Archive for June, 2017

Today, gentle reader, we will continue to explore the discrete tap-roots that nurture, support and sustain the Conversation-Communication Cycle.

Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose… (Herein) lies our growth and freedom. –Viktor Frankl

 Respond-React (R-R): How many of us actually, truly, believe Frankl’s observation?  When I am conversing-communicating it often seems to me that ‘no space’ exists, especially when it comes to my reacting.  On the other hand, I am almost always aware of the ‘space’ when I take the time to respond.  More than forty-five years ago a mentor of mine convinced me that Frankl is correct – there is, indeed, ALWAYS,  a ‘space’ between ‘stimulus and response’ and, therefore, I ALWAYS have ‘choice’ when it comes to my responding or reacting.

When I am engaging in a conversation-communication I am always observing; my observing might well be occurring at a conscious, pre-conscious or subconscious level.  By-the-by, my pre-conscious and subconscious are always activated.  On the other hand, I believe that all of us have experienced a conversation-communication experience where we were not ‘present.’  I cannot begin to count the number of times when the other(s) asked me: ‘Are you listening to me?’  How many times, gentle reader, have you experienced being physically in a conversation-communication and yet you were not ‘fully present?’

If we are going to be fully present in a conversation-communication – so we can truly choose whether to respond or react – the guidelines that an American Indian Shaman offered us will be helpful.  His guidelines are simple – and challenging to follow: Show Up!  Pay Attention!

Show Up!  Choose to be fully present.

Pay Attention!  Choose to become aware of what is emerging from within you and from within the other and from within the conversation-communication.  Pay Attention to the space that exists between. . .

If I ‘Show Up!’ and if I ‘Pay Attention!’ I am more likely to notice a ‘space’ does exist and then I can choose to ‘respond’ or ‘react.’

Consider that our response is, more often than not, rooted in ‘reason’ – that is, it is considered to be ‘rational.’  Also, consider that our reaction is, almost always, rooted in ‘emotion’ – and we often label our emotive reactions as ‘irrational.’  Now, to complicate matters, research continues to affirm that we human beings lead with our ‘emotions’ – we are, by nature, emotive beings.  Our ‘rational’ capabilities emerged later.

Research also continues to affirm that each of us actually ‘chooses’ our emotions in response to a stimulus (think: person, experience, idea, threat, etc.).  The stimulus does not directly lead to an emotion.  What triggers an emotion is our ‘self-talk.’  Our ‘self-talk’ is simple what we say about the stimulus.  Change my self-talk and I will change my emotion.  Frankl learned this during his imprisonment in a concentration camp during WWII.

To circle back.  It seems to me that the ‘key’ is to believe that Frankl is correct: We always have choice!  The ‘space’ between ‘stimulus and response’ provides us the opportunity to choose whether and how we will ‘respond’ or ‘react.’  Another benefit is that we do not give the other ‘power over us’ – power, for example, to determine how we will feel.  Why would I want the other to have this power over me?  Yet, we all do it: ‘He/She/They made me feel…’ is a refrain commonly heard.

The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen in order to understand; we listen in order to respond or react. –Anonymous


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You can learn so much just by observing. –Jessica Williams

Today, gentle reader, we will begin to explore the discrete tap-roots that nurture, support and sustain the Conversation-Communication Cycle.

Observe-Observation (O):  What do I observe?  First, I strive to be fully present to myself for this ‘being fully present to myself’ increases the likelihood that I will be able to observe what is emerging within me during the conversation.  I strive to observe the variety of emotions that are emerging.  I strive to observe and pay attention to my ‘internal censors’ that have been activated (which of my many internal censors that will be activated will depend upon the nature of the conversation I am participating in).

I began to internalize censors almost from the day of my birth.  These censors are cultural: family, faith-based, community-held, and national, etc.  They are best revealed in my values, beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, and deep tacit assumptions.  Even though I am might not be fully present during a conversation my internal censors run on automatic pilot.

What do I observe?  Second, when I observe, I employ my five senses, plus my intuition, in order to strive to obtain an accurate account of what is actually unfolding during the conversation.  As a consequence of what I have internalized (think: values, life-experiences, etc.) I generally ‘see’ and ‘hear’ more or less what I expect or anticipate (or perhaps on what I ‘hope’ to ‘see,’ ‘hear,’ or ‘achieve’ – think: confirmation of my beliefs and assumptions).

For example, as a consequence of my censors, during a conversation I might evaluate someone negatively — she’s lazy, stubborn, or gullible.  It doesn’t even occur to me may that the person might be insufficiently motivated, firm in purpose, or trusting.

To complicate all of this even more, our needs, wants, desires, and wishes distort to an unknown degree what we perceive.  We block out a great deal of information that is actually available if the information does not fit all I have described above.  The ‘don’t let facts get in the way’ is more than a pretty clause.

Edgar Schein puts this well: ‘…we do not think and talk about what we see, we see what we are able to think and talk about.’  We can observe this in action as we watch right-wing conservatives conversing with left-wing liberals.  Neither is truly open to the possibility of being influenced by the conversation.

We all employ two defense mechanisms and when activated they hinder, distort or destroy our ability to converse-communicate effectively.  One of these defense mechanisms is denial and the other is projection.

Simply stated, Denial is refusing to see certain categories of information as they apply to us.  Projection is seeing in others what is actually operating in us.  We all do both and we all resist learning how much of each we actually employ, especially in certain types of conversations.

Earlier I mentioned ‘needs.’  My needs form, inform, support, influence, direct and control my ability to hold an attitude that I will be open to the possibility that I will be influenced by our conversation.  How many of us engage in a conversation and know that we enter the conversation with an attitude that ‘I am not open to being influenced’?  One of the reasons we are not open is that we enter the conversation rooted in ‘surety’.  If I have a need to be ‘sure’ and hence, if I hold an attitude of ‘surety’ then I am not able – nor am I willing – to be open to being influenced.  ‘Being Sure’ is perhaps the primary block to effective conversation-communication.

‘The more I see the less I know for sure.’ –John Lennon




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Imagine that you, gentle reader, and I are in a conversation.  Among other things, we know that the words that emerge from our mouths and the many signals we send via our body language (think: our overall demeanor) are motivated by and dependent upon what is going on inside of our brains.  In order to engage in certain conversations it is crucial that we each become aware of the biases, perceptual distortions, and the appropriate and inappropriate impulses that deeply influence what each of us brings to our conversation.

This understanding is not easy for us – so much of our conversations occur on automatic pilot.  On the other hand, if I am going to engage in meaningful conversations I need to learn and employ a process that helps me understand and then learn about what is occurring internally that influences my word choice and my non-verbal indicators.  This uncovering and understanding enables me to have choice and minimize the times I converse driven by automatic pilot.

A simple model will help us engage and learn about an extremely complex process.  The complexity of the process occurs because our central nervous system simultaneously gathers input, processes input, proactively manages what input to take in, sends it to our brain and then ‘I’ decide whether I should respond or react.  As we know, this process occurs almost instantaneously and is not readily available, in the moment, to our consciousness; hence, again, the ‘auto’ in automatic pilot.

In all conversations, what I literally ‘see’ and what I ‘hear’ are directly connected to our ‘needs’ and ‘expectations’ (Note: Our ‘wants,’ ‘desires,’ and ‘wishes’ also influence us AND our ‘needs’ will always trump them).  Certainly in ‘crucial conversations’ understanding our ‘needs’ and ‘expectations’ is a ‘must.’

Although my internal process occurs almost simultaneously, in order to help us understand, learn and change it is helpful to explore discrete elements, in this case, a discrete cycle will help us.

When I am in a conversation with you, I will ‘Observe’ (O), I will ‘Respond’ or ‘React’ emotionally to what I have observed (R-R); we are, by-the-by, more likely to ‘react’ rather than ‘respond’ because we are operating on automatic pilot (that is, we are not awake, aware, nor fully present; research continues to affirm that our initial ‘response’ or ‘reaction’ is ‘emotional’ and not, ‘rational’).  I will analyze, process, and make ‘Judgements’ based upon my observations and feelings (J).  I will then ‘Act’ (A), (employ verbal and non-verbal signals in order to communicate with you).  So, our simple cycle is OR-RJA.

Next time we will begin exploring more deeply each element of the Conversation-Communication Cycle.


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For thousands of years, great wisdom figures have offered us the following counsel: Know thyself.  The unexamined life is not worth living.  To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.

Who I am powerfully determines how I will act; what I will choose; how I will respond; how I will react; what I will consider; what I will embrace; what I will integrate into my personality; what I will value; what I will discount.  This list could go on and on.

More than forty years ago I began to emerge, write down and reflect upon what I have come to call: Essential Life Questions.  Although I currently have 6 pages of questions there are four questions that I consider to be the tap roots for the others.

This morning, gentle reader, I will offer you my four Essential Life Questions and also provide you with a number of questions for each of the four.  I invite you to spend some time reflecting upon the questions that resonate with you at this time in your life.  I also invite you to add questions to each of my four Essential Life Questions.


  • What are your core values? (Those 3-4 values that to the best of your ability you will never compromise)
  • What are your core guiding life-principles? (Those 3-4 guiding life-principles that to the best of your ability you will never compromise)
  • What are your core deep tacit assumptions? (Those 3-4 core assumptions that you hold that powerfully inform, guide and direct you – for example, ‘People are inherently good’ or ‘People are inherently sin-full’) NOTE: One of the most challenging things for us is to emerge and ‘own’ our deep tacit assumptions.


  • For Example: Are you choosing to become more open, more discriminating, more compassionate, more loving, more forgiving, more mercy-full, more flexible, more progressive, more conservative, more liberal, more radical, etc.?
  • Are there core values, core guiding life-principles or core deep tacit assumptions that no longer serve you and that you are considering or actively replacing?


  • What’s your life-purpose?
  • Who are you ‘called’ to be in the world?
  • What three life-decisions did you make that helped bring you to this place in your life?
  • What three life-decisions did you not make that would have taken you to another place?
  • What motivates you and what de-motivates you when it comes to your ‘life-purpose’ and ‘call’?


  • Are you following a life-path that others chose for you? How do you know?
  • Are you ‘taking the road less traveled?’
  • Are you surveying your own life-path?
  • If you continue on the life-path you are on where will you end up?

In addition to these four Essential Life Questions there are five other ‘categories’ that I invite you to consider.  I invite you to emerge 2-3 Guiding Questions for each category and then I invite you to spend some time reflecting upon and responding to the questions.  There are five dimensions that help determine who we are as fully human beings these are: the Physical Dimension, the Intellectual Dimension, the Emotional Dimension, the Spirit(ual) Dimension, and the Social-Relational Dimension (we are, by nature, social-relational beings).

Today, I will leave us with two quotations to hold:

 Be the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

 We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

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The sun was setting on this hot day in June 1670; its angle was such that the three people standing on the rock strewn path kept their back to it in order to avoid the glare coming off of the rocks.  For years the moneylender had been enraptured by the cabinet maker’s daughter; now he finally had his chance to claim his prize.

The cabinet maker had defaulted on the loan.  Time was up.  Payment was due.  The moneylender, trying to contain his glee made his offer: If you give me your daughter’s hand in marriage I will forgive your debt.  If you decline, all you own will be taken away and you will end up in debtor’s prison.

The cabinet maker promptly rejected the offer.

A tight lipped sinister smile spread across the moneylender’s face.  You do not have but two choices.   The brief pause that followed hung in the air like a foggy mist.  The moneylender continued: But, as you know, I am a fair man.  I am going to pick up two stones – one will be white and one will be black.  I will empty my bag and put the two stones in the bag.  Your daughter, without looking into the bag, will reach her hand in and choose a stone. 

 If she picks out the white stone, your debt will be canceled and your daughter will remain with you.  If she picks out the black stone, your debt will be canceled and your daughter will marry me.  If you refuse my offer I will collect your debt in the manner I described earlier.

Seeing no way out but to offer herself as a sacrifice, the daughter told her father to accept the offer.  The father reluctantly agreed.

The moneylender turned a bit and bent down and picked up two stones.  The cabinet maker’s view was blocked by the move.  However, the daughter, because she was awake and aware noticed that the moneylender had picked up two black stones and had put them in his bag.

What was she to do?  She could expose the moneylender as a cheat.  She could accept her fate.  She could refuse to marry the moneylender anyway.  She felt the heat of the sun on her back.  She paused, reflected, and then acted.

She kept her back to the setting sun.  She reached into the bag, grasped a stone and as she withdrew the stone from the bag she took a step forward, stumbled a bit and dropped the stone behind her. The angle of the bright sun caused the two men to squint as they attempted to follow the stone.  Oh, I am so sorry, she said.

The look on the face of the moneylender was, as they say, priceless.  The daughter continued speaking: Well, let’s see what stone is left in the bag.  It’s obvious that I chose the other stone and I will live by the fate bestowed upon me by the stone in the bag. 

The cabinet maker took the bag and opened it so his daughter and the moneylender could see inside.  There, resting gently on the bottom of the bag was a black stone.  Ah, I see I had taken out the white stone!

The debt was canceled.  The daughter remained with her family.  And everyone lived happily ever after – well, almost everyone.


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