Category: Self Leadership

Glossophobia? (Part 4)

Throughout my years in school, I have experienced numerous interesting anxiety/stage fright stories. Looking back to my junior year in high school, I was chosen to be a drum major for the band. A drum major, in a nut shell, is responsible for conducting the band during performances. One day during rehearsal, my band director had to leave class for a few minutes and asked me to conduct the Star Spangled Banner. This was my time to shine. For my first time conducting the band, I wanted to make a spectacular first impression. As I made my way toward the podium, I could feel my heart beat begin to thump in my chest. The butterflies were taking flight in my stomach as I stepped up to the wooden podium. My arms felt like they weighed 50lbs each as I lifted them up to start the song.  During these few moments, I was experiencing the phenomenon known as “stage fright” or anxiety.

Merriam Webster defines anxiety as, “painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill.” See, the definition of anxiety is anxiety’s problem. Our mind becomes uneasy because it senses an impending or anticipated ill. The fact is, that impending or anticipated ill has the potential to be an AMAZING experience. The problem is that our brain tends to seek out the worst possibilities that could happen, which in return cause us to feel apprehension. While in my communications class over the summer, my professor explained to us the process of stage fright and how we can cope with stage fright. I listed his advice below:

The process of stage fright:

  1. It starts with a mental thought known as fight VS flight.
  2. Adrenaline is pumped into the blood stream.
  3. Our heart rate increases and then because of that, we need more oxygen so our respirations increases.
  4. Digestive system is suspended so that…our blood concentrates in the large muscles in arms and legs. Our arms and legs may shake and we may feel butterflies in our stomach.
  5. Finally, our temperature increases so we may sweat a bit as well as feel cold, sweaty palms.

How do we cope with stage fright?

  1. Self-fulfilling prophecy (Positive Thinking) – If the mind can make you feel anxious, it also has the ability to put our thoughts and bodies at ease.
  2. Animate arms and legs. This encourages blood flow throughout the body.
  3. Great posture (chest out, shoulders back, chin up). Be confident in yourself.
  4. Practice, practice, practice! “Winners practice until they get it right; champions practice until they cannot get it wrong.” – Anonymous

In the end, the most important piece of advice for you to overcome glossophobia is to have courage in yourself. Believe in yourself! As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or
think you can’t – you are right.” I always say, you are what you think, and if your mind can cause you to feel uneasy about public speaking, it can also give you the confidence to prevail
over glossophobia. To wrap up my Glossophobia Series, I want to leave you with a Simple Truth’s video about courage entitled, “Courage doesn’t always roar.”


In the comments below, share a story or experience where you had to find the courage to overcome a fear such as public speaking or stage fright.

<< Glossophobia? (Part 3)


Glossophobia? (Part 3)

“Are we to be the master of language or will language be our master?”
Lewis Carroll  (Alice in Wonderland)

Last week, we discussed three central ideas that every successful speaker should utilize when giving an influential speech. The three ideas, thought of by Aristotle, include ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic or reasoning). This week, we are moving into a new concept called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, thought of by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Their concept states that language has the ability to create, distort, or destroy a person’s perception of reality. When I first read their definition, in a way, I was amazed by the idea. I began thinking about our blog, news articles, Facebook posts/statuses, music lyrics, poems, movie quotes, movies, my everyday interactions with people, and the list could go on and on! I was extremely intrigued by thinking about how these different forms of language have impacted my life and the lives of others around me.

The foundation for the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is built off the use of words (Verbal Language) and nonwords (Nonverbal Language). For my post today, I want to focus on nonverbal language and how you can effectively utilize four primary areas of nonverbal language when communicating. The four areas we will be discussing today include proxemics, kinesics, haptics, and paralanguage.   

Proxemics is defined as the study of space and distance. When delivering a speech, talking with a group of friends, or simply communicating with an individual, one must keep Hall’s Spatial Zones in mind. First is the intimate distance, which is reserved for closest friends and family (from touching to 1.5 feet). Next is the personal distance which could be used with the rest of your friends, family, and strong acquaintances (1.5-4 feet). Third is the social distance which is used for meeting people for the first time (4-8 feet). Last is the public distance, which is the preferred distance from total strangers (8 feet or more).

Kinesics deals with bodily movements of all types. The three primary areas of kinesics include gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions. Our gestures are either conscious or subconscious and have the ability to add or take away value from our speech (“okay” symbol, arm movement, habits such as playing with nose, ear, chin, etc.). Eye contact is a learned behavior and many cultures exhibit different rules when using eye contact. Use eye contact to your advantage and show your audience or speaker that you are interested! Last, our facial expressions have the ability to show what we feel, more than what we feel, the opposite of what we feel, and they sometimes show nothing! My professor said in class, “Never trust the face!”

Haptics deals with touch and uses it as a communication variable. For example, there are five levels of “touching behavior.” The first is the functional professional touch such as a doctor performing a patient examination. Next is the socially polite touch which is often seen in first encounters (handshake). Third is the friendship warmth touch which is used to express ongoing interpersonal relationships (a hug). The fourth level is the love intimacy touch such as holding hands or kissing. Last is the sexual arousal touch which is the most inmate form of touch. Communication by touch can be very powerful so use these five levels to your advantage when conveying your message to another person.

Paralanguage is defined as sounded, non-verbal communication such as variations in vocal pitch, volume, and rate. This could include special vocalizations such as laughter, cries, and groans. Also included, which many of us use every day, are the common breakers such as err, um, uh, or ah to fill gaps of silence while we think. Here is an interesting story about paralanguage, one of my professors from school wanted to eliminate her use of “um’s” in the classroom. One day during class, she brought in a bowl of candy and said to count how many times she said the word “um.” At the end of the class, who ever had the most tallied won! Keep that idea in mind if you are trying to eradicate your use of um’s 🙂

I know most of these ideas occur subconsciously, but I hope I have surfaced something from deep within your subconscious that will allow you to apply these ideas when communicating with others! Next week, I have saved the best post for last. We will be discussing how you can have a successful speech delivery and together, tackle this crazy idea of Glossophobia!

<< Glossophobia? (Part 2)   Glossophobia (Part 4) >>

A Leadership Fable – Anger

There once was a boy who was 12 years old.  The boy was of average height, but a little on the skinny side.  He liked school and was not popular, but not unpopular either.  He was involved in Boy Scouts and one day his fellow scouts decided to make a nickname for him.  Sadly, they settled on a name he did not particularly enjoy.  They called him “Squeeky”.  How humiliating!  Couldn’t they have chosen something more appropriate like “Dragon Slayer” or something?  He did not even know the reason why they chose the name.

The boy made it obvious that he did not like the name.  He wanted everyone to know so that they would stop!  He decided he would tell the other scouts off every time they used it.  This only added fuel to the fire, encouraging the other boys.

At a Monday evening meeting the situation came to a boil.  The scouts had been teasing him the entire meeting.  He could do nothing to make them stop.  Everything he tried made them redouble their efforts.  He was extremely frustrated.  As the flag ceremony ended the boy was full of anger.  Every part of his body was tense and he wanted to hit something, right now!  He marched past his mother and punched the wall with all his might.

Unluckily for the boy, walls do not take kindly to being punched.  The boy broke his pinky finger at the knuckle, ouch.  It was even on his right hand!  The boy and his mother spent the rest of the evening in the emergency room.  She helped him do his homework because he couldn’t write anymore.  The next day at the doctors office the doctor told him, “Next time punch a pillow.”  “Ugh”, how stupid he felt, “thanks doc….”

Because of the cast, the boy carried around a reminder of his mistake for six months.  He had time to think it over.  He thought, “why didn’t I punch the kids who were making fun of me!?”  He decided that wouldn’t have solved much.  More importantly he thought, “why did I hurt myself over what other people do or think?”  The day he got his cast off, he promised himself that he would never let people’s actions shape his opinions about himself again.  The boy’s name was Tyler, and he has kept his promise.

Did you learn any hard lessons when you were young?  Share in the comments below!

Glossophobia? (Part 2)

Greek Philosopher Aristotle

Last week in the comments on Glossophobia? (Part 1), one of our authors, Adam Fifield, commented on the impacts of Aristotle and communication. I was excited to see his comment because the first chapter in my textbook, Communication Opportunities by Ron Howell, is entitled, “Beyond Aristotle.” Aristotle (384BC – 322BC) was a Greek philosopher who wrote about many themes (math, science, music, logic, poetry) including communication. He believed that a master communicator makes use of three elements:  Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

Ethos is defined as credibility. When thinking about communication, credibility is one idea that could be easily overlooked, yet it carries high value when making an impact on your audience. There are two types of ethos that a speaker can obtain. The first is Antecedent Ethos, which is developed prior to the actual communication. Examples could include a speaker’s reputation, occupation, or situation. A university professor who has been teaching for 30 years is going to carry more credibility than a graduate fresh out of college.

The second type of ethos is known as Present Ethos which is based on actual communication of what is said and developed by borrowing sources. When hearing a speaker for the first time, audiences have no impression about his/her credibility. During the speech, the audience will develop an opinion based on that speaker’s use of facts, resources, research, conversational styles, and presentation style. “The critical thing to remember is that we listen more carefully and better when we can trust the communicator than when we cannot.”

Pathos is defined as emotion and is based on affecting the receiver through emotional appeals. The best way to fire an audience up is to impact them emotionally! You want to be passionate about your subject and communicate it with a story. Think back to one of your favorite teachers who left a positive impact on your life. What made them so special? Now, think of the teacher who all the students in your school wanted to avoid, the teacher who taught with the same vocal pitch, volume, rate, and projection all year-long! Why did most students try to avoid that teacher? Because that teacher lacked pathos and was as fascinating as an escalator escalating in real-time!

Logos is defined as logic and is based on reasoning, claims, and argumentation. Often, speakers misuse logos by attempting to force their opinion upon their audience. These situations can occur when a speaker believes that his/her audience does not understand unless they agree with his/her particular point of view. This can become dangerous when trying to leave a positive impact on your audience. Remember, a person can understand your particular point of view without directly agreeing with it. Your job as a speaker is to present your ideas logically with supporting claims in hopes that you may persuade/influence your listeners.

This week, we have looked at three elements that every speaker needs to become a successful communicator. Next week, I will be discussing the delivery and structure of your speech, bringing you one step closer to conquering Glossophobia! For now, take a look at two speakers from our past who demonstrated the mastery of ethos, pathos, and logos:  Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“I Have a Dream”
Ranked the top American speech of the 20th Century
Delivered on August 28th, 1963
Given to over 200,000 civil rights supporters
Link to speech:

Gettysburg Address
One of the best known speeches in United-States history
Delivered on November 19th, 1863
Around 15,000 spectators in attendance
Link to speech:

Can you think of a speaker who demonstrates the use of ethos, pathos, and logos? Post their name in the comments below and if possible, leave a link to one of their speeches!

<< Glossophobia? (Part 1)  |  Glossophobia (Part 3) >>

Conquering Recursion

This guest post is by Dean Zhang author of Bamboo Updates; you can find it here.  He is also a floormate of Tyler and Adam at the University of Illinois where he is studying Computer Science.

We’ve all seen the relapse phenomenon. It’s happened in friends and family. Sometimes it is a joyous thing and other times it is too painful to watch. Whether it be a habit or a serious addiction they always seem to find their way back to us as time passes.

Most of our lives, we’ve been told what not to do. Out of love, our parents tell us not to do certain things in order to be a good person. We listen to this out of good faith in our childhood but eventually, we put most all these properties into question. Perhaps it is at this time that we are told what not to do the most. I remember that in youth group at church, my youth pastor almost spent more time telling me what not to do than my parents did. Which leaves the dangling question: Why? Why is it bad? The most common answers we receive are:

“Because it is/I told you so”

“Because It’s in the bible”

“Because it’s against the law”

While these are legitimate answers for the most part (bar the first response as a default parent answer), they don’t give real basis for not doing any of these things. Being told what not to do doesn’t really prevent people from doing any of those things, they just instill guilt as they carry these actions out. Our hearts have never been seeded with the proper motivation.

Jesus gives us a parable in Mathew 12:43-45

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

This can be applied both literally and figuratively in many cases. We are often tempted to restart bad habits and addictions after we have just let them go but look at the reason: “When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. …” We tidy ourselves up after getting rid of bad things in our lives but we forget to replace the evil. “Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.” Recursion occurs and things get worse.

So what fits in this house that has been swept clean and put in order? The answer is God’s spirit.  He’s big enough to fill the whole house…if you let him. It is a challenge as it requires transforming our selfish will into His will but everybody has the capability to do this because we were made for this.  God should be our motivation.

Allowing God’s spirit to inhabit all of you is also a frightening decision to make. Many times we find ourselves giving him 50% of the house, leaving the rest for our assets. Often, we don’t even want him to be our all and if it comes to it, do not be afraid to pray to want to want him to inhabit the whole house.

God must not only become the dominant figure in our hearts (house) but the only occupant as he is the pivotal part in permanently ending the recursive cycle.

Glossophobia? (Part One)

The first thing I was thinking when I saw that word (Glossophobia) is what in the world does it mean!? Well, the word represents something that most people around the world fear more than death, public speaking. “As many as 75%  of people have Glossophobia. Statistically, far more of us claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech; even comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that at a funeral, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy” (

This summer, I was required to take a Communications class for school. Many people told me I would have no problem with public speaking, but the butterflies in my stomach were telling me otherwise. In order to pass the class, we had to prepare three speeches, one with a group and two flying solo. Yes, I was rather nervous in the beginning. Yes, I had been dreading the thought of taking this class. And yes, I had Glossophobia, but by the end of the semester, my attitude began to change. I had been equipped with a toolbox of thoughts that changed my outlook on communication. My professor provided our class with many valuable notes that I want to share with you in my upcoming series. By the end, my goal is that readers will be ready to challenge their Glossophobia and be successful in the realm of public speaking and communication!

My professor started our first day of class by challenging us to define communication. When everyone shared their definitions, we all had multiple ideas about this one simple word. In a way, that is what he was attempting to show us. This one word is used by people every day, but everyone has their own unique way of expressing its meaning. He then provided us with seven characteristics to give us an image of communication…

1. Communication is constantly occurring

2. Communication is constantly changing

3. Communication usually involves an exchange

4. Communication involves a relationship

5. Communication is heavily influenced by culture and co-culture

  • Culture:  attitude, beliefs, and values of a group of people
  • Co-culture: a group within a culture that has attitudes, beliefs, and values that are different from the larger culture (Gender, race, Midwestern, etc.)

6. Communication is power

7. Communication is a process

We will dive deeper into these ideas later in the series. For this first post, I want to discuss characteristic number seven. Communication is a process because it usually involves both a sender and a receiver. In a nutshell, this is what occurs between a sender and receiver during communication:

Sender encodes a message, delivers it through a channel, message goes through barriers, receiver decodes the message, receiver encodes feedback, delivers feedback through a channel, feedback goes through barriers, sender decodes feedback (all of which takes place within a situation).

Even though the above definition may seem complex, it does not even begin to dive into all the variables that both the sender and receiver express! Within the structure of communication exists verbal and non-verbal cues, proxemics, kinesics, paralanguage, haptics, and chronemics that all add meaning to the message being conveyed. Have no fear because I will explain these variables and how they can add meaning to your message in upcoming posts. In the future, we will also be discussing the structure of your speech, delivery of your speech, and tackling what some people fear more than death, communication anxiety, also known as Glossophobia.

As for today, I hope I have expanded your horizons on the meaning of communication. I want to leave you with a question to ponder that my professor also shared with us:  Can one not not communicate? (OR–are we always communicating? Are there times when we are not communicating?)

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

On Being Needy

People have a natural aversion from being in need.  We like to have all the power, solve our own problems, leave everyone else out of it.  This works great as long as we are by ourselves, but it breaks down as soon as you mention the word team.

Feeling needed is empowering .  As Thoreau said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”    Our chest puffs out when someone asks for our help and puts our solution into effect.  We want to share the news that our idea worked.  We wish it would happen more often!

In many cases a leader will be capable of doing all of the work necessary for a project.  The leader doesn’t really need the help of any of their followers.  The question is, what is lost if the leader does all of the work?  The answer comes in two parts, one for the followers and one for the leader.  In the case of the followers they are losing an opportunity to be involved.  An opportunity to use their own skills to further the vision and contribute.  This leads to a lack of buy-in and they feel detached from the project.  You will not find anyone who daydreams about a solution when they are not intimately involved with the problem.  A follower cannot be intimately involved with the problem if the leader has already solved it.  Soon, the leader will find themselves alone, the team disbanded.

The second loss is for the leader.  If the leader places themselves in need they lose the position of power.  Pride must go out the window, a hard thing to do.  It takes a certain humility to be in need.  It takes an even greater one to purposely put yourself there.  You may be capable of doing everything yourself, but what are your followers losing so that you can puff up your ego?

I think people learn better from stories than from lectures (this should be a post!).  So take a minute to read through John 4:1-42 below for a great story of Jesus humbling himself and talking to a Samaritan woman.  What is Jesus giving up (by even being on Earth, by talking to a social outcast) so that she can gain?


John 4

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”


I challenge you to place yourself in need more often, give people the satisfaction of being able to help.  Listen to people’s ideas more often, seek their opinion, and attend to their answers.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

How do you empower others?  Share in the comments below!

Working With Passion

This is where talent and passion can get you.

Last week, in my post about how modern society hates silence, I briefly mentioned the assumption that, after a hard day’s work, we need mindless activities to distract ourselves from work.  I said that was a subject for another post; well, here it is!

At the beginning of 2010, a survey revealed that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their jobs (I know this was over a year and a half ago, but I do not believe things have changed significantly since then).  That means that 55% of the workers surveyed were dissatisfied with their work.  That’s tens of millions of people in the United States alone!  If work is an important part of who we are – and in the U.S., at least, we tend to define ourselves by our work – is it any wonder that the overall mood is is so pessimistic lately?

A year ago, I was in that 55%.  I was just finishing up an internship which was an exercise in frustration, and unbeknownst to me I was in for an entire semester of more of the same.  So, from June until about Christmas, I felt like I was in a cave, pushing against a huge solid boulder that refused to budge.  Sometime during that time, I promised myself this: I was going to finish my master’s degree as soon as possible, get a job that didn’t require too much thinking (or, more importantly, programming), and get myself out of the research field as soon as I could.  I was burned out, discouraged, and had no hope of the situation improving.  When I wasn’t at work, I was doing everything I could to take my mind off of it.

Now, things are very different.  I’m getting results.  I’m much better at programming.  My thesis topic changed fairly significantly and I find this one much more interesting.  During idle time, I find myself pondering obstacles I will encounter in whatever analysis I’m doing and coming up with solutions.  The result?  I’m no longer dead set on leaving grad school; in fact, I’m seriously considering going for the Ph.D.  Once again, I am passionate about atmospheric science.

That passion makes all the difference, I think.  Passion is what causes the scientist to ask and answer deep, complex questions about the world around them.  Passion is what drives my dad, a tax preparer who works 80+ hour weeks during tax season, to go to work before dawn six days a week for three months and still do taxes for friends and family on his (very limited) time off.  Passion is what drives someone like Michael Phelps to not just swim for fun, but to train with an intensity very few of us can comprehend in order to be, quite literally, the best in the world at what he does.

Humans are created to be passionate.  Think about it – how easy is it to be passionate about a sports team, a relationship/person, a belief system, a video game?  Work is just as much a part of our lives as  a close relationship or a favorite hobby.  It might be harder to be passionate about our work – particularly if the job is not that exciting or fulfilling – but that does not make it any less necessary.  Whatever job you are doing, you have control over whether it is a lousy job or a fun and rewarding one (I only wish I had understood this more when I worked in fast food).  It’s your choice; are you going to be in the 55% or the 45%?

Listening From a Learning Perspective

Can you hear me now?

I promised in my Seven Habits of Highly Effective People review that I would revisit the topic described in Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.  The advice in this chapter was the easiest for me to implement and make work for me so I want to share it with you!

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood comes in handy when having a conversation with another person.  It is placed in the “Winning Publicly” section of 7 Habits because the practice of it inherently includes other people.  The way most people go about a conversation is to start by sharing their perspective.  Running through your mind is “if I could only get them to see where I’m coming from, then they’d understand.”  What is ironic about this thought is that both people are thinking it.  Both people come to the conversation with the need to share their point of view, their side of the story.  With these two conflicting viewpoints, no wonder most conversations get no where!

To solve this clash of views, something has to give.  That is where seeking first to understand comes in.  This takes a lot of willpower!  You have to shut off your own inner voice and have a genuine curiosity about the other person’s point of view.  One of the best techniques I’ve found is to paraphrase what the person just said in the form of a question.  I might say, “So what you mean is…”  Almost every time I get it at least partially wrong!  My view is too limited to understand where the other person is coming from because we have different experience.  This paraphrased question gives the person time to reflect on what they actually mean, and clarify my understanding where I got it wrong.  What is amazing about this is that once you have clarified what the conversation is actually about, you can get accomplish something.

Imagine this conversation.  Your friend sits down at church and grumpily says, “I don’t really see the point of going to church anyway.”  This is a loaded statement, flags should go off!  You could jump in with 1,000 arguments about fellowship, great teaching, Biblical commands, etc… but instead you think it’s kind of odd that your friend, a regular church goer, has made this comment.  You ask a clarifying question, “So you think church is a waste of time?”  Your friend responds, “Not exactly, what I mean is…”  Well there goes the need for all of your 1,000 arguments!  The conversation isn’t really about church at all.  After a few more clarifying questions, it becomes apparent that what the conversation is about is that your friend’s car got hit in the parking lot on his way to church.  Who saw that one coming (M. Night Shyamalan is that you)?  I know that I would not be able to make the connection from “what’s the point of church” to “I’m frustrated about my car.”

The point of this story is that you cannot see another person’s perspective until you have curiosity to, and then take initiative to ask questions.  If you had jumped in with your 1,000 arguments you would have gotten no where, because no number of Biblical commands are going to pop the dent out of your friends car!  You have to be talking about what is actually on the person’s mind.

The second advantage of Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood is the then to be understood part.  Anyone will be more likely to listen once they have felt understood.  If they know that you have heard them ,because you paraphrased it back to them, they will be more open to listening to your side.  This allows the great two way street of communication to flow without a traffic jam!

After reading 7 Habits I picked up a book called Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen in the Harvard Business Review series.  They call Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, “Listening From a Learning Perspective.”  I was amazed at the similarities.  Both books talk about having curiosity, discovering the two sides of the story, paraphrasing back your understanding, and asking clarifying questions when confronted with a loaded statement.  Both touted the benefits of letting the other person know that they are understood first.  My advice is to read 7 Habits first, and if you’re interested in this principle, start with chapter 5.  Then go pick yourself up a copy of Difficult Conversations because it is equally loaded with great thoughts!

“People never change without first feeling understood.” ~ Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen (Difficult Conversations)

Have you tried this habit; did it work like magic for you like it did for me?  Share in the comments below!


Modern society is terrified of silence.  We walk into the grocery store and carefully chosen music is playing over the speaker system.  In fact, while we are driving to said grocery store, we are likely to be listening to the radio or iPod.  We listen to music while we work, exercise, and drive.  When we come home, the television is on “for background noise”.  Now, none of these things are inherently bad; listening to something while I work out, for instance, at least triples the amount of time I can run without getting bored.  But when we are used to constant noise, day in and day out, it becomes part of our reality.  If the noise is taken away, we are unnerved and even scared.

This is not just true for noise; it also holds for other mindless distractions that take us away from the important aspects of our lives.  Take, for instance, this commercial for a Motorola phone:  

One could argue that I’m reading way too much into a simple commercial, I suppose, but these things have armies of marketers behind them whose job it is to study our habits, hobbies, activities, etc.  They have determined that telling potential customers that their product will help them work more efficiently in order to spend more time playing Angry Birds is a method that works and will get people to buy their product.  What bothers me about the commercial is not what it says, but what it assumes.  It assumes that our daily life consists of work and mindless activities (to take our mind off of work, but that’s a topic for another post).  When we are done with work and have, presumably, free time, we spend it on mindless activities.  We watch TV; we play video games; we browse Facebook for two hours.

If you are at home reading this, try a little experiment.  Close your music player.  Close all your browser windows/tabs (except this one!).  If you can, turn off the air conditioning or fans for a minute.  The goal here is to make your environment as quiet and distraction-free as possible.  Wait for one minute – yes you can stop reading now – and come back when your minute is up.  Now that all distractions are gone, how are you feeling?  Anxious?  Worried?  If so, you might be relying on those distractions without realizing it.

I should point out here that I live by myself and don’t have cable.  There is a LOT of quiet time in my apartment, so it doesn’t cause me anxiety any more.  But when I lived with people, I always wanted them around.  Being alone in a quiet room, even if it was only a dorm room, was a little bit unnerving to me.  Now that I have a bit more control over my environment, I find that I am more able to deal with quiet and distraction/free environments when my life is generally going well.  If I’m stressed out and/or anxious about anything, my ability to tolerate silence becomes almost zero.  Those are usually the times when you can find me playing random Flash games online.  It comes down to this: when it’s quiet, I am alone with my thoughts.  Sometimes I don’t like what I find there, so I try to block it out by distracting myself.

So if you tried my experiment and found yourself becoming more anxious without the constant noise and distractions of daily life, ask yourself why.  Are you trying to hide something from yourself?  Is there something on your mind that you would rather ignore and not think about that needs to be dealt with?  Or are you just so used to constantly being subconsciously distracted that you don’t even notice?

Full disclosure: About halfway through writing this post, I closed down everything else on my computer.  I even shut off my fan – and it’s 85 degrees in my apartment.  My problem is not so much noise but the Angry Birds-type mindless game distractions.  If I don’t have three or four windows open at any given time, I worry that I’m missing something.  That’s what I found from this experiment, and now I hope to fix that.