3 Unique Suggestions for Connecting Deeply

One-on-one. A group of friends. An audience watching you on stage. Whatever the context–truly, deeply connecting is the key to making a difference, to getting your message across, to building trust, to leaving a lasting impression, to inspiring good.

And I don’t think the ingredients in genuine connection differ too much from context to context.

So how DO you truly connect?

These aren’t the “top 3 ways.” There are lots of top 3 ways. But here are 3 ways that I found EXTREMELY useful in crafting a recent speech for my Toastmasters club:

1. Don’t describe your history. Use stories that give them the chance to feel your history.

Stories are said to increase your audience’s memory by twenty-two times what they’ll retain from the rest of your words. Stories are powerful.

I think where we can go wrong with stories, though, is telling people everything we think about our stories–how we felt about them, how we understood them, how everything fit in. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not what’s memorable. What’s memorable–what really connects–is taking your audience’s hand and walking them through the story for themselves. It’s okay if they fill the story in with a few different colors and shapes than you. Let their imagination do its thing. All you need to do is put the audience right there. To put them through the experience as bluntly as you can.

I will understand you far better by reliving a couple crazy moments from your childhood than by hearing all the philosophizing you want to do about it all.

2. Get weirdly specific.

I wish I could take credit for this idea. I have learned to use it a lot, but I learned its value from an interview with a comedian. I’m pretty sure it was John Mulaney. Might have been Mike Birbiglia. It may have been John Mulaney talking about what he learned from Mike Birbiglia–who knows. Either way, here’s the gist: It’s easy to assume that the more broadly shared your experiences, the more people will get you. Well actually, it turns out that people get realness, not generic-ness. Even if their real was a little different than yours–they can feel your realness. People’s own lives aren’t generic, they’re extremely specific. So get very, super, weirdly specific.

For example: “When I was 18 I used to covertly bypass our burglar alarm at night so that I could sneak out later to take walks . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in my trench coat.”

I could have told you all about how sheltered I felt my childhood was, the lack of freedom I felt, my desperation to get away, my loneliness and what a lifesaver my loneliness actually was to me, my fear and my need to keep my deepest needs sacred, my imagination and its strangely confident sense of my cool self, and the future version of me I expected to be. But those are ideas–concepts–concepts you may have experienced in your own ways in your own life. And making you listen while I analyze all those ideas through my own lenses requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of you accepting and translating my interpretations. I don’t need to do all that work with you. And you may not have the time or patience. Instead, I can just give you a few really weird details. Details that make you go, “Oh yeah, I also have a weird life,” and then leaves your imagination filling in the blanks in my story. “What kind of kid wears a trench coat?”

3. Make it a roller coaster.

Don’t stay funny. Don’t stay happy. Don’t stay sad. Don’t stay serious. Don’t stay positive. Don’t stay hopeful. Don’t stay negative. Don’t stay bitter.

Life is a roller coaster. A crazy, spicy, ridiculous roller coaster.

Emotional roller coasters get people right in the feels. And getting people right in the feels is what sticks with them.

So lift your audience up. Then dash their hopes. Then show them the beauty in the ashes.

I bet that is an experience they can relate to.

Good luck!

Let’s use our stories to inspire hope and love in each other every chance we get. We’re all in this together!

Jimmy Neil Smith - connection of storytelling

When in conflict: 1 question you HAVE to answer

Fight or flight. Adrenaline’s pumping. You’ve been pushed and you’re ready to push back.

STOP!

Remember to ask yourself one question!

It’s a question we forget about all the time, but it’s what really matters to you in a conflict. We have a tendency to make knee jerk decisions before we stop and think. And even if we do take time to think, we tend to base our decisions on what would feel good. Running away, lashing back out, proving a point, putting someone in their place, taking a stand, not backing down. Sometimes when we make decisions that feel good–that our fight or flight instincts tell us to make–we later regret those decisions. We didn’t stop to really think about the one thing that mattered:

What do you want out of this situation?

It seems so simple. And it is. But we get stubborn. We get scared. We get angry. We get vindictive. We get tired. We get embarrassed.

Especially we get stubborn. A lot of the moves we make in conflict tend to be moves we don’t really want to make, that will get us to a place we don’t really want to be, just because we’ve been pushed and we don’t like it. . . . “Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.” – Aubrey de Grey

So before you burn a bridge, turn tail and run, or stubbornly refuse to compromise–ask yourself: What do you ACTUALLY want out of this situation?

Sometimes the way to get the thing you actually want is through boring, unimpressive, unflashy communication. Sometimes getting what you want will mean not doing conflict the fun way, the feel good way, or the badass way.

So when in conflict, STOP–before you do something you’ll regret–and ask yourself: What outcome do I ACTUALLY hope to arrive at? What do I really want out of this situation?

And then focus on that. Not winning. Not proving a point. Not defending yourself. Just on thatthe outcome you want.

Howard Baker - take emotion out of conflict

Blogging 101: 3 Do’s & Don’ts

“Ouch…”

The ominous title to one of my first ever blog posts.

“Tried to barehand a flyball today. Worst case scenario: Root canal.”

Another gem from 14-year-old-blogger-me:

“Does anybody want to buy me a package of two-hundred fifty-three thousand four-hundred and twenty-nine glow in the dark frisbee’s? I’d be much obliged. I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love that many glow-frisbees!”

You’re welcome, World, for sharing the dorky ambitions and random words of wisdom that only a 14-year-old could share. A few nights ago, I stumbled upon my oooold blog, hidden in the nether regions of the internet. I promise you, you will never find it. Thank God.

 

I’ve been blogging since I was a kid. Unfortunately.

On a more serious note, I’ve been writing on this blog for the last several years and have taken blogging seriously as a skill worth learning as well as I can. I write about anything and everything I’ve learned–at work, in my personal life, about communication, about motivation–anything that may be of a little help to someone else walking their own path in this journey we call life.

I’ve grown to really appreciate blogging and to wish that more people would try it. I see two big reasons for people to blog:

 

For other people.

Sure, there’s already a lot of noise out there. So many blogs, articles, opinions. Why would you want to add to it?

The truth is, you really don’t know who your unique way of seeing and saying things may help.

You have had a rich life full of all kinds of experiences, good and bad. You’ve learned from things you’ve seen, heard, and done. You have a lot more wisdom to share than you may think. And every day, others are muddling their way through the same complicated, confusing, challenging life things you have. Or maybe it’s not as deep as all that. Maybe somebody just needs help deciding which new pair of hiking shoes to buy. Can you help with that?

And even if these people find someone else who has learned the same lessons you have and has put it down in words for them, maybe those words weren’t spoken in the unique way that would resonate. Maybe that writer’s perspective isn’t quite what these people need. Maybe your unique experiences and emotions are what will make those lessons click for some.

And even if these people have already found an answer to their questions that resonated–even if they already know–they may still need to hear the lesson said again and again and again and again and again. We’re strange creatures. Sometimes we need to hear what we already know to remember it. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

So don’t be afraid to increase the volume of kind, positive wisdom in this world. We’re all in this together.

 

For yourself.

I think the writer may get more out of the practice of blogging than any reader ever will.

Writing–especially what’s deep in your heart–is an incredibly freeing and therapeutic experience. Try it and see for yourself.

As you put down in words the things you feel deeply and believe deeply, what you care passionately about and what you desire, and the ideas you most want to help others find–as you put these down in words, your thoughts become clearer, your convictions become stronger, and your ideas become more concrete. The practice of thinking and talking through something analytically, searching for the right language to use, is incredibly educational and thought-provoking. Writing is one of the best ways to learn.

And then, after you’ve written for a few years–after you’ve written to help others, written to feel freedom and healing, written to gain clarity and understanding–you look back and realize that your blog is really a journal as much as it is anything. How rewarding to look back and see how your thoughts and cares have developed over time with the turns your life has taken! And best of all, every now and then you will stumble across some of your own words of wisdom: Words you had forgotten, but that you desperately needed to remember on this exact day.

Bonus benefit: If you’re ever in a situation where there’s a need or an opportunity for someone to give a last minute presentation of any nature–inspirational, instructional, etc–having tons of your own prepared presentations at your fingertips is a lifesaver!

 

So why don’t you try blogging?

If you were to give blogging a go, what would you write about? What lessons have you learned in the last year? What do you care most deeply about in life? What have you struggled with? What has made you ecstatically happy?

If you’re ready, there are plenty of places to get started easily and without paying a cent. I use wordpress.com. You can create a blog free and start writing. And if you’re feeling nervous, they’ll let you hide your blog so you can give it a shot without any prying eyes.

What if you don’t know what to write about? What your big message will be? What your topic of expertise will be? That’s okay. Just write what you’re thinking about today, what you learned this year, what you want next year, and what you believe most strongly. What do you wish you could help the world to know? Just start writing. Or maybe write about your hiking shoes.

 

When you’re ready to give blogging a try, here are 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts that I’ve learned (the hard way) in my experience as a blogger. Let’s start with what not to do.

 

DON’T . . .

. . . try to blog perfectly.

You never will. If you wait till you can do it perfectly, you’ll never publish a single post. Besides, sometimes you’ll think you’ve written your best piece and it won’t resonate with anyone. And then you’ll write one you just think is weak and poorly written, and you’ll be surprised to discover it spoke deeply to lots of readers. Your “best” will sometimes be your worst, and your “worst” will often be your best. So don’t try to blog perfectly.

. . . try to keep everyone happy.

You can’t. You have so many strong, genuine, deeply caring messages inside of you to give. So many ideas and experiences that could help others. But every one of those messages is going to piss someone off. It’s okay. You have to be okay with it. If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll water down everything you write until your words don’t help anybody. (And then someone will still be displeased with you for being a people-pleaser.)

. . . be embarrassed.

Eventually, you’ll look back at a post you wrote a long time ago and you won’t like it. Your face will go beet-red, like mine always does. You’ll cringe and shake your head and panic a little. “I can’t believe I shared this with the world! This is awful! What was I thinking?” And then you’ll realize that everything is okay and that life went on. That’s a good moment to experience.

 

DO . . .

. . . write from your heart.

I know this is so cliche. But I think it’s the strongest and best advice anyone can possibly give. Even if it’s not blogging–maybe you’re a writer, a speaker, a leader, or an influencer of any kind. Be genuine! People can tell. And when you truly speak your honest and passionate message from deep down inside of you, that will connect with people.

. . . promote yourself.

It’s as simple as this: If you want to talk to people, tell them. Let the world know you’re hear to say something. It just might listen. There’s no shame in asking to be heard.

. . . keep writing.

You’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s a thing. Whether you’re an occasional writer, a hobby blogger, or you make a career of it–you’ll feel like you’re not good enough, not committed enough, and that people won’t take you seriously. Especially early on. You’ll feel self-conscious as you look at how little you’ve done. You’ll feel embarrassed that you only post once or twice a month, that it’s sporadic, or that you’ve lost touch with it for a time. That’s okay. Write another post. And then another. Just keep writing. Baby steps. It’s amazing how a few pieces written here and there add up over several years. Suddenly you’ll turn around and see behind you a hundred posts you’ve written. Words that may have helped countless people along the way and may still help others. Words that have helped you already and will help you again. Just keep writing.

 

Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, said this. And it’s one of my favorite things ever said about being a creator. Whether you blog, write, speak, record a podcast, whatever you do…

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

I hope you share your message with the world. Blogging may be just the way to do it. What do you think? Will you give blogging a try?

If you already are, good luck and keep up the good work! :)

 

I recently presented this material as a Toastmasters speech entitled Blogging 101. At the end of it, I held a Q&A session to further the discussion about what blogging looks like–for me and for others. A few of the questions prompted some great conversation. I’m sharing them here in case it helps.

Q: Is there anything you WON’T write or post about publicly? Anything you wouldn’t want people from work to see? Anything that’s too personal?
A: Not much anymore. There used to be a lot. And then I learned the lesson that a very wise friend of mine once put into words: “People connect at the level of their struggles.” We’re all in this together. If anything, I’m happy to help everyone see that being real is okay.

Q: CAN you decide who gets to see what you write? Can you keep certain people from seeing it?
A: Yes. You can make a blog totally private, so that nobody but you can access it. You can share it with a few certain people so that only they can access it. You can change its search settings such that it’s easy to share but people won’t find it just by searching the internet. Some people who make money by writing valuable content will have their blog set up so that only people who have paid for subscriptions or who have used another related program can access the blog. All kinds of options!

Q: With so many opinions out there, how can you trust that the information you’re getting from a blog is accurate? Like someone’s review of a product?
A: Great question! First of all, there’s no guarantee. You use your best judgment. But a couple helpful ideas: First, if you’re looking for specific information, like feedback or tips on traveling to a certain destination or on which product to buy, does the review or blog you’re reading seem to match the feedback of others? If almost everyone agrees, that tells you something. Second, one of the advantages to blogs is that they’re typically independent. Sure, some bloggers are being paid by the company whose product or service they’re recommending. Generally, they’ll have to disclose this somewhere. But you’ll also find lots of independent third party bloggers who are just writing their own real experiences. If anything, these are more helpful than advertisements and biased info you’ll get on a company’s own website.

Q: Can you blog under a pen name?
A: Yes! Absolutely! You can do that forever, or you can do it to help you get started if you’re nervous.

I’d love to know your answers to these questions! And I’d love to hear if there are any other questions or thoughts you’d like to share.

 

If you are a writer, or are interested in writing, or just like reading about writing, check out My 100th Blog Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing.

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can

Need Someone to Change? 5 Things to Know

Marilyn Ferguson - cannot persuade others to change

When I was younger and knew everything, I was pretty sure I could change everybody’s minds by arguing with them using things like logic.

When I was a little less young and naive, but still knew just about everything, I thought I could still kind of control people’s beliefs and actions by appealing to their feelings and emotions about things.

And now that I’m a little older and hopefully even a little bit less naive than before, I’ve learned that you really can’t make other people agree with you.

You can’t. They might, but you can’t.

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve had to relearn this lesson.

I want to share with you five things I’ve realized as I’ve come to terms with my inability to control what others think, feel, and choose:

1. It’s a good thing I can’t control what others think or do–because I feel like every few days I realize that something I thought I knew was totally wrong.

2. The task of changing and controlling people is exhausting and frustrating anyway. It’s so much nicer to not have to do that.

3. You may as well just accept where people are, understand them, love them, and make the best of it. Loving and getting along is easier after you realize you can’t control others. People are amazing if you love them for who they are.

4. If there is a thing you can’t healthily accept into your life about somebody, that is okay. You cannot change them, and it will only get worse if you try. But you can set boundaries, little or big.

5. If you would still love for someone to make a change, for their sake or yours, be the change you would like to see. Be the proof, the hope they might need, that they’d be okay and safe if they end up changing. And then if they decide they want to make a change, they’ll know they can look to you for help and encouragement.

Hope this helps!

“No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or by emotional appeal.” – Marilyn Ferguson

 

7 Life-Changing Books For Your Reading List

If you know me, you know I like to read. A lot. Like a nerdy lot. Especially if audiobooks on commutes count. So I’ve read a lot of books! And I strongly believe in the power of reading to help people make sense of life and discover who (and how) they want to be.

I’d love to say EVERY book is life-changing. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words resonate with me: “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten–even so, they have made me.” But there are a few books I’ve read that have made such a big difference in my life–personally and professionally–that I can truly say I changed significantly as a person from reading them. 7 come to mind. I’ve found that over the years when people have asked me to recommend some books for them, these are always my go-to’s.

So if you’re looking for your next great read, looking for fuel to grow personally or professionally, or just curious to give reading a shot, try one of these:

1. The Power of a Positive No

This is almost always my top recommendation. I think it’s a universal thing to have trouble saying “no”–no to more busy schedule stuff, no to what people want to get from you, and no to how someone is treating you.

William Ury, a world-famous negotiation specialist, gives an incredibly simple and useful formula for saying no in a way that communicates deep care for the person you’re saying it to. He takes a motivating look at what’s so difficult about saying no in the first place, and why it’s so important to learn to say it anyway. And he makes it all so tangible and relateable that by the time you finish the book, you’re feeling ready and excited for your first opportunity to put it into practice.

I’ve used what I learned from it countless times, including for some of the biggest, scariest no’s I’ve ever had to say. I can honestly say this may have be the most influential book in my life–an absolute lifesaver!     (Reading difficulty: 5 out of 10 | Get it on Amazon)

2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

This book is exactly what the subtitle says: A surprising and eye-opening look at what makes people want to do things. Whenever I’m asked to recommend a good business, leadership, or professional book, this is the one!

Anyone who leads people, manages people, leads or manages themselves (or is a people), will find this an incredibly helpful read. I remember having so many “aha” moments. It explains so much about why we frequently burn out or lose interest when driven by things like authority or money and other carrots and sticks. And it opens your eyes to a whole world of internal fuel and energy. We do the things best and longest that we really want to do. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

This translates exceptionally well into practical management strategy. “Intrinsic motivation” seems truly to be the strongest driver you can help your people find. This book is a game-changer!     (Reading difficulty: 6 out of 10 | Get it on Amazon)

3. Coming to Our Senses

Here’s a good example of a book you don’t know you need to read until you read it. We live in a crazy, noisy, busy, overwhelming world. This book helps find and grow peace, calmness, happiness, and beauty in that world–all in a down-to-earth, accessible way.

Jon Kabat-Zinn helped bring mindfulness meditation to the west, through developing practices like clinical meditation for stress reduction and, and through popular writings like Full Catastrophe Living. Do yourself a huge favor and give this a shot! I hesitate to say much about it, because there are already so many stereotypes and misinformed cliches about “meditation.” Just know that it’s not what you think. And that if you’ll invest the time, reading this can be one of the most mentally cleansing and freeing experiences in your life, and can equip you to keep that peace with you all through life.

Pro tip: Unless you’re ready to seriously take the plunge, ease yourself into this one by first listening to the abridged audiobook (his own narration, about 3 hours), or through his shorter book Wherever You Go There You Are. Just know that the unabridged Coming to Our Senses is a long one and worth taking the time to chew on.     (Reading difficulty: 7 out of 10) | Get it on Amazon) (Abridged audiobook difficulty: 2 out of 10 | Get it on Audiobooks)

4. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents

This always feels like an awkward one to recommend, but I wish the big scary personal life things were less awkward. We’re all human, and we’ve all been through rough times, made mistakes, and struggled with hurt. The truth is, whether this book is about your own experience or about understanding the experiences of other people you love, this is an incredibly eye-opening book. With each page you turn, your appreciation grows a little more for the big-ness of emotional abuse and neglect, and for how it continues to affect people deeply, straight through adult life.

This book is about understanding your own struggles or those of your loved ones. But it’s also just as much a book about hope and healing. It powerfully humanizes the people who have done the hurt (that really impressed me), and it draws clear, freeing pictures of where that hurt came from. It helps you find a way for yourself or your loved ones to step out of the cycle of trauma, to see things for what they really are, and to make positive, healthy, happy decisions about how to do life.

Fair warning: This book is not for the faint of heart. It can be an emotionally exhausting read, but it’s also an incredibly empowering one.     (Reading difficulty: 4 out of 10 | Get it on Amazon)

5. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization

This book could be called Long-Term Thinking 101. It’s a management classic, and it’s one I honestly think should be required reading for all executives and mid- to upper-level managers in companies everywhere (or really for everyone).

Peter Senge delves deep into the world of “Systems Thinking,” identifying cycles and patterns that continuously reappear in business, politics, and even in personal life. History repeats itself again and again and we learn too many lessons the hard way, largely because it takes so long to realize the long-term effects of today’s actions and decisions. By the time one initiative brings a part of the company crashing down, the waters have been muddied by ten other initiatives that have kicked off more recently, and few of the managers have been around long enough to trace the cycle of cause-and-effect.

This book is an amazing primer on thinking carefully about how we got where we are today, and how to actually get where we want to go tomorrow–and how to not ruin everything in the meantime. It’s also pretty heavy academic reading, so buckle up and get ready to think hard!     (Reading difficulty: 9 out of 10 | Get it on Amazon)

6. Escape from Freedom

I feel a little bit weird about putting this on my list. In fact, it might have sneaked its way on here due in part to how recently I read it. But I have a feeling this one’s effects will last a lifetime. It was originally published during World War II and explores why individuals and entire populations make weird and disturbing choices.

Big disclaimer right off the bat: I got to the end of this one and still totally disagreed with a lot of Fromm’s outlook on life and its meaning. But reading this also seriously stretched me. It made me think harder than just about any other book I’ve read. And it made the whole world make so much more sense. Best (and worst) of all, it opened my eyes to a lot of manufactured safety nets I’ve depended on through life that, at the end of the day, won’t provide me the safety I’m looking for. The gist is this: We’re born into a very structured environment. As we grow up we start to see just how arbitrary a lot of authority and tradition is. So we kick and scream for our freedom. And then we get our freedom. And it is terrifying! The intense anxiety that true freedom produces is staggering. So we try to re-submit ourselves to whatever authorities or thoughts used to give us security and confidence in our roles. But it’s too late–we know better, and pretending we still fit into the world we escaped from will drive us (literally) crazy. The other option is to bravely accept the freedom we have found, and live and love honestly.

Don’t read if you’re not ready for some deep reflection. This one is pretty brutal.     (Reading difficulty: 7 out of 10 | Get it on Amazon)

7. Social Intelligence

I’m going to cheat and combine two books: You really should read Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence before this one. Goleman popularized the scientific study of “EQ” (as opposed to “IQ”). In most areas of life, having emotional maturity, strength, understanding, and awareness provides more benefits and leads to more success than does IQ–the more traditional measurement of potential, focused on logic and intellect.

Social Intelligence goes a step further than his first book and explores the intricacies of relationships and communication. It includes fascinating stories about how people work and fit together and great practical tips about how to communicate, work, and live effectively with others. So many things will click into place as you read this. “Oooooh, that’s why…” is a thought I had over and over while I read this, as past and present relationships suddenly made sense.

Both Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence are very easy and very rewarding books to read. I found the second even more helpful for me than the first. Need help being a person? Read Daniel Goleman.     (Reading difficulty: 2 out of 10 | Get it on Amazon)

 

So those are my favorites–the ones that have made the biggest difference in my life.

I always love helping people find helpful books to learn and grow from, so if you’re ever looking for a good recommendation–even if it’s for a specific topic or situation–don’t hesitate to ask!

Happy reading!!!

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” – Henry Ford