Things Look Different Close Up

I prefer the window seat whenever I fly, because the view is spectacular!  Everything appears so peaceful.  Mountain ranges are picturesque.  Cities appear slow, calm and quite.  Everything seems to be in order.  From 30,000 feet above, things look pretty good.

View From a Distance

This peaceful view, however, hides the reality the conditions below.  Frigid winter temperatures, scorching summer heat, or a congested, noisy city aren’t really noticeable when viewed at in climate controlled comfort at 30,000 feet.

It’s not until we get up close to the environment that we realize things are markedly different thank they first appeared.

I think it’s like that with people as well.  From a distance, people often appear to be free of difficulty or challenges in their life.  Yet it’s not until we get close up and connect with someone that we realize they are facing challenges, concerns or difficulties that aren’t easily seen from a distance.

This thought reminds me that most people are likely struggling with, worried about, or concerned with something that’s not visible to us.  It also reminds me that I would do well to approach others with grace and, when appropriate, the willingness to be close up.

Using Simple Language

Psychology is an elaboration of the obvious”    ~William James

I first heard this quote in a psychology class during college and immediately fell in love with it.  Not only did I find it accurate with regard to my psychology courses, I have also found it to be an excellent reminder about effective communication.

When we’re communicating with a wide range of people, or with people who are unfamiliar with a concept we are attempting to teach, we should strive to use language that most simply conveys our message.  I’m not talking about “dumbing down” our content, but rather choosing to avoid unnecessary complexities when clear simple language will suffice.

There are times when both the topic and the audience warrant complexity, like at a conference for rocket scientists or brain surgeons, for example.  But many of the concepts and ideas we want to share with other people can easily and effectively be delivered with clear and simple language.

The next time you have a presentation or a speech to give where you’ll be explaining a concept to wide ranging group, consider using clear simple language that is free of jargon and industry buzz words.  At the very least, you’ll be putting your audience in a better position to understand what you’re attempting to communication.  And at best, you may even be able to influence their thinking.

It’s Happening Now

This week I saw the following statement on someone’s T-shirt:  “Enjoy it because it’s happening now”.

I love this timely reminder!

With the beginning of a new year, it’s common to focus on goals and what we plan on doing in the upcoming weeks and months of 2017.  While looking ahead and planning are indeed both important endeavors, it’s equally important that they not occur at the expense of enjoying the good things we’re experiencing in the present moment.

It seems to me that we create our history, our memories, our relationships, and even cement our legacies by how we choose handle what’s happening to us in each moment.

What kind of memories are we creating when we’re overly focused on the future?  What kind of relationships are we creating when we’re too distracted slow down and connect with the people we love and care about?  How will we be remembered by the people with whom we have the pleasure of crossing paths with?  Will they feel like we were looking over their shoulders to see what was next, or will they feel like we actually cared about and were interested in them?

Once gone, a present moment cannot be recaptured.  We can’t go back and extract enjoyment we left on the table from a moment that has already passed.  We must be mindful to enjoy what’s happening right now.

 

Curiosity and Understanding

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a Moth Mainstage event in Portland Oregon.  The Moth features everyday people who tell stories about their life without using any notes.  It’s just the speaker, a microphone, and the audience.

That night we heard from 5 different storytellers:

  1. A junior speech writer for President Obama
  2. An Australian lady helping her Hungarian boyfriend gain US citizenship
  3. A dad remembering a Halloween after the death of a beloved family pet
  4. The son of a man who died on Mt. Everest
  5. A Sudanese refugee’s journey across Africa, after fleeing from her war-torn country, that eventually led to the United States

Their stories were riveting.

As my wife and I were driving home, discussing what we’d just heard, we were both struck by how hearing someone’s story gave us an understanding as to how they thought about, felt about, and perceived their unique experience.  Even though neither of us has fled a war in our own country, we gained a slight understanding of how someone who has had that experience might feel, simply by hearing this Sudanese woman’s story.

Here’s the best part:  if we ever meet someone who is or was a refugee, we will have a better chance of understanding what concerns or fears they may be dealing with, simply because we were willing to listen to someone else’s similar experience.

I think it’s important to be curious about other people and willing to listen to them in order to gain a better perspective as to how their experiences have shaped their worldview, especially when they are different from us in culture or beliefs.

Be curious as you meet people that are different from you, and be willing to listen to them to understand how their experiences have shaped them.  It’s a great way to build connection with people you meet in the future that may have had a similar experience.

Superman Wasn’t the Only One Affected by Kryptonite

For Superman, Kryptonite was that one thing that rendered him ineffective and sapped all his strength and power.  For me, it’s shots, blood draws, and other minor medical procedures.

I don’t know what it is, but these things cause me to freak out.  And by “freak out”… I mean pass out!  No joke!  I’ve passed out after a tetanus shot, from having blood drawn for lab tests, and the worst of all, having my finger pricked for a health screening at work.  That just happened this Tuesday.  Fortunately for me the medical professionals I’ve been around during these occurrences have been very kind and understanding.  I hope they get a good laugh out of the experience as well!

My latest “adventure” Tuesday got me thinking:  I’ll bet everyone has their own form of Kryptonite they deal with.  It may not be shots or medical procedures.  Perhaps its public speaking, snakes, or even clowns (I’m surprised how many times people have told me they are really freaked out by clowns!).  Whatever it is, we’re not at our best when our Kryptonite is present.

I’m trying to respond better when my Kryptonite is present (translation:  trying not to pass out when I go to the doctor), but it’s proving challenging, as evidenced by last Tuesday.  For me, I’ve found that the best thing I can do when I’m around Kryptonite is to tell the safe people around me about it.  I have found that when folks know, they are compassionate and helpful.

I’ve also learned to be understanding of others when they experience their own form of Kryptonite.  No matter how silly or unreasonable their Kryptonite may seem to me; it’s very real to them.

I’ll admit, passing out over shots and having your finger pricked is kind of silly.  After the fact though, it makes for a funny story to share with others and always generates some laughs.  Sharing our Kryptonite experiences with someone else is also a great way to be vulnerable and build connection with others, especially when they’re sharing their Kryptonite stories with us.

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.