2 Essential Principles for Great Relationships

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As a lifelong student of communication, I thought I knew a lot about interpersonal communication. But recently, I have come to better understand two extremely important principles for great relationships.

The principles, stated succinctly, may seem obvious and trite. But my new understanding comes not from hearing the principles, but from more fully realizing how beneficial they are — and how difficult they are!

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Speak only for yourself.

Knowing ourselves is not as easy as we might think. Countless volumes have been written on the subject. If you are familiar with the field of psychology, you already know some of the obstacles. We humans can deceive ourselves, overlook our own faults, or overlook our strengths. We can project our faults onto others. We can be oblivious to our real motives. We can think we’re dealing with fact, when really we are working with our interpretation.

In their book, Alive and Aware: Improving Communication in Relationships, Sherod Miller, Elam W. Nunnally, and Daniel B. Wackman identify 5 categories for knowing ourselves:

  1. Our feelings: calm, bored, glad, confused, eager, angry, proud, sad, etc.
  2. Our actions: Behaviors that may escape our awareness include interrupting others, interrupting ourselves and not finishing our own sentences, saying “like” or “you know” or “um” habitually, chewing our fingernails, reaching for a cigarette, dropping eye contact, changing posture, changing the subject, adopting a certain tone of voice, etc.
  3. Our intentions: Do we intend to encourage? Persuade? Be funny? Avoid? Criticize? Threaten? Disregard? Explore? Share? Help? Clarify?
  4. Our sensations: Are we aware of what we actually see, hear, smell, taste and feel?
  5. Our interpretations: Do we realize how much we interpret what we sense? Here’s an example: Joe’s spouse intends to show love and concern in a comment. But Joe’s past experience with controlling parents leads him to interpret the comment as an attempt to control. Here’s a different example: we see someone walk into a room, stop, and look around. We interpret the behavior as a sign that the person is lost. But that is just our interpretation. We do not really know.

The authors say that we cannot be fully aware of everything at all times. (You’ve no doubt experienced this when you are concentrating on work and you “tune out” background noise.) But they say that healthy individuals are able to be objectively aware of themselves within all five categories on a regular basis, rotating from one area to another as the situation demands.

Healthy individuals are able to self-reflect – access their feelings and understand their own motives, even the “negative ones,” the ones that society frowns upon. Wounded individuals can lose awareness in one or more areas (and we are all wounded to some degree). And so awareness can be a continual challenge for all of us. And, as the saying goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” That is one reason why input from others is so valuable.

The second principle, speaking only for ourselves, is also more difficult than we imagine. I just violated the principle in this last sentence. If I were following the principle, I might write, “I believe that speaking only for ourselves is also more difficult that we imagine.” Or, “I don’t know about you, but speaking only for myself is more difficult than I had imagined.” The fact is, I don’t know what your experience is. I am, of course, just trying to make a general statement about a whole population. When we have a lengthy communication that is designed to teach, we tend to drop “I think” or “I believe,” because it becomes repetitive and everyone understands that the whole message is offering generalized truth based upon (we hope) research.

But interpersonal communication within relationships, both at work and at home, benefits from careful adherence to the principle.

One red flag occurs when we start a sentence with “you” rather than “I.” “You should finish this job” is more effective if we say, “I would like you to finish this job.”

The question, “Would you like to go to a movie with me?” might really mean, “I would like you to go to a movie with me.” If that’s what we mean, we should say that, because there could be a significant difference between the two. Say a wife asks the question above. Her husband may feel legitimately confused. Is he merely being asked about his preferences? Or is he being asked to lovingly accommodate his wife’s preferences? Let’s say her meaning is that she would like him to accommodate her desire. So she should say some version of, “I’d like you to go to a movie with me.” Good communication will provide the clarification and help the husband, in this case, meet his wife’s needs for companionship.

Here’s another example: “You’re not listening to me!” is more likely to cause defensiveness and arguments because it is a blaming statement. “I don’t feel listened to right now” is an indisputable fact that you own. If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel. No one can tell you how you feel (though some boundary-crossers will try!). So the question becomes, what can the other person do to help you feel more listened to?

Speaking for ourselves with “I statements” helps to bypass arguments and move to solutions.

I hope you can now see that the biggest challenge for many of us is that we were never trained to speak in “I statements.” We’re more likely, in the example above, to say, “You’re not listening to me.”

For many of us, using “I statements” is like learning a foreign language. And so we must train ourselves in this new two-step process:

  1. becoming aware of what we are really thinking, feeling, and wanting, and then
  2. expressing that clearly.

It’s a matter of working hard to change daily habits. The benefits include more harmonious relationships at work and at home, less confusion and conflict, greater productivity, and much more. Perhaps you’d like to run a test, and see how long you can stick with “I-statements” in a given day!

Got a question? Message me through this website.

© 2013 Caryl D. Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts totaling no more than 10 sentences and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caryl Schlicher and A Bridge To Excellence, and provided that the appropriate URL is given to direct readers to the original content.









Goals: Getting Our Act Together

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Goal setting is a popular topic these days, and a very broad one. We could be talking about the goal of a business, and communicating that to employees. We could be talking about personal life goals. We could be talking about the goal in a particular discussion.

The following strategies should be helpful no matter what the application is (though you might change the language slightly in a different setting, but the principle still applies):

  1. To keep from being overwhelmed, focus on only one area of your life to start: work life, financial goals, social life, family life, health, spiritual life, whatever.
  2. Sit down with pen and paper in a quiet place and ask yourself, “What do I want to see changed?”
  3. Next question: If you got up tomorrow and that goal had been realized, how would you know? What would be different? What would you see? What would be the evidence of change?
  4. What results do you imagine will flow from those observable changes? Are you sure, or could you be engaging in wishful thinking? If you’re unsure, talk to someone you trust – a friend, coach, counselor, spiritual leader, mentor – whatever is appropriate for your particular area of concern.
  5. Thinking over your answers to #2 and #3, which specific changes are under your control, and which are under another person’s control? For example, going to exercise three times per week is probably under your control. Having your spouse treat you with more respect is out of your control to a greater degree (but we can always work to affect that situation). Likewise, developing your company’s mission statement may be completely under your control. But making sure your employees live out that mission statement – well, again, you have influence, but you don’t have absolute control.
  6. Become very clear, with precise lists if necessary, about what you can control and focus on that. This focusing is hard work. It’s very tempting to focus on the events or behaviors that you cannot control. Learning assertiveness, learning to use “I-statements,” and learning to let go of certain outcomes are all part of figuring out what you can control.
  7. Ask yourself what strengths you bring to this challenge. How can you employ them?
  8. Ask yourself what you have typically done in the past. Consider whether or not that’s working, and whether it makes sense to give up an unproductive habit.
  9. Ask yourself what has worked well in the past. How can you do more of that?
  10. Ask yourself what information you are lacking. Where can you find those answers?
  11. What steps or action items can you write down as a result of all of these answers? Is there a logical or chronological order to these steps?
  12. Does any step have a prerequisite step that you’ve left out?
  13. How would you rate each step in terms of difficulty?
  14. What barriers or pitfalls can you anticipate with each step? What proactive problem-prevention can you implement?
  15. Can you do something to make a particular step easier? Call for help? Consult an expert? Do your own research? Delegate some tasks to another person? Practice?
  16. Install some form of accountability to motivate you to keep climbing out of your old rut. Change is hard. We must work hard to combat the forces of inertia.
  17. Praise yourself as you learn to take better care of the things you CAN control. Try to build your expectations and satisfaction more on that. Increasingly, define “a good day” as a day in which you took care of your business, your behavior, your attitudes, your thoughts, your feelings. Look less and less for other people and outside circumstances to create your “good day.”
  18. Develop an attitude of gratitude for everything that goes right during this process.
  19. Catch others being good. Never miss an opportunity to express praise and appreciation.
  20. Always notice and celebrate the progress, the small successes, both within yourself and in others’ behavior.

It’s hard to imagine a situation that can’t improve if you work these steps. Give them a try and see what develops!

Got a question? Message me through this webiste.
© 2013 Caryl D. Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts totaling no more than 10 sentences and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caryl Schlicher and A Bridge To Excellence, and provided that the appropriate URL is given to direct readers to the original content.


The Questions We Need To Ask Every Day

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One of my favorite questions is “What works?” In other words, what methods will give me the results I desire?

“What works?” is a question we should ask in every area of life – succeeding at work, helping others succeed at work, building a strong marriage, parenting children, staying organized, improving our health, building strong communities, managing the national economy, you-name-it.

We can even apply that question to the other questions in life. Then, the question becomes, “What questions work well for us?” These are the questions we need to ask every day. And we should also be aware of harmful questions that lead us away from our desired goals. Some good and harmful questions come from Dr. Marilee G. Adams, author of the book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, and I’ve written many others.

Some people refer to the beneficial questions as “learner questions,” because they demonstrate a desire to learn and grow. And they refer to the harmful or less productive questions as “judger questions,” because they produce very harsh, critical judgments, which in turn produce negative feelings and diminished success.

So, let’s look at a few options for question asking, as we navigate our daily lives at work and at home. I think the benefits will be obvious to you.

Judger asks, “Who’s to blame here?” Learner asks, “What can I and others do to improve things?”

Judger asks, “How should I tell him he screwed up?” Learner asks, “Can I clearly explain how I would like things done the next time?”

Judger asks, “What’s wrong in this environment?” Learner asks, “What’s right in this environment, and how can we do more of that?”

Judger asks, “How can I look superior?” Learner asks, “What can I learn? And how can I help others?”

Judger asks, “How can I prove I’m right?” Learner asks, “What are the facts? What is the full truth? What is wise? What is the best thing for us to do right now?”

Judger asks, “How can I attack him or make him feel bad?” Learner asks, “How can I build him up, encourage him, guide him, and also enforce some boundaries when needed?”

Judger asks, “How can I control others?” Learner asks, “How can I control myself and maintain a healthy boundary?”

Judger asks, “How will I be hurt?” Learner asks, “How can I help others?”

Judger asks, “How can I defend myself in the face of criticism?” Learner asks, “What truth is there in this criticism, if any? Am I being honest with myself? And how can I help Judger to feel understood?” Only after this preliminary, open-minded analysis and good communication does Learner move forward to defending himself/herself as needed.

Judger asks, “How can I get an immediate answer for everything?” Learner asks, “Can I temporarily endure the discomfort of not having everything figured out?”

Judger desperately asks, “How can I eliminate imperfection in others?” Learner patiently asks, “Can I simultaneously accept what is, while still working towards needed improvement?”

Judger asks, “What should be rejected?” Learner asks, “What can be accepted or negotiated?”

Judger asks either-or questions and suggests false dilemmas. Learner considers both-and questions. For example, Judger asks, “Which of us is right?” Learner asks, “In what ways are we both right?”

Judger asks, “How can I win out over this other person?” Learner asks, “How can we both win? And what are the best options for each of us?”

Judger asks a lot of questions about things outside of his control. Learner asks a lot of questions about the things under his control.

Judger asks, “How can I avoid change?” Learner asks, “How can I manage change well?”

Judger asks, “How can I protect my turf?” Learner asks, “What are the highest goals for this organization or family? Am I working toward those goals?”

Judger asks, “How could I lose in this situation?” Learner asks, “What could I gain?”

Judger asks, “Why is that other person so dense?” Learner asks, “What does this person need from me and others in order to do better?”

Judger asks, “Why bother to try?” Learner asks, “What is possible?”

Judger often clings to the question, “What do we usually do?” Learner asks, “What options haven’t I considered? What limitations have I placed on my thinking? How else can I think about this?”

Judger asks, “How has this hurt me?” Learner asks, “What’s useful about this? How is it helping me to grow, even though it might be painful?”

Judger secretly and continuously asks himself, “What’s wrong with me?” Learner isn’t afraid of that question but also asks, “What’s right about me, and how am I working on improving?”

Judgers tend to react emotionally and out of ingrained habit; learners strive to respond with self-control and prethought. Judgers tend to feel powerless; learners are growing in their sense of personal power. Judgers often feel fear; learners are growing in faith, trust, and personal responsibility. Judgers often have a scarcity mentality; learners see abundance.

It’s useful to ask ourselves on a daily basis whether we’ve fallen into judger mode, which tends to be our natural state, or whether we’ve climbed into learner mode. Every day we can decide which we prefer. And we can ask ourselves, “What can help me get back into learner mode, or stay in learner mode?”

I could present a list of benefits for operating in learner mode more often. But why not conduct your own experiment and see what happens?

Got a question? Message me through this website.

© 2012 Caryl D. Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts totaling no more than 10 sentences and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caryl Schlicher and A Bridge To Excellence, and provided that the appropriate URL is given to direct readers to the original content.