Category Archives: Relationships

The PRACTICE of CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS

We are social beings and need the love and support of other human beings to survive and prosper. Yet many people grow up in cultural conversations of independence that lead them to believe that they don’t need help and it is in fact a sign of weakness to ask for help.

The posts and articles here will help you build strong villages of people that will help you achieve your goals. (Yes. If I hear the word “community” again I will shoot somebody.)

Do you give confronting feedback?

Do you give confronting feedback?

Recently my girlfriend gave me feedback on my writing, and it didn’t go well. Just about everything that we knew about what to do, or not do when giving feedback went wrong, and I felt personally attacked.  Funny thing is that we are both trained and experienced in giving and receiving feedback.

But it went wrong anyway.

Only days before, she recounted how she took critical feedback personally, so it’s clear we forget to practice what we know.

what’s going on when feedback goes awry

Many things can go wrong when giving feedback e.g the giver is too rough and ignores what’s working, or too nice and ignores what’s not, but the biggest thing that can go wrong with feedback is having it land on the person and not on her work.

Receiver takes it personally

Photo by Giorgio Parravicini

That’s what happened with me and my girlfriend. I felt that I, not my work, was the focus of her feedback which expressed her deep disappointment in me. I took it personally, (even though I’ve written about why not to). Instead of feeling encouraged to fly, I felt I could never soar like an eagle because I was flapping little penguin wings.

The emotional minefield

Perhaps where we both went wrong was forgetting that every human relationship is laden with emotional (land)mines, and regardless of how strong a relationship, a careless or casual remark, can trip one off. The remark brings up something from a person’s past—a relationship with a demanding parent or being unfairly criticized and laughed at when they were seven.

I think it’s good to approach any form of evaluation, performance appraisal, or acknowledgment with care for not setting off an emotional landmine.

Learning to confront

I believe it was in “Difficult Conversations” by Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton where I read something about giving feedback (criticizing) that stuck with me. As I recall it had to do with the strong connotations of criticism with confrontation.

Consider how we think of the word confront:

  1. oppose, as in hostility or a competition. “You must confront your opponent”; “Jackson faced Smith in the boxing ring”; “The two enemies
    flickr.com/photos/johannwalterbantz

    finally confronted each other”

  2. deal with (something unpleasant) head on; “You must confront your problems”;

The word confront connotes hostility, argument, opposition. We approach most feedback as a confrontation and we think we’ll either come out winning or losing.

Stone and Patton offered a different way of thinking about confrontation based on the original meaning of the word confront: to stand with (the person receiving the feedback), in front of (their work: the thing being evaluated). I’ve interpreted this as—

Feedback should be triangular, not linear

Photo by marklordphotography

Think of someone you need to give some important feedback to. Picture you and that person as two points of a triangle facing the third, the article, report, sculpture, video of a performance etc. Both of you are physically oriented towards the work and discussing how (helping each other) to improve it. This “triangulation” differs from how we usually give feedback.

Linear feedback

In the normal feedback formation, the giver and receiver face each other with the work in the middle. Often though, the person receiving the feedback places herself in the middle to defend her work from the criticism. She tries to protect her work because, for her, her work IS HER.

Feedback-triangulation as I call it doesn’t inoculate the receiver from hurt and defensiveness, but it does reduce the chances of this happening. Why? Because the triangular formation helps focus both sides on something external to them both.

Feedback is standing together to face a shared interest.

Can a simple physical orientation make such a difference? It can, but it’s actually more a mental orientation. The physical orientation is more like training wheels when learning to ride. With time and practice, and an ability to share when feedback is landing personally, both giver and receiver won’t need the physical orientation because they get something key to effective feedback:

We’re on the same side

Once the person receiving feedback gets that the person giving the feedback is on their side, almost anything can be said without anyone taking it personally.

But sometimes we forget we’re on the same side, as I did when I listened to my girlfriend’s very valid comments. We got it straight though. We talked things out and discovered how things landed for the other. We forgave, hugged, kissed and moved on.

Might not work with your direct reports though.

So first establish you’re on their side before giving feedback to anyone you care about, and triangulate your feedback. Your comments are about what could make the work become stronger, faster, more effective or more creative.

It’s not about the person.

Trust they will incorporate the feedback into their next attempt, and their tiny penguin flippers will grow into eagle wings, or they’ll figure out those little fellas are for rocketing through water, not air.

Photo by Teaksu Kim
Do you care who you disrespect?

Do you care who you disrespect?

Everyone is disrespectful. Some more than others. Most are unintentionally disrespectful, some intentionally. These last are usually powerful people whose disrespect is tolerated or perversely, even appreciated. But grand examples of disrespectful leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, don’t drive the small, and sometimes grossly, disrespectful acts ordinary people perpetrate every day. Yes, thereContinue Reading

Are you enough?

Are you enough?

In James Arthur’s “Say you won’t let go” he sings “I met you in the dark, you lit me up. You made me feel as though I was enough” Those last three words hit me deep, and I’ve wondered why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve rarely felt I was enough. For most of my life I’veContinue Reading

The half-life of a grievance

The half-life of a grievance

Every now and then, an old grievance comes to mind. There’s one about a guy who accused me of something I didn’t do, and whenever his name comes up, the grievance is right behind. Sometimes from out of nowhere the grievance enter’s the spotlight of my mind and a variation of the incident replays —oneContinue Reading

What you’ll almost always regret

What you’ll almost always regret

There is no pill to stop you from doing or saying something stupid, but you can reduce your chances of doing something you’ll regret if you pay attention to the mood you’re in. There are two moods that promote actions you will almost always regret: anger and fear. Acting from anger I’ve regretted almost everyContinue Reading

Dispelling regret

Dispelling regret

The biggest problem with regret is that it keeps your attention on the past where you re-play your favourite beat-yourself-up stories, or you play out different scenarios of how your life would have turned out better if only you hadn’t insulted your boss, or chose what was behind door 2 instead of door 3. MostContinue Reading

Regret is like dogshit

Regret is like dogshit

Most of us wrestle with regret from time to time and it’s interesting to notice how often we do. For many of us, we never seem to win our regret re-matches and we seem to be locked in an ongoing conflict between how things are and how things might have been…if only. What is regretContinue Reading

Are you a hypocrite?

Let’s save some time. Of course you are; at least if you go by the strict definition of the word. Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform. Every one is a hypocrite in some area of their life. What is hypocrisy? But hypocrisy orContinue Reading

Stop taking the bait

Stop taking the bait

Ever kicked yourself for sending an email, or raising your voice in anger?  How did that work out for you?  I’m betting not good.  Nothing got solved, relationships weren’t helped, in fact things got worse. So you learned your lesson right?  You’ll never do that again. But you did didn’t you? Welcome to the club.Continue Reading

The one person you should be in a committed relationship with

The one person you should be in a committed relationship with

When asked if he was dating anyone, a comedian said that he was in an exclusive relationship with himself. It was funny because everyone expected him to name some hot starlet, or at least someone else. What he meant was that he was way too selfish to be in a committed relationship with anyone. ButContinue Reading

The one job of a parent

The one job of a parent

Almost every time I’ve listened to the stories of someone lacking self-confidence or going through recurring relationship problems, depression, anger, etc. I’ve heard one of a child who felt  they weren’t loved, weren’t loved as much as another sibling, or were loved conditionally e.g. by good grades, winning, doing chores etc. Mom/Dad didn’t love meContinue Reading

The real reason to forgive

The real reason to forgive

When people talk about forgiveness it’s often in a religious context—as heaven’s admission price. But forgiveness is not only for the deeply religious, it’s a fundamental human capacity—like capacities to think, work and create —that we either develop or it withers.  And before we can even talk about how to develop one’s capacity to forgive,Continue Reading

Friend or Foe: Choose!

Friend or Foe: Choose!

In your daily encounters, which would you prefer to make?  Friends or foes? That’s not a trick question.  Too often people choose to foe-make by reacting unhelpfully to negative social and work encounters.  Sometimes with scowls, snide remarks, the finger or outright ‘cussin’.  Even when our reactions to apparent unhelpfulness or bad attitudes are notContinue Reading

Take responsibility, don’t apologise

Take responsibility, don’t apologise

An apology is the best way to heal the relationship damage we cause when our mistakes hurt people. But there are times—usually in political situations—when offering an apology is not in your best interest. I once found myself in a difficult position where despite working very hard I made an unbelievable goof that had myContinue Reading

Emotional labour — the source of service

Emotional labour — the source of service

Someone recounted an unkind incident to me recently.  A govt worker was insensitive and cruel to an old lady who was alone and in need of help.  Like a scene from a slavery or apartheid era movie, this woman thought it fit to speak in a condescending and accusing manner to a person who wasContinue Reading

Why we don’t teach forgiveness

Why we don’t teach forgiveness

How could it be that we don’t actively practice forgiveness? The most popular prayer in the world, literally a prayer straight from the big Guy admonishes “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yet forgiveness is not taught, practiced or developed in mainstream education. To the extent encouraged in religiousContinue Reading

The whole truth and nothing but

The whole truth and nothing but

Many of our people problems at home and at work come from the common mistake that we can know not only the truth, but the whole truth … and nothing but. We can’t—and that’s why I can’t imagine being selected for a jury. How could anyone take the oath “I solemnly swear to tell theContinue Reading

Why we hate to commit, and why we must

Why we hate to commit, and why we must

Most people hate to commit. No, it’s not just guys in relationship and marriage. The average person hates to be pinned down by a promise and that’s why the willingness to obligate to another person is THE differentiator of professionals. But what accounts for this unwillingness to commit? Why does making commitments seem as unappealingContinue Reading

Relationship lessons from Soap Operas

Relationship lessons from Soap Operas

TV soap operas are addictive because most people can’t resist being on the inside of people’s lives, knowing their dirty laundry and having someone—an arch villain to hate.  We somehow can’t pull ourselves away from watching a totally avoidable and needless drama unfold. One person does something, says something, or maybe doesn’t do or sayContinue Reading

What to do when you lack credibility

What to do when you lack credibility

The other day I gave a talk about something that my particular audience knew that I was bad at. Most teachers and coaches are not nobel prize winners in their fields, but to be effective they must have some authority, and with this particular audience I had as much credibility as Toronto Mayor Rob FordContinue Reading

We can all be like Madiba

We can all be like Madiba

It’s easy to talk about Mandela as if he were a secular saint.  He certainly would meet the minimum two miracle requirement for sainthood: He literally transformed, fear, hatred and vengeance into forgiveness and compassion.   Not exactly raising Lazarus, but trumps water into wine, don’t you think? For his second miracle, how about hisContinue Reading

Six things we can learn from the faithful

Six things we can learn from the faithful

I’ve shut the door on many a Jehovah’s witness so it may seem odd to say that I admire them.  But I believe that devout people of faith can teach us a few things about living a passionate committed life. Here are six: 1. Choose your context The first is they have chosen a context forContinue Reading

Why we fail at making people change

Why we fail at making people change

People always seem to do or believe things that are destructive, inconsiderate, inefficient, ineffective, short-sighted, annoying, exasperating, etc., etc. Those of us who know better (ahem),… would like them to stop. But annoyingly, our efforts to cause change don’t work. Why won’t they change dammit! We make people wrong Because we make people feel stupid,badContinue Reading

Icebergs, superstars and you

Icebergs, superstars and you

No doubt you already know that most of an iceberg’s mass lies beneath the surface.  If not, …you’re welcome. Recently the scale of this fact impressed me.   Imagine … for all the visible ice towering above the surface—sometimes 30 metres or more—there’s twice as much of it beneath the surface. What does this haveContinue Reading

Resist the urge to react

Resist the urge to react

A few days ago I was standing with a friend at a dead-end looking at the sun go down when a couple with a dog emerged from a car. The man threw an empty one-litre water bottle down on the beach below as the woman gingerly proceeded down a very steep and almost dangerous embankmentContinue Reading

A Caregiver’s Touch

A Caregiver’s Touch

When my dad was in the hospital, I had an opportunity to observe the different styles of doctors.  They ran all the way from aloof and distant to intimate and caring. Now I can’t imagine what it does to a person’s psyche to watch people die as part of your job; to literally pronounce theirContinue Reading

What purpose justice?

In one of the recent debates for the republican nomination, Brian Williams prefaced his question to Governor Rick Perry about the death penalty by saying that his state had executed over 234 prison inmates, more than any other Governor in modern times. What was shocking was not the Governor’s claim that the he was unbotheredContinue Reading

Having trouble improving a relationship? Try this:

A few days ago I listened to Doug Stevenson—teacher of the Story Theater Method—share how he improved his relationship with his young step-son. Doug related how hard he was trying to communicate with his teenage stepson and that nothing seemed to work. His communications were being ignored, or mis-understood and he was getting nowhere fast.Continue Reading

Why not teach listening in school?

One of the most fundamental human needs is to be heard; to have the feeling that the person looking right at us is also getting what we’re saying. That s/he is really listening to us. Buy why is that experience so rare? Look at talk shows, the American Congress, or just witness people in socialContinue Reading

Use that video button more often—one day you’ll be happy you did

There’s a video feature on every modern day digital camera that most people don’t use. That’s a pity because it really takes no skill to shoot a video. You may not win any academy awards, but you could capture a moment that earns you a spot on America’s funniest videos, or better yet; capture aContinue Reading

Life was a losing game. So long Amy

The day the news of Amy Winehouse’s death reached me was the same day that I had decided to listen to her albums on this great new music service that allows me to listen to almost any artist I want—for free. I had known of her of course.  Fuck me pumps, Amy Amy Amy andContinue Reading

Don’t worry about pissing people off

All through my life, I grew up with people telling me not to offend anybody, and for the most part that’s how I lived my life. I of course have offended people, but unintentionally (for the most part), and regretfully (for the most part). But I notice the cost of that.  It prevented me fromContinue Reading

One VEEERY useful tip for saving relationships

Relationships are hard—very hard in fact.  For many of us, the most important ones become strained, unhealthy, even toxic and we stay in them because we are connected through family bonds. Many others die over a period of time. Sometimes slowly, sometimes stunningly fast. What’s amazing to me, is that even when there’s distinct andContinue Reading

“Shit Happens” as a course in high school

The earlier we learn to identify and deal with the non-organic poo in our lives the better off we will be. So perhaps we should offer a course in high school (secondary school) that gives kids an opportunity to observe this naturally occurring phenomenon, and to ponder the impact on their lives of not learningContinue Reading

Do You Know the Costs of NOT Managing your Commitments?

Do You Know the Costs of NOT Managing your Commitments?

In the quest to improve performance we’ve gone through several useful philosophies about what to manage, specifically we’ve been told to practice managing: time people projects energy These are all valuable management philosophies but they don’t acknowledge the most fundamental practice: the practice of managing commitments. What are commitments? Commitments take several forms e.g. promises,Continue Reading

Two Principles for Getting More out of Life

Everybody loves simplification so here are two simple principles you can use in the practice of your life; two principles you must own to get more from life—and by “own” I mean not just understand and explain, but know and act from (without thinking) like an extension of your own mind and body. These principlesContinue Reading

If you want something done properly, do you have to do it yourself?

Have you heard anyone express this?  Perhaps you say it about yourself. “If I want anything done properly around here, I have to do it myself.” Most often this is a passive aggressive complaint about how incompetent, stupid or lazy everyone else is.  A complaint that suggests how competent, intelligent and industrious the complainer is. Continue Reading

How to NOT be a cry-baby

My last post dealt with the very real consequences to you of the bad habit – and it is a bad habit – of taking things personally. If you tend to take things personally, others around you will notice and will take care to either avoid sensitive topics or avoid you all together.  Either wayContinue Reading

The thing about taking things personally

The thing about taking things personally

Have you heard the old joke about the guy who walks into the doctors office and says, “Doc, it hurts everytime I do this,” as he demonstrates bending his arm at the elbow; to which the doctor replies “Well stop doing that.” Taking things personally is just like that. It hurts when we do itContinue Reading

Nothing is ever 100% anybody’s fault

Nothing is ever 100% anybody’s fault

If you find yourself blaming someone for some unwelcome outcome or a broken relationship, you might want to consider that nothing is ever 100% anybody’s fault. Accepting this requires an ability to expand your perspective on any situation. For example, in criminal justice it may be relatively easy to prove who robbed the convenience storeContinue Reading

Do you acknowledge people for “just” doing their jobs?

Do you acknowledge people for “just” doing their jobs?

Do you think you should acknowledge people for just doing their jobs; for just doing what they’re supposed to? Many people would say, “No, of course not!  They’re doing the absolute minimum required and it’s only service or results over and above the norm that should be acknowledged or rewarded.” If you think this way, pleaseContinue Reading

Farewell to a Master – Choco 1967 to 2009

I would have preferred my first post of the new year to have been forward looking, but I’m compelled to have it be about my friend Choco who passed away on Dec 31, 2009 at the vital age of 42. The exact timing of his leaving us on that day is not clear to meContinue Reading

When You Can’t Trust a Trapeze Artist

A few weeks ago, I was at a birthday party and I introduced myself to some friends of the birthday girl. They didn’t look alike at all and I was genuinely surprised when they insisted they were siblings. They all had really great energy and I engaged in a very lively and I thought genuineContinue Reading

Are you Cancerous?

Are you Cancerous?

If you take a telescope and look upwards and outwards, you’ll soon gain a healthy perspective on how small, how insignificant we and our planet are in the grand scale of our galaxy and the universe. You’ll be similarly amazed if you take a microscope and look inwards; there’s an entire universe of cells, atomicContinue Reading

Let me introduce you to my two new best friends

Let me introduce you to my two new best friends Meet Carlos and Tony.  Met Carlos on Friday night, and Tony on Saturday night (last night).  They are both pilots and were in new York on training.  They are two of the nicest people that you could ever meet and yet couldn’t be more differentContinue Reading

Ever considered using Facebook to “Cultivate” your relationships?

I’m paying more attention to Facebook (FB) these days as I realize it’s an essential ingredient in not only staying connected with the people I’m close to, but also building an exploring all sorts of new relationships that could not exist without a medium like Facebook. I now have 413 “friends” on FB.  Impressive huh?Continue Reading

The Practice of Making People Wrong (Not)

I’m so proud of myself.  Today I came across an article explaining why it’s wasteful to “pre-wash” dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and I DID NOT send it out to anyone.  Why is that noteworthy?  Because I realized that my sending it out was my way of being right about and making theContinue Reading

The Hug – the killer app of acknowledgments

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on “The Practice of Acknowledgments”.  Hugs are to acknowledgments what wireless is to the internet.  Nothing quite says I see you and your being around means a lot to me than a hug.  As part of the human need to belong, to be acknowledged, we all needContinue Reading

Hidden Rivalry

I was sitting with an old friend the other day, and she described something her friend observed in his conversation with her the day before.  He said, “You ever notice that you’re always trying to get one up on me in our conversations?”   “What do you mean” she replied.   “I say something aboutContinue Reading

Customer Service Rep

Customer Service Rep

“But that’s not what’s happening,” I said feeling the irritation in my body and hearing it in my tone.  I could tell that the poor customer service representative, who was trying her very best to help me, could feel it also. I had called in to address a problem I was having with my newContinue Reading