May 27

KNOWLEDGE IS NOT NECESSARILY WISDOM

In today’s society information and knowledge rule.  Everyone seeks to explain, understand, and accumulate facts, but those things are not necessarily wisdom.  Some say that wisdom is applied knowledge, while others define wisdom as the synthesis of knowledge and experience which enables a deeper understanding and insight.  Maturity can bring wisdom since aging provides us with experience.  Unfortunately, many of us have access to an abundance of knowledge and information, but still lack wisdom.  Is there something that gets in the way of relying on wisdom?  Why is common sense not so common?

Often times clients of mine will suggest that my recommendations are just common sense, which at times is correct.  However their ability to apply wisdom and common sense to a situation doesn’t always work out.  What often gets in the way is negative emotion, conflict, and unresolved issues.  Finding the root of psychological issues and helping a client to confront and heal from the pain is what therapy is all about.  Wisdom can come from age, but it also comes from awareness and insight.  Knowing yourself and being sensitive to other’s needs and emotions can also increase one’s wisdom.

In practical terms, wisdom is knowing when to “shut up” and when to “speak up.”  Timing, tone, and tact can make or break a verbal exchange.  Being wise requires patience, self-control, and kindness, which are some of the fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 and facilitates wisdom.  Seeking to understand others before demanding to be understood evokes wisdom.  When we communicate assertively and respectfully without interrupting or talking over others we are manifesting wisdom.  Author, speaker, and pastor, John Maxwell has a great quote, “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Treating others with respect, even those that you dislike, takes humility and maturity which also breeds wisdom.  Learning to let go of the pain from the past can also promote wisdom.  Lastly, wisdom comes from the intangibles in relationships so pay attention to others’ non-verbal cues, trust your instincts, and rely on your heart not just your head.

May 20

SCOREKEEPING?

A recent study done at Ohio State University found that when couples have their first child, both spouses think that their workload has increased by equal amounts.  The highly educated, dual-career couples in the study actually overestimated their increased workload, but by widely varying amounts.  As it turns out, in actuality, women end up bearing the larger portion of work that comes from a new baby.  Prior to the baby being born, many of these couples shared equally in the household chores.  After the child is born neither parent is cutting back on their paid work, but women are assuming the bulk of the childcare.

How often do couples keep score over tasks or conflicts? Unfortunately, this is a common issue in couple’s counseling since many of the people I work with are competitive, stubborn, and strong-willed. Often couples argue over who has done more around the house or who contributes more to the relationship. The conflict often digresses quickly into arguing about past behaviors. Before long couples are using “always and never” to emphasize their point and create a better argument. Ironically, when couples argue, the reality of the situation is quickly distorted and each side has either magnified or minimized the problem to support their position.

Scorekeeping doesn’t work!  It results in resentment and detachment over time.  Instead, work on being a team, reinforce  when your partner is helpful, and request help when you need it.  The key to this process is the approach, timing, and attitude.  Speak respectfully to each other using requests rather than commands, and appreciate the efforts that are made by your partner.  We all have different talents, different needs, different personalities and different expectations.  Accept your differences and stop trying to make your partner more like you.  Remember the “Golden Rule,” treat others like you want to be treated.  We can accomplish more when we work together rather than competing with each other.  Whether facing the demands of children or other issues, getting on the same team will result in a more peaceful life.

May 13

CONFLICT DIFFERENCES

How do you and your partner deal with conflict?  Often the simple answer is very differently.  Many prefer to avoid conflict and believe that a disagreement or argument is always bad in a relationship. Some grew up in households filled with conflict and never saw anything good come from it.  Others didn’t see much conflict at all and never learned the necessary skills to resolve it.  Perhaps conflict triggered fear which resulted in avoidance or detachment.  All relationships have conflict, but how you handle it determines the effect. What prevents you from dealing with conflict directly?  Some worry about hurting the other person’s feelings, others fear the response, and some lack the necessary skills to deal with conflict.

Ironically, men are less comfortable with conflict than women.  We seek to solve the problem so that we can limit the discussion and fix it quickly.  In general, women would prefer to process and discuss the conflict before moving to solve the issue.  Of course not all men and women handle conflict according to their stereotypic gender approach.  Either way, believe it or not, conflict can actually be a good thing in a relationship and lead to positive change, growth, and a greater level of connectedness.  The key is handling it constructively, appropriately, and effectively.

First, identify the conflict in terms that you can agree upon and seek to understand and express your feelings tied to the conflict.  Being able to validate, acknowledge, and accept the other person’s feelings related to the conflict can be half the battle.  Discuss possible solutions, negotiate options, and possibly compromise as part of the process of dealing with conflict.  Lastly, implement a mutually agreed upon solution and let it go.  Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best you can do.  While conflict is a part of everyone’s life, keeping it inside will consume thought, energy, and negative emotion.  Decide to deal with it rather than hang on to it.

 

May 06

BECOMING A SERVANT LEADER

What does it mean to be a servant leader?  The term was first coined by Robert Greenleaf based on his paper written in 1970 which stated “good leaders must first be good servants.”  He has since written several books describing this leadership style and sharing his wisdom on leadership.  Unfortunately, many of our leaders tend to be power-driven and focus primarily on the perks, pay, prestige and power they receive from their role.  Their style of control including commanding, criticizing, and self-serving dominates their persona.  Many devalue the work of others and focus more on what will get them ahead in their career.  Ironically, self-centered people tend to be the loneliest and most joyless people.  We’ve all had bosses like this at some point in our careers.  Servant leaders have a very different attitude and mindset.

The focus for a servant leader is both purpose and people.  In other words, they seek a greater purpose in their work than themselves and look at the big picture.  Instead of being self-driven, servant leaders are others-driven.  They help people find their strengths, purpose, and position them accordingly.  Servant leaders look to build others up so that they can fulfill their goals and be passionate about working on a team that values its members.  How do you become a servant leader?

Intensely listen to your employees, treat them with respect, trust and delegate, and reward them for good work.  Servant leaders accept feedback from their staff and seek to learn and grow from other’s constructive criticism.  They recognize that people are the greatest asset to any organization which is why they get to know their people.  Servant leaders are patient, humble, authentic, and accountable which enables them to build greater connection with their team.  They seek to add value to others not just themselves and give credit more often than taking credit.  Often servant leaders have high emotional intelligence which enables them to be more compassionate, sensitive, and understanding when people are struggling and can effectively guide them back to the right path.  Remember that leadership is a verb and requires action.  Lead by example both in words and actions and others will be more inclined to follow.

Apr 29

BUILDING A LEADER’S EQ

How important is it for leaders to have emotional intelligence (EQ)?  In essence, EQ is an awareness and sensitivity to others’ emotions.  Beyond that, emotional intelligence refers to an ability to self-regulate your own emotions, be compassionate of others’ feelings, and exhibit good interpersonal skills.  Researchers have found that emotional skills are especially valuable for leaders.  Being able to read people’s emotions and react appropriately can serve leaders well in any business.  A recent study done by Chris Mott, a University of Florida doctoral student, evaluated the emotional intelligence of leaders along with connections to diet and exercise.  He concluded that leaders with healthier lifestyles also had higher emotional intelligence.

Leadership for many doesn’t come naturally, but the good news is that these skills can be learned.  We can develop emotional intelligence skills to better understand, empathize, and influence other people.  Leaders sometimes ignore subtle cues and signals from others or even themselves that can help them negotiate, manage conflict, and react constructively.  Learning people skills is even more important today since many rely on technical knowledge exclusively to communicate.  As John Maxwell points out: “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Good leaders help people identify their strengths and position them accordingly.  Discerning others’ needs to bolster their abilities is part of being an emotionally intelligent leader.  Effective leaders create an environment of collaboration and cooperation.

An essential skill for a leader is the ability to listen.  Unfortunately, many leaders focus more on speaking than listening and never learn how to motivate and inspire their team.  Active listening requires patience, thoughtful reflection, attentiveness, and empathy.  The ability to positively influence another’s life and grow a person through your actions and words is an important accomplishment.  Great leaders mentor and cultivate budding leaders with similar work values, integrity, and skills.  Leaders build relationships as they help others find their purpose in their career.

 

Apr 22

DRIVEN TO CONTROL

Why are we driven to be in control?  Is it some sort of human instinct or survival mechanism?  Probably, but it consumes an awful lot of time and energy.  Some people have a greater need for control than others and many of the reasons people seek control are valid.  If you grew up with very little control, for example, you may actively avoid situations where you feel powerless.  For instance, experiencing abuse, trauma, and/or abandonment can contribute to the need for control.  Control is a way to avoid vulnerability and insecurity.  Control freaks often struggle with tremendous fears and insecurities that drive them to want to be in control of their environment and people who live in their space.  Control provides a sense of security, power, and stability which are often very important.  However, seeking to be in charge of all aspects of life can be exhausting and overwhelming, not to mention, alienating to the people around you.

Relationships can destruct when both parties are vying for control.  Most couples have conflict over control-related issues.  It doesn’t matter if it’s related to finances, parenting, or bad habits, no one likes to be told what to do or how to do it.  In fact, people may do the opposite of what is suggested even when they know you’re right just to avoid giving up control.  The harder you try to get someone to change the less likely they’ll change and the more frustrated and disappointed you’ll become.  Trying to fix, rescue, problem solve and caretake are all examples of control.  We rationalize it by saying “it’s for their own good” and “I’m only trying to help.”  The reality is that we want to control their behavior and correct their problem by telling them what to do differently.  It doesn’t work!

So what does work?  Sometimes nothing works and you have to decide whether the behavior(s) warrants accepting it and learning to live with it, or occasionally, whether it warrants disengaging or terminating the relationship.  We are all guilty of trying to help someone we love, myself included, and occasionally find ourselves more invested in their change than they are.  I’ve talked about the paradox of control; relinquish it and you’ll have more control.  Easier said than done.  For me, I work on giving control to God and trusting in his plan for my life.  Last week’s blog talked about letting go and often that’s what needs to be done.  We need to allow others to fail, experience hardship, and work through their emotional pain without our intervention.  We can be supportive, compassionate, and encouraging, but fixing the situation can be detrimental.

 

Apr 15

LETTING GO

Why do we have such a difficult time letting go?  Many of us have a fear of letting go and tighten our grip rather than releasing the person, thing, and/or emotion that we are so desperately hanging unto.  We question and fear what we’ll be left with after letting go and often assume that the consequence of letting go is more painful than the hanging on.  Sometimes hanging on to a relationship, even a dysfunctional one, seems better than being alone.  We would rather avoid, deny, and/or distract from this decision rather than confronting it head-on.

Throughout life we encounter times where letting go is our only option.  We may lose a loved one or a pet, a relationship ends, we lose a job, our health fails, we move, face unhealthy conflict or children leave the home.  The process of letting go can be painful, but necessary.  We often go through the stages of grief, initially resisting experiencing the pain until it overwhelms us and we have no choice but to deal with it.  Many people take action only when inaction becomes more painful than action.  The bottom line is letting go causes inevitable pain but the longer we delay the process the greater the pain becomes.

What do you need to let go of in your life?  Maybe it is an unhealthy relationship, a habit/addiction, unresolved emotion, unrealistic expectations, control, or need for approval/acceptance.  Write it down along with the emotions that letting it go produces in you.  Writing a letter and saying goodbye to whatever it is can make it more real and tangible.  Forgiveness can help with this process whether it’s forgiving yourself or someone else.  Remember, we have to go through it to get through it and that which we resist, persists.  Letting go can enable the pain to be acute rather than chronic and starts the healing process.  Suffering and healing often occur simultaneously, so make the choice today to let go.

Apr 08

DIFFERENCES IN PERCEPTION

Why do couples have a conversation and then remember it so differently?  Arguments over two different versions of an event can digress quickly and create significant frustration and conflict.   A study from the early 1980’s published in Behavioral Assessment found that women tend to recall more about relationship issues than men do.  Although women’s memories are more vivid and detailed, they are not necessarily more accurate.  Women tend to report more emotions during relationship events and may pay more attention to those feelings along with the event.  People also tend to remember their own actions better than those of their partner.  Most significant in these studies is that mood plays a big part in memory.  Negative moods tend to cause stronger memories and since research has found that men win more often in interpersonal arguments, it follows that women remember it more clearly.

As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, being right doesn’t bring happiness or resolution.  Couples can spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and negative emotion trying to prove a point.  This type of conflict is so common, yet it can keep couples stuck for days or even weeks trying to discern which recollection has the most truth. Wall Street Journal writer Elizabeth Bernstein covers this poignant topic in her article on couples’ memory differences.  Some suggestions from the WSJ article include: assume good intent, accept that there is more than one version of the situation, avoid arguing based solely on the memories, focus on the truth, and practice collaborative memory.  Remember that different is better than wrong and chances are both stories have some validity.  Focus more on the emotions rather than the specific details of the event and recall joyful events together which creates collaboration.

Lastly, accept and respect your differences since we often grow when we are challenged and required to look at a situation differently.  Our memories of a situation can be tainted by multiple variables including the issues mentioned above, but arguing with the person who is supposed to be on the same team as you seems futile.  Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best solution.  Try arguing the opposing position for a few minutes to gain a better appreciation for the other person’s perspective.  Regardless of which approach works best for you, decide that fixating on your own perception when your partner views it differently doesn’t work.  If you take action to let go of the need to be right, life will become much easier.

Apr 01

ISOLATION AND LONGEVITY

Why do people seem to die shortly after their spouse or immediately following retirement?  Maybe they’ve lost their best friend, their purpose in life, or maybe they find themselves more isolated and alone.  A recent study from Brigham Young University found that loneliness and social isolation are just as much a threat to longevity as obesity.  The researchers also found the reverse to be true, with greater social connections and contact resulting in a positive health effect.  We are at the highest recorded rate of living alone, with loneliness on the rise.  Some may be surrounded by people, yet still feel alone.  Many couples experience feelings of loneliness in spite of their relationship.  How does that happen?

Many spouses coexist and operate independently of each other.  They may share the same living space and bank account, but have little physical and/or emotional connection.  In some cases this is due to the couple growing apart, but not wanting to terminate the relationship completely for various reasons.  Other couples harbor resentment, anger, hurt, and sadness that they’ve been unable or unwilling to work through.  Sometimes individuals have little awareness or desire to have a deep, personal, and intimate relationship and prefer to have a safe yet detached existence.  Connection requires sharing emotions, being vulnerable, and letting down your guard which some are reluctant to do based on past experiences or perceived rejection.

While the internet can keep people connected especially when there’s a geographic distance, online contacts can lack emotional context and depth.  Even too much texting can hurt a romantic relationship, especially if this is the primary medium for conversation.  To provide connections and create opportunity for deeper friendships, join a group, club, organization, and/or community activity.  Volunteer work, taking a class, and going to the gym or community center for exercise can provide some social connectedness.  Finding a church family and getting involved with a life group can further the likelihood of developing friendships.  Buck the trend of loneliness by not living in isolation from others, and improve your chances for a longer, happier life.

Mar 25

TRUST BUILDS CONNECTION

Where would your relationship be without trust?  The answer is “Over!”  Trust is a necessary component for healthy and strong relationships and deepens the level of intimacy.  But trust comes in many different forms including physical, emotional, financial, relational, and  behavioral.  Where do we learn about trust?  Obviously we learn how to trust through our role models and experiences, our parents, teachers, family, friends, pastors, coaches, and later in life, our peers, colleagues, and mentors.  Some of us trust too much while others don’t trust enough.  Finding a healthy and appropriate level of trust takes time and awareness in relationships.  Breaking trust could involve routine matters such as not following through on projects, always running late or overcommitment to activities and an inability in saying no.  Rebuilding trust that has been broken takes acknowledgement of the pain it caused, remorse for the hurtful words or actions and a commitment to change one’s behavior.   Trust building requires action, not just words.

Many of the couples I work with have lost trust in each other either because of destructive behaviors such as infidelity, substance abuse, excessive spending, lack of commitment, perpetual lies, and/or abuse of some sort.  When we violate other’s boundaries, humiliate each other, and discount feelings and needs, we are likely to erode any trust that may have existed.  Even overreacting, giving the silent treatment, interrupting, and controlling behaviors can damage the level of trust in the relationship.  The good news is that people can regain trust and repair wounds by changing their behaviors and making better choices.  When we make the choice to change, trust building becomes possible.  Being consistent in our words and actions builds trust.

Letting go of our defensiveness and our need to justify and blame the other person are the first steps in repairing trust.  Being open, honest, and direct in a respectful and kind way paves the way for restoring trust.  Couples need to be able to say and accept no and maintain healthy boundaries to establish greater levels of connection.  Building trust requires an acceptance of responsibility for your actions and an apology.  In order to grow the relationship the couple will benefit from self-disclosing, being vulnerable, and forgiving each other.  Confronting and resolving conflict along with letting go of emotional pain is necessary to build trust.  Ultimately, this process takes time, courage, and patience, but can greatly enhance the connection.  Trust is the most important part of a relationship.  Consider what you need to do in your relationship to build trust.

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