Monday, December 30, 2013

Three Things That Blew My Mind in 2013

Last week I shared how a short conversation can lead to a small shift in perspective which, in turn, can clear up a huge misunderstanding. Isn't it true how it's often little things that can have the biggest impacts on our lives: A quick decision, a tidbit of information, a new short cut? There are three little things I learned this past year that kind of blew my mind and changed my every day life and health in big ways. They don't have anything to do with empathy, compassion, or communication, bu I thought it was worth the departure to pass them along.

1. You can make pasta, with sauce from scratch, in one pot, in about 20 minutes. For real.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

White Christmas and Misunderstandings

Snow by Jennifer C., cc license
It has been a magical holiday season for our household. Cadence is into everything Christmas, so we've been spending our days listening to holiday music, acting out scenes from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and playing 'Santa.' Laurel has taken to nursing on and off for several hours in the evening, which gives me the perfect excuse to sit back and watch holiday movies. I'm loving it!

My favorite holiday movie, hands down, is White Christmas. I love the songs, the dancing, and I sob at the end of the movie every time when (spoiler alert) it begins snowing. True story. I love it all in spite of the fact that the source of romantic conflict comes entirely from, one of my pet peeves, a misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up in less than five minutes. In this case, an innkeeper eaves drops on part of a phone call made by Bob (Bing Crosby) and repeats the misinformation to Betty (Rosemary Clooney). Betty becomes upset with Bob and, thereafter, perceives everything he says in the worst possible light. Instead of having a straightforward conversation about it, she decides to leave town. It seems utterly ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Basic Listening Skills: Asking Productive Questions

Question mark sign by Colin Kinner, cc license
I once trained an FBI agent to be a crisis hotline volunteer. He had a big heart and he was an excellent listener, but the active listening skill set presented some challenges. He tended to slip into interrogator mode; asking questions was, by far, his favorite active listening tool. It took a lot of practice, but he learned to use questions differently and he quickly became one of our most effective volunteers.

Depending on how they're used, questions can be your greatest tools or your greatest liabilities when it comes to meeting the goals of active listening. When questions come from a place of genuine curiosity and they are worded as open-ended queries, you demonstrate that you care and the questions may lead to greater clarity and understanding for both of you. There are three bad habits, however, that result in less productive questioning and impede the goals of active listening. When questions are closed or leading and they account for most of your responses, the conversation becomes boxed in by your expectations. To boot, it shifts the pattern of the interaction such that you end up talking way too much and working way too hard. Breaking these three habits will liberate you while also resulting in more productive conversations.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Basic Active Listening Skills: Reflecting Content

Balls by Johnathan Nightingale, cc license
We've all been guilty. You're "listening" to someone talk, but your mind is working on something else entirely. You're planning tonight's dinner, wondering when the library books are due, or even thinking about the next point you want to make in the current conversation. Whatever your mind is doing, it is not actively listening. Staying present and fully attending to what someone is saying can be a real challenge. Putting your mind to the task of reflecting feelings and content keeps you engaged.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Basic Active Listening Skills: Identifying and Reflecting Feelings

Untitled by KaMa Photography, cc license
Here's something I've been saying a lot lately:

"Jason, burp cloth!"

Those silly things constantly fall off my shoulder, unnoticed, so that I rarely have one handy at that moment I desperately need it. Although my words don't change, Jason can easily determine the extent of the mess and urgency from the sound of my voice.