All We Can Do

All we can do is all we can do, within our individual sphere of influence. Because many things in life are out of our control, it’s important to determine whether we have the ability to effect change in any situation.

We can only impact the people with whom we interact and the circumstances with which we can engage. Certainly, we cannot control or change another person. However, we may be able to contribute to a positive outcome. Sometimes, we cannot. Nonetheless, we need to know the difference between what’s possible or appropriate and what’s not in any specific situation.

 

We need to exercise self-control in order to effectively manage our feelings and behaviors when we seek to engage. We may intend to help. We may be astute and understand the situation. We may have the needed expertise and judgment. Or, maybe not.

In any event, even when individuals have good intentions, there is no guarantee about how things will work out. A recent example illustrates the hard reality that sometimes, even when we do all we can do, it’s not enough.

On Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 in Parkland, Florida, a mass shooting occurred at a high school. The perpetrator, a 19-year-old, with a long history of mental illness, extremist views and anger issues, killed 17 people and confessed to the shooting.

The shocking and devastating truth about this massacre is that some authorities did not do all they could or should have done. This nightmare and others like it could have been avoided.

We know that, in this case, various agencies received multiple warnings about the shooter’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts. Numerous people did all they could do by reporting behaviors and observations of the shooter over many months. Two heroic teachers did their best during the melee, sacrificing their lives, to save students.

The school resource officers, sheriff’s department, FBI tip line and some mental health professionals did not do all they could do. And, 17 people were killed.

What happens when we do all we can do, and no one listens? What if bad things happen despite our best efforts? Does that mean we shouldn’t engage?

The stories of tragic consequences when people refuse to “get involved” in difficult situations are too numerous to mention here. Conversely, myriad stories of heroic action when individuals give their all, celebrate the best of our humanity.

We are in this life together. We need each other. To quote the words from the 1964 Broadway musical, Funny Girl, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

I believe that, although no outcome is guaranteed, we have a moral obligation to engage, giving our best efforts in any situation. This challenge precludes unwelcome intrusion, interference, disrespect for the law or of someone’s inalienable rights. It does however, suggest that, when we have the opportunity, time and talent to contribute constructively, we are morally compelled to engage.

What about your experience? When have you done all you could do, or not? Did you contribute to a positive outcome, or not?

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

When “Sorry” Is Not Enough

When things go wrong for someone, saying “I’m sorry” expresses your care or concern about something that is not your doing. For instance, “I’m sorry to hear that you had that terrible flu.” “I’m sorry that you had a flat tire.” Sorry can be a thoughtful acknowledgment about someone else’s misfortune.

When someone experiences a more serious problem or injury, you may offer your compassion and comfort with words and actions, such as a gentle touch. Taking time to be present and listen can be extremely comforting.

What do you do, however, when you are the cause of a problem, an accident, or a mistake, whether inadvertent or purposeful? What if you knew that something you said or did would hurt, offend or anger someone important to you and you did it anyway? A relationship, especially one of great importance to you, deserves an apology for bad behavior.

It is essential for the individual to know that you care and understand exactly how your action has affected them. Express your genuine regret and apology along with your desire to rectify the offense quickly.

For example, if you loan your car to a friend and s/he damages it by accident or carelessness, you want to hear primarily all about how and when it will be repaired. Words of sympathy, concern or regret, while important, are not the top priority. Prompt action to make things right indicates a level of accountability and respect.

Realize that, just because a mistake is accidental, it does not exempt it from affecting the relationship. Neglecting the impact on the person may be perceived as a lack of concern. The point is that the situation needs to be remedied and the way it is handled can indicate the level of caring and regard for the relationship.

Repair means to fix the damage or offense as well as to mend the relationship. Recovery may be more challenging. If trust is fractured, regaining credibility through actions and words requires a process over time. Earning trust is not an event.

Steps for true repair and recovery:

  • Give a specific apology for your behavior, even if the offense was unintentional.
  • Give an honest account of why you did what you did, whether accidental or intentional. This is critical.
  • Listen deeply to the other person in order to understand and acknowledge the true impact of your behavior.
  • Propose what you are willing and able do to repair the situation.
  • Ask for forgiveness and ability to recover. Accept the answer.

Have you ever given or needed a genuine apology? Did it work?

When parties truly desire to resolve and recover from significant damage to a relationship, it can be done with commitment and time. Transparency is essential to help clean the slate and earn trust. When you value a relationship, keep it clear of emotional debris, lingering resentments and unfinished business. Learn how to have the tough talks needed for repair and recovery. Friendship, kindness and truth are essential elements of close and intimate relationships.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Are You Stuck?

In her beautiful poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” How about you? Do you want to leave it to chance, sort of blowing in the wind like a tumbleweed? Or, do you want to create a life that is about you and chock full of things that are meaningful, fulfilling and joyful?

[Read more…]

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Listen. Laugh. Learn.

Laughter is a really good thing! When I discovered that the legendary Chicago-based company Second City teaches workplace skills through improv, I was ready to sign up.

A bit of a search took me to a site called Big Think on which I found a video featuring Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Works.

“Somewhere along the line, someone decided training should be stiff and awful, and we just don’t buy that,” says Yorton, “and so the corporate-training arm of Second City was created.” How could the breeding ground for comedic greats from John Belushi to Tina Fey not include humor?

“Here, the audience is not just listening,” adds Yorton, “it’s experiential. Using humor to get people to loosen up helps the lessons stick. Research has shown that people retain humorous messages, funny lines and videos and tend to pass them on.”

The Second City Works tagline? “Where the buttoned down learn the Belushi method.”

As you know, I have written about the importance of listening and experiential learning several times over the years. I think it is so vital. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that Yorton’s talk is titled “Listening: The most important skill that nobody learns,” which he addresses through the lens of improvisation.

The Second City workshops draw on years of experience working with collaborative improv troupes. The core tenets of their improv work cultivate a level of attentiveness to others that newcomers to the craft are often surprised that they have not learned.

Success in the purely spontaneous narrative form, they note, relies on listening to the totality of what other participants say before responding. How great it was to learn that Yorton believes in, as do I, the importance of listening to understand as opposed to listening merely to respond.

Performers of improv must necessarily be attentive to the entirety of what their collaborators say lest the performance becomes imbalanced or incoherent. This contrasts with a common (and largely unconscious) practice in daily life of passively waiting for the chance to utter predetermined monologues or defend one’s fixed ideas.

What they’re learning, ideally, is to tap into not only the skills used by improv actors — sharpened listening, quick processing — but their processes: building on one another’s premises to grow new ideas, working seamlessly as a unit, throwing themselves behind a colleague’s next thought.

A few additional tips from Second City Works:

  • Mind your language. Other word-choice tips: Use “I” less, and avoid buzzwords or techno-speak. Avoid “should” in favor of the less dictatorial “could,” which invites contribution and collaboration.
  • Be an active listener. Good listening is more than just eye contact; it’s giving cues to let others know you’re absorbing their ideas. Quiet signals like nodding and facial expressions are powerful communications.
  • Employ a samurai sword. OK, this isn’t on the list, but it worked for Belushi.

Now, on to laughing your way through learning how to be the best listener ever!

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

You Did What?! How Could You!

Would you be surprised to learn that guilt and shame are not the same? They are, indeed, different. And, the importance of understanding that difference enables us to appropriately address and deal with “guilty” thoughts and feelings and to reject often undeserved “shame” messages.

When we act badly, in opposition to our values, it may cause us to have a guilty conscience. Shame, on the other hand, is a deeply held belief that we are an unworthy person. When a child is told, “You are such a bad girl/boy!” it can become a shaming identity.

Shame and Guilt

When we feel guilty, we often want to reject, deny or defend our actions, “acting out” to distract attention from or excuse our bad behavior. Children can experience guilt as early as three to six years old. An example would be telling a lie about stealing a cookie.

The seeds of shame may also begin in childhood, often emanating from childhood experiences of neglect, abandonment, abuse, humiliation or messages of disrespect.

“Good” Guilt

  • We feel psychologically uncomfortable about something we said or did that is wrong or conflicts with our values.
  • A guilty conscience motivates us to be accountable, to make amends, to learn and change.
  • We may seek forgiveness from a person we offended in order to repair and heal the relationship.
    Selfishness, gossip or unfairness at someone’s expense provokes guilt if we value and respect the rights and welfare of others.

Unhealthy Guilt

  • Feeling psychologically uncomfortable about our conduct measured against unrealistic standards or expectations.
  • Feeling guilty or responsible for someone else’s bad or rude behavior (a friend or family member).
  • Feeling guilty for being happy or alive when others are ill, suffering or grieving.

Shame

  • A subjective internalized feeling and belief of being a worthless person; fundamentally flawed.
  • A humiliating belief that others see us in the same negative way as we think of ourselves.
  • Treatment of individuals like objects, without regard for human dignity, obliterates one’s sense of self-respect or worth.
  • Degrading, unjust or cruel treatment by others invokes humiliation and shame.
  • Association with and proximity to another’s cruel or disgusting behavior, an environment or circumstance may cause a shame identity.

Understanding the difference between guilt and shame is important. We have a choice to change and also to repair damage caused by our guilt-producing behavior

Shame is more complex. It can become part of one’s identify – a belief that one is a fundamentally flawed or unworthy person. Children who are shamed can be robbed of their own identity. Adults may be shamed when their dignity is stripped away or when they engage in morally offensive, cruel or illegal conduct. Redeeming one’s dignity is much more difficult than simply changing bad behavior.

Most of us have experienced guilt or shame at some point in our lives. What about you? I Certainly have. My soon-to-be-released book will include more about these and other challenging issues. If this information resonates with you, please read my other blogs at ToughTalkCoach.com.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.