When Hurt People Hurt Other People

Another tragic hate crime. It’s almost too much to take.

In response to the Charleston shooting, I’ve seen people cast blame, lament racism, talk in circles about guns, and spew more hatred. It’s the easy thing to do.

I haven’t heard anyone say what they, as an individual, plan to do about it in a positive way. It’s impossible to make sense of such a horrific act. We overanalyze. We try to solve the global problem with sweeping statements, generalizations, and vague criticisms. How does this approach translate to solutions? Or real impact?

The individual often feels helpless. Talking heads look for someone else to make things better. Someone with more power or influence must change things.

The solution starts with you and me. The problem is complex and seems overwhelming. Still, I believe as individuals we have the ability to make an impact, no matter how close or how far we are from the actual tragedy.

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The Difference Between a Resolution and Resolve

Millions of Americans made New Year’s Resolutions this week. Most are related to improvements in health, family, career, or personal growth. Does the tradition of setting out to make positive change this way work? Research shows that less than 8% of us are actually successful.


Don’t be discouraged by this dismal statistic.

Do you want to make this year different by turning your resolutions into habits and lasting change? You can. The key is understanding the subtle difference between a resolution and resolve.

RESOLUTION is defined as a decision to do or not to do something.

RESOLVE is defined as firm determination to do something.

Notice the difference? One is wishful thinking. A fleeting moment in time. The other involves ongoing action with a fixed purpose.

Anyone can make a resolution. Not everyone has resolve.

How do you get it? Some people are born with it, but resolve can be learned. Here are four ways to improve your resolve:

  1. Make a plan. It’s easy to think of a resolution, but it requires time and deliberation to craft a plan. The process of getting to the goal is critical. Write it down, step by step. Be specific. Include details about what you need to do to get there.
  2. Secure an accountability partner. Research shows this is key. Want to exercise more? Find a friend who has the same goal and hold each other accountable. Check in weekly to see how it’s going.
  3. Set reminders. You’ve set a plan and have a partner in crime. But old habits die hard. It takes a while to get into the swing of things and make lasting changes. Your plan includes detailed actions. Put them on your calendar. Set alerts on your phone. Dust off your sticky notes.
  4. Celebrate milestones. You won’t accomplish the change you want to make in your life overnight. Improvement worth making requires endurance. You may get discouraged along the way and be tempted to quit. Don’t wait until you reach the end goal to celebrate ultimate success. Revel in the small victories along the way. Want to lose 20 pounds? Throw a party when you’ve shed the first five.

Don’t make useless resolutions you won’t keep this year. Instead, find the resolve to make lasting changes in your life.

Wishing you a Happy New Year, full of abiding love, friendship and joy!


A Placid Plan Pleases Provoked People (5 Steps for Dealing with Angry Clients)

It doesn’t matter whether your office is a boardroom, classroom, or laundry room, inevitably your clients will get upset. Regardless of how hard you work, the services you provide fall short sometimes. I’ve learned to apply a prescriptive process that calms down the angriest of customers and gets the relationship back on track.

Last week I received a scathing email from a student’s father. He heard an incomplete account of an event, assumed I had ill intentions, and copied the principal on his angry rant.

kettle with boiling water

My initial reaction was defensive. Didn’t this guy realize how much I care about his child and how hard I had worked to meet his son’s needs that day? What was his intention in copying the principal? Why didn’t he pick up the phone to address his concern with me in a respectful manner? As I re-read the email, I felt my frustration heating up like a boiling kettle about to blow.

When emotionally charged tension occurs in any relationship, it’s important to respond rather than react. Take time to thoughtfully craft a positive way to address the issue. Resist the urge to lash back, and take a break from the heat of the moment. A walk around the building, a diet coke, and your favorite junk food from the vending machine never hurt either.

Use these 5 steps for dealing with an angry client:

  1. Apologize right out of the gate. It doesn’t matter whether the client has a legitimate reason to be upset or not, in your opinion. Something went wrong. They’re not happy and their feelings must be acknowledged. A simple “I sincerely apologize that my discussion with So-and-So upset What’s-His-Name,” goes a long way.
  2. State the facts. After their feelings are validated, the client is more likely open to hearing facts surrounding the issue. Make detailed statements about events, the efforts of team members, and what you know about the situation causing the problem. Keep emotion out of it.
  3. Reassure and encourage. Tell the client everything you’ve been doing to meet their needs. Point out some really positive things related to their concern. What has been going well? What can be celebrated?
  4. Propose a plan. If you don’t have a plan in place to address their concerns, let them know you are working on one and when they can expect to have it in place. Remember: A placid plan pleases provoked people.
  5. Appreciate the communication. Rude ranting and spewing aside, thank the client for their communication with you. It’s better to know they’re upset than not know. “Thank you for expressing your concerns with me” demonstrates your commitment to building a good working relationship going forward.

This formula works. In the particular case mentioned above, my approach resulted in a satisfied parent, an encouraged child, and a principal thanking me for handling the issue so well that she didn’t have to get involved.

What approaches have you used to soothe an angry client?


The Secret to Becoming a More Positive Communicator

We all know someone who drains the energy right out of us. The thought of a brief conversation with a certain friend gives you the shakes. A feeling of dread bubbles up when you see a particular family member’s name on your phone. To this day, you fear that mean math teacher. Or you suddenly come down with a case of swine flu after reading a coworker’s name on the meeting agenda.

After years working in consulting, education, and as a parent, I’ve observed one specific behavior these people all have in common: a negative communication style. Everything they say comes across as critical or condescending. The Debbie Downer is a nag, drag, and a total wet rag.

You’ve been guilty of doing this at times, and it’s likely unintentional. Still, the way you come across when communicating with colleagues, peers, friends, and children will have a lasting effect on your relationships. It will either positively or negatively affect the desired outcome.

The secret to becoming a more positive communicator is simple:


What’s a START behavior? It’s something you want the person you’re talking with to start doing. By contrast, a STOP behavior is something you want the person to stop doing.

Most people, without realizing it, focus on STOP behaviors when engaging with others. Consider these examples:

A manager says to his subordinate, “You’ve gotta stop being late to meetings.”

A teacher says to her students, “Stop blurting out!”

A coach says to her team, “You’re loafing on defense!”

A friend says to another, “I never hear from you anymore.”

A parent says to a child, “Stop running around, you’re not listening!”

All of these statements come across with a negative tone of accusation.

Now consider these alternatives:

“It contributes to the team’s success when you’re on time to meetings.”

“Raise your hand, please.”

“You need to want the ball more than the other team!”

“I’d love to get together for coffee. I miss you!”

“It’s time to sit down and do homework.”

See the subtle differences? One set of statements sends the receiver of the message a bad feeling. The other phrases send the same message in a more positive, respectful way. The first set assumes the worst about the person you’re addressing. The second set assumes the best in them.

It takes practice, but focusing on START behaviors when communicating with the people in your life will not only increase the likelihood of a better response, it will improve the overall health of your relationships.

What are some ways you try to be a more positive communicator?