Conversations and How to Have Them

Together we discussed friendship, which was one of my favorite experiences. But recently I have noticed that friendship (or relationships in general) are built and fueled by conversations.

Over the past few months I have been observing conversations.

But conversations are weird.

Some are like duels.

Some are like speeches.

Some are veiled.

Some are superficial.

Only a few are deep and memorable.

I recently shared some of these conversation observations with a class. Not just any class, but the last class of the year. This particular class has become a yearly tradition and it isn’t lost on me that the final chapter of the year (right before the Holiday Season) is a class on Emotional Intelligence.

Before I shared, I asked.

“What does it take to have a good conversation?”

The answers came.

“Listening. Letting other people speak. Making eye contact. Not being distracted. Not looking at your phone. Asking questions.”

Great answers. Great advice.

It was the last one that really resonated with me. It is what I have been observing.

Asking questions.

You need all of the first things, but it is the last part that may make the real difference.

Asking questions.

Demonstrates that you are interested in others and not just about yourself. (I have a friend who has made extreme strides in this area, and jokes about how they used to be as a reminder. During a conversation they will jump in with “Enough about me, now I want to hear what you think about me.”

Asking questions.

Questions help you to learn about others.

My assignment to this class was to spend the Holiday Season practicing having conversations. This practice starts with asking questions. It may be helpful to try out a few of these questions over your Holiday Season as well.

  1. How are you? (And listen to the reply. Wait for a reply beyond “I’m good” or “Fine” and maybe ask a second time. Really, how are you?
  2. What is going well?
  3. What are you most excited for in 2017?
  4. What are three things that you would most like to accomplish in the next year?
  5. What is the last book you read?
  6. How are you balancing your multiple roles?
  7. Can you tell me a little more about what you do? What most excites you about what you do?

And the list goes on.

Be careful about asking a question, then jumping in with your own answers to each of these questions. Remember my friend’s quote, this is about them, not you.

Asking questions.

Go try it out and let us know how it goes.

P.S. Sometimes conversations drift towards things that are not as important (Politics, Sports, the Weather) and I have a fun trigger phrase with a few friends when we drift off. Whenever one of us dwells too much on the latest game stats or news story, one of us remembers to say, “Are you Sad?” (Because we must be avoiding real conversation out of sadness…) We all chuckle and get back to focusing on things that matter most.

Hating Salmon and Lemon Squares

“He hates Salmon.”

“He hates Lemon Squares.”

“He is grumpy if he doesn’t eat.”

“He is grumpy if woken from a nap.”

“He [insert event, either one time or a repeated event that happened, and form a hard-wired rule about the person despite the passage of time, even years].”

There was a time when I didn’t really like eating salmon. You know the poached (was it boiled?) kind smothered in a creamy sauce with dill.

Rule #1: Carl hates salmon.

There was a time when desserts in general were not my favorite, I am more of a savory person, and since periodically I may be training for something or trying to lose weight, sweets of any kind are not my friend.

Rule #2: Carl hates lemon squares.

Years later, the remnants of those rules still appear. People are surprised when I eat Salmon (grilled and savory is my favorite) or take a bite of a lemon square.

The preferences at that moment were not meant to create a hard-wired rule.

The preferences were a snapshot in time.

But, times change.

And people change.

We think we know them.

We think they are the same.

We think we had it right.

How many times have these hard-wired rules created obstacles between us?

How many times have these snapshots been held up as a representation of us?

Be careful of the hard-wired rule trap.

You have changed, and so have the people around you.

P.S. I am also not always grumpy because I am hungry or when I wake from a nap, sometimes I am just grumpy.

New Patterns, New Memories

Getting together with people, especially with those who are close, is not always easy.

Logistics. What time, where, who, and what?

Dynamics. The past, the incident, that time, and those words.

Expectations. The food, the venue, the relationships, and the activities.

Patterns. When to eat, what to do, and how you interact.

Memories. Good, bad, stressful, and past.

These various categories cause an interesting dynamic when trying to connect with others. When these categories are associated with past stressful get-togethers, the days before you see these people again can be filled with stress and pressure.

This stress and pressure can hijack the present event by overwhelming you before you even arrive.

But, what if you could shift the pattern?

What if you tried a new approach?

I am lucky to be part of a group that is experimenting with a new pattern. 

Instead of crashing after a meal, we go for a walk (and talk).

Instead of huddling around the TV, we are playing fun and weird games.

Instead of large group discussions, we are making time to connect and catch up individually.

A new pattern is forming.

New memories are replacing the old.

Good Patterns. Good Memories.

It is awkward at first? Oh yeah, but totally worth it.

The Forgiveness Receipt

Forgiveness Receipt

We do something wrong. There is a transaction that needs to occur.

We need to apologize. We need to say we are sorry and ask for forgiveness.

A real apology:

Not a

“I am sorry if I [offended, hurt, misunderstood, overreacted…]

But more of a

“I am sorry for [offending, hurting, misunderstanding, overreacting…]

I read recently that how we respond during this transaction is important. Instead of saying “that is okay” which implies that what occurred was acceptable, the article encouraged people to complete the transaction with “I accept your apology” or if you are able “I forgive you.”

A helpful idea ran through my mind: The Forgiveness Receipt.

The Forgiveness Receipt would be proof of the transaction.

The Forgiveness Receipt could serve two purposes.

Purpose One: A reminder for the person that needed to ask for forgiveness. I recently noticed that I tend to apologize more than once, as if the first one didn’t take. The person I kept apologizing to kindly reminded me that we had already transacted this apology, and I didn’t need to keep revisiting the issue. The issue is gone, and The Forgiveness Receipt would be a great reminder, especially when I am feeling a little insecure.

Purpose Two: A reminder for the person that forgave. I also noticed that I tend to revisit old offenses, long after the transaction. The Forgiveness Receipt would serve to remind me that the I forgave, and can no longer hold that offense against the other person.

Until I can find a receipt book worthy of this task, The Forgiveness Receipt will be more of a mental note. Or maybe this T-Shirt would serve as a better reminder.

Be sure to ask about your receipt.

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Perspective

60 (1)

Ironically I got to speak to a group on emotional intelligence a week before the holidays. We joked about how the class was a perfect place to learn and practice before we interacted with our families and friends at various celebrations.

Stress can run high during this season, and sometimes we need Perspective.

I found that Perspective in a post called The Tail End on one of my new favorite sites WaitButWhy.com that demonstrates visually a life time of events. Super Bowls left to watch, dumplings left to eat, visits to Fenway Park remaining…

What brought the most perspective was the remaining time the author projects he has remaining with his parents (5% remaining) and his siblings (15% remaining).

Perspective is when you suddenly realize that there may only be 15 or 20 more holidays together if you are lucky.

Perspective is when you remember that there are no more holidays with others.

Perspective is when you just want a little more time.

I did my own calculations with some people close to me and I realized that between holidays, and birthdays, and the 3 to 4 other times we hang out per year, I may only have 60 more times to connect with them.

That is it, 60 more days.

When someone is diagnosed with something critical, we tend to rally, connect, and spend more time in those remaining days. The small things fade away, as we try to savor those last moments that remain.

Ordinary time has a funny way of pretending to be in unlimited supply.

Perspective reminds us to not be fooled by time’s pretending.

 

 

 

Celebrate Events

Flags in DC

(Image Courtesy of My Daughter, and the Washington Monument)

A few years ago I wrote about lessons I learned from my mom.

They were simple lessons:

Be Tough. Work Hard. Celebrate Events.

Last week, I was able to share these lessons with the crowd of family and friends that gathered for her memorial service.

More than just the words, or the lessons. We decided to put one of her lessons into practice: Celebrate Events.

We decided to make this 3,138 mile journey memorable and celebrated events along the way.

Car Trouble.

Mountain views.

Hershey Park.

Fast Rides.

Park food.

Visits with great friends.

Sushi. (Arguably the best I have had.)

Long days in the car.

Audio books.

Car Dancing.

Hotel pools.

Traffic.

Food. Food. Food.

Hugs from those who are close.

Tears, memories, and more hugs.

Connection with those you love.

Ocean.

More driving.

Sea World.

Cousins!

More rides.

Florida rain.

A round of frozen drinks to toast the one we lost.

Driving still.

The meal at the Bull.

Washington D.C.

Gluten Free Grilled Cheese!!!

Memorials that move you.

Remembering great people and great events.

Walking. Walking. Walking.

Museum.

More road time.

TRAFFIC.

Family.

Driving still.

Home.

Despite the loss, despite the sadness, we celebrated.

Great new memories.

New stories.

Mom, we will miss you.

Thanks again for the lessons.

 

More Flexible, Less Fear

The other day someone asked me to describe my two biggest goals in life. Once I got over the “Hey, I thought this was going to be a casual conversation!” I spent some time thinking about my response.

The reply didn’t come right away, as my mind raced between what I wanted to do and/or achieve and what I wanted to leave behind or be remembered for…then it hit me.

Two simple goals:

1. Be more flexible.

2. Have less fear.

More Flexible. I have noticed something as we progress through life. We tend to become stiff and rigid. This can be physically, mentally, or emotionally. We don’t stretch as often. We stop trying new things. We want things a certain way. We believe certain things. We know we are right and are not afraid to express that view. We have history with others. We hold grudges.

This goal provides a simple reminder. Am I getting stuck? Am I getting stiff? Am I responding and being closed off to new ideas, new activities, or new adventures? Recently I have been trying Yoga as a way to become more flexible physically, and starting to read a variety of books, or articles that may challenge my strongly held opinions. I initially felt resistance to both, but in time, both are becoming more natural.

Less FearLife is pretty ironic. When I was younger with less resources, less experience, and less opportunity, there was little fear. As resources, experience, and opportunity have grown, so has a corresponding fear.

This goal is the other important reminder. What am I afraid of? What is the worst that could happen? What is the cost of not trying these new things? Having this conversation with myself or others helps move me from inaction to action.

I am glad they asked me about my two biggest goals.

Two simple goals.

More Flexible.

Less Fear.

These two goals have become a kind of mantra for me.

Simple enough to remember, yet effective enough to keep me moving.

Now the question is passed to you.

What are your two biggest goals in life?

We all look forward to your answer.