Cursed With Knowledge

We all possess knowledge that we’ve had for so long it seems like second nature.  As a result, it’s easy to assume that what is common knowledge to us is the same of everyone else.  There’s a name for this mindset.  It’s called being cursed with knowledge.

While it’s good to possess extensive knowledge of a topic, the challenge comes when we attempt to explain or teach that topic to someone who doesn’t have the same level of knowledge.  What is elementary information to us is newfound, and potentially confusing, information to someone just hearing it for the first time.

If we’re cursed with knowledge, we can easily find ourselves brushing over basic foundational information because we assume everyone “just knows this stuff”.  This causes frustration for the learner who can’t grasp the basic concepts (because they’re not hearing the basic concepts!).  It’s also frustrating for the instructor who wonders why they just aren’t getting it.

Unfortunately, I’ve been on both sides of this scenario.  As a learner I find it helps to ask a lot of questions and not worry about looking ignorant.  (If we’re learning something new then, by definition, we are ignorant; but we won’t stay there.)  As an instructor, I’m working to be more aware of the curse of knowledge when explaining concepts to others so that I’m not needlessly frustrations someone’s efforts to learn.

It all comes down to knowing your audience.  Seek to communicate with people at a level they can understand.  Your audience will thank you.

How To Be A Great Conversationalist

On Monday I had the great pleasure of meeting my sister for lunch.  It’s not something we do as often as we’d like, but when it works out, I always enjoy the experience.  The reason lunches, or other outings with her are so much fun is because my sister is one of the best conversationalists I know.  During our recent outing, my sister’s example reminded me again what makes someone a great conversationalist.

Some of the attributes of a great conversationalist include:

  • They are attentive. Great conversationalists are present in the conversation. They are not looking at their smart phones or staring off over your shoulder to see what else is going on.  They are looking at you and giving you their full attention.  In our technology tethered world, I think that our attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person.
  • They are great listeners. Great conversationalists are willing to wait during a silent pause so the other person can finish a thought or think about what they want to say.  They don’t interrupt in mid-sentence to change the topic, nor do they feel the need to dominate the conversation with their own monologue.  Instead, they actively listen to what the other person is saying.
  • They bring something to the conversation. Great conversationalists don’t just sit there silently through the whole conversation, but rather they bring their own positive thoughts and insights into the discussion.  They ask clarifying questions, share ideas, and even challenge assumptions, all with the intent of gaining a deeper understanding of the topic and the other person’s perspectives.
  • They care. Great conversationalists care about the person(s) they are talking with and demonstrate that by not judging them, and by creating a safe and trusted environment where people can talk freely and feel they are actually being heard and understood.

What a gift it is to be in the presence of a great conversationalist!

If you want to be a blessing to someone practice the attributes of great conversationalists the next time you are visiting with someone and see how it positively impacts the conversation.  It’s a skill that will yield more gratifying conversations and deeper relationships with others.

Life is Better When We Bring Others Along

My life is much more enjoyable when I am interacting and connecting with others.  I would much rather bring people along as I travel through life than take the journey as a solitary traveler.  But how do we go about bringing others along on our life journey?  Below are 4 suggestions for building connections with the people you’re going through life with:

Include them in what’s going on in your life

Share significant news with those closest to you.  Don’t let them hear it through the grapevine.  Give people some details about what you’re up to when they ask, instead of just saying, “Not much” or “I’m fine”.  You don’t need to give a full account of every detail, or dump a bunch of bad news on folks, but let them know what you’re up to.  How can we be encouraged or comforted by others, or be encouraging or comforting to others,  if we don’t let each other know what’s going on in our lives?

Be interested in what others are doing

Going through life with others is not an exercise in collecting a supporting cast for ourselves.  It is bi-directional.  There is communication, concern, and caring that goes both ways.  The best way we can show interest in others is to listen to them when they are telling us about something going on in their life.  We can ask questions, not just for the sake of asking, but to learn more about them and how they’re feeling, what makes them tick, and what’s important to them.  I think one of the greatest gifts we can give people is our genuine interested attention.

Ask people for help

People want to help those they know and like.  For some reason thought, it is difficult to ask others for help, even when we could really use it.  We need to work at getting better at asking for help.  There’s no benefit to being a Lone Ranger, thinking we can figure a situation out all on our own.  Plus, we rob others of the opportunity to be a potential blessing to us with the assistance they could provide.

Treat people well

Thank others when they assist or bless you.  Tell them something you like or admire about them.   Send an email, write a letter, or make a phone call of encouragement, gratitude, appreciation, or comfort.  Depending on your relationship with them, let them know you love them.

When done genuinely, all of these steps require a degree of vulnerability.  That vulnerability comes from taking a risk to open up and share our real-self with others.  In doing so, we also give others a safe place to do likewise with us.

Coming in Second Place

I don’t mind coming in second place, as long as I know that I’ve done my best.  However, there is nothing more frustrating than coming in second place to a smartphone.

Has it ever happened to you?  You’re interacting with another person when all at once, they stop interacting with you in order to respond to incessant smartphone notifications.   Worse yet, without even being prompted by a notification, they decide that interacting with you would be a good time to check social media updates, look at email, or see if any new texts have arrived.

Maybe you’ve even been with someone who is close to you who would rather pull out their smartphone and totally zone out, all but forgetting that you are present and eager to interact with them.

What’s up with that?

What kind of messages are we sending to people when we use our smartphones take priority over our interactions with them?  Those coming in second place to a smartphone are likely thinking:

  • Do they think I’m boring?
  • Would they rather be doing something else than being here with me?
  • Why did they agree to get together when they’d rather be on their phone than interact with me?
  • Are they looking to see what others are doing that is more exciting than what they’re doing right now?
  • What’s so exciting on your phone that you can’t put it down long enough to have a real person-to-person interaction?
  • This is the last time I’ll agree to get together with them in person. I’d get a better response if I just sent them a text.

I don’t know if people are intentionally trying to kill human interaction when they do these things.  My guess is that they are not even aware that they are putting their smartphone in first place.  Perhaps they’re just choosing the path of least resistance, because for some, human interaction is work.

Here are a couple of suggestions to ensure that we’re putting the people we’re with in first place:

  • Put your smartphone in airplane mode before you meet the other person
  • Keep your smartphone out of site during your interaction. Sometimes just the site of your smartphone can cause the other person to think you’re expecting a call, text, or social media update.
  • Don’t be so quick to want to find the answer to every question raised. They don’t all need to be answered on the spot.  Sometimes it ok if they’re not answered at all.  Sometimes it’s ok just to wonder.
  • If you truly would rather not spend time with the person, then don’t agree to. That would be a much kinder solution than putting them in second place.

Let’s put those we’re with in first place by giving them the gift of our undistracted attention.  Not only will they appreciate it, they will be likely do the same for you.

Do Not Disturb

A “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the door of a hotel room sends a very clear message.  It states to all passing by that the occupant is focused on something else (like getting some sleep) and would see interaction from you or anyone else as an unwanted intrusion; and rightfully so.  Do Not Disturb signs are like communication stop signs in that their intention is to thwart off any communication before it starts.  They are very useful when we need to focus on a task for a specific period.  In such a case, a Do Not Disturb sign sends the appropriate message at the appropriate time.

Have you ever considered that we may be unintentionally displaying Do Not Disturb messages to those closest to us?  I’m not saying we’re walking around with hotel-style Do Not Disturb  signs around our necks; that would be silly.  However, what message might we be sending to a spouse, a child, family members, or a friend who is with us when we choose to bury our faces in a smartphone, tablet, or some other object that has captured our attention?

Sure, there are occasions where an implied Do Not Disturb is necessary, but the concern is when this type of behavior becomes such a habit that we are not even aware how often we’re sending a message, through our actions, that we would rather not be disturbed or inconvenienced by the interactions of another.

In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, “you might have your Do Not Disturb Sign out” if:

  • You are with someone significant to you and you’re more concerned about responding to smartphone alerts than you are about the person you’re with.
  • You arrange an evening out with a friend or a group and find yourself more interested in “capturing the moment” for your Facebook friends than you are about building relationships with the people you invited out.
  • People often ask you if you heard what they said or if they make comments that you seem too distracted to be interested in what they’re saying.

Granted, not all Do Not Disturb signs come in the form of smartphones and social media, but that seems to be a significant culprit in light of today’s technology.

This is not a cry to eliminate social media and smartphone technology from our lives.  Far from it!  Rather, it is a reminder that our actions can often send unintended messages that we may not even be aware we’re sending.   As such, we should be mindful of what we’re doing when we interact with those closest to us.  If we need to put our focus somewhere other than the person we’re with, let’s kindly tell them that our focus is currently somewhere else and arrange to connect with them at a time when we can give them our attention.  Better yet, unless it’s an emergency or something critical, give them your attention in that moment.

Connecting With Those You’re With

I was out to dinner with a group of 6 people earlier this week.  At one point during the meal something funny was said, and one of the people at the table laughed out loud with one of those great infectious laughs that make other people that hear it begin laughing as well.  It went on for several minutes.  It was great!

Several times prior to this uproarious event there were instances when most of the people in the group were on their smart phones at the same time, either looking up someplace to eat, or just checking in on social media.   It’s always weird to me when a group of people that have made an effort to gather together spend so much time on their phones seeing what other people, that aren’t present, are up to.

After the meal I was thinking about the person’s infectious laugher and how it created a shared experience that was enjoyable and created a connection between everyone at the table.  I also thought of the times when folks were all on their cell phones.  There was no connection or shared laughter when people’s faces were buried in their phones.   The only shared experience we had at those times was that we were all occupying the same space.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think if you’re going to make an effort to get together and spend time with people in person, you shouldn’t be looking at your phone to find out what other people are doing, or what you might be missing out on.  I personally have never had an enjoyable shared experience with people who are all sitting together focused on their smart phones and disconnected from one another.

With the holidays upon us, we’ll likely have several opportunities to gather with others over a meal, for drinks, or just for the sake of spending time together.  Be mindful during these times about connecting with the people you’re present with, and consider leaving the smart phone in your pocket or purse.

And if you’d really rather not connect with the people you’re gathered with, it begs the question… what are you even doing there?

You Can Tell A Lot From A Little

Consider the following sentence:

“After work, he bought his wife some roses.”

By reading these 8 simple words, we very quickly learn quite a bit of information about this person.  For example, we know this person:

  • Is a male
  • Is married
  • Has some disposable income to buy flowers
  • Is thinking of his wife
  • Has a job

In addition to these details, our sentence also generates a number of questions for us, such as:

  • Why is he buying flowers for his wife?
  • How long have he and his wife been married?
  • Where does he work?
  • What does he do at his job?
  • How old are these 2 people?
  • Does he buy his wife flowers often?
  • Will his wife appreciate the flowers?

In just 8 simple words we now know a decent amount about this person and have several questions to ask that would help us learn even more about him and his wife.

So what, right?  I mean, that’s nice and all, but what does that have to do with anything, and who really cares?  Consider this…

Every day we exchange numerous sentences with other people through digital forms like text, email, social media, as well as through old-fashioned verbal communication.  Therefore, every day we receive a great deal of information about the people we interact with.  If you want to become better at connecting with people, or become a better listener, this information provides a great starting point to do so.

Begin paying attention to what people are saying.  Listen for the facts, but also keep your radar up for the questions you can ask that will help take the conversation deeper.  And when you have a question, ask it.  These are the initial steps in connecting with others.

I’m not saying you have to do this with every conversation you have, but if you’re looking to make a connection or build a relationship with someone, this is a great way to start.

Seven Tips to Keep from Losing Your Mind to Emotion

When emotion goes up, intelligence goes down.”  ~Mari Smith; Social Media Thought Leader

When I heard this quote from Mari Smith on the Entreleadership Podcast, I was instantly able to recall several accounts from my own life when I’ve been in this very situation.  I cringed, because, unfortunately, those have not been some of my finest moments!

What about you?  Have you ever been in a position where you feel the emotion rising, while at the same time your intelligence waning?  It’s not a good feeling.  Historically, I haven’t realized this was occurring until after the conversation or interaction where it occurred.  By then, it’s too late to change course because common sense and better judgement have already left the station.

So what can we do to keep from losing our minds when we notice our emotions starting to heat up?  Here are 7 suggestions to keep emotions from depleting our intelligence.

  1. Know the types of interactions that cause you to become emotionally charged so that you can either avoid them or be aware of the possibility of reacting emotionally.
  2. Know how you react physically when you’re emotionally charged. Do your hands get sweaty, your face get warm, or you ears get hot?  Knowing how you react can help you identify when you’re becoming emotionally charged.
  3. Determine in advance how you will respond when you feel yourself becoming emotionally charged. If we don’t know how we’ll respond in that moment, we’ll likely put ourselves on auto pilot and let emotions take over.  Usually not a good option.
  4. In the moment, take a few deep breaths. I know this sounds cliché, but it works.
  5. Put things in perspective. Ask yourself what’s at stake and determine if it’s really worth getting worked up for.
  6. Look for something positive like humor, a silver lining, or opportunities to connect with the other side on a human level.
  7. Decide not to get worked up.  This may sound hard, but we have far more control over our emotions than we realize.

There seems to be no shortage of things to spin us up and charge our emotions.  The good news is that this gives us a lot of opportunity to practice the tips above.

Being emotionally charged up and momentarily losing our intelligence does not help us to be at our best.  Decide today to be in charge of your emotions and not a follower of them.  That sounds good to me, because I can’t afford to lose any of the precious little intelligence I have!

What Do People Think

What Do People Think When They Hear You Coming

~Joni  Eareckson Tada

What do you think when you ponder that question?  Are you a value-add in that people are glad to see you and your presence is welcome, or is your presence seen as something that is an unwelcomed interruption?

If your answer to that question left you feeling slightly uncomfortable, and you’d like to improve the likelihood that you arrival will be seen as a welcomed event, try practicing the following suggestions during your interactions with others:

  • Take an interest in others and what they’re interested in, instead of focusing on your own interests.
  • Be kind to people and show them grace, because we may not know what they’re going through.
  • Look for the best in others instead of the worst, because we tend to find what we’re looking for.
  • Offer sincere praise or appreciation; most people probably don’t get enough of either.
  • Give them you undistracted attention; by doing so you’ll communicate that they’re important to you.

We all want to be viewed as a value-add, and someone whose presence is appreciated and valued.  The best way to cause this is to value others and communicate that by showing them kindness, appreciation, attention, and respect.

Look for opportunities to put these suggestions into practice starting today.  When you do, people we will look forward to your arrival.

Why it’s not Always Good to Have All the Answers

It’s nice to have the answer to a question or problem.  But what happens when we think we have all the answers to every question, and that our answers are better than everyone else’s?

Here are 5 dangers of thinking we have all the answers:

  1. We won’t gain new skills and experience. When we think we have all the answers, we aren’t open to trying new approaches to solving problems.  This keeps us from gaining new skills that come from new experiences.
  2. Our problem solving skills will not improve. If we already know the answer to every question, we won’t have opportunity to exercise our problem solving skills.  Instead, we’ll continue to simply rely on our own limited knowledge and miss the challenge of considering new methods to solve a problem.
  3. We won’t be able to collaborate with or leverage the knowledge of others. If think we know everything, we won’t seek assistance from others, or avail ourselves to the knowledge and experience they have.  This limits our exposure to new thoughts and ideas that we may have never heard or considered.
  4. We are not likely to attract or keep good thinkers on our teams. Good thinkers don’t want to be around people that have all the answers, because good thinkers like to think and share ideas. If we have all the answers, the good thinkers around us will go elsewhere; and take their good thinking with them.
  5. We’ll never create anything bigger than ourselves. If we rely only on what we know and our limited answers, we waste opportunities to collaborate with others in order to create something that is much bigger than ourselves.  How can we possibly create something bigger than ourselves if we only rely on our own limited knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong, its’ good to have answers to questions and problems, and when we have answers, we should share them with others.  However, I think it’s foolish to assume that we are possible of having ALL the answers to EVERY problem or question.

If, in the very rare case, we do indeed have all the answers to every question or problem we encounter, that is probably a good indication we need to step out of our comfort zone and do something else.