Savour Life

3 min read


I went through a very busy period last year.  I was quickly moving from one task to the next, always rushing and often trying to do more than one thing at once.  It was stressful and tiring but I kept telling myself that it was only temporary and soon I’d have time to relax and do some fun things.

Then one day I was forced out of my office by the noise and fumes from a neighbour’s gas wood chipper.  I had to get some fresh air, so I went for a walk.  It was a beautiful summer day and all I was thinking about was how I needed to get back to work.  That’s when it dawned on me that I was wasting a big part of my life!

I was trying to rush through a walk on a lovely day so I could get back to work and then rush through that so I could get to the next thing.  How much of my life had I wasted on mindlessly powering through tasks – working, washing dishes, making dinner…?  It occurred to me that these are not just tasks I have to do before I can get to my life.  They are my life.

So I chose right then to be fully present for the rest of my walk and enjoy it, not just endure it until I could get back to work.  I walked past a grove of Japanese Katsura trees and paused to breathe in the aroma.  At certain times of the year they smell like cotton candy.  I stopped for a few minutes and sat on a bench with a lovely view of the arboretum.  I was feeling much more relaxed.  I enjoyed the walk because I was both physically and mentally present.  I wasn’t walking while mentally already home and working.

I leisurely walked on through the trees, thinking I had it figured out.  Everything I do, every task, is a part of life to be savoured.  Life was going to be so much better with my new attitude.  Then I got to the end of the tranquil forest and began walking through busy city streets on my way home.  I started to speed up my pace, thinking that the nice part of my walk was over – the part in nature – and now I just wanted to get home.  Fortunately, I realized fairly quickly that my new attitude had just flown the coup and I was right back to my old “I just have to get through this” attitude.   Every time I started to veer off into ‘get home quickly’ auto-pilot mode, I reminded myself to savour walking outside on a beautiful sunny day.

So this year I am trying to find pleasure in everything I do, not just the fun things.  When I sit down at my desk to work, I am trying to be fully there and savour working.  When I stop working to make lunch, I try to leave work behind and savour the experience of making lunch.  I’m trying to really be there for everything I do and live in the moment.  After all, there are no guarantees about how many moments we get in this life.  If making lunch is the last thing I get to do in this life, I sure hope I savoured every minute of it and didn’t just mindlessly move through it so I could get on to the next thing …

Posted in Behaviour, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Fake It Until You Make It

3 min read


My mother was never really heavy, but she was often dissatisfied with her weight and the way she looked.  When I had my own daughter I decided that I didn’t want to pass on that legacy.  Every time I looked in a mirror, even though I usually didn’t feel it, I would say out loud “I look great!”  If my daughter was standing beside me, I would say “We look great!”  I wanted her to grow up believing that what she saw in the mirror was okay.

Year after year, I said it out loud for my daughter’s benefit, but I never truly believed it.  I still felt fat and frumpy.  My words may have been benefiting my daughter but they weren’t doing anything for me.  It wasn’t until I chose to believe the words that I gradually lost the extra weight.

Dr. Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist, says, “When we shift the mind’s interpretation … to positive belief, the brain responds biochemically, the blood changes the body’s cell culture, and the cells change on a biological level.” (Rankin)  I think this happened to me.  I consistently shifted my interpretation of what I saw in the mirror from fat to slim and started a process that changed the neural pathways in my brain that led to physical changes in my body.

It took awhile for my new interpretation to become a habit.  I would look in the mirror and as soon as I caught myself going back to my old, yuck response, I would smile and switch to my new, slim and trim response.  The smiling part is important.  Studies have shown that the physical act of smiling, even a fake smile, can induce positive emotions (Scientific American).  I wasn’t just telling myself I was slim and looking great, I had to feel that way as well and smiling helped create those positive feelings.

My physical changes didn’t happen quickly.  It took a few years.  I didn’t change my diet or lifestyle.  I changed how I thought and felt and that eventually changed how I looked.   I know it may sound like delusional thinking, but as Dr. Joe Dispenza says, “The latest research supports the notion that we have a natural ability to change the brain and body by thought alone, so that it looks biologically like some future event has already happened.”   It’s not delusion, it’s creating the future you want and that’s a legacy I want to pass on to my daughter.

Selected References: 

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One and Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind by Joe Dispenza, D.C. 

Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin, M.D.

Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman


Posted in Perspective | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Change Your Reality

3 min read


I changed outfits three times before going to a recent networking dinner.  I was working on a project that had some glitches and didn’t get ready to go out until the last minute.  Not only didn’t I finish the project, I had to scramble to find something to wear before my friend arrived to drive me to the meeting.  I ended up running out of the house in a top I borrowed from my daughter and fastening my shoes and cleaning my glasses in the car, where I remembered, too late, that I forgot to brush my hair.

As you can imagine, I was feeling at loose ends, both mentally and physically, when I arrived at the meeting.  I felt rushed and stressed and was sure I looked that way too.  The first words I heard at the meeting were from Marilyn who said, “Lisa you are looking very … very ….” and as she was searching for the word, my mind was racing to all the ways I was feeling – rushed, frazzled, a mess.  Just as I said to her, “You really are going to have to finish that sentence”, she found the words and said “put together and confident.”  I laughed out loud, both from relief and at the irony.  I couldn’t have felt any less put together and confident at that moment.

The topic of the speaker that night was Mirror, Mirror – Do You Trust What You See?  How appropriate!  I saw one thing and Marilyn saw another – our realities were very different until Marilyn changed my reality with her comment.  All of a sudden I was no longer a dishevelled mess.  I was put together and confident.  Cool!

Reality is really perception and perspective.  I assumed that I looked on the outside the same way that I felt on the inside.  I forgot that I can only see from my own limited perspective, which doesn’t always include all the information required to get an accurate picture.  It reminded me of the time I took a drawing class and only had the back view of what appeared to be a male mannequin.  However, when I walked around to the other side of the room, I saw very clearly that the front view revealed a large busted female mannequin.  Different perspective, different reality!

Other people don’t see all our inner turmoil.  Mentally I hadn’t moved on from scrambling to find something decent to wear.  Physically I had found a nice outfit, fastened my shoes, cleaned my glasses, and tidied up my hair on my way into the meeting.  The story I was telling myself was different from my actual physical reality.

So how could I have done for myself what Marilyn did for me that night?  I could have taken a moment to stop and breathe before going into the meeting.  I could have looked in the mirror and reminded myself that I was right where I was supposed to be – that all was well in this moment.  I could have left the stress of getting ready back where it belonged, in the past.  Just like the mannequin, if I had taken the time to look at my situation from another angle I would have seen what was actually there – the finished product, not the chaos it took to get there.  Think differently, feel differently.  Change your mind, change your reality.

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Mind the Gap

3 min read


A few years ago my daughter and I were helping to close up the family cottage for the winter.  The water system was turned off so I went to the lake to rinse my hands before we left for home.  Despite many years of warning my daughter to be careful on the slippery rocks, I slipped on those rocks and fell in.  I screamed at the shock of the fall and I screamed again at the reality of sitting up to my neck in the cold water.  My daughter, shaken by my screaming, helped me out of the water and out of my soaking wet clothes.  The whole situation seemed surreal and quite funny.  One minute I was getting ready to go home and the next I was soaking wet and trying to fashion a dry outfit out of towels and a few old clothes.  My daughter said that she expected me to be really angry.  Instead, I was laughing.

In psychology there is a process called Appraisal Theory.  Something happens to us, we evaluate the situation, and finally we respond to our interpretation of the situation.  The evaluation takes place in the gap after the event or experience – a space where we choose how to react.  According to psychology professor Barbara L. Fredrickson this gap is the gateway to whether our emotions surrounding the event are positive or negative.  You and I could respond to the same situation in very different ways depending on how we interpret it.

The goal isn’t to eliminate negative emotions.  Dr. Fredrickson points out that we need both positive and negative emotions to be happy and that we can experience positive emotions even during times of great difficulty.  For example, with the death of a loved one it is natural to experience negative emotions like grief and loss and maybe anger.  However, we could also experience positive emotions like gratitude for the time we had together and hope for the future and comfort in knowing that others have experienced this before and that we are not alone.  Holding positive and negative emotions at the same time can help to avert a downward emotional spiral because our emotions in the current moment influence our experience of future events as well.

Although ending up in the lake turned out to be a funny experience for me, when it happened there were other possible reactions – anger, blame, regret.  The event had happened and that couldn’t be changed.  However, my reaction to the event was within my control.  By evaluating the situation as funny I avoided a downward emotional spiral thinking that “This is terrible.  I am wet and cold and I have no dry clothes and now my whole day is ruined”.

According to Dr. Fredrickson, “Negativity doesn’t always feel like a choice; it feels like it just lands on you, and you have to deal with it. Positive emotions, I think, are more of a choice.”  So mind the gap, because the emotional choices we make in the gap will shape our day and, ultimately, our reality.

Posted in Perspective | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Reality Check

3 min read

P1030349 crop

Lately I’ve been wondering to what extent we create our own reality by how we perceive it.  I guess the universe didn’t think I was catching on fast enough so it sent me a message that was rather hard to ignore.

We were visiting Verona, Italy during one of the biggest heat waves in years.  Temperatures were up to 40°C during the day in the blazing sun and not dropping below 30°C at night.  The heat was taking its toll on my patience at times.  People were often doing things that I perceived as completely rude or just plain stupid – not paying attention to what they were doing and bumping into people, sitting in the wrong seats on a train and causing a commotion, or butting in at the front of a line which for some unfathomable reason they thought they didn’t have to wait in like the rest of us.

One morning midway through our visit we were rushing to catch the Hop On – Hop Off tour bus before it pulled away from the bus stop.  I was focussing on the bus and not on where I was walking when I tripped on an uneven cobblestone while crossing three lanes of traffic.  I fell down fast and hard on my knees.  My husband had to help me up.  I assessed the damage as I limped the last few hundred feet to the bus – bloodied and bruised but nothing broken.  There was a short line-up of people waiting to get on the bus.  We already had our tickets but had to wait for the people in front of us to buy theirs.  I thought I was going to faint in the heat and from the shock of the fall, so while my husband waited in line I pushed past to sit down on the bus.

When we were finally settled in our seats, even though I felt like crying because everything hurt, I had an “aha moment” which actually made me smile.  I realized how overly critical and judgemental I had been of people lately.  My fall was a reality check for me.  One day it will be me.  Whatever stupid or rude human behaviour I am witnessing, I will be doing that very same thing.  At some point in my life I will be every stupid or rude person I have ever met or seen and I will probably be them at their worst.  I was that woman who pushes past you to get to the front of the line and you think “How rude, who does she think she is?”  I recognized that very look on the face of the tour bus lady as I pushed past her.

So what was the universe’s message to me?  Have more compassion for others.  When I see someone doing something stupid, just smile knowing that I’ve “been there, done that.”  Instead of thinking “Who do they think they are?” choose to accept that for some reason they need to sit down or be at the front of the line.  I don’t need to know what that reason is.  No one in the tour bus line knew what my reason was.

I realized that having more compassion for others will improve my own reality.  Being calm and open minded has to create a more pleasant reality than being agitated by someone else’s seemingly foolish actions or feeling wronged by someone who has pushed in front of me.  And now, thanks to the universe, I’m going to have a doozy of a scar on my left knee to act as a reminder that we are all human and that I too will have good reason and ample opportunity to be the one acting stupid or rude in the eyes of others.

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Tiny Habits: The Key to Sustained Behavioural Change

4 min read

Decorative Picture of a Wheel

I recently watched a TEDx video about behavioural change (Forget big change, start with a tiny habit).  The presenter, BJ Fogg, PhD, caught my attention when he said relying primarily on motivation and willpower to change your long-term behaviour will not work.  They work for short-term change but not for long-term change.  How cool is that – beneficial change without willpower – or as I like to think of it – gain without pain!

So if it’s not motivation or willpower, how do we effect lasting behavioural change?  Dr. Fogg said that in order to be sustainable a new behaviour has to be easy and it has to follow a trigger.  People will do hard things for short periods of time if they are really motivated – like training for a marathon or following an extreme diet to lose weight for a special occasion.  However, that motivation will eventually wane and they will stop doing the hard thing.  If the behaviour is easy we don’t need much motivation, but we do need a trigger to remind us to do the new behaviour.  The best triggers are things we already do on a regular basis like go to bed, brush our teeth, use the toilet.

About a year ago I started to mentally recite a gratitude list after I lay down in bed at night.  After I close my eyes I list at least three things I am grateful for that day – small and big – a great parking space, a walk in the sunshine, my daughter home safely, whatever I can think of.  Even on bad days I can come up with a list of three small things to be grateful for.  I have tried to keep a written gratitude journal in the past, but it never lasted very long.   So why has this gratitude habit stuck for the long-term when the journal didn’t?

According to Dr. Fogg, these three elements must happen at the same moment for behaviour to happen:

  1. There has to be some level of motivation – you want something
  2. You have the ability to do it
  3. There has to be a trigger or a call to action

My nightly gratitude habit has all three elements.  I want to remind myself of the good things in my life, rather than focussing on what is missing or is not going well.  I am able to do it.  Perhaps most importantly though, is that there is a trigger to remind me to do it – closing my eyes in bed at night.

Dr. Fogg explains that there are many behaviours that can contribute to our desired outcomes and most of the behaviours that we need to do are habits.  If better health is our desired outcome we can design tiny habits that lead to that outcome.  I realized I had created a new tiny habit with my mental gratitude list and I wanted to try it with other things.

I liked Fogg’s personal example of doing two push-ups.  I had been planning to add some strengthening exercises to my day and this was perfect.  I’ve been doing at least two push-ups after I use the bathroom for a month now and it is becoming a habit.  It’s a little tricky in public washrooms but if I can’t find a clean counter upon which to do two leaning push-ups, I just wait until next time.  Sometimes I do more than two, but I only have to do two.  Keeping it small and easy is what makes it work.  Even with a bad cold I have managed two push-ups.

I may not be doing a full-on strength training regime, but I am consistently doing about 20 push-ups a day and that must have a better health outcome than the zero push-ups I was doing before.

If there are things you want to add to your life, you may want to try Fogg’s formula for establishing a tiny habit:

After I ______________ , (existing habit you do every day with the same frequency that you want the new behaviour to happen)

I will ________________ , (new tiny behaviour)

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What Seeds Are You Watering?

4 min read

Decorative picture of a small flowerI once read about someone whose mother used to say, “Don’t be sorry, be different.”  How many times have you wished you could go back and handle something differently or better?

Lately, I’ve been working on experiencing the world with curiosity rather than judgement by training myself to have a first reaction of, “Hmm, what’s going on here?” rather than, “Oh, I don’t like this.”  Just seeing what is without deciding whether or not I like it.  The test, of course, is when I’m out in the world with other people and challenging situations.

My daughter and I recently visited an out of town store where she needed to exchange some clothes.  I wanted to leave as soon as I walked through the door.  I did not want to be there.  Later, when my husband met us there, I told him how unpleasant the experience had been for me.  He asked why I hadn’t just walked a few steps out the side door to sit on a bench in the mall.  My daughter could still have called me if she needed me.

Unfortunately, I got so caught up in the “I hate this” story in my head that I couldn’t see beyond it.  All I could see were more things I didn’t like.  We entered the store from the street and not only didn’t I see the bench, I didn’t even see there was a side door or a mall for that matter!  In my imagined “do-over” I would stay open and curious, seeing all the possibilities around me, and maybe spend some quiet time relaxing on that bench.

I could simply write that store incident off and hope I will be different next time.  It’s tempting.  After all, it wasn’t my finest hour.  However, chances are that if I don’t make some changes I will repeatedly “be sorry” rather than different.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and teacher, likens emotions to dormant seeds that we always carry deep within us until something brings them to the surface.  What I experienced in that store brought my seed of intolerance to the surface and every subsequent negative thought I had “watered” that seed.  Unfortunately, the next time it surfaces it will likely be stronger because of the good watering I gave it.

So how can I be different the next time that seed of intolerance arises?  Hanh suggests that our negative seeds can be lessened by purposefully calling them to the surface and looking at them objectively.  So before letting the incident go, I purposefully replayed it in my mind at a time when I was feeling calm and reflective.  I didn’t replay it in order to beat myself up because I didn’t handle it well.  Rather, I stepped back and reflected on the situation objectively – what happened, how did I handle it, what emotions did I experience.  No judgment.  No excuses.  No good or bad.  Just what happened.  I didn’t try and push the ugly bits away.  I just saw them, like watching a movie of myself.  Hanh calls this watering the seed of mindfulness.

What we pay attention to grows.  So not only do I want to pay attention to and water the seeds I want to grow, like tolerance and compassion, I also want to pay attention to the seeds I would like to shrink, like intolerance.  Paying attention and reflecting strengthens my mindfulness seed.  The stronger my mindfulness, the more I will be able to recognize any unwanted behaviours and change them before they lead to regret.

If I do this type of reflection each time I wish for a “do-over”, not only will my negative seeds continue to get smaller and weaker, my mindfulness seed will continue to grow.  So hopefully the next time I find myself in a less than ideal situation I will be reminded of the time I couldn’t see the bench and instead of sinking into negative thoughts I will stay curious and wonder what I am missing this time.  I will be different.

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

What’s Your Habitage?

4 min read


For the last six weeks I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  Julia has me writing morning pages every day – three pages of whatever comes into my head.  In these pages, I’ve noticed that I repeatedly refer to what I want more of in my life – more writing, meditating, yoga, and healthy eating.  However, I also noticed that I wasn’t doing the things that I said I wanted to do.  Why is that?

The quick and easy answer is that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.  Perfect – a get out of jail free card – it’s not my fault that I’m busy and can’t find the time to write, or meditate, or peel an orange!  However, when I realized that there are lots of things that I do find time for, things that are not on my list of what I want more of in my life, I had to look beyond the easy answer.

What am I finding time to do?  It turns out I’m finding time to do the things I always do.  I work from home and there are some things that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing every day.  Let’s call it busy work – responding to emails, doing administrative work, clearing my desk, filing, computer games – and that doesn’t include household chores.   No wonder there is no time to add more of the things I want in my life!

Julia Cameron (in the book) asked me to name my favourite creative block and not surprisingly my answer was busy work – all those things I listed.  But it’s not just the busy work; my real block is my habit of not starting on the important things until I get all the small, loose ends tied up.  What I now call habitage – a habit that sabotages.

And what is my payoff for staying blocked (because there has to be a payoff for everything we do)?  I realized that it feels safe doing the same stuff every day.  It’s not scary or painful – there are no risks or challenges.    Busy work allows me to feel productive while staying in my comfort zone where I’m not vulnerable.

Writing, for example, is hard.  It requires effort, concentration, and focus.  I have a list of writing projects that I want to get to.  I know they will be challenging and that’s why I’ve erected a habit barricade to keep me from the “pain” of actually working on them.  Busy work also protects me from the fear of failure.  If I’m not writing, I can’t fail.  I can’t be bad at it if I’m not doing it.

I remember reading in What Color is Your Parachute? that our brains will stop us from stretching ourselves in order to protect us from danger.  It goes back to our primitive days – stay in the cave where we won’t get eaten by whatever is outside the cave.  Our brains will instinctively look at that new idea, that new job, that new challenge and say “too risky, stay here out of harm’s way”.  We need to recognize this when it happens and acknowledge that keeping us safe is a good thing, but maybe this particular risk or challenge is one that we want or need to take.

It’s human nature to avoid pain and there is no pain in doing our familiar busy work.  We could fill our whole lives with it – doing lots but staying right where we are, never moving forward or growing.  Or we could choose to push past the “pain” and do some of the hard stuff – explore some of the challenges and the possibilities and maybe make life a little fuller, a little bigger.

So my choice for this new year is to replace my habitage with habits that will stretch and challenge me.  To remove my busy work barricade, I’ve drafted a daily schedule that I am still tweaking.  It has everything in it that I want to do in my day.  Yoga is there, after my work day when I feel more inclined to do it rather than in the morning when I thought I should be doing it (but never did).  Busy work is still there, but after I have done some of my “hard” work.

Hopefully six weeks from now I will be seeing the things I want more of in my life reflected in my morning pages.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, and Habitage-Free 2015.

Posted in Behaviour | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Coaching with Compassion

3 min read


When our daughter was little, our interactions rarely ended with “Don’t tell me what to do!”  Not so anymore.  I have been working on adapting my parenting style from managing a child to young adult coaching.  But I’m finding that not all coaching styles are created equal and that my usual style is perhaps not always the way to go with a teenager.

Dr. Richard Boyatzis, professor of Organizational Behavior, calls my style “Coaching for Compliance”.  Sounds pretty good in theory.  I point out your weakness and what you can do to fix it – you do it.  I coach, you comply – win/win.

Unfortunately, Dr. Boyatzis explains that this style is the very reason why so few people actually change despite our efforts to help them – “instead of engaging people’s natural powers of curiosity and imagination and inspiring them, we actually diminish them, and we impose our will, and we try to engineer or fix them.”  Doesn’t sound so good when you put it that way!

I’m starting to see how this works with my daughter.  I feel I am doing something positive by reminding her of what she needs to do.  In effect, however, I am wasting my time and making her angry, with no positive result.

For example, my daughter was taking an advanced swim course and needed to practice.  She told me of extra skills classes she could attend.  We both knew she really needed to pass the course – not just so that we didn’t waste the $300 fee, but also because it was a requirement for her part-time job.

Despite high incentive, each time I reminded her to look at the extra class times, she did nothing.  Dr. Boyatzis explains that questions like “Are you …?” and “Did you …?” induce some level of guilt and, therefore, people are not likely to act on them.  Bingo!  I was engaging what Boyatzis calls the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA) by reminding her of the negative – what hasn’t been done yet.

She knew what she needed to do but my reminders triggered her to close down and start protecting herself – “Don’t tell me what to do!”  My pushing took away all desire to change.

So, how do we encourage someone to do what’s in their best interest without activating the NEA (and perhaps ensuring that they never do it)?  According to Dr. Boyatzis, we have to activate the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) with a shared vision.  When someone endorses your strengths and believes in you, it opens up possibilities that you may not have seen before.  This is “Coaching with Compassion” – How can we make this happen? rather than Have you done that yet?

Coaching with Compassion includes conversations that inspire us.  It looks at possibilities rather than problems, hopes rather than fears.  Having a positive vision or hope for the future activates the PEA and energizes people, allowing them to be open to new possibilities and the process of change.

Luckily, my daughter and I accidentally triggered the PEA one afternoon when we realized we had to get our calendars in sync or we wouldn’t get everything done that we wanted to do.  As we both had our calendars out, I suggested we include the extra swim classes.  All of a sudden it was no problem and she found the elusive swim times.  There was no, “Don’t tell me what to do!”  Actually, there was no complaining at all.  Why?  I wasn’t telling her what to do.  We were working together on the shared goal of an aligned family schedule.

In the end, my daughter did the extra swim classes and passed her course.  Thank you Positive Emotional Attractor!

Posted in Behaviour, Communication | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Complaints vs. Criticisms

3 min read


I’ve been working as a simulated client in some of the communication labs at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph for several years now.  It’s a great program designed to improve and enhance veterinary students’ communication skills by having them participate in actual case studies with live simulated clients.

In many cases we have to give the student veterinarian feedback on how the communication went from the client’s perspective.  Feedback must be given using a specific method that, at first, felt very contrived.  I really struggled to remember exactly how I was supposed to word my feedback:

  1. Describe the behaviour that you saw or heard, without using any judgmental language – When I heard you say ‘X’
  2. Express your response to that behaviour describing how that behaviour made you feel – I felt ‘Y’
  3. Explain why you feel that way – Because ‘Z’

In his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman calls this method nondefensive speaking.  Nondefensive speaking is about “keeping what is said to a specific complaint rather than escalating to a personal attack”.  Because this type of open communication is not bullying, threatening, or insulting it does not “allow for any of the innumerable forms of defensiveness – excuses, denying responsibility, counterattacking with a criticism, and the like.”

In my personal life, I have noticed how communication with my teenage daughter improves when I remember to use nondefensive language.  If I start with an accusatory You statement or a criticism like You aren’t listening to me, she shuts down.  She hears the blaming words, interprets them as an attack, stops listening to me, and instead starts preparing her defence – as most of us would.

When I use nondefensive communication, I assume total ownership of my perception, right or wrong, and how it made me feel – there is no blaming my feelings on the other person.  By conveying my point as a complaint rather than a criticism I am much more likely to be heard.

Goleman explains that when using a nondefensive complaint you state specifically what is upsetting you, and criticize the other person’s action, not the other person.  By telling the other person how the action made you feel you are providing them with an opportunity to modify their action or behaviour if they so choose.  “You aren’t listening to me”, can be rephrased into, “When I saw you checking your phone while I was talking to you, I felt annoyed because I didn’t think you were listening to me”.

Unfortunately nondefensive speaking does not always come naturally to us.  It must be practiced on a regular basis to become automatic and ready for use when a stressful situation or issue arises.  I struggle to remember to use nondefensive communication when needed, but I’m working on it … When I remember to use nondefensive communication in a potentially stressful interaction, I feel optimistic because tempers are less likely to flare and issues more likely to be resolved.

Posted in Communication | Tagged , , | 5 Comments