Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful: TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast

I first posted this wonderful TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast a few years ago. Given the current climate in our country, I thought it would be a good time for a “return engagement.”

A monk and interfaith scholar, Brother David believes that the one thing all humans have in common is the desire to be happy. Given my experience working with folks in all walks of life, I wholeheartedly agree.

In this TED Talk, a case is made for the need to be grateful, in order to be happy, rather than the other way around. What each of us imagines will make us happy might be different, but the desire for the feeling is universal.

How often have you heard someone say, “If only that would happen, I know that I would be happy?” Perhaps as Brother David “strongly suggests,” happiness is born from “the gentle power of gratefulness.” Slow down, look around you.

The assumption is that when we are happy, we are grateful. However, isn’t it possible that those who practice gratitude are the ones who are truly happy?

We all know people who seem to “have everything,” but they often profess to be unhappy and are constantly searching for something more. And, there are people who experience significant misfortune yet they somehow radiate happiness. Perhaps it’s because they feel gratitude for the opportunity to discover unrealized strength and learn important lessons from unexpected situations.

Gratitude can stem from being mindful of and seeing the value of something or some experience — especially when it is not acquired or earned. When we take the time to notice and acknowledge the inherent value in something (even a beautiful sunset), happiness and appreciation can result from our gratitude.

Taking it a little further, by becoming aware that each contains an opportunity to do or experience something, it becomes a gift within a gift.

“We cannot be grateful for everything,” says Brother David. “Certainly not for war or for oppression or for exploitation.” On a personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend. However, However, even when confronted with something that is difficult, we can rise to the occasion and learn from the situation and our experience. We are then grateful for the opportunity to enhance our understanding and self-learn from the situation and our experience.

Although the explanation of grateful living seems a bit confusing at certain points, listening to the talk and reading the text is well worth the effort. It takes commitment to pursue a path of grateful living. I recommend it and wholeheartedly believe in its ability to enhance the quality of our lives.

Take a moment to check it out. I think you will feel grateful that you did — and happiness may be close at hand!

10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation – TED Talk by Celeste Headlee

Longtime National Public Radio host Celeste Headlee shares what she has found to be the ingredients of a great conversation: “Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy dose of listening.” Taking each of these qualities seriously and adding a healthy dose of humor, Headlee talks us through her 10 Rules.

She does address the fact that every conversation holds the potential to devolve into an argument. Our politicians can’t speak to one another civilly and even trivial issues have someone fighting either passionately for them or against them.

Longtime National Public Radio host Celeste Headlee shares what she has found to be the ingredients of a great conversation: “Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy dose of listening.” Taking each of these qualities seriously and adding a healthy dose of humor, Headlee talks us through her Ten Rules.

She does address the fact that every conversation holds the potential to devolve into an argument. Our politicians can’t speak to one another civily and even trivial issues have someone fighting either passionately for them or against them.

Citing a Pew Research study of 10,000 American adults, Headlee tells us that we are more polarized and more divided than ever before. She believes that much of this is because we are not listening to each other. “A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening,” she adds, “and somewhere along the way we lost that balance.”

Of course a talk about conversations cannot be complete without the mention of our unceasing use of technology. Headlee talks about an article written by high school teacher Paul Barnwell in which he says, “I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.” He observes that kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely hone their interpersonal communication skills. “Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?” Barnwell asks.

Before Headlee launches into her ten rules, she reminds us of the importance of nodding and smiling to show that we’re paying attention and summarizing what we have understood. “Forget about all of that,” she adds quite strongly. “There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention.”

Headlee’s skills as a professional interviewer will help us to learn how to be better conversationalists. How to avoid wasting time, getting bored, or offending anyone. And, how to have conversations where we walk away feeling engaged and inspired , having made a real connection, or been perfectly understood.

Headlee’s 10 Basic Rules for conversations are very good, as are her explanations for why they are significant.

She again emphasizes the importance of listening. Having written several blogs about this myself, I totally agree. Headlee and I have both quoted author Stephen Covey who said, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

“Be interested in other people,” says Headlee. “I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I’m always prepared to be amazed. You do the same thing. Go out, talk to people, listen to people. You won’t be disappointed. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn.”

I encourage you to listen to Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk. I promise you will not be disappointed and will find yourself having better conversations.

Can Arguing Strengthen Relationships? You Bet It Can!

Have you ever been surprised when a conversation escalates into an argument? Welcome to the human race! But, wait! Before you shut down or attack, take a moment to understand what really happened. Consider it as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Here are a few things to do quickly.

(PS: I don’t promise that this will be easy.)

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  • Stop briefly to understand why the conversation escalated. By doing this you are thinking and choosing your response. This will prevent you from immediately reacting, or to act without thinking of the outcome you desire.
  • Determine if this person and the relationship are important to you? Is this issue important to you?
  • Ask yourself, do I want to have a constructive conversation about the issue or the situation? Or, do I want to prove a point and win? If convincing is your goal, the argument will probably continue and perhaps damage the relationship. If neither of you is willing to engage in a civil discussion, best to leave it alone

It’s important to remember that mutual understanding and respect provide a strong foundation for trust and friendship. Disagreeing without being disagreeable and hostile is much more important than the actual content being discussed. Most of the time, reasonable individuals will acknowledge that others have valid rationale for their differing perspectives and opinions.

Willingness to acknowledge differences about important issues, and knowing where the other person stands and why it’s important, tends to make us feel safer. Transparency helps us to understand, accept and learn about divergent opinions, even when we don’t agree.

Showing respect and regard for others while disagreeing is crucial. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinions and positions. Separate the person from their opinion—it’s not their identity. Denigrating someone for their position gets us nowhere and solves nothing.

Again, I’m not saying that this is easy to do! However, when we are able to respectfully acknowledge viewpoints with which we disagree, we have the opportunity to:

  • Learn more about an issue or a perspective different from our own.
  • Clarify our own thinking when we articulate our opinion and subject it to another person’s challenges.
  • Deepen the relationship by giving respect to the person by understanding their position on an issue of disagreement without criticism or judgment.

Wait A Minute – I Have To Take This Call

Have you even been engaged in deep conversation with a friend when their cell phone rang and you were “put on hold?” Or, perhaps you were in the midst of an important business discussion when a text was received and you were “cut off” in mid-sentence? I’ll bet that didn’t feel good!

How can we balance the extraordinary advances and benefits of digital technology in our lives without sacrificing the irreplaceable and powerful rewards of in-person human interaction and conversation?

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Not being a slave to digital technology is one way! Each individual deserves your full attention. For all its significant benefits, it is important not to let technology own you. Cell phones especially can:

  • Distract attention and diminish the quality of conversation.
  • Lack the spontaneity of real-time, in-person conversations.
  • Diminish the quality, connection and commitment of each conversation.
  • Enable us to “hide” from each other by avoiding a person, a problem or a situation.
  • Preclude substantive discussions.
  • Pressure us to always be connected or available to others.
  • Enable people to seemingly be connected but, in reality, they are “alone.”

We all have experienced unpleasant, rude behavior by people on their cell phones. Talking loudly in public. Making or answering calls or texts during conversations or meals. Holding up lines while on the phone. I’m sure you have your own stories.

While spotlighting a few challenges inherent with digital technology, I acknowledge and appreciate the convenience of mobile phones, texting and emails in our lives. A few ways include:

  • Managing logistics and plans easily and quickly.
  • Leaving messages from anywhere, at any time.
  • Sending a virtual “high-five” or an encouraging message.
  • Finding directions and information while on the move, but not while driving.
  • Uniting us easily and quickly with simple messages and answers.
  • Getting simple answers and help fast.

Since we live with great technological advances, it’s important that we understand how to utilize all of the benefits. However, it’s critical to acknowledge how our human interaction and productivity can be negatively impacted. It does require a conscious effort to balance the help and intrusions of digital technology, and the choice is yours to make!

Business gets done by people’s productivity, commitment and relationships, often facilitated by technology. Scheduling meetings. Handling emergencies. Conference calls. However, digital devices often interrupt and distract the real-time, in-person collaboration and engagement needed for having quality conversations and building trust.

Without face-to-face communication, genuine connection, shared experience and spontaneous chats, we lack the substantive conversations that help us learn and clarify our thinking. In-person conversation is an important way of being with each other and includes rich non-verbal messages that build trust, connection, productivity, creativity and understanding.

Our need for human contact is essential and digital technology can foster superficial connectivity, alienation and isolation in a virtual world. Technology will not improve the quality of our lives if we cannot successfully navigate being bombarded with data and disconnected from one another. As we expect more from digital technology, we must guard against expecting less from each other.

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

None of us wants to be judged or criticized, especially for our thoughts and beliefs. We want to feel safe before we’re willing to talk openly and share our opinions, especially about “hot” topics. Because uncertainty induces fear, we want to trust in each other’s good intentions.

If you’ve decided to tackle a tough topic with someone and desire to have a constructive conversation rather than an adversarial debate or a conflict, recognize that there are always (at least) two sides in any situation.

TO PREPARE, ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS

1) Are you emotionally ready to resist the temptation to judge, criticize, denigrate or attack the person with whom you disagree in order to pursue mutual understanding?

2) Is your true motive for engaging in a tough talk about a social or political issue, to learn, to understand, to persuade the other person, or to win?

3) Are you ready and willing to listen in order to understand, without interrupting or judging?

4) Are you willing to be civil and speak with care and respect?

READY TO PROCEED WITH AN INVITATION TO CONVERSE?
1) Determine whether the other person would be interested in establishing clarity of purpose and a spirit of collaboration. Is it someone who would make the same kind of effort that you are prepared to make? If the person declines, accept the response.

2) Establish “ground rules” for how to proceed: one topic at a time, a time and place with no distractions or interruptions, no acting out (yelling, walking away, bad language, attacking), and shared speaking and listening time.

3) Bring your best self to the conversation. Manage yourself so you have no regrets about your behavior.

4) Listen actively — seek to understand with no interrupting. Paraphrase the meaning you hear and show respect by responding to the points made and affirm your understanding. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and ensures that you are both discussing the same thing and not talking past each other — a common problem with challenging conversations.

5) Speak only for yourself, from personal experience, not defending or representing an ideological approach or an entire political party.

6) Maintain a positive spirit of dialogue; a learning attitude. Avoid a critical or dismissive tone or other negative non-verbal communication— lack of eye contact, deep sighs, crossing your arms. This is important because the most powerful and credible communication is not the actual words we use.

7) Engage to comprehend the other person’s perspectives and beliefs, not to persuade. You cannot change people. The only person you can change is you.

8) Seek first to understand (facts, issues, perspectives, priorities), then to be understood. Assumptions are deadly and are usually wrong. Paraphrase the person’s meaning before you disagree.

Most of the time, discovery of common ground results from mutual understanding and regard for the hopes, fears and values that underlie individual perspectives and beliefs. For example, while we enjoy and value the liberties and freedoms assured by our Constitution, we may disagree about how to achieve and sustain them. Such are the challenges and opportunities of free speech provided by the Founding Fathers and protected by many wars. Freedom is not free.