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.

Speaking of Money

Speaking of Money…

Why don’t we?

We all tend to agree that we need Money to do certain things, but is has become a secretive endeavor.

Sometimes the opportunities present themselves, but we have been trained, conditioned, or accustomed that Speaking of Money is not polite, appropriate, or “right.”

I was reflecting on two recent opportunities.

Opportunity #1: The back porch.

While vacationing with family recently we tended to sit on the back porch and have conversations that ranged from the silly to the sacred (A shout out to Iain for that riff.) Conversations included the weather, our plans for that day, what we liked about the previous day, what to eat, what to eat, and sometimes where to eat.

But it was the questions that came from the youngest ones that were the most fun.

“So you are my dad’s older brother?”

“Yes.”

“Really, so you grew up together?”

“Yes.”

“So you are saying that Grammie was your mom, and my dad’s mom?”

“Yes.”

This went on for quite sometime. But then there was another question.

“So, this place we rented to all get together is pretty nice, how much did it cost?”

“Um, Uh, Hmmmm, Not too much.”

“No really, I was wondering what it cost, like how much money?”

“Hey, what was your favorite part of yesterday?”

Opportunity #2: The Menu.

Recently we decided to go away for holiday and instead of the traditional making of a big meal with all the prep, serving, hosting, and cleaning, we just wanted the simplicity of showing up, eating, and leaving.

To help those involved know what we were having for dinner, I shared the menu. But instead of sharing the whole menu, I folded over the part with the pricing and shared the folded version instead.

Unsurprisingly, most people who took the menu, immediately unfolded the piece of paper.

It was my youngest who asked the questions this time.

“So this food seems good, but how much does it cost?”

“Well you know, not too much.”

“Why did you fold over the menu and the pricing?”

“Hey, did you pack an extra jacket in case it is cold?”

Two opportunities. Two total misses.

The conditioning, training, or whatever it was overrode the opportunity in the moment.

Speaking of Money shouldn’t be so awkward.

Speaking of Money shouldn’t be something that freezes us.

We should look for opportunities where Speaking of Money helps provide perspective, insight, or understanding of how things work.

We may need to embrace this awkwardness and start Speaking of Money when the opportunities come this way.

We want to convey why we spent the money on vacation because connecting with family was that important.

We want to convey why we spent the money on a holiday meal so that we would not have the typical stress associated with holiday preparation.

We want to convey a healthy understanding of the costs, the sacrifices, the choices, and the reasons.

In order to do that, we are going to have to start Speaking of Money a little more often.

 

Tell Them

I got to connect with an old friend the other day.

We drove, we talked, we got coffee, and we talked some more.

We talked about new starts and changes.

We talked about career paths and work.

We talked about good times and bad.

Then we talked about organizations.

My friend watched an organization try to move forward.

The moving forward required some changes.

The changes would impact employees.

The organization forgot to Tell Them (the employees, the staff, the people that would be impacted), and their top talent began to leave.

After many people left, the organization learned a valuable lesson.

Tell Them.

Tell Them why the changes are happening.

Tell Them the larger plan.

Tell Them why these moves are so important.

There are so many excuses not to Tell Them.

“We were waiting until everything was perfect.”

“We were not sure how the news would be received.”

“We think it will upset our customer.”

The longer you wait to Tell Them, the more other stories build.

Stories that erode trust.

Stories that assume the worst.

Stories that will undo the progress you are trying to make.

There are always reasons and excuses not to communicate.

But there is a simple solution: Tell Them.

Even bad news is more widely accepted when you are straightforward, open, and transparent.

Instead of being afraid of what they will do with the information, we should be more afraid of what they will do without it.

 

Talking with Strangers

I can still remember the words.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

We are reminded of these instructions when we are young to keep us safe.

But we get older.

Sometimes these words remain.

We go about our lives.

We keep to ourselves.

We don’t talk to strangers.

Our circles remain small.

Strangers cross our paths.

We could just smile politely and go back to our world, phones, books, or lives.

Instead we fight this urge to remain quiet, and begin Talking with Strangers.

We learn about their lives and their journey.

We meet second grade teachers who love Dr. Seuss and are almost moved to tears when you talk about making a difference.

We meet bankers who believe in small banks that are connected to customers.

We meet curriculum developers and admission specialists.

We meet heart transplant coordinator something something and another thing (perhaps about assisted living) that was hard to remember.

We learn about stories of big extended families.

We learn about why they meet for coffee and how they connect around the holidays.

We learn about moving away and coming back home.

We learn about passions that parallel your own.

We meet.

We learn.

Our circles expand.

I agree, “don’t talk to strangers.”

Talking with Strangers is so much better.

And…

I don’t typically do this, but a special shout out to Doug (Petey), Deb, Bob, Amy, Leslie, and Becky. Yes you did make it into the blog, and I didn’t even have to change your names. After trying so hard to remember six names, it seemed like a shame to waste it!

The Librarian and the Library of Memories and Thoughts

I am considering placing a help wanted ad.

Help wanted: The Librarian for the library of my memories and thoughts.

Not just any Librarian.

A cool Librarian like my friend Deb (the nocturnal librarian).

Duties include cataloging all of my old memories and thoughts, and being a gatekeeper of sorts.

Let me explain.

Memories are weird things. They seem accurate, but may not be exactly what happened. Our memories may evolve each time we access them.

According to Daniela Schiller (assistant professor of neuroscience and psychiatry) “if we retrieve an emotional memory and then experience it in a different way, it is going to change…this means that memory traces are dynamic, so each time we retrieve a memory it might change.”

I have a tendency to carry around some weird, embarrassing, or somewhat traumatic memories like overdue exaggerated library books. Picture walking through life with two arm-loads of books. Arm-loads that are so heavy that your arms are out and away from your body, like flightless wings. Books that have become written, retrieved, changed, and re-written.

That book about the time I was supposed to play the clarinet while the chorus sang, but I stopped playing in front of all those people.

That book about the time I was lost in the woods.

That book about being scared in my grandmother’s old creepy house.

That book about snakes (any snakes, volumes 1 through 263).

That book about being completely frustrated in school.

The books about the awkward teen years (Volumes 1, 2, and 3).

That book about [insert other emotional memories].

This is why I need the Librarian.

The Librarian would set up some much-needed rules and structure.

The Librarian would come up with creative reading programs that are balanced and provide perspective.

The Librarian would make sure that I could only take out a certain number of these books at one time. Inspect them for changes when they returned, and make me pay a fine for keeping them too long.

Possible Rules:

  1. You can only take out 1 or 2 children’s books at a time.
  2. Only 5 books can be checked out at once, but must not be from the same category. For example, all 5 cannot be from the embarrassment section.
  3. Books can be checked out for two weeks.
  4. Upon return books will be inspected for any changes, distortions, or over-exaggeration.
  5. Positive memory books must always outnumber negative ones. For example, if you are only check out one book, it has to be positive. Three books? Has to be two positive and one negative.

The Librarian position is open until filled. The pay is flexible based on experience, and has a generous benefit package. The workplace is fun, a little weird, but interesting. Please submit your resume and cover letter, and we look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

The More

the-more-1

It is hard to explain.

There is something out there.

Calling us.

Whispering.

“Wake up.”

“Don’t settle.”

“There is more.”

It is easy to find a rut.

Easy to give up or give in, and stop trying something new.

Easy to say, “this is all there is.”

But that voice is persistent.

The voice calling us to something else.

Calling us to The More.

The More hopeful.

The More connecting.

The More inventive.

The More satisfied.

The More of our careers, lives, relationships, and communities.

Don’t settle for less.

Strive for The More.

 

 

The Perfection Perception

“Wow you have such a perfect job.”

“Your life is perfect.”

“Your [relationship, marriage, kids, world, career, friendships, family, neighborhood, choices…and the list goes on] is so perfect.”

The Perfection Perception catches a glimpse from the outside.

The Perfection Perception sees you at your best.

The Perfection Perception creates comparison.

But this is a distorted view.

The Perfection Perception doesn’t see the mess inside.

The Perfection Perception doesn’t see your doubt, worry, stress, and struggle.

The Perfection Perception doesn’t see the hard work, the failure, and the loss.

Beware of the Perfection Perception, it is a cloudy lens that creates separation and unnecessary comparison.