Character Creates Opportunity® – The Gift of Connection Part II: Thursday, December 25, 2014

In part I of this blog, we highlighted that beyond the basics for survival, we all have a strong need to belong and be accepted.  We discussed the reality of how today’s “connected world” can foster isolation instead of genuine connection in the home, the workplace, and the community.  In addition, we provided a few thoughts to help make the gift of connection this holiday season be more meaningful and engaging.

As we continue on this journey to build and strengthen our character, in Part II of this blog, we will touch on two essential steps we can take to further strengthen the gift of connection and be more effective in trying to meet the need of others to feel they belong and are accepted into something bigger than themselves.

In most relationships there is usually healthy tension (at least we all hope it remains healthy) in discussions about important decisions that need to be made.  It is quite rare for complex, important decisions to be so clear cut that we can stand firmly in the “yes” or “no” camp.  The real important decisions are usually complex and have a number of factors that need to be addressed.

Below are just a few examples of important decisions that need to be made:

  • Money decisions: How much to spend now versus saving for later.  Buy cheap now and replace or buy quality now and keep for longer.
  • Career decisions: Deciding to take a risk on a new job versus the risk of staying with something you know well that provides for your needs today, but may become obsolete in a few years.
  • Parenting decisions:  Deciding when to transition from protection to preparation and then preparation into freedom and full release into the world.  Deciding if that timeline changes based on the uniqueness of each child.
  • Lifestyle: Decisions to move away for new experiences and opportunities or remain close to the familiar community of friends and family.

Complex decisions are not easy to make.

There are few more effective ways we can cement an individual’s sense of belonging and feeling accepted than when we trust him/her to make a decision.  After all the debate and discussion has been conducted and the decision is still daunting, we say, “I trust you to make the decision.” As a spouse, when we come to appreciate each other’s strengths and we communicate (with words, tone, and body language) that we trust him/her with a decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.  As a parent, when we communicate to a child that we trust him/her with a decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.  As a leader, when we communicate to an individual that we trust him/her with making the decision on a new product line, a change in strategy, or a hiring decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.

Communicating trust to an individual through empowering him/her to make a decision is an essential step toward meeting his/her need to feel belonging and acceptance.

We have probably all had the experience of trusting and then disaster struck.  MistakesWe trusted our spouse and he/she made a mess of things.  I wish the “mess” was just some spilled paint on the carpet, but the reality is that the “mess” many times is much worse and much more painful.  We trusted an adult child for the weekend and then came home to find Animal House – Part II just became a reality show at our home while we were gone.  We trusted a business associate and they destroyed the reputation and finances of the business we poured our heart and soul into.

The reality is that trust can sometimes bring about a great deal of pain.  We can remain bitter.  Unfortunately, bitterness has been proven to result in greater pain and problems for all involved.  In addition, the one who holds onto bitterness usually suffers the most compared to the one who first stumbled and fell short.

On the back side of that painful experience, there is one of the most effective ways that we can rise above and many times, permanently solidify someone’s sense of belonging and acceptance.   We can take an action they may never forget.  The additional way to ensure an individual feels a sense of belonging and acceptance is to show redemption towards the individual who squandered our trust.  We build and strengthen our character in a major way when we demonstrate grace through communicating redemption towards the individual and open the door to trust him/her again.

The act of “clearing” one’s debt or “saving” someone from the continual pain of a poor choice and communicating our willingness to trust again is probably the greatest challenge we will face in terms of building strong and healthy relationships over the long-term.

How do we respond when those closest to us fall short and break the bond of trust?

Providing redemption from past mistakes, as opposed to remaining bitter, has been shown time and again to build a sense of belonging, connection, and community with those around us.

As we become more intentional on providing the gift of connection during this holiday season, today’s blog was meant as a reminder of the two essential steps we can take through trust and redemption to ensure we meet a clear need of those closest to us.

As we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

One additional note:  Given the pressures and challenges in our world, we all struggle with extending trust and redemption from time to time.  When I have found myself in that spot, it has been helpful to reflect back on the individuals and experiences who have extended trust to me and demonstrated a redemptive spirit when I certainly did not deserve it.  This reflection often helps motivate me to move towards trust and redemption to others.  I am pretty confident that if each of us inventoried our lives, we would find others who trusted us and then redeemed us after we fell short.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Gift of Connection Part I: Thursday, December 18, 2014

Psychologists would tell us that our greatest need beyond the basics for survival is our need to belong and be accepted.

We can all relate to the positive emotional sense we feel when we know we are part of a team on the athletic field, the workplace, the community, and certainly the home.  When we join efforts with others to support a cause bigger than ourselves, we feel most alive.  Whether that cause is building a strong family, a winning basketball team, a competitive business, a community project, or the defense of a nation, the sense of belonging meets a real personal need. Knowing we are an accepted part of something bigger than ourselves is critical to our emotional health and stability.

When we become disconnected or feel rejected from a group, we struggle.  In the absence of a sense of connection to others and a cause greater than our own, we all can become susceptible to loneliness, anxiety, and depression.  Even those so-called “tough guys” or “tough gals” among us, will eventually reach a breaking point without a connection to something bigger than themselves.

As our world gets more connected with technology like the internet, smart phones, and social media, research would show that we are at risk for minimizing the benefits of genuine connection.Family is disconnected image  In addition, today’s technology enables the instant personalization of getting what we want, when we want it, and many times that fosters isolation instead of connection during our “free time” beyond school, work, and the essentials of running a home.  We don’t need a PhD in psychology to see the reality around us.  All we need to do is look around a lunchroom at work, an evening at home, or the ‘waiting period’ for a practice to end, a bus to arrive, or a meal to be served.

Social scientists would say that our technology dependent connections impact the depth of our relationships mostly because we lose empathy.  Sure, “emojis” help with emotional connection, but it is not optimal.  I am sure we have all seen a picture of a beautiful sandy beach and I hope most of us have felt the warm touch of beach sand between our toes.  There is a difference in the connection.

As important as feeling a sense of belonging and being connected are to our health, I would recommend that we add a few last minute gifts to our list this holiday season.  We should all add the gift of connection to those closest to us.  An important challenge for all of us would be to not just think about the seemingly peaceful relationships in our lives, but we should act with courage and add those to the list where perhaps the stresses and strains of this year has put the relationship in a difficult spot.

Here are a few thoughts to help make the gift of connection this holiday season be more meaningful and engaging:

(1)    Acknowledge the reality that there is pain, discomfort, and challenge in any relationship.  The ups and downs in relationships are a sign of LIFE, not death.  “Flat-lining” by way of not caring is a sign of death in relationships.

(2)    Admit that “I am not perfect.”  Hopefully, they will acknowledge their own “non-perfect” reality, but don’t sweat it if they don’t.

(3)    Act with the desire to grow and reach the full potential of the relationship versus being anchored to past mistakes.

(4)    Accept them.  When possible, tell them face to face that they belong to the family, the team, or the project.  Tell them that they are a needed part of the group and the group would not be the same without their contribution.

It takes an intentional effort to give the gift of connection to those around us.  Especially those where we know there is a struggle in the relationship.  The gift of connection will take more than the swipe of a credit card.  However, as we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Points of View: Thursday, December 11, 2014

There is an interesting trend in our world that is being played out in a number of areas of our lives.  We have developed a seemingly insatiable need to have different points of view of the same situation.  We have come to the realization that there is advantage is having a variety of points of view of the same situation.

For example, over the last 10+ years we have seen an explosion of the number of camera angles and well positioned coaches throughout a stadium to gain a certain vantage point of the field of play.  As we watch any football game at the collegiate or professional level, we quickly realize the enormous amount of points of view to observe the game.  In addition, as coaches and fans, we understand the more points of view we have, the more effective we can be in determining the right decision by a referee, the right play to call to exploit a weakness in the opposition’s defenses, or the best defense to address a consistent trend on an offense.  Multiple vantage points helps us to be a more effective on a sports field.

We see a similar trend in business today.  Enormous planning, effort, and expense is allocated towards trying to understand different points of view of customers.  We generate enormous amounts of data as we electronically monitor behaviors and seek out attitudes at different points in the customer’s experience.  There is incredible advantage in building a brand or growing a business when we better understand the different points of view of our customers.  In addition, leaders of business see significant value in gaining different points of view of employees.  Understanding what a team is seeing in the warehouse, compared to a sales team, compared to customer service is extremely beneficial to leaders running a business.  These various points of view are the life-blood of building a sustainable and successful business.

We could go on and on about this same trend seen across the wide spectrum of life from the tactics of modern warfare to the advances in education.  Gaining different points of view enables us to develop a better understanding and a more effective plan to accomplish our objectives.

The irony found in this insatiable trend to gain greater understanding in areas such as business, athletics, modern warfare, and education, is that on a more personal, social level, the results would show that we are still reluctant to do the hard work of understanding different points of view of those closest to us in our homes and in our community.

Social observers, licensed psychologists, and religious leaders would say that on our day to day personal interactions, the vast majority of our energy is spent communicating our point of view with little effort spent on understanding the point of view of another.

An important aspect in building and strengthening our character is when we expend greater effort trying to gain the perspective and understanding of others as opposed to getting them to understand us.  Relationships are strengthened when we genuinely understand the different points of view of others.

Here are just a few practical steps that I hope you find helpful in seeing things from the point of view of others as we continue to build and strengthen our character:Points of View

(1)    Our first step in an apparent disagreement should be to gain understanding, not in firming up our defenses.

(2)    Focus on listening by removing the egotistical expectation of delivering a “brilliant” response.

(3)    Genuinely try to walk in the other person’s experience and empathize with their point of view.

(4)    Begin to communicate our point of view only when we gain a sense that the other person acknowledges our effort to understand them.

Those same social observers, licensed psychologists, and religious leaders would say that their collective experience in studying relationships would prove that most disagreements and conflicts on a personal level are due to misunderstanding and a lack of empathy.  Both of which are choices we can make to be more effective in building stronger, healthier relationships.

As we translate the trends we see in sports and business to our own life by working hard to gather the different points of view of those around us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® to have a greater impact on the people in our home and our community.

Character Creates Opportunity® – An Important Question: Thursday, December 4, 2014

Throughout our journey to build and strengthen our character, we have continually focused on the important principle of accepting responsibility for our own thoughts, decisions, and actions as a core component to character building.  Accepting responsibility is the first step in rising above our situation and escaping the trap of blaming others or our surroundings for the choices we make.

Accepting personal responsibility is important.  It does not mean we always make great choices.  The reality is that we will fall short in some of the decisions we make and actions we take. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  Our character is strengthened when we fully accept the effective and the ineffective choices we make and the positive and negative outcomes that they may bring about.

An additional and important dimension to accepting responsibility is acknowledging our influence on others.  Yes, each one of us owns our decisions, but we all play a role of influence on others.

Students make the decision to learn in the classroom, but a great teacher can raise the level of engagement and interest to make the classroom a more conducive environment to learn.

A great coach can inspire teamwork and commitment, but ultimately it is the decision of individual players to work together as a team.

A strong leader in the workplace can build energy, excitement, and efficient systems to keep the team heading in the right direction to accomplish goals, but it is the decisions of individual team members day to day that sustains top performance in the marketplace.

The examples we all set in the home have influence on those closest to us.

So what happens when those in our circle of influence stumble and fall through poor choices and bring about a difficult outcome?

One truth we should not back away from is that they must own it and make more effective choices moving forward to get back on track and head in a better direction.

There is an important element that often gets overlooked in the heat of the moment as we are sorting through the damage of a poor decision by someone close to us; The role we played around influence.  An important question we need to ask ourselves is, “What could I have done differently?”  We all have the ability to influence others.  Could the decisions I made and actions I took influenced a more effective choice that would have yielded a better outcome?

“What could I have done differently?”

A genuine self-assessment around this important question and a commitment to improve will help each one of us be more effective in our ability to influence others and help them make more effective decisions.

In terms of moving forward after someone close to us stumbles, there is one additional step that can influence a better tomorrow. Compassion Extend a helping hand to get back on track as opposed to leaving someone alone in the struggle.  This is especially important in the home.  Extending a helping hand, again, and again, and again, and again to those closest to us will help to build and strengthen our home and set an example of understanding and compassion that is missing many times in sustained family conflict.

As we acknowledge our role as influencers and guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions by principles like encouragement, loyalty, and commitment, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to influence others in a positive way and help those around us reach their full potential.