Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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3 Components of a Good Listener

 

“I need you to listen to me with your eyes,” Stephanie, my wife, says as we’re discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Truth be told, I was in the middle of a project on my computer and didn’t want to stop.

“I’m listening, just keep talking,” I reply. She continues talking and then asks me for input about making a decision about our kids sporting activity. I hesitate, trying to recall the data from the previous 30 seconds. The reality was this: I wasn’t listening, I was just hearing her voice.

I’m a pretty typical male and have a really difficult time multi-tasking. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact that I failed to be aware of in this moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to discuss our weekend plans, but I didn’t want to do it right then and there. Explaining this to her would have been helpful, and could have saved us multiple offenses.

Good listeners know and act on their limitations.
Knowing our limitations is the work of learning our own story and makeup of who we are. By knowing ourselves, we can plan and sometimes prevent situations from occurring that will hurt, trigger, or harm someone we care about. In the above situation, just by speaking up and requesting 5 minutes to finish my project would have saved my wife and I the time and energy of an avoidable fight. My limitation was that I do not multi-task well. Instead of proactively asking for this, we spent the better part of a day recouping from a five minute problem.

Good listeners ask lots of questions.
The basis for all relationships is built on the foundation of curiosity. If we are not curious people, we will not get to know others. Asking questions is a way that we can make sure that we understand and hear what the other person is attempting to communicate.

My 8 year-old daughter has a bit of flair for the dramatic and will often exaggerate a story (she’s a fantastic story teller, by the way). Sometimes when she’s recounting an offense, she will say something to the effect of “everyone hates me!” What she’s communicating is that she’s extremely hurt. If I were to react solely to her statement about everyone hating her, I’d likely miss the truth that she’s hurting inside. By asking questions, I’m able to hear what’s happening behind the outburst and get the truth about her.

This is true for all relationships. If we respond without clarifying the content and context, we will often miss the heart of the matter. Good listening behooves us to ask questions like, “tell me more.”

Good listeners act as recording devices.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching one of the dozens of crime scene television shows likely you’ve seen a crime solved because of a clue seen or heard in the background of a recording. Replaying what you heard the other person say is a great way to clarify what’s being communicated. This might sound something like:

What I heard you say was that you feel disrespected when I ignore you. Is that right?”

One of the best ways that we can love someone is to show them that we are truly interested in hearing what they have to say. Not what we want to hear them saying, but what they are actually saying.

Good listeners develop and fine tune a third ear. The third ear is the one that listens to what is being said and what is not being said. This is the holy grail of listening: When one is able to know their own and the other’s story (limitations, gifts, abilities, etc), pay attention to the non-verbal cues, and ask questions. Good listeners make for great partners in life.

…article originally published at Start Marriage Right

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Couples & Individual Intensives

I often get asked about making a referral for couples or individuals who are in need of attending an intensive counseling program. Intensives are a great way to get a jumpstart on issues that have been bottled up or that have been ignored for some time. My personal and professional opinion is that more need to experience what an intensive has to offer. Resources, mainly time and money, are often the reason folks don’t do these.

I’m offering both a couples and individual intensive program. Depending on the individual or couples need, I am available here in Nashville, or am willing to travel to your location. You can visit the intensive page on my website to learn more and see what a intensive program looks like. Please pass this on to anyone that you might know who would benefit or be interested in hearing more.

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It IS a Big Deal

A few weeks ago a friend asked me for a favor. He needed help sorting through some technology issues with his phone and computer. My first career, and current hobby, was in technology so it came as no surprise that he’d asked for my help. After I’d finished the project with him, he said thank you and for the third time in that setting apologized for inconveniencing me. “Don’t be sorry, it was no trouble at all,” was my response.

I was a bit surprised by how quickly these words came out of my mouth. One of my pet peeves is when people apologize for things that need no apology. It wasn’t true. I’d taken time out of my day to help him with an issue that didn’t concern me. The truth was, it was an inconvenience. But it was an inconvenience that I was willing to give because I care about my friend. I wanted to serve him and our friendship.

After realizing this wasn’t the truth, which wasn’t more than a couple of seconds later, I corrected myself.

“Actually,” I said, “it was an inconvenience.” I paused to let those words linger for a moment and continued. “Saying otherwise isn’t truth, nor is it honoring to you and our friendship for me to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. Me giving you some of me, my time and energy, is one way I’m able to show you that I value our friendship.”

This led to a different conversation about self-worth, value, and why it’s difficult to accept love/care from others. It was a conversation that never would have occurred had we both remained nice towards each other.

Our conversation highlights a challenge in relationships: telling the truth about the minor things in life is hard. “It’s no big deal…” is such a simple, polite, and well meaning statement that all of us have made to another person. Too often saying something isn’t a big deal sabotages giving the gift of love and acceptance.

Telling someone “you’re not bothering me,” or “It’s no trouble at all” communicates that the request they are making is easy for you to accomplish. Spoken in regards to a task or to-do list, perhaps “no trouble at all” has some truth to it (especially if the request of you is something you’re gifted at doing). The limitation of this statement is that we deny showing the other person their importance in our lives.

We’re selfish people by nature. We want what we want, when we want it. As we mature, it takes discipline and proaction to act contrary to this natural tendency. So when someone asks something of us, we have to sacrifice our selfish desires for the benefit of the other—this is love. It may be minor in the sacrifice, such as helping a friend with a technology problem, but it is still a sacrifice. In order for trust and relationships to grow, we need to know that someone is willing to sacrifice themselves on our behalf. Without this understanding and experience, and we’re left to wonder if the other really sacrifices anything for us.

Letting someone know that we’re willingly choosing to sacrifice, be inconvenienced, and not passively hold it over their heads deepens relational intimacy. Little things piled together makes a big thing. Be proactive in your relationship to intentionally build a big thing of trust by making mention of the little things.

(originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Choosing Curiosity over Judgment

Recently I was playing golf with a friend. At the tee box on the 8th hole we were lectured and scolded by an older player about course and golf etiquette. We had a good reason for the accused action, which was not harmful to anyone or the course, but was evidently offensive to this other golfing tandem. The interaction was unsettling to me, and after finishing our round, I spent the car ride home considering what had happened. Ultimately, I felt judged by a complete stranger. Normally judgement from a stranger wouldn’t illicit much of a reaction, but it was the way this man judged me that was difficult. What I do want to suggest, though, is the weight of our actions and words on those around us.

I suspect that if this man would have approached us with a spirit of curiosity, opposed to one of condemnation, that our conversation would have played out very differently. But as it was, the interaction was quite hostile. I don’t know his story or what led him to lecture me, but I do know that his accusations and judgement were obtuse and very offensive. Were it a different setting, I would have liked to return to the conversation and re-engage with what had happened. But it wasn’t a situation conducive for this, nor are many situations in life.

Another setting that one-way judgements are plentiful is in a vehicle on the road. There are countless opportunities in 30 minutes of driving for judgement to be dished out. Again, it’s nearly impossible (nor suggested) to interact/engage with those we have confrontations with on the road (as an aside, road rage is a serious issue that is potentially very dangerous). If drivers would drive with an understanding that all of those around him are facing some difficult life situation, our responses would look very different.

I think we do this because judging others on their poor, or offensive, behaviors is second nature. It’s easy to point out the faults in/with someone else than it is to explore the reasons for the faults or actions.

Curiosity is key.
There’s a spot on the interstate on my afternoon commute that merges from 3 lanes to 2. During heavy traffic situations, the 3rd lane is used by drivers to get as far down the road as possible to prevent sitting in traffic. It’s also used by drivers who are exiting the interstate at the next exit. There are times that this lane will be blocked by another driver who will intentionally position their car in such a manner that prevents others from “cutting in line,” as it were. Almost every time, I chuckle at the sophomoric activity by seemingly grown adults. But this activity highlights my point: Judging others actions without first being curious results is harmful interactions.

The car blocking the lane has zero ability to know or understand what’s happening with the person in the car behind him (or 10 cars back, for that matter), yet her policing the lane is done so assuming that all the other people are just trying to cheat or cut in line. In the same way, the golfer who approached me had no idea, nor concern, about my situation. The end result of these two moral judgements is a displacement of peace. Which, I suppose, is very similar to how wars begin.

So, what can we learn about drive-by judgements?
1. It’s difficult to live a life of curiosity. At some point we all suffer the loss of our innocence, be it in childhood or later on, and with this loss goes the ease of being curious. We usually replace our broken spirit of being curious with contempt, judgement, and mistrust. These, unfortunately, come very easily, perhaps as easily as curiosity once came for us as children. It is much easier to react out of judgement than out of curiosity.

2. We arrogantly assume we know what is best, for ourselves and others. Though if you really consider it, the reality is we never know what’s best, for ourselves or others. We can have ideas of what’s best, but we’ll never know for sure until the benefit of hindsight is available. This is what makes relationships (parenting, marriage, friendships, etc) so difficult. At times we must act on a belief that we know what’s best, but hold fast to a teachable spirit that our decisions may or may not be right.

3. By judging first, we miss out on giving and receiving of a gift. Sometimes these gifts are ones we do not know we have, nor do we know when we give them. This is a great mystery of life: We have no idea what affect the words or actions we choose will have on another person.

The next time you find yourself dishing out a complaint or critique to someone, first ask yourself the question:

“Do I know the whole story, or just a part of it?”

Your answer to this question just might create a different, and encouraging, outcome to a normally difficult situation.

(article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Beyond the Seen

We’re all trying to make it in a grown up world. We’re all Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Big.” Nothing more than a boy stuck inside a 30, 40, or 50 year olds body.

It’s time to grow up. It’s time to stop living life as though it’s going to work, to fulfill you, or bring a constant smile. It’s a grown up world, and a lot of us are acting like that three-year-old in the grocery store pitching a fit because we’re not able to get Lucky Charms.

Stop spending more money than you make. Stop being late for lunch with a friend, and stop taking advantage of your spouse because “we both understand how busy we are.” Personal responsibility is lacking, and this just isn’t going to work.

The physical is where we miss each other. We see the body, the facial hair, the curved body, the jewelry, cars, and houses, but fail to recognize that these are statuses kids can attain. Kids get married, have kids, get jobs, and make lots of money. Kids do things that make them appear to be adults, but inside they’re not. Adults don’t stay in abusive relationships. Adults don’t have affairs. Kids are who buy BMW’s because it makes them feel good inside.

Adults know and value time, forgiveness, compassion, and grace. They know these things because they’ve been given these by others. They’ve been given these things by an adult. Not a child. But an adult. Virtues drive adults, not statuses.

Wisdom coaches adults, not knowledge. The turtle is admired, the hare hated. Kids don’t grow up trying to be the slowest, they want to be the fastest. The fastest wins the race, but loses the journey.

Early on, kids learn the pain of telling the truth. Maturity is about being honest, especially when it’s the hardest to do so. Not only about what we stole, or lied about, but what we fear, hope for, and desire.

This American Life recently had a 25 minute story about a politician and his friend who both lost their careers (and one went to prison) because they spent 3-4 years covering up a mistake made over a postcard during a campaign. They cheated, and had they told the truth at the time, it would have been a slap on the wrist. This is the penultimate example of choosing to believe the justification or lies over the truth. I’ve done it, and so have you. “What the heart wants, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” – Thomas Cranmer

What if we stopped giving people so much credit? What if we looked beyond the titles, power suits, big homes, nice cars, fancy vacations, and latest fashion? What would we see?

You’d see someone just like you. Someone who doubts themselves, questions God, fears vulnerability, and knows from experience to trust no one. You’d see the kid inside trying, screaming, clawing, and begging for someone to hold them and tell them it’s ok. You’d see a 40 year old man who still gets afraid of the dark, a 30 year old woman who still worries about being alone, or a 60 year old man wondering why life has been so empty.

We’ve trained ourselves and each other to judge by the seen, not the content. Because covers can be made beautiful, attractive, sexy, and appealing. There’s no such thing as Photoshop for the soul. Often the content doesn’t ever get read because we’re too transfixed by the cover. We want to believe that some have it together, because then there is hope for me. If no one has it together, where do I go? What do I live for?

Ever wondered why social media is so popular, or why there are so many so called “reality” shows on television? It’s because we want someone else’s life. We don’t want our own. You may not admit it, but your life has not been what you wanted it to be. If you don’t learn your own content, what makes you you, then you’ll be looking to live out someone else’s.

Looking beyond the seen is difficult, and takes effort, time, and being intentional. You must first look beyond the seen in your own life. Examine your own reflection, and learn to tell the story of your content, of your life.