#6 Stop Being Defensive

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#6

Stop Being Defensive

In this series, I’ve talked about Identifying Your Triggers, Arguing Effectively, and Emotional Intelligence. They all speak to mastering awareness in your communication. Perhaps the most important and impactful element of this is the ability to stop getting defensive.

Defenses

We experience a sense of needing to ‘protect’ ourselves whenever we become afraid and perceive that we are at risk for losing something. Whenever we imagine that we are in danger of having less of or never having something… we also may feel afraid and we tend to want to fight. When we feel attacked, we want to fight back. Emotionally speaking, we aren’t taught effective strategies very often and unless the other person we are speaking with is also equipped with similar strategies, the communication is sure to break down quickly. The conversation can resemble a war zone.

Notice Defensiveness

First, you must make the effort to understand when you become defensive and how it feels in your body. Does your blood pressure rise? Your shoulders? Is there a tightness in your jaw? Does your heart race? Notice that they are the same symptoms of fear. It’s your parasympathetic nervous system getting ready for a fight.

Step Back

When you feel your body tightening, that’s the moment you know it’s imperative that you step back. Take a deep breath. Count to five. Get Grounded. Remember who you are – who you want to be. Think about something you love or really like about the person in front of you. If it’s a stranger or an estranged individual, remember that by engaging you are giving them YOUR power. Stop.

Back Down

Backing down from a confrontation demonstrates emotional mastery – not weakness. Think about how much intention it takes to get to this point after your fear or fight is activated. It takes great strength to step back and gain composure. Adopt the attitude that you will not engage in a confrontation infused with negative energy.

Once you take the defensive energy out of an interaction, you’ll be amazed at how it dies down – it’s akin to a fire without oxygen. Your confrontations turn into constructive discussions and problem solving when you get to the point where you can…

Stop being defensive.

TTAHListen to me on Try This at Home – a series of conversations about making life better.

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or Feedburner

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#15 Eliminate These Words from Your Vocabulary

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#15

Eliminate These Words from Your Vocabulary

After years of working with couples in crisis and helping families communicate better, I’ve noticed a pattern of vernacular that is a part of most dysfunctional relationships. Our language matters; the words we use are important and paying close attention to your vocabulary will help you communicate better… improving your relationships and your overall sense of happiness. Here are the primary culprits:

“Should”

I wrote a post early in this project about eliminating the ‘should’s in your life and that was mostly from the perspective of identifying the internal expectations that guide you. However, they often interfere in our relationships as well because we think others “should” do something. When we impose our own ‘should’s on others, we are really attempting to convey an expectation and it’s better expressed that way. Instead of “you should take a day off so we can spend time together” you might eliminate the word should and offer this: “It would be great if you could take a day off so we can spend time together”. Simply replacing the word ‘should’ with the word ‘could’ – makes all the difference.

“Right & Wrong”

“Do it the right way”, “If you did it right the first time”, “No, you’re wrong”… all of those phrases are likely to incite a defensive reaction almost as soon as they are spoken. When someone is defensive – they probably aren’t listening and so the conversation is broken at that point. When we understanding that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are generally spoken about perspective and values and that they are different for different people we can shift the way we speak about them. Try to adopt the ideology that there is no right or wrong – only differences.

Instead of the phrases above, try these: “I was thinking it could be done this way”, “Generally, I do it like this”, “I’d like it done this way”, “that’s an interesting perspective” or “I don’t see it that way”… notice that in each of these statements – you are using the “I” voice and describing YOUR thoughts/perspective. That’s the key.

“Make”

In the English language, we often use the word ‘make’ to mean ‘cause’ which, is one of the secondary definitions and yet when it is in reference to feelings or behavior – it creates a problem of responsibility. Under the assumption that we – each of us as individuals – is personally responsible for our behavior – no one can force us to behave in a particular way. Literally speaking – WE are the cause of our behavior. Thinking anything different is deflecting responsibility and handing away our personal power. Each time we utter the phrase “you make me…” or “you made me…” etc., we are inferring that the responsibility for OUR behavior is on another. That is simply untrue. While it is true that we may react to another person’s behavior – it is still OUR choice on if, when, and how we react.

When we feel something and react – that happens inside our own being and is OUR responsibility. Try these phrases: “I get really angry when you….”, “I feel really disappointed when [that] happens”,  “I have a lot of feelings about…” – notice that in each case again, the communication is about what is happening for YOU. It’s always about communicating your experience from your perspective.

When we pay close attention to the language that we use in our communication, we can significantly reduce the amount of defensiveness that is generated by…

Eliminating these words from your vocabulary.

TTAH

Listen to me on Try This at Home – a series of conversations about making life better.

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or Feedburner

 

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#16 Create a “Make Me Happy” List

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#16

Create a “Make Me Happy” List

When my children were young, I made a list of things that “made mama happy” so that if they wanted to ask me for something such as running them to the basketball game after I’d gotten home and put on my jammies, they could look at the list and do something nice for me in return. And, while I don’t generally promote a ‘tit for tat’ attitude in most relationships, it’s no surprise that humans are more apt to concede when their needs are also met.

What is it that makes your mama, your partner, or your roommate happy? [know that the word “makes” is being used in the context of ‘generates’ – what ‘generates happiness for your partner, etc.,]

Love Language

There’s an old fable that goes like this:

A man and a woman show up in a counselor’s office after 40 years of marriage stating that they were on the verge of calling it quits. The counselor asks “why after all this time are you opting to end the relationship?” The gentleman replied with a frustrated and loud voice “Every time she walks by me, she pats my God Damn head. I’ve asked her a thousand times to stop and she won’t. I’m done!”. The counselor looks at the woman who is sitting demurely and asks “and you? What’s your position in this?” to which the woman replies sadly and softly… “he never pats my head.”

The point here being that she patted her husband’s head as a way of telling him she loved him… and because it irritated him so – he never considered that she may actually like it. We each have a different way of understanding and feeling loved. It’s the premise behind Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and a common problem in many relationships. We are inclined to treat our partners and family members the way we want to be treated instead of stopping to recognize how they want to be treated.

Speak Up

One simple way to have your needs met is to blatantly tell those who matter – what is is that generates happiness for you. Are flowers important to you or would you rather have the house cleaned? Do you value a romantic dinner or a couples massage? Does it bring you peace when the kids pick up their shoes and put away their backpacks? Or when they empty the dishwasher? (assuming you need to choose).

Write It Down

I am suggesting that you make a list and tape it all over the house… on the mirrors in the bathrooms. On the back of the bedroom doors. In front of the Playstation or to the top of the laptop. Wherever it is most likely to be seen most.

You don’t use the list just at those times when you want a favor however… if that’s the only effort – it is manipulative. You use the list when your partner has had a bad day, feels sick, or has gone above and beyond. When a child feels appreciated, they will often step up without being asked so know what is important to them as well.

Appreciation

Finally – be sure to be appreciative! We only have so much to give without a consideration of appreciation before we adopt a sour attitude. Even though appreciation isn’t the motivation – once again, we’re human and unless you are a strongly evolved individual – you probably have limits on how much you are willing to give without any acknowledgement of the effort.

A simple and effective method of having your needs met and meeting the actual vs. perceived needs of others to to have everyone in the household…

Create a ‘make me happy’ list.

TTAH

Listen to me on Try This at Home – a series of conversations about making life better.

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or Feedburner

 

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#34 Send Emails to the Future

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#34

Send Emails to the Future

Would it creep you out to receive an email from your younger self or from someone who has passed away? Personally, I find it a wonderful idea and it’s pretty easy. All you need is a website that will hold your email and schedule it to be sent at some future point and an email address you feel confident you (or the person you’re sending it to) will still be checking at that same future point.

To Yourself

The website futureme.org focuses on encouraging you to send a letter to yourself with the header: Dear Future Me. Some of the sent letters are available to read publicly (you have the option to make it anonymously open) and are akin to reading diary entries. They could be used as encouragement, reflection, or inspiration for the life you are now living. It may be a great avenue to recall important emotional moments in your life as they happen.

To Others

This is the real inspiration in my opinion. There are many things that I’ve wanted to share with my children, friends, or other family members that maybe they weren’t ready to hear or that I wasn’t clear enough to share when the moment was at hand. Some things need time to talk about. The opportunity to share a reflection years later when the emotions have retreated can be a wonderful thing.

Healing

It is said that “time heals all wounds” which, is a misnomer of sorts. Time allows wounds to scar but some scars are always tender or downright painful when touched. Some relationships are not repairable and this the ability to write a letter and have it delivered at some future point may be just the thing that can help the parties involved offer forgiveness or an apology without the energy of the pain associated with it.

The Gift

Perhaps the most special part of this service is that we can share now, things that we may not be able to share at some future point. Certainly, I want to convey the love, admiration, and pride that I feel for my children today and I do make that effort but I feel good knowing that no matter what transpires between now and 10 or 20 years from now, they can receive a bit of mom encouragement then too…

I am one of those rare people that actually has the same email address I had in 1999 and obviously technology has exponentially changed as it is likely to going forward but I find comfort in the hope that people I love will receive a little surprise in their inbox because I too the time today to…

Send emails to the future.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#40 Reevaluate Culture

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#40

Reevaluate Culture

What do you think about when you hear the word “culture”? I imagine that most of us think of ethnicity or the list of ‘isms’ that are currently politically correct (sex, age, gender, sexuality, etc.) and of course, those are in and of themselves… cultures. But the term culture can be expanded much more broadly and I am of the belief that if we re-evaluate our thoughts about ‘culture’, it will help us to understand people better; creating more opportunity for developing empathy and offering compassion.

Sub-cultures

Remember the television show Wife Swap?? It was a program where the wives of two households traded places for a week. To make it good (and dramatic) television, the households were often dramatically different in sub-cultures (a suburban Atlanta business woman exchanged places with a Vermont stay-at-home mom who practices Wicca, for example). Each of the families are exposed to the different ‘cultures’ of the wife and they attempt to learn something from one another. It occasionally goes well.

Diversity & Sensitivity Training

I’ve never officially taken or performed sensitivity training but I’ve had diversity training both in graduate school and in professional development coursework. I can’t help but wonder why they aren’t a part of our traditional curriculum at this point. And for those programs that do include diversity training, is there discussion about the granular aspect of diversity? An individual who grows up with socioeconomic privilege, in a one parent home, or with well developed emotional skills is diverse from the person who has significant exposure to the opposite positions.

Why is this important?

For a lot of the couples who sit in my office because of distressed relationships, it is frequently rooted in these diverse elements that were subconsciously at play. What was the ‘conflict resolution culture’ in your childhood home? It will matter when you attempt to resolve conflict in your adult relationships? What was the ‘division of labor culture’ in your childhood home? Again, it will matter in your adult relationship. Why is your coworker passive aggressive about your Jimmy Choo shoes? Did they grow up in a poverty stricken community? Do they have strong ‘cultural’ bias about frugality?

We tend to make assumptions about people who share our physical traits and adopt a belief that they are culturally the same. Likewise, we tend to believe that people who look different … are different, and at the end of the day our assumptions prevent us from asking really important questions.

Ask Questions

By reevaluating our idea of culture, nothing about the person sitting next to you can be assumed. It forces us to ask questions and see the individual nuances about him or her that compose their individuality. Your friend may have Asian features physically but was adopted into an African American home with a Jewish spiritual tradition. If you don’t ask questions to understand the impacts of all those sub-cultural experiences, you’re apt to totally misread who they are.

Our world – and the people in it – isn’t broken into nice clean sections. If you really want to know someone and understand how to communicate with them successfully, you’ll have to start by…

Reevaluating culture.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#44 Stop Arguing

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#44

Stop Arguing

Arguing, what’s it good for? Arguments are rarely ‘won’. When you think you wond an argument, what did you win? The ‘loser’ at least learned something, right? But what did you get? Debating practice, ego satisfaction, and diminished brain power is all.

Reduced Brain Power

At times there are things that need to be debated, but most of the time, it just isn’t productive. You may want to argue the point, but what do you get from a useless debate? The more important question is what do you lose? I say you use effective brain power.

There is at least one thing we can probably agree on and that is that a person listening to arguments can learn something from both sides. But, what about the people in the middle of the argument? Are they even listening to the point or are they totally focused on being ‘right’ and ‘winning’? At what point does the onus of the argument shift from making a point to ego satisfaction?

Too much arguing creates a habit of looking for arguments more than for facts. We tend to get more deeply rooted in a rut as the defense continues and even avoid opposing evidence that may validate the other’s view so that we can be ‘right’. Ultimately, digging a rut and dismissing evidence doesn’t make us better thinkers at all; it diminishes our power.

Listening

Some things we argue about are based solely on fact and while we may think we are helping the other person learn if we have our facts correct, we’re really just challenging them – sometimes that completely backfires. If I say the earth is closer to the moon than the sun but you disagree, we’re either headed for a science lesson or a tug of war and chances are that the misinformed person will have negative feelings about the debate.

However, I say that nature is more important than nurture and you think it’s the opposite, we can both have solid positions based on our experience and current knowledge. These kind of debates are based on value, experiences, and poorly defined terms – often perspectives that are neither ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We could argue all day on defining “what’s important in life” without any winner. In this position, the only logical, kind, and compassionate thing to do is to listen and both parties will likely learn something.

To break the habit of arguing, ask opinions and questions and then listen without judgement. You can ask for clarification but it’s best not to offer contrary ideas. This isn’t always easy to remember but with practice, your likely to be in less hot water and get to know people better.

It’s just a good idea all around in the effort of increasing your happiness and living your best life to …

Stop arguing.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#45 Make Eye Contact

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#45

Make Eye Contact

How did you feel the last time you talked with someone who didn’t make eye contact with you? Were you left wanting more? Suspicious? Disbelieving? It turns out that making eye contact during conversations is a type of communication in and of itself.

Positive characteristics

It’s a social skill. It’s good manners. It’s a sign of interest and attention. Indeed, according to the research, people who are able to make and sustain eye contact are perceived as more dominant, powerful, warm and personable, qualified, trustworthy, honest, confident and emotionally stable. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with those characteristics?

Positive Consequences

People who engage in direct eye contact make more sales, date more frequently, and report more satisfactory interpersonal interactions. Each one of these consequences can improve the quality of our lives. It’s postulated that our eyes are have evolved specifically to assist in our ability to communicate.

Communication

Indeed, they contribute individually and specifically to non-verbal communication. “I saw it in his eyes” or “Her eyes told the story”…. Statements that describe a ‘look’ we can all relate to. Our eyes convey attention. We are more apt to listen to people who are looking directly at us and we will feel more intimately connected when making eye contact with other people. Intimate connections convey trust and belonging.

Difficulties

People who find it hard to make direct eye contact with others may be challenged in a variety of areas. It’s very difficult to keep a gaze when we are being dishonest. Darting eyes can be an indication of a false story. People who are fearful of being judged may also find it hard to make eye contact. And, because our eyes communicate so much information, people who are masking emotion may not allow themselves to make eye contact for fear that their eyes will disclose too much information.

Work on It

If you find it difficult to make eye contact – ask yourself why. Perhaps it would be helpful to seek guidance for any insecurities or fear. If you realize that your effort to avert a gaze is simply a bad habit, make a conscious effort to work on it. Eye contact can be overdone, it’s not natural to stare constantly at someone so practice moving your eyes aside from time to time; side to side movement is the least disruptive to communication.

If you want to improve your connections, your communication, and ultimately your confidence…

Make eye contact.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#47 Ask More Open-ended Questions

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#47

Ask More Open-ended Questions

How many times have you asked the question “Did you have a good day?” – receive a “yes” and then felt disappointed because you got a one word answer? Frankly, you asked a one work question and set yourself up for the disappointment. Getting in the habit of changing the way you ask questions will most likely dramatically change the answers – and therefore, the information – you receive; giving depth to your conversations.

“Tell me about your day, what was good about it?”

“What was the best part of your day?”

“What are you plans tomorrow?”

“Why are you irritated?”

Asking questions that start with who, what, where, when, why, & how are always going to require more than a one word answer and will generally give you the information you seek. They are conversation questions and when you keep them going, so too… does the conversation.

Depth

Open-ended questions require more thought to answer and generally elicit responses that move beyond the surface, deepening the connection between those who are speaking or at least, providing more detail. They are one of the keys to better communication and feelings of belonging.

Dinner Convo

I find this helpful when talking with kids – especially teens – who are short on describing activities, thoughts, and feelings; especially with parents. Dinner conversations are much more interesting when we ask “If you could redo any part of your day – what would it be?” or “What are you looking forward to tomorrow?”

We may feel as though our conversations aren’t fulfilling without conscious regard to the way we are asking questions.  A quick and simple effort to ask for information differently will dynamically change the way you interact; all because you…

Ask more open-ended questions.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

 

#48 Monitor Your Body Language

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#48

Monitor Your Body Language

Sometimes, our bodies do the talking for us. Non-verbal communication is one of the ways we get create context and emotion in our communicative exchanges . Do you know what you were saying with your body?

Generalizations

Psychologists have studied body language for eons. There are a number of generalizations about what certain body positions mean. Are you aware for example, that crossing your arms while someone is speaking typically means you are not open to receiving the message? Even if that’s not your intent, the person who is speaking may perceive that you are closed off and might develop a defensive reaction as such. When I am conducting couples or family therapy, I often hear comments such as “ I can just tell by the way he looks at me” or “when she stands like that I know what she means”.

Reading Body Movements

Most therapists receive specific training on how to posture their body so that clients will feel heard and safe in a session. Essentially, we are taught how to be aware of our body language so that it fosters an inviting atmosphere. This suggestion is designed to help you develop an awareness of your own body language. Do you stand straight-representing confidence? Or do you slump your shoulder and shy away from your environment? Do you Sit straight or slouch? Do you maintain eye contact when speaking with someone, or do you dart around and glance away? Do you roll your eyes? How does your face register disapproval?

Check Assumptions

While counseling a teenage girl and her mother for communication issues, we discovered that mom raised an eyebrow whenever she was interested in a particular topic her daughter was speaking of. The daughter, interpreted that body movement as disapproval and would often shut down the conversation. While generalizations are a place to start – do NOT make assumptions based on them. Check in with the person you are talking to… “are you thinking/feeling [this] way?”

Body gestures have been found to be genetic as well as environmental. We all know the classic… Italians talk with their hands. Twin studies have demonstrated that twins separated at birth will often still demonstrate similar gestures; often with similar meanings.

Personal Responsibility

Obviously, good communication requires that we develop awareness of and take responsibility for the message we intend to send when we speak. Part of that message is delivered with our bodies. Because so much of our body language is innate and/or unconscious, it’s important that we give someone we trust permission to highlight or identify those gestures that communicate meaning. As a side note, I would include tone of voice in the body language awareness project… Some people are perceived as yelling when in fact, they are simply expressing their message with passion or enthusiasm. Still others, seem to lack any excitement in their voice at all and are interpreted as to be unmoving, or uncaring. In both cases, an understanding of one’s tendency is important so that we are delivering our messages accurately.

Make the effort today to become a better communicator and …

Monitor your body language.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.