Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Do You Need in a Relationship? Besides "Love."

Here's my top five things:

1.  EMOTIONAL CLOSENESS:
     Do I feel heard and understood?

2.  FUN:
     Do I have fun with you?

3.  TRUST:
     Are you a safe harbour where I can moor my boat?
     Is it safe to come home?
     Will I be nurtured and cared for?

4.  PHYSICAL CLOSENESS:
     Is my body accepted and loved by you?
     Is a hug or cuddle available or withheld?
     Are my physical needs validated or mocked?

5.  RESPECT:
     Do you respect my concerns or devalue them?

These components are provided in varying degrees at various times.  We might prefer 100% of these all the time, but we find we can be happy with some other percent.  Some days, we are only able to give 70% ourselves.

What are your desired components?

What do you give?

Ask your partner.  It might be a scary conversation, but it seems like a genuine one and might keep you from being blindsided by some imagined dissatisfaction down the road.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Is the Universe Indifferent, Part 2


Early yesterday morning, I was driving down a ramp running past this church heading towards the highway.  A deer came bounding across the highway ahead of me.  I was still going slow and able to stop (and luckily the guy behind me stopped too). I know this happens all the time in New Jersey, but it had never happened to me here.

If in my delusional subjectivity , I believed the universe was sending me a message, it would be this:  You can live in two worlds: the forest and the city, and occasionally the creative natural part of you can leap up and STOP TRAFFIC, if you have to.

Or maybe the message from the universe is simply, "Lil, like this friggin' deer, you are LOST.  Figure out where home is and where you can be safe and go there."

Jewish philosopher, Richard Rubenstein wrote:  "We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources."  I'm inclined to agree, but the universe gives us so much, so much.  

It's fun to imagine it is a sentient, engaged universe sending me mysteries to unravel. What messages do you get from the universe?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What Does It Mean to Face Your Problems?

Wouldn't it be easier to avoid facing one's problems?  Even suffering is easier than facing one's problems -- for a while.  Eventually we put on our big girl or big boy pants and deal with things.  Here's a poem I wrote on the topic in 2005 about things that had happened years earlier.  Here it is years later and there are still many things that need facing - probably always will be.

FACING IT

 "Maybe you never get over anything. You just find a way of carrying it as gently as possible."  -- Bronwen Wallace
Facing it is deciding not to wipe blood off the floor
Well, not so much deciding, as letting it sit there, declaring itself.

          Facing it is sitting alone, 
          watching your 8-year-old play baseball
          in a park on a sunny day
          And when she makes her way around the bases, you think
                   If this is as good as it gets –
                   This is pretty good.

          Facing it is saying to a new lover,
          “What makes your life meaningful?”
          And if he says, “My gun collection,”
          disarming him with a smile
          and cancelling the next date.

          Facing it is seeing it in others
          – an isolated student or neighbour
          entombed in anger
          on the verge of explosion.
          So you listen, just listen – 
           a candle in a cave.

          Then facing it is writing it
          telling it
          to yourself, to another
          to the world.

          Facing it is accepting it
          with compassion and grace
          letting your heart grow wider

          and eventually
          scrubbing the blood off the floor
          packing up and moving on
                   and carrying it with you,
                     . . . gently

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Did You Hear What I Didn't Say?

I teach active, empathic listening to grad students.  Many of them are highly skilled, multi-talented computer scientists from universities around the globe.
Image result for stressed coworker
Team member's stress
When we listen accurately, everyone benefits.  We can better understand
  • our client's needs
  • our supervisor's instructions
  • our team member's stress.
Showing awareness of unspoken feelings can hasten connection and problem-solving in difficult situations.

Empathic listening might involve guessing at a person's underlying feelings and tentatively reflecting those feelings back.  Since our emotional vocabulary might be limited to Seseme Street feelings, I provide students with lists of emotions and ask them to identify the feelings they have had in the last day, week, or month.

After the students learn and roleplay responding with empathy, I  pull troubling statements out of a bag and go around the circle, asking each student to respond to a different statement.  These are all real statements that people have said to me.



  1. Young adult:  “I hate it when my parents’ friends ask me what I’m going to do with my life.  I don’t know what I want to do yet and they really want me to know.”
  2. Friend:  “I spilled coffee on my keyboard.  Fried everything."
  3. Friend:  “My mom’s in the psycho ward.  She tried to overdose."
  4. Friend:  "My husband's so depressed, he hung a noose from a rafter in the hall.  Every day when I come home, I climb up on a ladder and cut it down.  The next day, it's up again."
The exercise is hard, but particularly hard for some of my foreign students.  Maybe they can't imagine that there is an underlying, unspoken feeling, and probably, the exercise makes no sense to them.

After my last workshop.  I asked one of my students how he felt about the class.
"It was interesting," he said.
"If one of your friends back home told you about a personal problem, what's the first thing you would say?" I asked.
"I'd say, 'thank you,' to my friend."
"Thank you?"
"It's so unusual," he said, "for someone to tell me a problem that I'd say thank you to them - thank you for trusting me with the problem."
 Thank you, my student for giving me that information. It will help me teach this unit. 

Possible Answers
Seriously, there's no "right" answer.  Just try to imagine what the other person is going through and reflect it back.  Read their body language if you can.  This response is just a first step in a longer conversation.  Also, be mindful of really really bad stuff and let your response reflect that awareness.
1.  "That must be embarrassing for you - to not be able to give them an answer."
2.  "Oh crap!! That's awful.  You must feel so mad at yourself."
3.  "You must be so shocked and worried."
4.  "Maybe he's trying to tell you something."   -- no just kidding, that would be a terrible response -- How about, "You must be afraid to go home."  or  "It sounds like you are feeling completely helpless."

(I want to cry thinking of these examples.  Please, shoot me an empathic response.)


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Did You Hear What I Said? Part Two

I once taught a workshop at a national research institute for fuel cell innovation. The health and safety inspectors had put the institute on notice for bad and dangerous communication. They had to work towards correcting the problem. The institute employed scientists from around the world.  I taught workshops on listening.  They explained the problem and invited me to the site.
My workshop was called: Chicken Soup for the Inner Ear: Effective Listening in a Diverse Community.

It appeared that due to language and cultural differences, safety rules were not being heard and understood. While everyone spoke English, there was a good chance that they were also translating in their heads and something might be lost in the translation.  There were also cultural differences. 
"Imagine an expert is explaining a safety procedure," I said, "and you are not 100% sure that you understand.  It would be a good idea to say, 
  • Please explain that again or 
  • What do you mean by . . .? or 
  • Can I repeat back my understanding of this?"
One person said, "I could not do that. It is considered rude in my culture."

We did some roleplaying and discovered a workaround, so that politeness would not lead to them being BLOWN UP by volatile chemicals.

There were about 25 scientists and engineers in the workshop. I was wondering how well they listened to one another, so we did this exercise:

I asked them to explain their job to the person next to them. The next person would have to repeat back in their own words what the first person's job was.

As we began this exercise, it quickly became obvious that rather than hearing what the person was saying, the listener interpreted it or translated it and said it back  inaccurately.  As we did this, the class became more engaged and invested.  They gradually realized that if there were so many misunderstandings and misinterpretations in this simple exercise, things might be going very badly in more complicated, technical conversations.

The company is still standing.  The only thing that has exploded so far is the myths they carried of being good communicators.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Is There Still "Service" in Customer Service? Answer: SEND ME A GUY

TUESDAY, July 7, 2015
    Due to a sudden personal crisis, I had been unable to sleep for several nights.  I was a zombie, and, stumbling into the day, I knocked coffee all over my computer.



    I looked up Dell on Get a Human and phoned.  In the past, getting a human at Dell has taken HOURS -- hours and hours filled with oceans of hurt. I'd have to book a day off to get help from Dell.
    But this time a human immediately confirmed that I had a warranty until 2018 and connected me quickly to another human.  Let's call her Saffron. 
    Saffron said, "Pack up your computer and mail it to us."
    I said, "SEND ME A GUY."
    She tried to do several diagnostics, I pressed F2, F12, start, restart.  She wasn't getting the information she needed.  I said: "SEND ME A GUY."
    She said, "I can't send you a guy until I know what parts to send him. If you mail it to us, then we'll have all the parts available."
    I said, "SEND ME A GUY."
    She said, "He might have the wrong parts. He might have to make several trips."
    I said, "SEND ME A GUY."
    She said she'd order some parts and send me a guy, and then sent me this personal email: 
    "I enjoyed working with you today on your coffee spill issue. I have included your service request and dispatch information below. Please be sure to contact me immediately if you do not hear from the onsite technician by noon tomorrow morning."

    WOW.

    WEDNESDAY, July 8, 2015

    I hadn't heard from the guy so I sent an email to Saffron at 9:46 a.m.
    Within an hour, she wrote back saying, "I just checked the status, it looks like the technician does not have the part yet. He will reach out once he picks up the part. I’ll keep you posted."
    Around 2:00 p.m., the guy phoned and said the parts were in and he was on his way over.
    The guy, Correy, arrived.  He looked at my computer and said, "OY GEVALT!!" -- this is a Yiddish expression, that I wasn't expecting to hear from a techy.  Correy was amazing.  They had sent him what seems to be the Standard COFFEE-WINE Repair Kit. It had a new motherboard, a new keyboard, a new USB port, and other goodies. 
    By 4:00 p.m. -- 30 hours after the spill -- my computer was up and running. I am guessing that if I had mailed it to Dell, I'd still be waiting.
    I wrote Saffron about the great service.  She wrote back saying this:
    "I’m glad to hear you were pleased with the service!! You can always reach out to me with any other issues. It was a pleasure assisting you!"
    (The exclamation marks are hers.)
    Correy gave me his cell # and told me to contact him anytime.  He said, "You have the complete care warranty. You can throw the computer off the roof of your house and we'll fix it."

    It's a brave, new world of customer service.
    My new mantra:  "Send me a guy."