Day 14 – Building Relationships Through Honest Communication

This is a great guest post by Nailah Blades of Polka Dot Coaching. Nailah’s blog is incredibly inspiring… She helps 20-somethings “connect the dots of their lives” by embracing who they really are and focusing on what’s important. I hope you’ll find this guest post as helpful as I did!


I have long been fascinated with communication. I find it interesting that something that is so deeply intertwined in our daily lives can also be so misunderstood and misused. I’m particularly intrigued by how communication and our unique narratives help to form our connection with one another. Effective communication techniques play an important role in establishing authentic, meaningful relationships. Here are my 3 tips for creating deep connections through communication and story-telling.

Be an Open Book

The stories we tell allow us to form a strong bond with those around us. Storytelling opens the door for understanding and a mutual connection. In sharing our stories we are able to connect with one another on a deeper level. It is also necessary that we share our stories honestly and authentically. In order to truly connect with another and develop a powerful relationship, we must allow ourselves to be open books. That means being yourself fully and unabashedly.

Own Your Story

Everyone’s story is unique and valuable. Each of our stories assists in helping to create our individual realties. The poet Mark Nepo describes this best in saying, “I am finding that being who I am – not hiding any of myself – is a necessary threshold I must meet or my life will not evolve.” Open, honest communication allows for us all to evolve authentically. You have an awesome story. Own it.

Don’t Assume

The most important aspect for forming a connection through communication is to take things at face value. Miscommunications happen when we try to read between the lines of what another person has said. It’s important to simply mean what you say and say what you mean. However it is just as important to assume that everyone else is saying exactly what they mean.

Communication doesn’t have to be complicated. You can form deep, meaniful connections simply by remembering to open up, to own your story and to take others at face value.

Day 13 – Communication Techniques for HELPERS continued…

In Day 12, three communication techniques for those of us in helping professions were explained… Are you a teacher? A medical professional? A counselor? A parent? If so, pay attention to these next few important tips as well!

Ask open-ended questions

Sometimes people need to be drawn out. (Kinda obvious right)? But even for the most extroverted, chatty person, when it comes to talking feelings it’s natural to shut down. Some people simply aren’t comfortable with it. Open-ended questions are useful because they don’t call for yes/no answers and they don’t call for quick, factual details. Rather, they elicit more thoughtful responses. For example, you could say to someone, “Talk to me about what you were feeling in that moment.” (Although it’s not framed as a question, you are asking the person what they were feeling at the time. You are also asking them to “talk about it” not just give you a one-word feeling response).

Make observations

Observations are huge! A lot of times, we have no idea how we are perceived by other people. We may be fidgity and therefore come across as nervous. Or we may neglect to make eye contact with people which makes us seem like we aren’t being truthful. A lot of times, the non-verbals we aren’t even aware of can lead to important discoveries. For example, when I was a kid I used to have a baby blanket. I chewed the four corners until they were no longer smooth. At some point, I got in this weird habit of rubbing the four corners of the blanket between my fingers. To this day, I still find myself mimicing that movement with my fingers and it happens most when I am feeling nervous or uncomfortable. I guess subconsciuosly I associate that movement with my old security blanket and am comforted by the motion… as bizarre as that may be! Learning these tidbits about ourselves is important and can reveal interesting information about what we are experiencing internally.


One of the hardest parts for many people in the helping profession is having to confront people. It’s uncomfortable for the confronter and it’s uncomfortable for the confrontee. However, when else can you get confronted in a safe space? We need to know when we’re being inconsistent in terms of our behaviors, words, attitudes etc. so that we can begin to understand why and eliminate any internal chaos we may feel as a result. Confront in a gentle way and remember, you may be the only person to speak truth into the life of this individual. It’s an honor and with kindness, can make a huge impact on someone’s life!

Day 12 – Communication Techniques for HELPERS

Do you work in the Helping Profession? Counseling? Medicine? Ministry? Teaching? Are you a parent? There are certain techniques that can be incredibly helpful when working in some kind of interpersonally-focused job. (And from everything I know about parenting… it IS a full-time, all-consuming job)! So how do you:

  • Facilitate good conversation
  • Get people to open up
  • Promote a trusting relationship
  • Help people feel safe
  • Encourage personal growth



Here are some communication tips to help:

Show empathy

There are few things better than knowing someone truly understands you. Empathy and sympathy are two different things. Sympathy can be shown by saying “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.” It indicates sad feelings but also comes across a bit disconnected from the situation. Empathy indicates you really get it. You understand on a deep, personal level what someone is really experiencing. People feel understood when you label their emotions and say something like, “Wow that’s <horrible, scary, sad, exciting etc.>” Or, “It can be frustrating when <a, b or c> happend.” They feel like you really get it and are  versus simply letting them know you feel sorry for them.

Use Silence

Silence can be awkward for many people. In “real life” people do whatever they can to avoid moments of silence by telling jokes, stories or just chatting away to fill the time. But in the helping profession, silence can be a valuable tool. Silence can be used to break up constant chatter. It slows people down, allows them to take a deep breath and really sit and process what they’re thinking and feeling. In a sense, it is communicating to them, “Breathe. It’s okay. I’ll sit with you while you take a moment to think.” Many times we cover up our true feelings by talking “over them” so to speak. Silence allows them to rise to the surface so they can actually be addressed.


Have you ever had a conversation that went off on tons of rabbit trails? Or what about one where the person telling the story gave so many details you now know the their mom’s favorite food and their aunt’s cousin’s birthplace? Sometimes we have so many thoughts that we want to get out and we aren’t sure which details are relevant so we just vomit out all of them. As a “helper” it’s often beneficial to summarize the most important points stated, to not only clarify for yourself, but also to help the speaker clear up any confusion in their own mind.

See you next time for more tips for Helpers!

Day 11 – Basic Guidelines For Leading Small Group Discussions With Adolescents

I am so excited about this guest post by Jeremy Zach. If you are a small group leader, teacher, parent or anyone else that works with students, this is a must-read!

Jeremy’s blog, REyouthpastor was recently listed in the Top 10 Youth Ministry Blogs of 2011 by Youth Specialties. He is a phenomenal Youth Pastor and Blogger, hilarious guy and overall awesome person! Jeremy has his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and has been working in youth ministry for nine years. Enjoy this guest post!

Basic Guidelines For Leading A Small Group Discussion For Mid to Late Adolescence


Don’t be afraid of silence

Let the students sit for a moment and think. Their brains aren’t fully developed yet, so give them a chance to process their thoughts.

Highly Value Student Input
Do whatever it takes to affirm the comments of student input, but do not be artificial with your praise. Be delicate with answers that are clearly wrong (you probably don’t want to put a big red “idiot” stamp on their forehead). Do not feel like you have to finish, complete, or correct a student’s answer.

Don’t feel like you have to know all the answers

We are human, and it’s good for your students to see that you are limited. You are, but most of them don’t think so.  Don’t pretend like you have every answer.  Here is a great line: I don’t know.

Don’t read questions off the leader’s guide

Understand the questions and be prepared to ask them in your own terms. Feel free to generate your own questions during your preparation AND even “on the spot.”

 Don’t talk more than the students

Ask questions to generate discussion, ask students to explain their answers and go into more depth. Allow multiple students to respond, even if the first person gets the “right” answer.   Encourage them to deal with the material on their own terms. Create a climate where people feel the freedom to ask any question.

Do echo some responses to your questions

If a student’s answer or comment is long-winded or unclear, repeat it back (summarize it) for clarity. This proves you are listening and it keeps the attention of the rest of the group.

Don’t move to a new question too quickly

After a student answers a question, ask, “Would anyone like to add to that?” or “Does everyone agree/disagree with that?”

Do keep the group focused

Don’t go down a rabbit trail and leave unless something “big time” comes up (e.g., a family crisis/personal issues). Be sensitive as the discussion develops.  But this is not an excuse to be lazy and let the group wander. Wandering is easy, being an intentional small group leader isn’t!

Don’t be discouraged

Generating a discussion with teenagers is tough.  Just keep your head up when it gets tough.  If you are committed the connections will come.  Be your mature self and the students will respect and value your efforts.

Day 9 – Dealing with Aggressive People… Some Tips

To recap the past few days… we’ve gone over:

  1. Communication stylespassive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive
  2. How to deal with passive-aggressive people
  3. How do deal with passive people

Last but not least, dealing with aggressive people!

Quick disclaimer: If you are married to (or dating) an aggressive communicator who puts you down, physically harms you, or find yourself fearful of him/her at all… seek help! Seek out a counselor or some other qualified professional.

Aggressive people are incredibly difficult to deal with at times. Here are some tips:

1) Try not to take their behavior personally. I recognize this is WAY easier said than done! However, through your own self-talk and a reality-based perception of whatever situation occurred, it IS possible. You know the whole, “It’s not you, it’s me” thing?? Well, when it comes to dealing with aggressive personalities, that’s often the truth!

2) Wait. If you try to engage in conversation when the aggressive person is heated, it probably won’t go anywhere. Wait. They’ll run out of steam eventually. Then, try to talk calmly about the issue.

3) Gently teach compromise (or get an outside counselor to help do it). Depending on how severe the individual’s aggression is, it may be necessary to enlist the help of a professional with this. But the truth is, aggressive individuals likely never learned how to compromise in a healthy way. For them, to give up control seems disastrous. They need to learn that relationships require give and take. It’s not all about what one person wants, but rather figuring out how to make things work in such a way where both people can be happy and fulfilled.

4) Be a detective. Try to put the clues together – When is the aggressive person MOST aggressive? Is there a particular environment that they tend to get more heated in? If so, avoid whenever possible!

5) Stay calm. One of the goals of the aggressive communicator is to control and rattle you. If you remain calm, you’re not giving in to what they are trying to accomplish. Don’t add fuel to the fire. (That doesn’t mean be a doormat though).

I hope this is helpful. Tomorrow we’re moving on from communication styles and we’ll start going over communication for specific individuals/groups. This is good stuff!!


Day 8 – Dealing with Passive People… Some Tips…

This series has been way more fun than I ever anticipated! There is SO much we could talk about when it comes to communication. It is a part of all of our daily lives and I wish we could spend a whole year on it. (Well, I guess we could but it wouldn’t really go with the whole 21-day series concept).

So… tomorrow will be the last day we’ll talk about the different communication styles for a while… Later this week we’ll move on to communication with specific types of people/groups. And throw some non-verbal communication in there too… Studying body language is absolutely fascinating. (I know I am a nerd but you have to admit this stuff is way cool)!

Anywho… onto passive communication.

As we already discussed in Day 3, passive people tend to feel misunderstood. They are reluctant to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions and therefore others have a hard time figuring out what they really want. Often times they feel anxious when asked to express themselves and afraid of what other people might think of them. So how do you, the loved one of this passive individual, help them come out of their shell?


1) Ask clear, direct questions. Just as we need to do with passive-aggressive peeps, we have to be clear in asking for what we want from passive communicators. They may attempt to avoid really expressing how they feel so at least we’ll know there is no confusion on our end in terms of what we need.

2) Be patient! Passive people don’t just have a hard time expressing their points-of-view, but they also have a hard time even knowing their points-of-view. Somewhere along the line, they were given a message that it’s not okay to think for themselves. So give them space and allow them some time to think before demanding a reply.

3) Let them know how much you desire to understand. Due to insecurity and probably some past experiences as well, passive individuals often believe no one truly cares to know what they think anyway. So let them know you sincerely do care.

4) Force the issue when the timing is right. Once you have developed a trusting relationship with them, “force” them to make a decision. You can do this a number of ways… a) You can ask them to decide on small things first like where to have dinner the following week. b) You can present them with a few options and have them pick their favorite one. c) You can take turns making decisions.

5) Model healthy communication and confident decision-making. It’s natural to look up to others and when your passive friend sees that healthy communication is not so bad (thanks to your example) he or she may follow suit.

Hope this helps! See you tomorrow!

Day 7 – Dealing With Passive-Aggressive People… Some Tips…

We’ve gone through the primary styles of communicating. Now what? So often we read and obtain new information but unless we learn how to apply it feels useless. Feels being the key word. I would argue that simply having the knowledge is part of the growth process. But I get it… We all want practical strategies to implement in our lives (myself included).

So, let’s get to it.


Here are some general tips related specifically to dealing with the passive-aggressive communicator:

1) Ask clear, direct questions. As mentioned in Day 5, P-A communicators refuse to just say what they mean and mean what they say. Instead they may be manipulative in their dealings with others in order to subtly make their points known. Ask them to clearly explain how they feel.

2) Confront when you suspect the person is hiding their anger or resentment. Call the person out on their behavior. Confrontation can be incredibly healthy when handled in a mature way. For example, if your boyfriend snidely remarks that it was “nice of you to show up before the end of the concert” after you arrive 15 minutes late… ask him, “Are you upset with me for being late?” Try not to come across as defensive, but seriously people: cut to the chase!

3) Point out the disconnect between their words and behavior. Let the person know that while they’re telling you one thing, you’re confused because they’ve just done something completely different. For example, let’s say your ex and his new girlfriend invite you and your fiance to dinner. Your fiance reluctantly agrees but ends up arriving late and spending most of the evening emailing on his blackberry. After dinner, let him know you’re confused because while he said he didn’t have a problem with the date, his behavior indicated he was distracted and uninterested.

4) Refuse to give the passive-aggressive communicator control. Honestly, that’s what it’s really about. Control. Let’s say your husband jokingly make pig noises after you’ve eaten a big meal… laugh right along with him. Refuse to allow his “joke” to bother you because if you make a big deal about it, he’ll feel like he accomplished his goal; to control how you feel. While some situations may call for a serious confrontation, others may be able to be laughed off. Choose your battles wisely.

5) Set limits. Let the P-A know that certain behaviors will not be tolerated. Being late, “forgetting” important events, refusing to express opinions etc…. not okay! There are two people involved in the relationship and both have to play their parts. Relationships require honesty, commitment and a genuine interest in the well-being of the other person. Skirting around issues, denying true feelings etc. will not cut it!

Hope these tips are helpful! I know it’s not as easy as just implementing a few techniques and then watching all of the issues disappear… But as the person on the receiving end of the passive-aggressive behavior, hopefully these ideas will help some.

I also recommend seeking outside counsel (life coach, therapist, support group etc.) to help if you are involved in a relationship like this. It can be incredibly draining and the extra support will be absolutely invaluable.

Have a great weekend!

Day 6 – “I’ll tell you how I really feel… AND I’ll be nice about it!”

The past three communication styles have been kind of a bummer… No one likes to talk to people who are not upfront (passive-aggressive), pushovers (passive) or are flat-out rude (aggressive) etc. So how should we communicate? Here are some traits that define assertive communicators:

* They say what they mean and mean what they say.

* They are “present” in conversations… listen intently and respond appropriately.

* They are able to genuinely connect with people.

* They speak up and ensure that their point-of-view is heard… but not at the expense of other people.

* They don’t give with the expectation of getting something in return.

* They take responsibility for getting their own needs met.

* They think before they speak.

* Their message is clear and effective.


As you can see, the benefits of being assertive are HUGE for the listener. Assertive communicators are a lot easier to deal with! But here’s the thing: There are also great benefits for the assertive person…

  • They experience less stress and anxiety wondering if they communicated clearly. Assertive communicators confidently know that while the listener may not have liked everything that was said, at least they were being honest and kind.
  • They don’t have any regrets. Assertive communicators don’t fly off the handle in an angry rage or hold back in sharing how they really feel.
  • They aren’t waiting around for other people to “get them” or give them what they need. Assertive communicators take responsibility for themselves.
  • Assertive communicators tend to have more genuine relationships than the other types. They have an ability to really connect with people and be vulnerable.
  • They are respected.



Assertive Communicators may think these kinds of thoughts:

“I am responsible for my own happiness.”

“I am going to show others respect.”

“I only have control over myself. I cannot control anyone else.”

“I am not afraid to disagree with someone. We are each entitled to our own opinions.”

“I have choices and I am going to consider each one before I make a decision.”


What kind of communicator do YOU want to be??

Day 5 – “I’ll say one thing, but if they really know me, they’ll know I mean something else.”

We’ve addressed Passive Communication and Aggressive Commnication so far… what about Passive-Aggressive? This one is tricky because it’s a combination of the other two and they are not exactly similar… in case you haven’t gathered that yet! So if you ask me, this is the most interesting one of all… here goes!

* Passive-Aggressive communicators are manipulative. They have opinions, thoughts, feelings etc. but don’t express them up-front. Instead, they’ll hint around issues and for the most part you can safely guess what they really feel. Here’s a workplace example: Let’s say you’ve been emailing back and forth with a coworker about scheduling a meeting. You’re struggling to find a time that will work and can tell the other person is getting frustrated. Suddenly, she responds to your email and you notice she has cc’d your supervisor this time. You know now, without a doubt, she’s sending you a subtle message about how she’s feeling, despite the fact that she hasn’t actually written anything to explain her frustrations.

* Passive-Aggressive communicators are confusing. Sometimes after a conversation with them you’ll walk away going, “huh?” They may have said one thing, but their body language, tone etc. said something quite different!

* Passive-Aggressive people are resentful. They believe that others should just know what they want/need without them having to really say it.

* Passive-Aggressive people make others feel resentful. It’s hard being in relationship with people who don’t just say what they mean and mean what they say! It can be frustrating for people to always have to try and figure out what their passive-aggressive friend is always thinking.

* Passive-Aggressive Communicators alienate themselves from others. It’s a lot of work being in relationship with someone who is passive-aggressive. It’s hard to know what they really want and to trust that they actually mean what they say. Once others begin to notice these passive-aggressive tendencies, often times they’ll distance themselves in order to avoid these kinds of interactions.

Passive-Aggressive Communicators may think these kinds of thoughts:

“I’m gonna act like I’m okay with this but hopefully they’ll figure out I’m really not.”

“If I give them the cold shoulder, they’ll know I’m really upset.”

“No one really understands me.”

“I can’t come out and say what I really feel.”

“I’m gonna shut this conversation down by refusing to engage.”

The term “passive-aggressive” gets thrown around pretty casually these days. Is this YOUR understanding of what it really means? Do you know anyone like this? Are YOU like this? If so, at least you’re aware of it! We’ll talk about how to become a more effective communicator later!

Day 4 – It’s all your fault!”

Could anyone relate to yesterday’s post about the passive communication style? I know I can. That is definitely a style I tend to gravitate towards personally. If you missed yesterday’s post click here: “Why Doesn’t Anyone Get Me?”

Moving on to aggressive communicators… Here are some traits you might recognize:

* Agressive communicators need to dominate in conversations. They often interrupt and refuse to let others get a word in edgewise. They like to control the conversation.

* They tend to alienate themselves from others and push others away. People do not usually like to be around them because they are so domineering.

* Their need for control comes from a place of insecurity. In order to maintain respect and authority, they put up a bullying-type front.

* They may be loud and forceful in how they speak.

* Generally, they refuse to take ownership for their part in problems. Instead, aggressive communicators will usually blame others when things go wrong.

Aggressive communicators may think some of the following thoughts:

“Why can’t anyone do anything right?”

“You are to blame for what’s happened.”

“How can you be this stupid?”

“I am going to get my way no matter what it takes.”

“You owe me this… and more.”

Can you relate to any of this? Do you know someone who presents themselves this way? 

Passive and aggressive styles of relating both have their flaws. A third style is a combination of the two: passive-aggressive, which is pretty common! We’ll get into that one tomorrow!

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