Thank you God that life is sweet and not just bitter…

I’m reading a book right now that I have completely fallen in love with. It’s so well-written and describes beautifully what I have experienced so many times in the last five years (along with everyone else in the world)… it’s all about life and the deep joys and deep pains that so often engulf us and remind us of our fragile nature.

The book is Bittersweet. And it is exactly that. I have been traveling back through chapters of my own life as I read about the author’s journey. Doesn’t it seem like every time we experience a mountain high moment, we then find ourselves somersaulting back down the mountain shortly thereafter? And the truth is, although it doesn’t always feel like it, when we’re down in life’s pits, there are opportunities to come up for air (whether we choose to take them or not). How we handle the ebb and flow of life reveals so much about who we are. Our perspective matters more than anything else; who and what we choose to place our trust in.

The past few years have been a mix of wonderful celebrations and painful tragedy. My mother-in-law dying was one of the worst things I have ever experienced. The feelings of emptiness that accompany the death of someone you love seem unbearable at times. And to watch someone you love suffer the grief that inevitably comes with loss… it’s a helpless feeling. I have known four people who found out they have cancer and two other cancer sufferers to recently die after several years of struggling. It leaves me feeling physically sick every time I hear this kind of news. In addition to the illness in the world, the east coast is currently preparing for the possibility of being hit by a hurricane in the next few days. This preparation comes directly after a rare and highly unsettling east coast earthquake. Every single day there are reminders of our limited nature and with that, I am reminded of how grateful I must be for all the good stuff.

Jake and I recently attended his cousin’s wedding (which we got to late after a number of significant plane delays – we actually missed the ceremony and just made it to the reception). That said, the reception was absolutely beautiful and Jake and I had a wonderful talk after about our marriage and the kind of man and wife we want to be for each other. It was a bonding conversation and has really set us up to handle the stresses of starting a new school year with confidence and the kind of strength that only comes from God. Again, bittersweet… with great stress, we have also found great strength. The beauty of new birth has been a huge part of the past few years. Despite the sadness of the losses, I have felt privileged to be able to celebrate life with many close friends. And even our move across country which has brought relationship transition and the unfamiliarity of learning a new culture (trust me – California and North Carolina are worlds apart!), we have also begun to form a community and a life for ourselves here. We bought our first house and have had many travel adventures. We have grown more confident as a couple and look forward to our future as we think about starting a family one day.

As Shauna Neiquist so eloquently states in Bittersweet… “This collection is an ode to all things bittersweet, to life at the edges, a love letter to what change can do in us. This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful but exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. So this is the work I’m doing right now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

 

 

Day 21 – Stop communicating… Not!

Well, the communication series is coming to an end… finally! I have to admit, I am a little glad. It started out so strong and then lost some momentum when I went on vacation for a week and then got sick the week after. Thanks for hanging in there!

Let’s do some recap, shall we? Communication is such an important topic and if you weren’t following at the beginning of the series, feel free to look back because we went over a lot of information about the different communication styles out there and how they interact with one another…

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Do you want to understand your own communication style better? Check out Day 2 – “Styles of Communicating”.

Are you, or is someone you know…

If you are looking for communication help in a few specific areas, check out the following:

  1. Communication in the Workplace: Day 10 – “How to Be Great on the Job”
  2. Communication When Working with Teens: Day 11 – “Basic Guidelines for Leading Small Group Discussions With Adolescents”
  3. Communication for Helping Professionals: Day 12 – “Communication Techniques for HELPERS” and Day 13 – “Communication Techniques for HELPERS continued…”
  4. Communication Without Speaking: Day 16 – “Speaking Without… Speaking”, Day 17 – “Read My Body, Not My Words”, Day 18 – “What’s a Body to Say?” and Day 19 – “What’s My Body Sayin’, Part 2”

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series! Stay tuned for the next one…

Day 20 – “Once You’re Real, You Can’t be Ugly”

Remember Brene Brown from Day 16 of the Relationship Series? She spoke on “The Power of Vulberanility” (which by the way was a hugely popular post – She really is incredible)!

Well, she recently wrote a brief post on something else that’s quite powerful… being real. It takes courage to be real with others and is a lot easier to hide behind a fake, more socially acceptable facade.

When considering how to communicate with people, try being honest and genuinely YOU!

Check out this wonderful reminder of how beautiful it is to be real.

U Penn Digital Library

Ordinary Courage

Day 19 – What’s My Body Sayin’, Part 2

Have you noticed any of the body language signals described in Day 18’s post? Here’s a few more to look for….

Head

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Slow Head Nodding – This can be a sign of attentive listening. Or, have you ever noticed some people nod their head incessantly throughout any and all conversations? As with the smile example yesterday, you have to look at other facial features in order to know how genuine the head nod is. If you see attentiveness throughout the face and congruency when the person typically nods, it probably means they are genuinely listening. If not, it could indicate the person is trying to wrap the conversation up or a sign of arrogance.

Head tilted to one side – Typically indicates thoughtfulness and an interest in the conversation.

Head down – Often indicates something more negatively slanted… either tiredness, a lack of interest, rejection of the speaker’s ideas, defeat or shame.

Legs

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Leg direction – The direction of someone’s legs could indicate either interest or a lack of interest. If knees are pointed toward the speaker, the listener is likely interested in the conversation. Knees pointed in a different direction probably means a lack of interest.

Legs parallel/uncrossed – This is often a more formal way to sit. It could be that the sitter is proper or trying to come across as proper. Or that they are feeling uncomfortable or tense.

 

There is so much more than could be written on this topic but since the communication series is wrapping up in a few days, we’ve probably spent enough time on it. Maybe we will revisit it sometime in the future!

Try to notice this stuff in people though! It is so interesting. And just remember, nothing is full proof. Be sure to take into account the context of the behavior taking place. To be fair and all. :)

Hope you’ve had as much as I had studying the common non-verbals!

Day 18 – What’s a body to say?

Okay let’s get into some of the logistics of reading people!

But before we do… quick reminder related to yesterday’s post: reading people is not an exact science! There is no perfect formula that is going to be right-on each and every time. Depending on circumstances, culture and other key factors, people may act in a way that contradicts what you would expect.

Here are a few circumstances that will likely effect the presentation of even the most, honest, confident, secure person:

  1. Drug and/or alcohol use
  2. Illness
  3. Being in a totally unfamiliar environment
  4. Extreme stress
  5. Exhaustion
  6. Being the minority in a situation

With those in mind… let’s dive in!

Eyes

Looking right – The right side of the brain is associated with creativity and imagination. Looking to the right, generally indicates a lack of honesty or storytelling.

Looking left – The left side of the brain stores our memory and facts. When we are trying to recall things, we generall glance to our left.

Rubbing eyes – Can indicate tiredness, disbelief (i.e. “I can’t believe what I am seeing” and rubbing the eyes to be sure), crying.

Excessive blinking – There are different numbers out there regarding the amount of times we blink per minute. Experts average 10-20 times. So if you see someone blinking much more than that, it could indicate they are excited or under pressure (or have dry eyes).

Mouth

Smiling – One of the keys to knowing if a smile is genuine has to do with the rest of the face. Can you see a “twinkle” in the person’s eyes? Or creases along the edges of the eyes? If the smile is entirely in the mouth but does not involve any other aspects of the face, it is likely being forced.

Smiling without showing teeth – This could indicate a hesitancy on the part of the smiler. Perhaps they are hiding something or feeling embarrassed.

Nail biting/thumb sucking – Children often suck their thumbs as a way of self-soothing. When we grow up, we may continue these “nervous habits” as outward expressions of stress or discomfort. They “remind” us (internally/subconsciously) of the comfort we felt as kids and provide a similar ease of nerves.

Arms

Crossed armsCould indicate discomfort or a lack of self-confidence. Arms across othe body serve as a sort of barrier keeping people from getting too close.

Holding bags, papers etc. across or in front of the body – Similar to crossed arms, holding objects in front of the body serves as a barrier.

Hands

Finger PointingIndicates agression or blame. Used to dominate others.

Scratching nose while speaking – This is said to indicate lying or exaggeration. Touching the nose at all while speaking could indicate lying.

 

Have you observed any of these when engaging in conversation with people? Do you find the above descriptions to be accurate in reflecting what’s actually going on with people (or yourself)? Try and observe body language this week and see what you see!

To be continued tomorrow…

Day 17 – Read my body, not my words

Body language can reveal so much about how someone feels, what they might be thinking, who they really are… despite what they share verbally.  It is an incredibly effective tool in counseling, it’s used in jury selection and other jobs, as well as in everyday life.

 

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Have you heard of the show “Lie to Me”? It’s based on the work of a consulting firm that gets hired by individuals, investigators, the government etc. to determine whether people are telling the truth. The firm uses body language to identify key inconsistencies in people’s stories in order to help solve crimes or other issues they are hired for. It is fascinating!

But here’s the thing…

You can’t make assumptions. There is no one size fits all approach to reading people.

Here are some things to consider before you determine that someone’s incessant yawning must mean you’re an absolute bore:

  1. Consider context. Do you have any background information about what could be going on with the person? Using the yawning example: Did the person stay up late the night before? Do they have a physical condition? Did they just start a new medication? The answers to these questions not only reveals some great info about them but it’s also helpful for you. If you tend to think the worst about people/situations, the truth is… whatever is going on with the person probably has nothing to do with you!
  2. Remember culture. Some cultures feel it is disrespectful to look people right in the eyes. So a lack of eye contact may not indicate discomfort or lack of honesty, as many assume. Some cultures speak in softer voices to show respect, while others speak in louder voices. Some handshakes are firm while others are loose, or physical touch may even be avoided all together.
  3. Take gender into account. We all know men are from Mars and women are from Venus. So it’s safe to assume that we are not only going to think, talk and act differently… but that our body language is going to vary as well.
  4. Don’t forget the public persona. We all, to some degree, put up a facade and allow people to see the aspects of ourselves that we want them to see. Some of us do this more than others of course… Don’t automatically assume people are being fake but just remember, we all want to come across as more perfect, more sweet, kind, beautiful etc. than we believe we are. It’s kind of like when you go to someone’s house and on the outside it is totally pristine but on the inside it’s a pigsty. There’s an image displayed to the community that does not line up with what’s really on the inside. We do the same thing.

Tomorrow I’ll get into some guidelines on how to pick up on nonverbal cues. There is no perfect equation to reading people though. We are complicated… every single one of us! So keep that in mind.

Day 16 – Speaking without… speaking

My favorite summer show just wrapped up a week ago. So sad to see So You Think You Can Dance go bye-bye for the season. Who all watched this season? Thoughts? My personal favorites made it to the finale so I was pretty excited about that! And I thought America got it just right this time.

One of the things I love about this show is how the dancers have this incredible ability to tell stories without ever uttering a word. It’s a gift that they offer week after week with the movement of their bodies and the expression on their faces. There is no speaking, no actual telling of any stories and yet by the time they finish, their message has been clearly delivered.

Check out some of my favorite stories – I mean dances – here!

Day 15 – Communication Concepts a la Reality TV

Summer reality TV is here which means… Big Brother and So You Think You Can Dance are on in my house (well, it’s really more like my room since my husband is not a huge fan of either and I typically watch them alone. Either way, I am happy)! Big Brother is a recent addition to my DVR list.. one I have resisted for years. In fact this summer I had to be convinced on more than one occasion by a friend to check out the show. So I made the decision to commit to watching for one week… and now I am hooked.

Since I have decided now that I’m a regular viewer, I might as well try to glean some positive personal growth concepts from it.

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Here goes…

Big Brother is fascinating. In case you haven’t seen the show, here’s what takes place: a group of strangers are selected to live in a house together. The players couldn’t be more different. They participate in competitions and strategize to kick people out until one person is left and named the winner of the game.

The key word in all of this is strategy. Players form alliances with one another and stab each other in the back constantly. The relationships are superficial for the most part and the players just use each other in whatever ways they can in order to remain in the game.

Personally, I don’t think I could ever be on a show like this. I have a hard time being fake nice and using other people (call me crazy)!

I think the takeaway for me, as I observe the relationships on this show, is that honesty and sincerity are two of the most important ingrediants in strong relationships. This, of course, goes along with what Nailah shared yesterday in her guest post “Building Relationships through Honest Communication.”

We all yearn for something real. We search for truth. And yet so often, to conform to societal expectations, to be popular, to be loved, to be (insert whatever else) we act fake. We participate in relationships that only serve to help us achieve, but aren’t genuine. We lose sight of who we really are and become clouded by what we want to attain. Sadly, real life often resembles a game where our main objective is to win, no matter who we step on along the way.

So my encouragement via Big Brother is: Foster genuine relationships where backstabbing and dishonesty do not exist. Communicate openly with people and although you may not always “win the game” you can sleep peacefully at night knowing that when someone tells you they’ll be there for you no matter what, they actually mean it! And they can be confident knowing you will do the same for them!

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.

Confrontation

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!

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