Character Creates Opportunity® – The Secret Nobody Talks About: Thursday, May 26, 2016

There seems to be no shortage of talkers in our world.  Traditional media, our school systems and our workplaces are all wired to recognize and reward the talkers.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character in a world that highlights the loud and proud, we don’t want to miss the power of listening to build healthy relationships, open dialogue with those who are hurting and establish the foundation to reach our hopes and dreams.Secret

We all cherish the moment when we are truly being listened to and understood.

In his seminal book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie described listening skills as one of the key attributes to a life of positive impact.  There are plenty of “experts” who would described the importance of listening to others as a key ingredient to understand another person and through understanding, we can begin to build better relationships.  In addition, I am sure we have all experienced the occasional “aha” moment when we finally shut-up long enough to listen and gained some real insight into understanding another person and why they have a certain point of view or why they took a certain action.

Just recently, some exciting new research has been released that demonstrates the power of our brains to relate to one another when we truly listen.  Research out of Princeton being led by neuroscientist Uri Hasson went beyond traditional techniques of simply mapping activity in particular regions of the brain.  Dr. Hasson’s research used complex mathematical analyses to map patterns of activity in the brain.  The research added the dimension of measuring the relationship between the pattern in one person’s brain and the pattern in another’s.

The research team recorded the brain activity of one person’s brain while they told a story and another person’s brain who was listening.  The two brain patterns showed a remarkable degree of correlation. The storyteller had literally gotten in to the listener’s brain and altered it not only on the logic-reasoning parts of the brain, but most importantly, on the emotional part of the brain.  By focusing on listening, the listener was able to match the brain of the storyteller.  The listener felt the emotions of the storyteller.

The research demonstrated over and over that when you listen to and understand another person, you experience the exact same brain pattern as that person.  It is as if you have experienced their experience.  The research demonstrated that our brains know little difference between our own experience and one we shared by listening to another. Our brains are impacted the same way.  Listening to another person can provide real insight into another person’s journey and help us understand.

In addition to these types of research insights and the so-called “experts” in the field, here are just a few thoughts to reinforce the importance of listening to build healthy relationships:

  1. Listening is the most simple and powerful way to demonstrate to someone that they matter. Our decision to listen meets a very important psychological need of all of us – to know we matter.  Listening does not take a PhD in psychology, an extremely high IQ, or some position in the corner office.  All it takes is a simple decision to be silent and give someone our attention.
  2. As our world continues to grow more intense and complex, before we instinctively move to shout out our “brilliant opinion,” we should first choose to listen. As the research showed, when we listen, we actually feel the experience of the other person.  This is a relevant and practical choice for our home, our workplace, and our community.  As with many other things, the greatest challenge is often listening to those that are closest to us in our home.  We mistakenly think we know them well enough because we have lived with them for so long that we don’t need to listen.  In addition, we may have allowed the obstacles of anger, frustration, and apathy to prevent us from listening the other side of the story…and there is always another side to the story.
  3. For most people, it is our painful experiences that have taught us the most and form the basis for many of the choices we make. However, we typically keep hidden those painful experiences from others.  Being a good listener can help build a trusting, non-judgmental, and shame-free atmosphere which can eventually open a door to the sharing of those painful experiences to assist in a greater understanding of one another.  Understanding is the foundation for health in our relationships.

Listening, with the intent to understand, is a well-documented and practical approach to improve relationships.  As we make the decision to listen, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build healthy and meaningful relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – An Antidote for the Blues: Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sooner or later, we all get the blues.  Part of the human experience is going through difficult circumstances and many times, feelings of sadness, loneliness, or grief is all part of the process.  Over time, we somehow move forward through the valley and keep moving along with our lives.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, working to build our resistance to the blues and accelerating our recovering out of our inevitable time with the blues will enhance our ability to reach our full potential and set a positive example for those around us.

We all have our weak points that can set us down the path into the blues.

  • The pressure of personal finances and provision for those we care about most gets us down.
  • The unmet expectations of our loved ones gets us down.
  • The frustrations of feeling trapped in the workplace or an unfulfilled career path gets us down.
  • The reflection on mistakes and regrets gets us down.
  • The journey through an unexpected illness or health crisis gets us down.

The journey of life has an unfortunate habit of showing our weak points from time to time.

We have a unique, personal pattern of what our outward expression to the world is when we are dealing with the blues.  Some of us get moody, others get quiet, some get downright mean, and others simply withdraw completely.  If you are unsure of your personal pattern, just ask someone in your home and I am sure they will be more than willing to tell you.

There are a few practical steps that have been proven over time by our experience and by academic research that we can all take as an antidote to the blues.  These steps will help minimize the frequency and duration of our blues experience and expedite our recovery back into the bright light of opportunity that is before us each day.

  1. Accept the reality that the journey of life will bring about times of personal sadness. Expecting a life without periods of sadness and disappointment is just not a realistic expectation.
  2. Identify the source of our feelings. Be sure to look beyond the immediate issue like a fight with our spouse, an uninspiring job, or a recent mistake.  Many times, we have unresolved issues from our past that keep rearing their ugly head in our day to day issues.  Working to resolve these issues is an important step in dealing with the near term source of our troubles.
  3. Find someone who will listen. It is getting harder and harder these days to find someone to listen.  In a world that continues to grow in complexity and intensity, the distractions of work, family schedules, “always on” social media, and binge watching a favorite TV series makes it challenging to even get those closest to us in the home to listen.  In addition, the cold hard reality is that struggles in the home are most often the source of the blues and finding someone to listen in our home may not be a realistic option.  In those cases, we should always try and be the one who is willing to put down the smart phone and listen when we can clearly tell something is wrong.  Our example will help others to do the same.Boy Spinning Artound
  4. Look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. Getting our minds off of ourselves and onto helping others is a foundational step for preventing and recovering from the blues.  As Ben Franklin most famously said, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”  Focus on serving others and our personal issues will seem insignificant in the light of helping others in need.
  5. Set some small personal goals. It may very well be just to get out of bed in an efficient manner and not try to sleep away troubles with a few hits on the snooze button.  A set of small physical goals like going for a walk or exercising in some consistent way has always been shown to be a strong resistance to the blues.  Small steps of progress towards goals helps to expedite our recovery.
  6. Count our blessings. Psychologists, pastors, and friends would all say that being thankful for the small blessings in life is a habit we should all embrace.  Whether it is enjoying a sunrise or a sunset along with the fact that we had one more day with those we care about most, gratefulness for the little things will help us effectively deal with the blues.

In the end, the choice is always ours to make.  Making a few decisions to implement some of the items above will help to minimize the number of times we slip into the blues and it will help expedite our recovery out of the valley when we find ourselves alone in the darkness.

As we take these steps as an antidote for the blues, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and set a positive example for those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Avoidance Strategy: Thursday, May 12, 2016

Psychologists, social researchers in academia, and our own personal experience would say that the vast majority of us avoid having the difficult conversation to address lingering frustrations that inevitably come with relationships in the home, the workplace, and the community.

Leaders in the workplace often delay having the difficult performance discussion with an employee until it is just unavoidable and the team or project has been significantly impacted.crossed fingers

Couples in the home often avoid the known stress points or triggers in the relationship and keep their fingers crossed that it will just go away without a fight this time.

Communities often look the other way and sweep problems under the rug until one small action ignites a firestorm of the now unavoidable reality.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, demonstrating the wisdom and courage to address the difficult and uncomfortable topics will help us prevent the cancer of delay from spreading and destroying the long term health of close relationships.

Emotion is often bound to a moment, but wisdom is always married to time.  We need wisdom to be effective in dealing with the complexity of life and that only comes with time and experience.

Here are just a few thoughts to address the avoidance strategy head on:

  • Acknowledge the Truth: It is not easy to effectively have these types of discussions. Life is often sloppy and painful and addressing difficult issues does not come with paint by the numbers instructions. It is not perfect, but it needs to be experienced, not avoided.
  • Begin the Dialogue: When we avoid addressing the problem, we often create more problems. Unresolved issues do not go away they just rear themselves in other ways.  We learn and grow as we address challenges, so get started.
  • Intent and Understanding are the Foundation: It is important to be genuine in our intent to move the relationship forward in a healthy way to achieve the long term goals of the team, the family, or the community. Seek understanding first as we do not see the world as it is, but we see the world as we are and our experiences and attitudes bring about a host preconceived notions and biases.
  • Don’t Lose Hope: We may often find ourselves in a tough spot in our homes, our close relationships, and in our community.  We will learn and grow through addressing difficult issues and even if they don’t get adequately resolved, we will be setting a great example for those closest to us that we don’t give up.

As we strive to reach our full potential in our lives and in our relationships, we will always have difficult issues to address and the avoidance strategy is just not an effective option.  We learn and grow as we work through difficult issues and the wisdom we gain will help us build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our hopes and dreams.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Service Beyond the Spotlight: Thursday, May 5, 2016

There is a great deal of material written about and attention given to leaders. One of the burdens of leadership is often summarized in the phrase it is “lonely at the top.”  There are many times when a leader needs to step forward and decide. The leader has gathered all the input, sorted through the data, and then at some point a decision needs to be made.  There is that moment of decision when the burden is only fully felt by the leader.  This is when a leader confronts that cold reality that it is truly “lonely at the top.”

However, today’s message is not about the “leader”, but about the often underappreciated role that most of us play…The role of serving to get the job done.  Mostly out of the spotlight, behind the scenes, and without the typical fanfare that comes with the “lonely role at the top.”  Similar to an offensive lineman blocking for a great running back or providing protection for a great quarterback to find the open receiver, the offensive line, like many of us, do our job faithfully day in and day out without being in the spotlight.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, the commitment to keep moving forward in the quiet role of service to a cause bigger than ourselves will set a positive example for others to follow.

Although many times underappreciated, there is something extremely honorable about the commitment of those who get the job done in our workplace, our communities and our homes.  A tremendous example is quietly set by those getting up on a cold, dark morning and getting the job done on a consistent basis that is worthy of appreciation, but so often goes without it.  It does not matter what role we play; whether we get up and load boxes into a truck, pack a lunch for children, sit and hold grandchildren, or plan the strategy for an organization.  The day in day out choice we make to get up and get going despite going underappreciated for not just days, but perhaps years, is worthy of praise and honor.

Truth be told, our most underappreciated examples of honorable, quiet service most often occur with those closest to us in our homes and extended family.mother and two kids walking at sunset beach

We may not realize it, but those around us, whether they are our children, our coworkers, or our neighbors are all impacted by our example to serve.  The press can be fleeting and inaccurate over time on those individuals in high-level positions.  However, the day to day example of those in quiet service beyond the spotlight to a cause bigger than themselves and honorably fulfilling their commitments are to be given the highest praise for their impact is positive and lasting on those around them.

All of us, at certain points in our journey across the various roles we play, will feel underappreciated for our efforts.  Whether it is an insensitive spouse, a young adult going through that “know it all” phase, a preoccupied boss, or selfish coworkers, we all will go through times of service where we just feel underappreciated.

In most cases, especially in the home, the tide does eventually turn.  The insensitive spouse or the “know it all” young adult eventually has that “light-bulb” moment when they realize the quiet service that has been delivered faithfully over the years.  However, if they do not, it is important that we do not lose our drive to deliver on our commitments to do our job and fulfill our obligations.  Continuing to move forward in quiet service is the right thing to do.

If you have felt underappreciated for a while, take this writing as a little “pat on the back” of encouragement for a job and an example well done.  In addition, we all should do some self-reflection and see if we are that insensitive spouse, “know it all” young adult, preoccupied boss, or selfish co-worker and start today to put forth some encouragement and recognition to those who are in honorable, quiet service around us.

As we keep moving forward in quiet service out of the spotlight, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to have a positive impact in our world and on those closest to us.