linked to narcissism in children. A lack of quality time as well as a lack of affection between parent and child contributes to a distant relationship. If you want to raise a narcissist, keep your parent-child relationships distant.
  2. A lack of positive communication helps keep the relationship between parent and child distant. Children who experience little encouragement, acknowledgement, constructive discipline, or intimate connection have a greater chance of becoming an aggressive narcissist.
  3. Exposure to family violence was linked to adolescent aggression directed toward parents. Children learn and practice what they see modeled in the family.
  4. A permissive parenting style sets the stage for an entitled adolescent, one who thinks he deserves everything he wants right here, right now! When he doesn’t get what he wants, he might just become angry and aggressive.

Nobody wants to raise a violent narcissist. We want to raise loving, caring adolescents. To do that, we have to avoid the four elements above. Better yet, replace them with these four family ideals instead.

  1. Develop an intimate family. Spend quality time together. Eat together. Play together. Worship together. Go places together. Share healthy affection like hugs, high-fives, or fist bumps with one another. Learn about one another’s interests. Ask about one another’s day. You get the idea. Develop an intimate family.
  2. Develop a kind and gentle family. Listen before advising. When problems arise, problem-solve together. Learn how to express anger and hurt in a calm manner. Learn to self-soothe. Do not instigate or provoke. Work together to achieve goals. Accept responsibility for mistakes. Lovingly hold one another accountable.  Be kind and gentle, tenderhearted with each other.
  3. Learn positive communication skills. Season your speech with grace. Speak with kindness. Offer encouragements and praise. Address difficulties politely. Offer constructive criticism in a loving manner with the goal of promoting growth. Enjoy intimate conversations. Compliment. Offer words of affirmation and admiration.
  4. Practice authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting creates an environment in which love and affection thrive and grow within the loving structure of clearly defined limits and boundaries. Both love and limits, relationships and rules, bonding and boundaries are needed to have a healthy, loving family. Practice both in a loving manner.

Put these four family ideals into practice and you will not raise a self-entitled violent narcissist. Instead, you will be the proud parent of a kind, compassionate, and caring young adult.

Old School Time to Nurture Your Marriage

I hardly remember the day (even though it was not so long ago) when we had no cell phones or even pagers. Remember what it was like to have only one phone in the house…and that one attached to the wall? What did married couples do to stay in touch? How did married couples know what their spouse was doing? Well, they sat down at some point during the day to talk! They sat near one another and carried on a conversation. Eye contact was prevalent, even expected. An awareness of facial expression and nuance of speech (like cadence, pace, and volume) added to the meaning of the words spoken. Each partner listened with eyes and ears as they discussed the stresses and joys of the day, plans for the week, hopes for the future, and an appreciation for one another.

The listening spouse learned about the speaking spouse while observing the body language, hearing the vocal inflections, and striving to understand the words spoken. The speaking spouse felt valued and loved as they listening spouse listened intently and responded with understanding and love.

That’s old school quality time at its best. That’s the kind of old school talk that nurtured deeper intimacy and a stronger marriage. Maybe we can take a lesson and put a little old school face-to-face interactions into our marriages from time to time.

You might ask, “What’s the big deal? Why not just send the message in a text?” You can do that; but, according to research, cell phones tend to decrease intimacy during conversation. In fact, just having a cell phone visible limits intimacy. Researchers from the University of Essex discovered this when they placed couples (not married) in a room with comfortable chairs to enjoy a conversation. A coffee table with a book on it sat next to the chairs. For half the pairs, a random cell phone was placed on the book in plain view. For the other half, no cell phone was in the room. A survey following the conversation revealed that the pairs who conversed in the room with a visible cell phone reported a different kind of experience than those who had no cell phone in the room. Specifically, those with a random cell phone sitting in plain sight reported significantly less relationship quality, partner trust, and partner empathy. In other words, just having a cell phone visible to the couple reduced intimacy. Conversation was stilted for fear of the outside world buzzing in and interrupting the conversation.

There is a way to avoid this intrusion, a way to put a boundary around your conversation and keep some of the outside world out.  Go old school! Turn the cell phone off and put it in another room. Sit down with your spouse, look one another in the eye, and enjoy a conversation filled with verbal inflection, facial expression, and body language. Go ahead. Give it a try. You will celebrate the intimacy of old school quality time.

Strengthen Your Marriage…Old School

Sometimes the best way to get something done is to go “old school on it.”  Throw out the newfangled gadgets and just go old school. Drop the gizmos, the 140 letter limit, the memes, and the gif’s…just go old school. In fact, I think going old school could really strengthen your marriage. For instance, go old school and write your spouse a hand-written love letter.  I know you could just send a text. But, a text is so short…and easy. It doesn’t send the send as meaningful of a message as a hand-written letter. A hand-written letter involves effort. You have to get the paper or pick out the perfect card. You have to spend the time to put pen to paper and write out your thoughts. Since it’s handwritten, you can’t rely on spellcheck to correct mistakes or edit mistakes with the simple tap of a back key. No, you have to think, write slowly and mindfully, and possibly even rewrite to refine your expression of emotion…to make it sound just right, the perfect confession of your love. Then you have to find an envelope and address it. You even have to put a stamp on it (yes, the post office still produces stamps). Then you have to walk it to the mail box and drop it in the mail. It takes time. But, doesn’t the investment of time better express the love you feel for your spouse?

Imagine your partner’s curiosity when she receives an envelope with a hand-written address on it. As she open it, the seed of curiosity sprouts into anticipation. Anticipation grows a bud of wonder as she sees a hand-written letter inside. Wonder blooms into joy and love as she reads a letter in your hand-writing that describes your undying love for her. Gratitude swells in her heart. “Awww…he’s so sweet.” The words slip from her lips as she holds the letter close to her chest and considers where she will keep it for all posterity (which you can’t do with a text, btw). You might even find a hug and your favorite dish waiting for you later that day.

There you have it. Intimacy nurtured and marital bliss enhanced…all because of the time and effort invested in a simple, old school, hand-written love letter. I have to say, that’s definitely a bigger bang than you can get for any 140-character text you might send!

PS—Of course the love letter can strengthen your marriage; but, did you know it could also help lower your cholesterol? That’s right. A study published in 2007 found that expressing affection for your loved ones in writing actually contributes to a decrease in cholesterol levels. In this study, participants wrote for 20 minutes on three occasions over a five week period to express affection and gratitude for their loved ones.  The results: participants experienced a “statistically significant decrease in cholesterol levels” after only a five-week experience! Hand-writing a love letter will not only increase the love and intimacy in your marriage, but it may also improve your health so you can enjoy that intimate marriage even longer!

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