Category Archives: Personal Growth

How to become more effective in your own life

Listening to Yourself

When you tune into your self talk, who’s doing all the talking?


Who’s in there behind your eyes making all that noise?

Do you ever really tune in and listen to your own inner chatter as if what was going on in there was worth listening to?

And, if and when you do tune-in, do you find you get caught up in the content?

  • Maybe you hear a belief “You’re a mess!
  • Which gets trumped by a judgment “At your age you really ought to have your act together.
  • Which is met with a comparison “In fact, look at X. She’s gone and really made something of her life.”
  • Which elicits a hopelessness “Go on then, just finish the cookies, get yourself into something baggy and just show up and sit at the back.
  • Which generates some anger “Damn it – you said you’d have this eating habit fixed after last year’s reunion and here you are again – what is with you?”
  • Which evokes some pity “Yea well, you’ve had it tough. Not everyone had to deal with everything you went through this last year so lighten up already”
  • Which engenders some sadness and the “conversation” moves from all this head chatter and suddenly your body feels heavy, deeply exhausted and deflated.

Sure, you can focus on the content, but where does that get you?

You probably get a bit lulled into the status quo of the familiar scripts and figure it’s just how folks talk to themselves. No big deal…nothing to be done.

But what if you could listen to yourself in such a way that you’d:

  • Recognize and get to know distinct inner Parts of yourself
  • Understand and appreciate how your Parts drive your behavior
  • Harness your judgment and criticism of others to transform your relationship with yourself
  • Release negative beliefs and cultivate self-compassion

Would you be interested?

OK – here’s how.

Recognize and get to know distinct inner Parts of yourself

Going back to the sample self-talk above, a simple shift in how you listen to yourself will deliver dramatically different results.

Instead of focusing on the content alone, note the content but say to yourself:

“I have a Part who . . .

  • Believes I’m a mess
  • Judges me for not having my act together
  • Compares me with others
  • Notices a hopelessness and just wants me to eat the cookies already
  • Gets angry that I don’t keep my promises to myself
  • Feels sorry for me, and reminds me it’s been one hell of a year
  • Drops into sadness so my whole body feels heavy, deeply exhausted and deflated.


Because it’s a divide and conquer thing.

If you tune into your inner chatter and back away from the static concluding it’s “just my old familiar monolithic negative self with a touch of self-pity and sadness” you’ll see no reason to grow from this. It’s too big and there’s no entry point.

If however, you decide to listen as if each of these Parts had a message for you, you can get curious and learn from the message.

There are 3 important rules for listening and learning from inner parts though.

  1. All Parts are trying to help. Their message might feel negative as in  “You’re a mess”, but the intent behind this could be, “Life’s tough when you’re a mess. I want to keep reminding you of this so you’ll be motivated to be a Not Mess.”
  2. The best attitude to have as you tune in to yourself is CURIOSITY. As soon as you detect something other than curiosity, you’re probably hearing from another Part…you’re not listening with an open heart any more.
  3. It helps to try and find out when this Part took on this message or belief. See if you can be present enough to that Part and his or her message and see what age you were when this Part first started talking to you.

OK – now you’re cultivating a relationship with Parts of you. This is way cool!

Understand and appreciate how your Parts drive your behavior

Building on the work you’ve done in the step above…once you’ve met a Part and come to get a feel for what it’s worried about and how old or young it is, you’ll probably start recognizing it in other areas of your life.

Take the hopeless Part in the above example.

I can relate!

I have a Part who gives up easily. She’s pretty quickly prone to hopelessness and she can drive my behavior if I’m not careful.

Screen shot 2015-05-13 at 3.39.31 PMIn fact, a trip to IKEA can bring her right out.

I stand looking at a wonderful cupboard with shelves and doors.

As soon as I see  “Tools and instructions included” my hopeless Part pops right up with ~

You’ll never make this! You’ll screw the wrong x into the wrong Y, break it and throw a tantrum. Move on!”

What’s just happened?

I’ve let a young hopeless Part drive my decision-making!

But I know this Part now. I can be the one who watches the inner drama unfold. I can love up my young hopeless one and let her know I can call a friend, I can slow down, I’m no longer 8 years old facing an incomprehensible math test (which is where my hopeless one got started). So, she does not have to drive my IKEA purchases any more!

Harness your judgment and criticism of others to transform your relationship with yourself

This is terrific – but it’s a heavy lifter and takes a degree of self-knowledge and a ton of self-compassion.

You tune in and you notice for example, you have a Part who feels super critical toward someone you know. Listen in. What all does this Part say?

In my case, I felt very judgmental about someone I did not know very well. Here’s the gist

  • She’s so uptight
  • She won’t let me get close to her
  • She’s not doing any of her own emotional homework
  • And so on.

OK now the heavy lifting.

I looked at one judgment at a time and asked myself ~

  • To what extent do I get uptight?
  • To what extent do I not let people get close to me?
  • To what extent do I avoid my own emotional homework?


If you let yourself sit with the enormity of how this “You spot it you got it” paradox, a powerful self-awareness and self/other compassion can burst through. Now those very people we most dislike can become helpful mirrors toward our own emotional and spiritual development.

Release negative beliefs and cultivate self-compassion

The key to all this inner listening is that with the recognition and witnessing can blossom loving self-acceptance.

These steps build one upon the other.

  1. First, you simply listen for Parts,
  2. Then, appreciate how they are powerful enough to drive behavior
  3. And also insightful enough to prod our journey of self-development
  4. So, we can get to the place were we can maybe invite some Parts to let go of negative beliefs and behaviors.

Have a go.

If this is working for you, I’m thrilled, and would love to hear about it.

If you get bogged down or stuck, that’s a good time for a little help. IFS therapists are particularly ready and equipped to help you.

OK – until next week.


FIRST TIME HERE? This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self


5 Ways To Be A Better Listener

Screen shot 2015-05-06 at 12.13.14 PM

Everybody’s talkin’ at me
Can’t hear a word they’re sayin’
Only the echos of my mind”

Remember that Fred Neil song?

Popularized by others – chiefly Harry Nilsson in Midnight Cowboy –  and covered by over 100 other artists, that lonesome feeling it evokes is perfect for today.

Not being heard, especially when surrounded by others, is as lonesome as it gets.

It’s sad when we feel this way. And, maybe it’s sadder still when we are the one’s not listening.

So, listen up folks – here’s the low down on listening.

  1. We’re all pretty bad at it. So first-off I’m inviting you to invest a delightful 7:46 minutes watching Julian Treasure’s TED Talk “5 Ways To Listen Better”. For those who don’t like to watch videos, I’ve printed out the main take-aways after the video, below.
  1. Ever noticed how you listen to yourself? I find we’re masters at ignoring, distorting, minimizing, ridiculing and avoiding ourselves. What’s with that? Tune-in on May 13th to re-tune your inner cacophony.
  1. Guess what? All those “skills” we use on ourselves – all that ignoring, distorting, minimizing, ridiculing and avoiding – this is how we treat others too. Not to mention the astonishing filters we employ to be sure not to let the words’ of others resonate within our hearts. May 20 we’ll attend to our attention.
  1. Once Upon A Time . . “  And finally, on May 27th, I invite you to pull up a rocker, snuggle up with a Blankie and allow yourself to be lulled by the magic of “Once Upon A Time.” There’s so much we can learn from listening like children; from listening as children. And, it’s great fun!


“Listening” in this series of articles is not just about sound. Julian’s TED talk is – but really for me this is about attention. Where and how we pay attention. I’d love to hear from any readers whose attention is exclusively brokered visually rather than both auditorily and visually. But please know I am thinking of you as I compose these pieces.

Here’s Julian’s TED talk.

Or, if you prefer, here are his ~

Five Simple Exercises to Improve Your Own Conscious Listening.


Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate your attention so that you can hear the quiet again. If you can’t get absolute silence, go for quiet, that’s absolutely fine.


Even when you are in a noisy environment, like a hectic coffee shop for example, let yourself notice how many individual channels you can identify. Maybe an espresso machine; cups rattling; a dishwasher; distant conversation; close-up conversation; an ambulance siren. Or, take nature. How many distinct noises do you hear? How many birds am I hearing? Where are they? Where are those ripples? It’s a great exercise for improving the quality of your listening.


This is a beautiful exercise. It’s about enjoying mundane sounds. Focus on one familiar sound. Julian notices his tumble dryer and observes ~ “It’s a waltz. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. I love it !” Mundane sounds can be really interesting if you pay attention. I call that the hidden choir. It’s around us all the time.


Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 3.14.52 PMThis is the idea that you can move your listening position to what’s appropriate to what you’re listening to.

Try these for a start 

Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 2.54.24 PMIt’s playing with those filters. It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.

Here are some typical filters


RASA, which is the Sanskrit word for juice or essence.

And RASA stands for

Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 3.15.08 PM

Receive, which means pay attention to the person;

Appreciate, making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “okay”;

Summarize, the word “so” is very important in communication;

Ask, ask questions afterward.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

The 7 Deadliest Fights & How To Fight Fair

“We don’t have conversations – we have fights!”

writes one honest reader.

OK – let’s talk about fights. Not what I’d planned, but a very fair point which needs addressing somewhere in a year dedicated to building skills for great relationships.

Of course fights happen, but fighting per se is neither a predictor of divorce nor the death knell for friendships. What matters is HOW you fight. In my experience fights can bring you closer. Fighting means you still care, you are hot and passionate about an issue. And, fights can allow you to get real with one another. But, the wrong sort of fight creates so much pain it can become impossible to stay married.

I’m indebted to Dr. John Gottman for the main ideas here – particularly these 2 books: .

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last

So this week and next I’m exploring the 7 deadliest fights. We’ll look at what makes a particular way of fighting so damaging and then – since this blog is about fostering great relationships – we’ll look at how to take that anger and transform it into a fight where you can be real about your thoughts, feelings and needs whilst also being decent and kind.

So here they are ~ The 7 Deadliest Fight Strategies

  1. Attacking
  2. Belittling
  3. Criticizing
  4. Contemptuousness
  5. Defensiveness
  6. Escaping
  7. Escalating

(Today I’m writing about 1 – 4. Next week, 5 – 7. Too long for one week.)

Deadly Fight #1 – ATTACKING

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 1.13.00 PM

This is when, in the heat of the moment, you launch verbal missiles at your partner. Often this is a unilateral strike that comes, according to the other, out of nowhere. You launch an angry attack with both guns loaded and firing in such a way that your partner experiences you as angry, hostile, frightening and accusatory.

Maybe it sounds like ~

“I’m so mad at you I could scream!”
“You never listen!”
“How come you are so inconsiderate?”
“How dare you look at me that way!”

What you’re doing is letting off steam regardless of the impact of your anger. You’re probably too upset to know what you feel or need in this moment, so you just emote. It’s a grown up version of a toddler tantrum.

The problem with this is ~

Two-fold. An attack won’t help you solve the problem that precipitated your rage. Conversations tend to end at the same level of emotional heat they began with. In other words, if you start the conversation by shouting, it will likely end with shouting.

But, perhaps even more of a problem than the level of noise is the impact your attack is having on your partner.

Right when you need to be available to one another to solve a problem, your attack will have effectively undermined your “opponent’s” resourcefulness. Fighting is stressful, and stress causes vivid but different responses in men and woman.

The classic “fight/flight” response (coined by Walter Cannon in 1932 and understood as acurate for men and women through 1995 in studies with only 17% female participants!) will kick in for men. This means a hormonal cocktail including epinephrine and norepinephrine will cascade through their system, sending blood from the brain to the extremities preparing them to fight or run. So – if a woman yells at a man, he’s going to either stand there while his body prepares him for a fist fight (not an option in loving relationships) whilst depriving him of his thinking capacity (what he needs when the fight is with words), or of course, he might just leave with an impressive door slam.

Women’s hormones will be inducing the “tend and befriend” response. They will want to reach out – possibly using more words to seek connection, which is not a good match for the now semi-wordless male. Or, they’ll reach out to other women to process the event and get back to the man when they have both cooled down. Not a bad idea – but it would be even better without that initial damaging attack.

Gay? Research seems to indicate that it’s the level of testosterone which determines how the stress response is experienced by any particular individual.

Interested in reading more about the biological responses to fights? Here is one about the male/female contrast
And here is one about the new 2000 study on the female stress response.

STOP!  Right when you feel that flare-up of rage, stop and give yourself a time-out. But, you must tell your partner what is happening. Don’t just storm off. Say something like this: “I’m really angry. I don’t want to attack you as I usually do since I know that’s hurtful. I need some time to sort through what’s making me so mad, and then perhaps we can talk about it more calmly.”

Deadly Fight #2 – BELITTLING

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 1.11.57 PMThe saddest thing about belittling your partner is that putting someone down tends to stem from a deep place. You can only belittle another person when you actually see them as “less than” in some way.

At some point you convince yourself that your partner is not pulling his or her equal weight in the relationship and you begin to tell yourself a story about this.

You don’t recognize or value whatever it is your partner is doing. To the extent you married someone you once found to be intelligent and wonderful, they will know your put-downs come from some judgment about them, which makes this a very hurtful fighting tactic to be on the receiving end of.

Maybe it sounds like ~

“I don’t have time for this stuff just now.”
“You’ve no idea how much I do around here.”
“Look, if I stop doing what I’m doing, we’ll all suffer.”
“Oh, what you did was supposed to be helpful?”

What you are doing is focusing too narrowly on your contribution and your need to have your partner recognize everything you are doing. You are, however, most likely not taking the time to reciprocate. You may be feeling too indignant at your perception of the unequal distribution of effort, but you are most likely missing a great deal of the bigger picture here too.

The problem with this is ~

That it won’t work to elicit gratitude or renewed effort on behalf of your partner. Indeed, the more you see your partner’s contribution as lacking, the more your partner will feel insignificant in your eyes. When this happens, your partner will seek significance elsewhere. This can lead to infidelity or separation at worst, or to a growing distance between you in which you live parallel lives seeking attention and significance outside the relationship.

APPRECIATE one small thing. Stop before you make any more observations about your partner’s lack of effort or contribution, release the comparison, the  judgment, the habit of focusing on the negative. Allow yourself to become aware of what your partner IS doing.

Right before you lob out another put down, swallow hard and think of something your partner did that you do appreciate, however small. Maybe one of these is true? “Hey, I really appreciate that you . . .”

  • “Earn a good living for our family;”
  • “Shopped for the groceries on the way home; “
  • “Rub my feet when we watch movies.”
  • “Made the bed;”
  • “Walk the dogs regularly.”

Small appreciations, noticed regularly will allow your partner to stop experiencing him or herself as insignificant in your eyes. This may empower them to behave in ways that are more impressive to you.

You are effectively honoring and elevating the behaviors you want more of rather than focusing exclusively on those you want less of.

Deadly Fight #3 – CRITICIZING

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 1.10.13 PMCriticism takes legitimate complaints – about specific actions or attitudes – to a whole new level by changing the issue from the specific problem to a character assignation.

Maybe it sounds like ~

“You just don’t care about our home.”
“You’re so lazy, look at all those dishes in the sink!”
“You were unbelievably rude to my friend.”
“You’re hopeless – I have to remind you all the time to do this.”

What you’re doing is moving into the dangerous ground of globalizing one specific problem into a general personality flaw. This is a bad habit to get into because once you start to use words like “You’re lazy!” when you see a few things left undone, you begin to believe yourself. And there is a big difference between living with a partner who leaves the occasional task undone and being with a partner who is fundamentally lazy. And your partner knows this too.

The problem with this is ~

That criticism is not a motivator. It has the opposite effect. Most people can’t tolerate criticism from family members. It drives a wedge and creates unnecessary friction.


First, ask yourself this:

“Do I want to live with a lazy, rude, uncaring and hopeless partner, or
do I want to live with someone who blows it from time to time but is a good person?”

You live with the person you see. So, start seeing them as forgetful by all means, but stay
focused on the specific complaint with a request for them to keep commitments. Lose the
character assignation.


  • “You just don’t care about our home.” BECOMES “When you leave clutter behind you everywhere you go, I begin to think you don’t care about our home. Would you be willing to pick up your things when you’re done with them?”
  • “You’re so lazy, look at all those dishes in the sink!” BECOMES  “Hey – would you be willing to either wash your dishes after a meal or put them in the dishwasher?”
  • “You were unbelievably rude to my friend.” BECOMES “Not sure if you noticed, but you interrupted Meg at least three times tonight. I know she’s quiet and shy, but in my book, interrupting is rude.”
  • “You’re hopeless – I have to remind you all the time to do this.” BECOMES  “Can you shut the door?” (Just remind them if they need it. Ditch the character assignation.)


Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 1.11.06 PM

Contempt is the most damaging response you could possibly offer (short of physical violence) to a disagreement. If you are in the habit of feeling contemptuous of your partner – of mocking them, of rolling your eyes in response to something they say or do, of smirking behind their back in a private joke with someone else – this is contempt.

Maybe it sounds like ~

“You really think I’d read a book you recommend?”
“Oh yes, well see how that works for you then!”
“Great, now you have an idea and you expect me to hear it.”
“Oh heavens!” (
with an eye roll)

When you express contempt for someone it means you have (maybe unwittingly) made a negative judgment about their moral or social standing. And at the same time, you see yourself as above this. In a way you are bordering on a feeling of disgust for the other person’s speech, thoughts, looks, behavior, gender, essence.

The problem with this is ~

It’s deadly! To feel you are the object of disgust in the eyes of the person you love is devastating. Studies show that once contempt has moved in, the relationship is close to death.

one thing. Take a breath. If you are genuinely beginning to feel disgust for the person you live with and in theory love, you need to get help. You can turn this around, but you are on very dangerous ground. Give yourself a time out. Do all you can to remember what you used to cherish about this person.

Even if that quality seems to have vanished – remember it now. Where did that person go? If you look for that person, might you find them? If you are using contempt toward your partner to gain status with those around you, take a good hard look at yourself. Your attempt to make yourself bigger at the expense of your partner might just drive your partner away.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

The 5 Principles For Great Conversation

Great conversations don’t just happen.

Good ones – maybe.  Mediocre ones – sure.

But to cultivate the habit of robust, satisfying conversations with your ~

  • Sweetie
  • Spouse
  • Child
  • Sibling
  • In-laws
  • Friend

pull up a chair.

Here are 5 (I think fun) principles to help keep your conversations working for you, rather than against you.

1. Every Conversation Counts

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 9.42.40 AMRemember the 5:1 ratio (see here).

Relationships sink or swim one conversation at a time.

It’s not as if we need to be on high alert every time we open our mouths. But it is good to be prepared.

Just as you’d be unwise to show up for a multi-day back-packing trip with an injury, no  map, no route, no clear destination and no provisions, so likewise you’d be daft to to launch into an important conversation in a foul mood, with no idea of where you want this to go, no thought for what you need from your conversation partner and no energy for the effort.

Since every conversation you have with someone important to you will bring you closer or push you apart, it pays to figure out what’s happening.

Remember the five types of conversation?

  • Connecting – the frequent comings and goings and ins and outs of relating;
  • Deepening – the processing of life’s ups and downs;
  • Transacting – the tasks of living, giving-&-taking that demand some finesse;
  • Transforming – that invitation to grow oneself up that relating invites;
  • Healing – that loving solace we find in one another.

So the first principle – that every conversation counts – means being aware of what’s going to happen. Is this “just” a connective “Hi, you’re on my radar!” few sentences. Or do you need to talk with your best friend because you felt hurt by her actions? The latter will need a bit more emotional preparedness.

2.  Attend to what you feel and need.

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 10.29.43 AMEver been in a conversation where the speaker’s words and body language/energy were at odds? That dis-connect feeling?

The gritty fixed grin that comes with the words, “No no, I’m fine.”

The fleeting sigh of anguish accompanied by “No, there’s nothing you need to do.”

(Click the image for a list of words for feelings – or you can click this Words for Feelings-2015 )

Say you need to have a transacting conversation with your spouse. “Transacting”? That’s when you need to talk about something important and make some decisions. It’s way more than a simple connecting “Hi, you’re on my radar”. It’s going to need a deeper level of attentiveness and care.

You’ve been offered a huge promotion and need to talk through whether to take it. Before you launch into the conversation, check in to see what you feel and need.

Are you feeling ~

  • Flattered – it’s about time they valued you!
  • Frightened – holy smokes that will mean a lot of work!
  • Frustrated – you’d love to take the job but it means a move and the family is finally rooted.

Now you can begin the conversation by bringing all of this to the table:

“You know – I finally got offered that promotion I’ve been hoping for and now that I have it within my grasp, I’ve got really mixed feelings.”

Knowing you have mixed feelings, you’ll be clearer about what you need from your listener to start with:

Can we just go back and forth with the pros and cons for a while before we even think about the logistics of a move?

 3.  Attend to what they feel and need.

 Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 11.02.51 AMThe other day a client told me how she recently had the chance to do just what I recommend in #2 above. She saw a friend who’d hurt her feelings badly and was finally able to snag her at a party and tell her how these actions had made her feel and what she’d needed from this woman that would have helped.

It bombed! The woman appeared to listen but right after, got up and left the party. My client has neither seen nor heard from her since.

What went wrong?

(See above for a list of needs.)

My client forgot to consider what her friend might feel or need right then.

Remember, this is an article about conversation. It’s a pas-de-deux, not a solo. We have to keep alert for how our steps in the dance impact our partner.

How to do this?

If you’re about to embark on a tough conversation, like the one my client faced, check in first.

Hey Mandy. Good to see you again. I’ve not seen you since we had that difficult situation go down. I’ve been feeling sort of sad and distant ever since. I’m wondering how you’re doing. Is this a good time to talk about it? “

Stay alert to the idea that it really does take two to tango. You may be aware of your feelings and needs, but if you are trying to have a “deep and meaningful” conversation with someone else you’ll do much better knowing as much as you can about their inner state.

4.  Think “Improv” not Tennis.

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 11.16.55 AMGood, mutually satisfying conversations look like great improv scenes with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, not like foul-mouthed Jimmy Conners slamming the ball back and forth with tantrum-prone John McEnroe.

To take a ho-hum conversation to the “great” and even “great fun” level, definitely go improv over tennis.

Here are Four Rules of Improv, from Tina Fey’s ideas in Bossypants. I really encourage you to click this one page excerpt from the book – Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv and read Tina’s words. She writes as well as she improvises.

RULE #1 ~ Say “Yes.”

  • Start by agreeing with their point: you can shift directions in a moment.
  • Show respect for them as a person: who wants to build a relationship with anyone who disrespects us?

RULE #2 ~ Say “Yes, and . . . “

  • Agree, and add a gift.
  • Contribute something of your own.

RULE #3 ~ Make statements

  • Stop hiding behind questions to much.
  • Think a bit.
  • Be part of the solution.

RULE #4 ~ There are no mistakes.

  • Only opportunities!
  • Beautiful happy accidents.
  • New venues to explore.

5.  Know When to Insert A Period

Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 11.38.30 AM

If you are in a long-term relationship with someone, conversations really never end. They just get punctuated. Maybe you have fifteen minutes to talk about the job promotion but then life interferes – one of you gets tired; or the boss calls; or a kid needs you; or you remember that other conversation you were mid-way through from this morning . . .

It’s OK to punctuate your conversations. Maybe this one needs a comma? “Shall we continue whilst we prep dinner together? Right now I‘m distracted by my rumbling stomach?”

A period? “I’m swiped. I think I’d appreciate sleeping on this. Can we pick this back up on Thursday after work?”

Again, good, satisfying conversations are the thread that stitches your relationship together over time, across space. As much as you can, allow the reality of both protagonists to influence the winding journey any conversation might take.


Here we are on week 3 of a month-long exploration of great conversations and I’ve not focused on listening.

That’s not because I don’t think it’s important!

It’s because it is SO important it gets its own month.

May is all about listening.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation


How To Never Be Boring

Or ~ The Five Levels of Conversation

 You’ve been bored before, right?

(Yeah, yeah – maybe even here!)

See if these are the sorts of conversation agonies that bore you:

  • The Prima Donna talks only about herself;
  • The Pulpit-Hog launches into lengthy “sermons;”
  • The Unobservant has no idea your eyes have long glazed over;
  • The Prude avoids the pith and zest of life;
  • The Afraid-to-Offend sticks to topics so fluffy they are content-free;
  • The Conflict-Averse never utters anything worth arguing about;
  • The Disinterested-in-Life can find nothing of interest to share;
  • The Puritan won’t tell or “get” a joke;
  • The Cliché-Hound offers up nothing but (you got it) “Clichés”

So – in the face of these onslaughts to our time and intelligence, we have options.

If we’re at one of those compulsory-enjoyment parties, encountering one of the above one could ~

  • Urgently fain illness or incontinence and speed to the nearest facilities;
  • Politely swoon from hunger or thirst and make for the food and beverage trays;
  • Become exasperated with your (where-have-I-put-the rascal?) missing hearing aid and head to your car;
  • Seek revenge by introducing your companion to someone else;
  • Or – one can jump ahead to HELP – WHAT TO DO? below for a kinder approach.

And if we find we are growing bored by our own beloved over the morning coffee, we most definitely will want to invest in a kinder approach.


We get bored when people hide.

When they don’t show up with honesty, courage, authenticity and some excitement for who they are so we can pick up on that.

And, when they are oblivious to us as their companion on this journey of conversation. So, for a person not to be boring, they need to come out from behind their hiding place.

Check out these five levels of conversation which explain this idea.

The Five Levels of Conversation

Level 5: Small Talk. Verbal ping-pong designed to keep the ball in the air. Fluff for avoiding silences. We tend to be neither invested nor particularly attentive. E.g.,


“Going well?”

“How are things?”

It’s the filling of silence. We don’t really care what we hear back. At a party it’s tolerable. In a long-term relationship it’s death. If we are stuck with someone caught up in fluff, invite them to drop down a level. Can they share some interesting facts? What have they done lately? What are they hoping to do? It’s OK to stay with the facts m’am.

Level 4: Factual Conversation. He-said / she-said.

My Dad (bless him!) dwelt here. He loved the “Name that fact” game. This first is one of his.

  • “How many gallons of fuel do you think it takes to run the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria?”

But all of these fit this category.

  • “What was the score?”
  • “Did I tell you about that time when I drove cross country and…..”
  • “Hey I put my four point seven on my eight three cos it was blowing twenty plus but it really must have been closer to thirty so I switched to my four point two and put it on my seven eleven.” (Yes – this is how my husband Mark would talk to his wind-surf buddies at the Columbia George back in the 1980s)

Functional, maybe. Factual, probably. But not sustainable over the long haul! If we are stuck with someone fixated on facts, invite them to drop down a level. Might they have an opinion about a particular fact? Is something too long, too much, too loud? What might they dare risk thinking about something?

Level 3: Ideas and Opinions.

Getting better here. For those bores at a party who are loath to show up with a genuine thought or opinion, encouraging them with questions about their ideas and opinions can invite them to come out from behind themselves. If they are hogging the floor with their ideas and opinions, obviously the challenge is for you to insert yours somewhere.

I remember a great opening gambit I found quite shocking at a party in Auckland when we lived there:

You know (said a guest at a party) I think we ought to ban all cats from the country. All house cats, all pets.”

As a dog and cat lover I was shocked. “Whatever for?” I asked.

Cats are eating our endangered song birds and ground nesting birds. They are a total menace!” was the response. OK – fair enough. There’s grist for the conversation mill for sure.

So, while you are stepping toward intimacy there is a danger you may stay in the head-trippy place of ideas and opinions. If we are stuck with someone caught up in opinions, invite them to drop down a level. Opinions are a terrific step – and can they risk telling us how they feel about an issue? Sure, in their opinion cats ought to be slaughtered, but how do they feel about the song birds? What sparked this love and loyalty? Do they have a song-bird tale to tell?

Level 2: Feelings and Emotions.

Now we’re getting somewhere. How you feel about what is going on in your life is gritty, real, and intimate. The stuff of true relating.

So are you angry, frustrated, excited, overwhelmed, resentful, excited?

Going back and forth with someone you want to get to know more fully, or someone you know and care about – this is real communication now.

A wonderful combo is to alternate ideas and opinions with how you feel about it.

You know – I hear you about that cat-ban. I love the songbirds too. And, I love my cats! They are part of my family. And it seems to me to be morally offensive to have a government, or special-interest, dictate to me the nature of my household – which species I may or may not live with. I think we need to find another way through this difficulty.”

It is hard to feel “stuck” here. This is a terrific level of communication and many of us are happy to bob and weave through the first four levels. If we are truly in synch with a beloved however, we might find ourselves so moved, so connected that a sharing of feelings and emotions between people. becomes transformative.

Level 1: Deep Insight.

We are up in rarefied air here. This is that place where the connection between two people is transformative. From time to time you may find yourself perfectly in tune with someone else. There is an understanding, closeness, and deep emotional connection. Ideally this happens between people who love and are committed to one another. Not every day for sure – but enough. What might that look like? This is not necessarily a true tale, but imagine if the cat lover and song bird rescuer had been able to have a deeply respectful conversation – might they have come up with this idea… of finding ways for cats and song birds to co-habit? This deep soul connection conversation is not always about finding win-win solutions to shared issues. It happens in my office a lot when two people are willing to show vulnerability; to express pain, to listen to the other person’s vulnerability. And this is a sweet story about a woman who resolved the song bird and cat issue!


Here is a fun article about how feeling bored (not just bored by conversation – but that deeper boredom) can be a great catalyst for social engagement. See what you think!


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list →    → Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

Five Conversations

When I was twenty-something my boss, who was thirty-something, told me “When you’ve been married a while, you begin to have the same conversation over and over again.”

I was newly in love and this seemed like an impossible nightmare. We – Mark and I – would never run out of things to learn, to say, to inspire, to challenge, to encourage, to deepen our love.

Now we’ve been married for thirty-something years and we’re working to keep things fresh: Mostly. It’s a journey. It’s a conscious effort. When you say “’Til death do us part” these days – man – that can be a L O N G time. How do folks keep conversations fresh, connective, helpful, real?

And, that’s only one challenge for “The Conversation” – that relationship heavy lifter; that bridge over troubled waters; that small brave rocket launched from one soul to another across unfathomable distances of culture, meaning and interpretation to land into what – hostile waters? Toxic air? Fertile ground? We often don’t know, when we launch that first “Hello!”

But, if we are to be in relationship to someone else we must keep launching our words as emissaries of hope and tentative connection else – what? Radio static? Terrifyingly unfathomable silence?

OK – enough of the hyperbole. I had fun there.

But I have – through years of conversations as a professional therapist, wife, mother, sister, friend – discovered The Rule of Five when it comes to learning about and engaging in great, powerful, connective conversations.

I figure there are ~

  1. Five Assumptions I’m Making
  2. Five Conversations
  3. Five Principles of Great Conversations
  4. Five Levels of Intimacy
  5. Five Conversation Killers

And, as luck would have it, there are five Wednesdays in April for me to share each of these!

Today I’m going with 1 and 2 since you’ll need to know my assumptions. And besides, I need week five for that little something special I have up my sleeve!

 Five Assumptions I’m Making

  1. You want great relationships – not mediocre ones. This teaching goes beyond Conversation 101.
  2. You are self-aware and learning all the time. These ideas are not for the denizens of denial.
  3. You are willing to take responsibility for quality conversations. This is not for the whiners and complainers.
  4. While you can use this information at a one-off work social, these tips are intended for those wanting, or in, longer-term relationships.
  5. “Conversation” is not just about the words. It includes the silences and non-verbal overlays.

The Five [Types of] Conversations

When you’re in a relationship for the long haul (think partner, parents, in-laws, kids) your conversations have to be versatile. Marriages don’t survive on the “What’s your favorite movie?” or “How was lunch?” level.

You need to navigate the ~

  1. Connecting – the frequent comings and goings and ins and outs of relating;
  2. Deepening – the processing of life’s ups and downs;
  3. Transacting – the tasks of living and giving and taking that demand some finesse;
  4. Transforming – that invitation to grow oneself-up that relating precipitates;
  5. Healing – the willingness to apologize and forgive when we hurt one another.

These are different skills.

1.  Connectingthe frequent comings and goings and ins and outs of relating

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 8.11.51 AMSo OK – every relationship starts someplace. Maybe even at the office social. At one end of connecting therefore is that “What’s my opening gambit?” fear. How do I know if I even want to get to know X or Y more fully if I can’t pluck up the courage to say “Boo.”

Here’s an info-graphic based on shyness-expert Professor Bernardo J. Carducci’s five (that “Five” again!) stages of a successful conversation.

But out beyond the initial connection, every-day connecting and re-connecting comprise the warp threads of long term relating. All day, every day – with people who matter to us – we’re structuring our relationship through conversational bids for connection. They look like this:

  • Did you see that sunrise? Boy it was breathtaking today!
  • I found a new farm for happy-chicken, free-range eggs. What do you think of them?
  • Oh, the neighbors are putting in a new planter box – I wonder what they’ll grow.

Yup – seriously folks. These are long-term-relationship conversational bids for connection. You know how you could blow it? By hearing them as slightly mad one-liners, instead of conversational openers. Sure they could be the mad mutterings of the old cat lady down the road, but if you want a great relationship with the mutterer in your life then you need to also hear what is underneath: you need to listen for the unspoken sub text, which is “Hi there! You’re on my radar. Am I on yours?” And yes, you need to respond.

These Connecting Conversations do not have to be long. A little friendly volley works wonders. Not in the mood? Nurturing the inner grump today? No worries, as Dan Wile writes, you can still honor the spirit of a Connecting Conversation by simply commenting on your state: “Hon, I’m all over those eggs. Right now I gotta dash. See you tonight – good luck with that meeting.” That right there – while brisk, is not brusque. It lets a partner know you heard and they are indeed still an important blip on your radar.

2.  Deepeningthe processing of life’s ups and downs

If Connecting is the warp thread, Deepening is the woof. Every day we rally forth into the world to study, work, play, teach, shop, search – whatever. And we come back with our share of triumph and tragedy. It’s with our loved ones that we process this stuff – or at least, ideally. It’s how we converse about these daily experiences that builds or erodes our mutual trust, love and attachment.

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.01.31 PMThese conversations tend to go well to the extent one or both parties have some emotional fluency. For a brief overview I’m going to paraphrase from that master of emotional intelligence, Haim Ginott as explained in Chapter 1 of Faber & Mazlish’s  How To Talk So Kids Will Listen (yes, this works for grown-ups too).

So, imagine it’s the end of the day and you’re regrouping as a family. One of you has suffered some sort of indignation and wants to use this Deepening Conversation (though they don’t use that term!) to process what went down. They want to feel better. To understand why it felt so bad. To see if they need to respond. What do they need to keep this conversation feeling helpful and good?

Here are 7 things they do not need!

  1. Denial of feelings ~ “There’s no reason to be upset. It’s foolish to feel that way. You’re probably just tired and blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Come on, cheer up!”
  2. Philosophy ~ “Look, life’s like that. You can’t always get what you want. You need to learn how to take things in stride. Nothing’s perfect.”
  3. Advice ~ “Here’s what I think you ought to do. Tomorrow go here and say that. Don’t get sidetracked…”
  4. Questions ~ “Well what did you do that precipitated this whole thing? Didn’t you think of that? Didn’t this same thing happen last month?
  5. Defending the other person ~ “No wonder X did this. You were a total jerk! You’re lucky it wasn’t worse!”
  6. Pity ~ “Oh you poor thing! That’s just terrible! I feel SO sorry for you.”
  7. Psychoanalysis ~ “Has it ever occurred to you that the real reason you are so upset is that this reminds you of how your father treated you, and you always over-reacted to him?”

So, what might forward this conversation in a way that deepens your relationship?

  • Empathy ~ “Boy that sounds like a rough experience. To have that happen at work, in front of X and Y, especially after all the effort you put in, must have been pretty hard to take!”
  • Follow-up ~ “What do you need right now, to move forward with this?

So, deepening conversations do more than Connecting. They let the other person know you not only heard them, but you are seeking to understand their experiences and get on their team. Once you respond thoughtfully, empathically, these conversations will keep spiraling deeper – have a go. See what you notice.

3.  Transactingthe tasks of living and giving and taking that demand some finesse

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.21.48 PMThese are those grittier conversations which often take place at that edge where we bug one another.

The proverbial toothpaste and toilet seat perennial arguments that marriages are purported to crash upon.

No more!

For these conversations, I am totally indebted to Marshall Rosenberg and his work in developing and teaching a process he calls Non-Violent Communication.

Whether you click on the graphic or download the PDF here – 4part_nvc_process – you’ll have a brief over-view of a hugely helpful 4 part process for figuring out how to have a conversation about needs that not only helps you get those needs met, but also deepens your relationship.

This is such a super important issue for great relationships, I’m dedicating the whole month of August to the topic. So – do please come back!

4.  Transformingthat invitation to grow oneself-up that relating precipitates

The origin of the word and concept behind “conversation” – according to the online etymology dictionary, is ~

mid-14c., “living together, having dealings with others,” also “manner of conducting oneself in the world;” from Old French conversation, from Latin conversationem (nominative conversatio) “act of living with,” noun of action from past participle stem of conversari “to live with, keep company with,” literally “turn about with,” from Latin com- “with” (see com-) + vertare, frequentative of vertere (see versus).

which seems to imply a more snap-shot of what is than a transformative anything.

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.51.17 PMHowever, the fact of living together and being with one another can be transformative.

I’ve seen it in my work for years. We can be called forth to be better.

Again, a lofty topic worth taking time over, and here is a wonderful little book that will help you get there, from Mona Barbera.

Two key concepts to whet your appetite?

  1. The intense pain you think [the other person] is causing is really your own.
  2. No matter what [the other person] is dishing out, you can choose to give better back.

Mona’s book is targeting couples, but her ideas are universal and can absolutely help you use these forms of Transformative Conversation to do just that – to become a bigger you.

5.  Healing – the willingness to apologize and forgive when we hurt one another

Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 2.35.49 PM

Another whopper as far as relationship resiliency goes, and one that is getting covered in depth in October (Apologizing) and November (Forgiving).

If you are keen to get a feel for how these conversations might look, you could visit these articles I wrote in 2012:

Come Fall, I’ll rework these articles – so again, do come back!


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list →    → Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

Is Understanding Overrated?

I’ve never forgotten the night my friend Peter agreed to wash his wife’s feet.

He had absolutely NO clue as to why she wanted those feet washed. But he accepted her request at face value, helped her to the edge of the bath, and washed them carefully.

They were trying to get out of the house around 3:00am so Anne could give birth in the hospital – not their living room. Water had broken. Labor was coming on hard. Anne simply insisted. “Peter – you have to wash my feet. Now.

Imagine how things might have gone if he’d said,“Now honey, why on earth do you want to wash your feet?

Right there, between “understanding” and “acceptance,” what did Anne need most?

In creating a year-long series about great relationships, I’ve just spent the first 12 weeks promoting “understanding.”

You know, stuff like understanding yourself and ~

And, enough of yourself already. I’ve been encouraging you to understand ~

I find myself wondering, if I have overestimated understanding?

Why do you ask “why?” ?

Possibility A ~ Because you are genuinely curious and want to understand as much as possible about this person in order to fully accept and appreciate them? This builds relationship – we all love to feel accepted and appreciated.

Possibility B ~ Because you think this person is a fruit loop and you want ammunition to prove this to them? This undermines relationship because it’s a slippery slope from here to contempt.

We might try and believe we’re “give-the-benefit-of-the-doubt, curious, A folks”. But my guess is more often than not we’re  “hang-’em-by-their-own-rope”  B folks.

In the normal scheme of things you can get away with that. But if you want a great relationship with someone you’re going to have to tone down that poised-for-attack “why” – which sounds more like “WHY!” than “why?”

Even more than understanding, great relationships rely on a whole heap of  ~

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 9.56.55 PM


When you find yourself about to blurt the “why” bomb,  try this.

Be honest  –  What are you up to?

Do you want to understand this person so you can love and accept them more wholeheartedly?

Or have you already decided “Fruit-Loop!” and your “Why!” is more in scorn, disbelief and a hope they prove you right?

Consider  ~ your motive. Which of these two “why” alternatives is closest to what you mean?

A. “I’m interested. Would you be willing to tell me more about this?

B. “I can’t believe you just said that and now I want to know how nuts you really are, so do say more…

If your  thinking is closer to Option A your “why” will probably communicate interest and maybe even acceptance.

If your thinking is closer to Option B, it gets more complicated.

If you’re Peter and you love your wife and know it makes no difference how she might answer his “Why?” you could jump to “OK.”

If your kid has just announced his interest in knowing how many Oreos he can eat in 1 minute and you think this is gross and have no interest in indulging his curiosity, rather that a dismissive or scornful “Why!”  try simply acknowledging what you hear with a bit of warmth: “Wow – you wonder about that! Want to take a guess?”

If it’s your partner telling you something you don’t like try dumping the semi-hostile “Why!” (since you don’t really want to understand them anyway-right?) and try honesty. “Hum, I don’t agree. Do you want to tell me more so we can find a compromise?”

Why does this matter? ~ Respect always trumps disrespect & contempt.

I know! ~ There are loads of exceptions. Not all questions are asked because you want to get to “acceptance.” I’m writing this to move the bar a tad in that direction and invite you to notice how you use that all too ubiquitous three letter bomb.

What you discover could be interesting.

NEXT WEEK? With April, our focus shifts from Understanding, to Connecting.  First topic? Mastering the Art of Conversation.

FIRST TIME HERE? This is the thirteenth article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list →    → Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

2 Magic Ratios for Great Relationships

Math that makes sense for your relationships . . .

 The 1 : 3 Rule

Every time you interact with another human being one of three things happens.

  1. You feel closer to them
  2. You reinforce what you already feel
  3. You feel more distant

Yes. Every time.

Day in and day out, you are constantly shifting position on some internal ratings scale on your partner’s scorecard. On your kid’s score card. On your boss’s score card. Though in truth these 3 constituencies are each tracking and scoring different things.

Partners want to know “Are we securely attached? Does h/she still love me?”

Children want to know “Is my parent on my team? Am I lovable?”

The boss wants to know “Is this employee worth what I pay him/her?”

More or less anyway.

We humans are counters, quantifiers and score-keepers when we are together.

Evolutionarily speaking it helped us – Is this person safe? Really safe? Not so safe?

Today we’re less evaluating physical safety (though this can be present to a certain degree), but we are evaluating emotional safety. And the thing is, this calculator never gets turned off!

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 4.06.59 PMIf your spouse looks up in the morning when you come into the kitchen and smiles, or better yet gives you a big hug, they’ll get a point in your “I feel loved by this person” box.

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 4.09.04 PMIf they behave in a way that seems – to a neutral observer – to be neither particularly loving nor particularly unkind, you probably won’t bother to score them. No new points get added either for or against. This simply reinforces what you already feel.

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 4.11.03 PMIf, when you walk into the room, your partner walks out, or buries themselves in the newspaper, or gets busy with the social media so you feel excluded and unwelcome, then this person will get a point in your “I feel unloved and pushed away by this person” box.

Have you noticed this?


This matters because we live word by word. Look by look. Gesture by gesture.

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 7.58.26 AM

Relationships are built or destroyed moment by moment.

Not “in one moment” – don’t get me wrong. But by the accumulation of moments, recorded on your scorecard. The way the stalactites and stalagmites grow in caves – one drop at a time until they are sharp enough to pierce your heart.

Moving on to a money metaphor, every day you are doing one of these three things in your relationships:

  1. Depositing good feelings.
  2. Ignoring the bank account (whilst either paying bank fees or accruing interest)
  3. Withdrawing or subtracting good feelings.

If you keep on withdrawing – you go broke. This is not rocket science!

If you are not paying attention to the balance sheet, you’ll find yourself suddenly out of love. You’ll have squandered numerous small occasions where you could have made a deposit.

And, just like your bank, if you drop below a certain minimum balance you get charged bank fees and if you are above a certain threshold the bank pays you interest, it’s the same difference with our emotional scorecards.

Even if you are behaving “neutrally” (being neither nasty nor nice) your partner will “score” you depending upon whether you’ve met certain minimum standards. If you are typically seen as loving and supportive, even your neutral behaviors will get the benefit of the doubt. But if you are typically seen as distant and unsupportive, your neutral stance will be judged negatively. You could be draining your love bank unwittingly…


Forewarned is forearmed.

Be aware of how anything you say or do might be received. Which scorecard will get a point if you say what you want to say right now? Can you afford this?

If what you plan to say is more likely to be perceived negatively – you better keep on reading . . .

The 5 : 1 Rule

If you want great relationships, you need to keep the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions at a ratio of at least 5 positive to 1 negative – even in conflict.

Yup – negative interactions don’t immediately kill relationships.

You can slip up and be ~

  • Thoughtless
  • Unkind
  • Critical
  • Forgetful
  • Selfish
  • Defensive.

As long as you are also ~

  • Thoughtful
  • Kind
  • Supportive
  • Attentive
  • Generous
  • Responsible

 ~ five times more often,

And then, the odds will be ever in your favor.

This research was conducted by Dr. John Gottman and you can find out lots more on his web site.

So, no more excuses.

If you want to build a great relationship with someone remember:

1:3 ~ Every time you interact with this person you are doing one of three things

  1. Building a stronger relationship
  2. Maintain status quo (which might be good or bad)
  3. Undermining what you’ve got with this person.


5:1 ~ You want to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one.

In April I’ll be talking more about  how to connect with people – what makes an encounter positive rather than negative (beyond the obvious!).

That’s all for now folks.


“Why Under-standing is Over-rated”.


This is the twelfth article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

How To Change Someone Else

I know. I know.

All those Self-Help books tell you to totally abandon any hope of changing anyone else.

Chapter upon chapter insist you recognize THE only things you have any control over are what you think and what you do.

Could the self help panoply of experts be wrong?

Could they be accused of keeping you overly ~

  • Deferential       “Goodness, it wouldn’t be right to impose my desires on someone else”;
  • Doubtful          “Oh I don’t think it ever works to try and change anyone else;”
  • Defeatist          “I tried once to change my partner and it didn’t work.”

Or maybe you’re more “It’s my way or the highway Bud!” and you wonder why you shed friends faster than an escaped lion empties a zoo.

If you’re in a relationship with someone you love (otherwise it’s not worth the effort) I hope you’ll let me persuade you to ~

  • Drop the deferential attitude – of course you are worthy of interactive relationships.
  • Ditch the doubt – trust in the power of relationship to transform.
  • Dump that defeatism – update your skill set instead.
  • Soften up the  “you’re with me or against me” attitude –  if we let them, other people help us grow in ways we could never devise on our own.

If you want to change the way someone close to you behaves, and maybe even how he or she thinks, here are four things to try.

1.   Meet them half way.

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 11.40.36 AMLike God and Adam, both make a bit of an effort…

Depends on what you believe needs changing of course. But here are some examples I’ve seen where person A really wants person B to change. Could be a profound life transformation is desired, or a more modest habit change or temporary abatement.

Check these out.

  • A and B are married. A wants to adopt a Vegan lifestyle. B loves meat.
  • Mother A wants 15 year old daughter B to avoid all piercings while she is living at home under A’s roof. B wants a small tattoo and a belly ring.
  • A has fallen in love with B and wants to accept them as they are. But, B smokes a pack a day and A hates the habit.

Do these have to be win / loose?

If you want someone you care about to make a big change, think about it first from their point of view. What’s in it for them to make this change? Why might they want to? Is there something you can offer that might make this change more appealing? If you are inviting this person to get a bit uncomfortable, what discomfort might this request invite you into?

  • Might the Vegan be OK with their partner eating Vegan fare 3 nights a week and enjoying meat for the other 4?
  • Might the anxious Mum let go enough for a henna treatment, or one small, removable piercing?
  • Might the non-smoking partner be willing to discuss a cut-down, or smoking in designated areas?

Maybe give it a try?

2.   Get On Their Team

Screen shot 2015-03-11 at 12.23.41 PM

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

A classic Ben Franklin quote.  So what might this look like?

Let’s take another stab at the 3 scenarios above using this idea.

What if the meat eater, the would-be body piercer, and the smoker actually wanted to make some changes?

A terrific way to “get” someone to make changes you wish they’d make, is to find out if there are any changes they want to make.  Maybe they’ve been thinking about a shift more or less in the direction you’ve been proposing. Find out. Join them. Get on their team.

Has the meat-lover ever expressed a desire to lower their blood pressure? Or grow a garden? Or only eat animals raised in humane conditions? Pay attention. Join them where they already are and support a desire they already have.

Yes great! I’d love to help you lower your blood pressure. What do you want to try? I’d be happy to research foods that might help…

Has the 15 year-old ever commented on how lovely Henna art is? Or has she noted other forms of body art that might be different and edgy but not full on tattoos and peircings – like coloring her hair or dressing differently? If she talks about some of these ideas,  get excited. Support her in expressing herself differently.

I love that you’re experimenting with new “looks.” I heard about a Thrift Shop up in Sun Valley that sells quality styles very cheaply.  Shall we check it out this weekend?

Has the smoker ever wished they could cut down? Maybe they worry that cutting down on cigarettes means they will ramp up on eating, or have no other way to manage their stress. Acknowledge their fears, join with their desires, get on their team.

You mentioned wanting outlets for managing stress as you think about lightening up on the smoking. I heard the local library is hosting a month-long series on meditation starting next week. I picked up this flyer for you.”

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The solution might not be exactly what you had in mind. But your support for their goal is far more likely to be a wiin-win.

And hey – even a cat can find a way to join a duck in the water.

 3.   Feed The One You Love

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     Remember this tale?

Well it works with the wolves around us as well as the wolves within.

We’ve all got an inner zoo. We show up in different ways. As angry wolves or serene wolves for sure. But also as ambitious and lazy; as extroverted and introverted; as nurturing and as harsh; as supportive and as critical.

Think of how often you find yourself saying “Part of me wants this, but another part wants that.”

(Check out Robin Williams as Mork and more about is idea here.)

If we can have multiple competing versions of ourselves, so can everybody else.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a therapist is that in any relationship, we get the wolf we feed.

If we indulge or put-up-with whiny behavior from our pre-schoolers; rude behavior from our middle schoolers; disrespect from our teens; unkindness or indifference from our partners, the truth is, we’ve been feeding those wolves.

Once we get to the point of recognizing “Dang, I wish this person wasn’t  like that”  we get to behold our creation. Chances are we’ve been cultivating those very behaviors we now dislike for years.

What to do?

Feed a different wolf!

And yes – it takes time. But so did creating the wolf you’ve come to dislike.

When your toddler asks for something in a strong, clear, pleasant voice go overboard in your delight. You’ve glimpsed a different version of who this toddler is and how she can act. You want to build a relationship with that toddler – much more than you want to continue with the whiny one – right?

You can make it fun.

Well hello little Miss Sunshine, I love it when you show up. You’re way more fun than Old Grumpy! I’m certainly happy to push the swing for Little Miss Sunshine… let’s go!”

When your middle schooler rips a mighty belch and (for a change) quickly covers her mouth and says ‘Excuse me,” celebrate small victories. So easy to be sarcastic here – don’t be. Feed this polite wolf. “Thanks Betsy. Hey – I really appreciate this more polite “You”. She’s welcome to come eat in a restaurant with me any time!

When your teen momentarily thanks you for some kindness and forgets the eye roll as you say ‘You’re welcome” feed that wolf. “You know Son, I like being on your team. I hope you never forget that.”

When your partner one day asks, out of the blue, “Do you need help?” for heavens sake feed that wolf! I know how easy it can be when you’ve been hurt before to come back with some snide “Now you ask! Where have you been hibernating all winter when the drive-way needed shoveling and the kids were all sick…” but remember. When you show up like that – being that person, you’re only going to encourage the unkind and indifferent parts of your spouse.

Feed the “helpful wolf.”  “You know, you asked at just the right moment. I’d love help. Could you grab the rest of the groceries from the back of the car? I really appreciate it when you notice what I need and just show up for me like that – thanks!”

The secret here is remembering that IF this person in your life has ever exhibited the sort of behavior you wish s/he did more often, then that behavior is possible. It is already in their repertoire. That “Part” of them can be invited out more often. It’s not that you are inviting them to be someone new. You are just asking them to show up in a way that works better for you.

You are not saying

  • I don’t love you.
  • Or
  • “I want (all of) you to change.”

You are saying

  • “I particularly love this Part of you.”
  • &
  • “I love it when this Part of you shows up.”

4.   Be the change

Screen shot 2015-03-11 at 12.33.19 PMI’m sure this is not about you, but I’ve noticed that sometimes, in long-term relationships, when partner A feels stuck-in-a rut or gets bored with life, they believe it is up to partner B to “do something.” And this effort, A believes, will magically get both of them out of the rut and life will once more be  fascinating. Or at least, less boring.

So, in the unlikely event this ever happens to you and you find yourself feeling stuck and bored, and notice you are keen for your partner to ~

  • loose weight
  • try something new
  • suggest cool vacation plans
  • learn new stuff
  • get in shape

listen up and go find a mirror.

That person right there – staring glumly back at you – tell that person to

  • loose weight
  • try something new
  • suggest cool vacation plans
  • learn new stuff
  • get in shape

If you are bored in the relationship, you get to do something about it. And it’s way more liberating to grasp that fact than it is to play the grumble-criticize-hint-whine-complain game with your partner.

Be the change you want to see. Believe me – fresh energy is contagious!

That’s all for now folks. See you next week.


This is the tenth article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



 SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

 SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.


Find out what you are – unwittingly – doing all the time in relationships.

5 Non-Verbal Cues You Need to Know

Would you want to ~

  • Know what someone was feeling, without asking them?
  • Influence what someone thought about you, without saying a word?

This month, I’m hoping to boost your understanding of other people by beginning with the loudest messages that are coming at you – those silent, non-verbal ones.

This is definitely a brief whet-your-appetite piece since there is so much written about non-verbal communication.

However, armed with just these five non-verbal behaviors you’ll be way ahead of the game when it comes to understanding what someone else is feeling and thinking.

And – jolly helpful here – as you begin to crack these non-verbal languages, you can script what you’re broadcasting with a bit more care.

Here are 5 tips for translating those non-verbals into news you can use.

1.  The Walk

OK, gotta mention John Wayne here. Here’s a “John Wayne Moment” from The Birdcage (one of my all time favorite movies – this is the American version of  the French La Cage Aux Folles)   ~

Everyone has a walk.  John Wayne just had “such a walk”!

What matters about The Walk isn’t The Walk but rather it’s the fact you observe it.

If you pay attention, you can get to know a lot about a person by how they walk.

What is the baseline “norm” for any of these?

  • Your kid’s “I’m happy” walk?
  • Your partner’s brisk “exercising the dog” walk?
  • Your aging parent’s “grocery shopping” walk?

Once you know someone’s baseline walk, you can be aware of changes that might be telling you something.

  • When your kid comes home shoulders hunched, chin on chest, toes turned in – you might guess he’s feeling down, defeated or sad.
  • When your partner takes the dog around the block, hands thrust in pockets, forehead and shoulders leading as though into a gale force wind, you might wonder if they’re angry.
  • When your elderly parent shuffles more, or gets unsteady – it might be good to get a medical check up.

2. The Face

You – and good science – are right to look to the human face for reliable emotional feedback. Building upon Darwin’s original idea that certain specific expressions were universally recognizable, Paul Ekman has been studying facial expressions since the mid 1960s. To test the idea that there are certain universal facial expressions for emotions (even beyond the reach of global mass media which can blur specific cultural differences) click on the link below and take a brief test.

You will see the face of a Papua New-Guinea man asked to show how he would look in response to 4 experiences:

  • His child had just died
  • He stepped on a smelly dead pig
  • He was about to fight
  • Friends had come

Click below to see if you can identify how this man – from a  pre-literate, stone age culture – is feeling.

How did you do?

There is agreement on (at least) these 7 universal emotions – which are:

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But of course, there are all sorts of nuances we can become aware of in people we know well. For a cheat-sheet, see Words for Feelings-2015

Knowing – or at least making an educated guess about – how someone else is feeling, allows you to be careful as you choose how to approach that person. This is often what we mean when we use the term “emotional intelligence.” Folks who miss facial emotional cues have a much harder time making friends. There is a non-verbal bond created when someone can both interpret and match our mood. If we are tired, it’s jarring to have a high energy encounter. If we are disappointed it can seem insensitive when someone approaches up triumphantly. When we are happy, we love it when our friends can rejoice with us.

Interested in learning more about reading emotions? Click here.

3. The Eyes

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 11.16.37 AMWhat have President Obama and Vice President Biden just witnessed? How do they feel about it?

Dr. Jack Brown thinks it’s something like

“I wish I never saw that”, or “I can’t believe he did that”.”


Because they are using eye-blocking. Here I quote from Joe Navarro‘s book What Every Body Is Saying – An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People (page 176).

Our eyes . . . have evolved as the primary means by which humans receive information. In fact, we often attempt to censor incoming data through a limbic survival mechanism known as eye-blocking, which evolved to protect the brain from “seeing” undesirable images. Any decrease in the size of the eyes, whether through squinting or pupilary constriction, is a form of subconscious blocking behavior. And all blocking behaviors are indicative of concern, dislike, disagreement, or the perception of a potential threat.

Why is this useful? Here is a short vignette from Joe’s book (page 174) that might bring the relevance of this knowledge closer to home.

While walking with my daughter . . . we passed someone she recognized. She squinted slightly as she gave the girl a low wave. I suspected something negative had transpired between them, so I asked my daughter how she knew the girl. She replied that the girl had been a high school classmate with whom she had previously had words. The low-hand wave was done out of social convention; however, the eye squint was an honest and betraying display of negative emotions and dislike.

4. The Arms

OK – so you’re the boss. You have 2 teams working on a project. They have met twice before and you chance upon the teams during their third meeting.

Here is Team A

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And here is Team B

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 12.01.06 PM

If you had to put money on which team would successfully deliver the final product on time, with minimal interference from you, which team would you bet on? And why?

I’m putting my money on Team B for one main reason. Team B enjoys a much higher degree of trust. How do I know that?

Look at the arms of all 6 team members. Since our ancestors stood upright, we humans have been able to use our arms for self-defense. Here is Joe again (page 109).

In my work with the FBI, I have seen individuals shot in the arm as they used their upper limbs in an attempt to defend themselves from handgun fire. The thinking brain would realize that an arm simply cannot stop a bullet, yet the limbic brain will cause our arms to life and precisely block a projectile traveling at 900 feet per second.

Absent gun fire, we still use our arms to protect ourselves, crossing them over our chest when we feel vulnerable and withdrawing or lowering our arms when we feel fearful. Conversely, when we feel safe, happy or excited we’ll open or raise our arms, wave them about and air punch for victory.

When a person folds his or her arms across their chest or abdomen they are feeling uncomfortable in some way and are (often unconsciously) protecting themselves. If I noticed members of a working team needing to be so self-protected, I’d find a quiet moment to take each person aside and check in, specifically about trust issues. Trust can certainly be cultivated, but if you don’t notice when your employees are feeling unsafe, you may miss all sort of opportunities to make their working environment more conducive to good work.

5. The Hands

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 2.17.25 PMHere’s a cool fact, again from Joe Navarro’s book (page 134)

The human brain is programmed to sense the slightest hand and finger movement. In fact, our brains give a disproportionate amount of attention to the wrists, palms, fingers, and hands, as compared to the rest of the body From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. As our species adopted an upright posture and our human brain grew ever larger, our hands became more skilled, more expressive, and also more dangerous. We have a survival need to assess each other’s hands quickly to see what they are saying or if they portend ill (as in holding a weapon).

So, my guess is you notice when someone hides their hands in a meeting and if you want to be trusted, keep your hands visible too. But the really interesting stuff about hands?

Screen shot 2015-03-04 at 2.08.32 PMThe handshake!

Now I was raised in a household where my great grandmothers’ motto was “Manners before morals!” (Seriously!) So I learned more than I will ever pass along to my children about interpersonal etiquette, both at home and in the endless stream of prim and proper boarding schools I attended.  But, what I’ve just learned about the art of the handshake is leaving me, well shaking my head.

Here’s a list of ten different kinds of handshakes and what they communicate – enjoy!

Oh, and fun fact about JFK which you can observe in the photo above.

Did you know that every time John F. Kennedy needed to shake hands with someone in public he made a practice of standing on the left-hand side of photographers? This trick makes the one to the left of the image appear to be in control. The experts who studied gestures of J.F.K. are convinced that his persuasive body language was precisely that won him the Presidency.

Quoted from Etiquette Tips.

That’s all for now folks. See you next week.


This is the ninth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #8 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
  6. Happy Families
  7. Self Leadership
  8. When Does A Relationship Need Help?

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.


How to bring out the best in other people.