Have a Voice

Imagine a world where we truly could be like Sara Bareilles wants us to be.

What would the world be like?  I think it would be full of action, full of honesty, full of development, and, dare I say it, full of smiles!  But, that isn’t how the world is.

What keeps us from being brave?  Our fear keeps us from doing a lot.  We fear that we may hurt ourselves by exposing a dark secret or by looking stupid in front of others.  We fear that we may hurt others.  People will think that we think they are stupid or that we don’t deeply care for them.

This post is meant to help us practice being brave.  I hope to help with two mindset changes: 1) A fear of the world full of action, honesty, development and smiles not existing if we don’t speak up and have important conversations; and 2) A mental toolbox to help us have important conversations.  I wanted to share what I found most useful from my reading the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.

Tools for a Crucial Conversation

First, knowing what a Crucial Conversation is will be helpful.  Think of any time when you felt nervous to speak.  Chances are you were in a situation suited for a Crucial Conversation.  Here is the wordy definition in case the emotional one didn’t work: A Crucial Conversation occurs during moments of high emotion, high stakes, and (potentially) opposing opinions.  As a general example, telling a friend or family member to get their act together would be considered a crucial conversation.

Below are the tools which I found most useful.

Look for signs of being uncomfortable, then start the conversation

Here are some common signs.

  • Rapidly beating heart
  • Wanting to move away and be alone
  • Thinking the other person is stupid
  • Wanting to hit something

Once the signs are realized, saying, “I am uncomfortable,” is a way to start the conversation.

Create Safety with Others

Be upfront about the importance of the conversation.  Share the goal of the conversation with the other person.  This helps to avoid letting the goal suddenly switch to winning.  Usually, at least one of the goals is to understand what the other person thinks.  Coming from the angle of trying-to-understand is much safer than the angle of trying-to-change.

On a similar note, ask for the other’s help or opinion.  People will need to be reminded that the conversation isn’t meant to be an attack.  When others cause us to question ourselves, we become naturally defensive.  Therefore, being able to be an empathetic listener will also help to consistently create safety.

State Objective Facts

Compare the following two comments.

“You are a weak, dispassionate, and lazy coward while managing your classroom.”

“Students keep talking after the quiet-down signal.  Meanwhile, you sit straight-faced for about a minute after giving the signal.  No discussion takes place about the students’ inappropriate behavior takes place afterward.”

Both comments would be hard to hear, but the first will likely cause a much stronger defensive act than the second.  If we want to help, then we must avoid using emotionally charged phrases.  Plus, we can’t solve a puzzle without first laying out the pieces.  Using objective facts accomplishes this.

End the Conversation with a Clear Resolution

What actions will take place now?  What criteria will be used to evaluate the next performance?  How have your views or opinions changed due to the conversation?

Ending the conversation by answering one or a few of these questions will help ensure the conversation was meaningful to have.

Imagine a World Without Crucial Conversations

What if you never said, “Hello,” to your partner?

What if you never stood up for the kid being bullied?

What if you never said, “I love you”?

Remember how good it felt after those conversations.  That good feeling is what life would be missing.  I hope we can fear the losing of that good feeling.  If we truly do fear it, then we will all act bravely.



Measurement – One Key to Growth

Why Measure?

The feeling of growth is one of our motivators in life.  This is according to Tony Robbins, an extremely successful self-development guru.  As an example, let me share with you a personal story from my last summer.

Fitness has always been one of my goals.  Last summer, I decided to base my fitness on four criteria: 1. pushups; 2. pullups; 3. mile time; and 4. soccer ball juggles.  I had a set routine which consisted of me doing what I considered regular workouts every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  Then on every Sunday, I would take my measurements.  Everything was great.  I was consistently seeing improvement and feeling good about myself.  Then, I decided to stop measuring.

Here is what caused my decision to stop measuring.  I was reading many books, articles, and blogposts about “being in the present moment.”  There is a beauty that shows itself when we are in the present moment.  So, I decided that I am going to work out solely for the beauty of the workout moments.  Boy did this little experiment fail!  As it turns out, there is a lot of pain when you work out.  Guess what ended up happening to my workouts?

I stopped!

What’s the Benefit in Measuring?

Measuring allows us to visualize our growth.  When I was working out and measuring, for example, I saw my pullups, pushups, and juggles increase.  I saw my mile time decrease.  I was able to clearly visualize my progress.  The visualization leads to realization.  Realization leads to the feelings of accomplishment and importance.

To sum up: “Measurization” –> Visualization –> Realization –> “Feelings-of-accomplishment-and-importance-ation.”

How Can We Use This?

Come up with a way to measure any new goal or habit you want in your life.  More importantly, take and record the measurements!

Here’s a recent example from my life.  I set a goal to reduce the amount of water I use while showering.  During a water unit I was teaching last year, I found out that Africans use, on average, 5 gallons of water per day!  To bring this back to showering, I found out that the estimate for water use for showers is 2.5 gallons per minute.  Also, with one of my roles being an environmentalist, I wanted to reduce the amount of time I spent in the shower.

What did I measure?  I measured the amount of time I spent in the shower.  I also measured what my showerhead’s flow rate is (1.7 gallons/min).  After my measurements, I was able to create the graph below to help me visualize my results.

Water per shower

I was able to see, or realize, the progress in decreasing the amount of water I was using (the two spikes were when I shaved in the shower which didn’t happen during the other showers).  And, this caused me to feel great!  Woohoo!  The feeling of accomplishment!

Back to Create to Know

When we record our measurements, we are creating an artifact of our life.  I figured this was a good time to be reminded of the importance of creating artifacts.  Furthermore and on a related note, I wanted to share my complete write-up of this experiment.  If we truly are to be the roles we want to be, then we must create things which support them!

The Art of Listening

The Untaught Skill

Listening for feeling is a rarely taught skill.  Within the Common Core, listening is found.  Here is one of the standards:

Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.

I have a feeling people assume that only facts are being said.  But, how often do we say something we don’t really mean?  Or, there is a hidden meaning in what we say?

Empathetic Listening

In order to understand a person, we must understand his/her emotions.  Human behavior stems from emotions.  Throughout our lives we are told to be empathetic, or to try to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.  Empathetic listening is actively being empathetic.  But, it has a bonus!  We get to check if we are correct almost immediately.

Below is an example of empathetic listening done by a father to his son.  This is taken from Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

S: Boy, Dad, I’ve had it!  School is for the birds!

D: You’re really frustrated about school.

S: I sure am.  It’s totally impractical.  I’m not getting a thing out of it.

D: You feel like school’s not doing you any good.

S: Well, yeah.  I’m just not learning anything that’s going to help me.  I mean, look at Joe.  He’s dropped out of school and he’s working on cars.  He’s making money.  Now that’s practical.

D: You feel that Joe really has the right idea.

S: Well, I guess he does in a way.  He’s really making money now.  But in a few years, I bet he’ll probably be ticked off at himself.

Note the responses by the dad.  They contain both the content of what the son was saying and the feeling the son had.  This is a great model of how to show someone you understand them, both in content and in emotion.  Now, if the dad was wrong in either the content or emotion, the son would correct him.  That was the added bonus I mentioned earlier.  Also, compare this to how a “normal” person would respond.  A normal person would likely argue with the son as soon as leaving school was brought up, which is a non-productive dialogue.

  Why is Empathetic Listening an Important Skill?

People are far happier when they are understood.  By showing, or at least attempting to show, that you understand, the other person feels important.  This develops trust, which is required for complete honesty.  And with honesty, we get all the data we need to solve problems.  Who doesn’t like solving problems?  Boom.  Happy.

The Dreaded Question

What’s My Purpose in Life?

Gallup reports that only 13% of people are engaged in their job.  This means that the great majority of people are not excited for their work.  They aren’t passionate about something they spend close to half of their day doing.    Why is this something to be concerned about?

Imagine doing something that you love.  More importantly, imagine how you act both while and after doing it.  When I start creating meaningful lessons for students, I get excited.  I share my ideas with others around me excitedly and I can see excitement start to build within them.  But, this is only when I am doing passionate work.

What happens when we spend the majority of our time doing things we aren’t passionate about?  Our fuel is drained.  People around us aren’t excited or seemingly very interesting.  We begin to question our importance in the world, especially with the realization that we can easily be replaced at our current jobs.  For me, forced meetings and mandatory curriculum suck the passion out of me.  And I’ve listened enough to other people to know I’m not alone.  So, what can we do to either get back or find the passion in our lives?

Start to Take Back Control of Your Life

We all want to feel important.  A pat on the back, being told good job, or a surprise gift cause us to feel special.  Those are all good things, but they aren’t what drives passion.  The feeling of importance must come from within.  We must answer the question, What causes us to feel important and we have direct influence on?

Achieving goals.

When we make progress we become happier.  The key word is progress.  I could set a goal to lay on a couch all day, but it wouldn’t make me happy.  In fact, it would likely do the opposite.  How do we know what we consider progress?  How do we decide what goals to make?

Using the Fear of Death to Develop and Write a Personal Mission Statement

Watch this Sam Harris video and pay attention to the epiphany he mentions.  Does it resonate with you?

“The one thing people tend to realize at moments like this is that they wasted a lot of time when life was normal…They cared about the wrong things.”

What do you care about?  To help you figure this out, I suggest using the following scenario and questions.

Imagine you are attending your own funeral in three years time.  What descriptions do you want people to use to describe you?  What accomplishments do you want people to be discussing?  Who is attending the funeral?

Each questions focuses on a different value you have.  The first question puts into focus what you want your character to be.  In other words, it helps you identify how you wish to act.  Is it honest? Bold? Funny?  A go-getter type?  A go-with-the-flow type?  The second question puts into focus what impact you’d like to make on the community.  Maybe you want to reduce world hunger.  Maybe you want to coach a youth team.  Maybe you want to start your own business.  The third question puts into focus what relationships you should prioritize.  Maybe that grudge you are holding against your sibling does need to be taken care of.

Use the Ideas to Write a Mission Statement

A mission statement describes how you will act.  It is general guidelines to assess your actions.  It should be vague enough to let life’s spontaneity flow, yet clear enough to know when you should, or should have, said no to a circumstance.  With it in place, you should definitively know what you must apologize for and what you shouldn’t.

Below is my current mission statement.  Like the U.S. Constitution, my mission statement has changed.  But, the main messages have not.  Please share your personal mission statement or any questions you have related to this post in the comments below.

My Mission Statement

I will be a humanitarian.  I will act respectfully and compassionately toward all humans.  The long-term well-being of the community will guide my actions.

I will be an environmentalist.  I will act in ways to respect and develop the environment.  Developing an environment which encourages well-being and attempting to be zero-sum in terms of energy use are my goals.

I will be a scientist.  I will act in ways to empirically explain phenomena.  Continuous questioning, learning, and creating and sharing of experiments is my goal.

I will be inspirational.  I will act passionately.  The enthusiastical sharing of my stories, lessons learned, and adventures in my life is my goal.


Play – “Working” for Free

Work for free.  Do what you truly want to do.  Then life becomes play.

Listen to this.  We should all chase after what truly makes us happy.  Positivity is contagious and people will eventually pay you to supply it.  And what better way can we supply it then by doing what we want to do?  If you are coming up with a blank, then I am with you.

So, what do you truly like to do?  Go start doing it for free.

I enjoy playing sports (soccer, tennis, and volleyball), cooking, reading, and writing.  And I will continue doing it for free.