Tag Archives: Interpersonal

Soft Hands

During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.


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Filed under Attitude, Challenges, Change, communication, conflict, determination, emotions, family, Fathering, Goals, habits, Interpersonal, leadership, management, marriage, mentoring, paradigm shift, pressure, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Relationships, Serving Others

Dirt Mining or Gold Mining?

Interacting and working with people is a lot like mining for gold.

Gold miners must move tons of dirt to find a single ounce of gold. At the risk of overstating the obvious, they are never looking for the dirt. The gold is much more valuable.

Sometimes the good in people is hard to find because there is so much “dirt.” Negative behaviors, poor attitudes, sin, disappointments, miscommunication… The dirt may be all we can see. But that’s why miners have to dig for gold. It’s rarely just waiting for them on the surface.

With some people, the gold is deep down, but it’s guaranteed to be there. God never makes garbage; every human being has something (and usually a lot of somethings) to offer. You might be the first person to have the patience to dig for it. That means that it’s going to take some serious work to find it, but it also means that the payoff will be really worth it. You might find gold that the individual doesn’t even know he or she has.

People with less wisdom and less character go digging for dirt. Once they have made up their mind about an individual, they start to look for confirming evidence. They search diligently to find all the negative aspects about the person. What’s worse, they often tell others about the dirt, and then those people go dirt mining, too. With everyone kicking up dirt around a person, it’s unlikely that the gold will ever be found.

So which will it be for the people around you? Are you digging for dirt… or for gold?

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Filed under agape love, character, christianity, expectations, family, grace, Interpersonal, marriage, parenting, Relationships, selective perception, unconditional love


During parent-teacher conferences yesterday, our youngest son’s teacher gave me an analogy that was a huge help to me.  Our son is somewhat, uh, let’s say…self-centric, and I’ve had difficulty explaining to him how his behaviors impact those around him.  I’ve tried pointing them out in the moment, lecturing, role-playing…nothing works.

But armed with the analogy, I took another run at it.

“You see, son, it’s like this.  (As I draw a picture for him…)  This “X” is you here in the center.  And these other “Xs” represent all the people in your life.  Here’s Mom, and here I am.  Here are your brother and sister, and here are some of your friends at school.

“When you say things and do things, you send off ripples like when a pebble is dropped into a pool of water.  Those ripples go out from you and touch those people around you.  Now, you can send out positive ripples, or you can send out negative ripples.  Positive ripples usually make those around you feel good.  Negative ripples typically make them feel bad.

“What kind of ripples do you want to send out? (‘Good ones.’)  Sure, I knew that.  But sometimes when you say mean things or do hurtful things or even when you aren’t even paying much attention at all, you send out negative ripples.  I know you don’t want to make people feel bad, but what you say and do almost always affects those people around you.

“And even though you don’t always notice, there are more people around you than just the ones we’ve talked about here.  If you are too focused on yourself, you don’t even see them, but they can still get your negative ripples.

“When people get negative ripples from someone, do you know what happens? (‘No.’)  Many times, when someone gets negative ripples from someone, they send out their own negative ripples.  Those ripples go out from them to you and often to others around them – even people who had nothing to do with what happened between the two of you.  That doesn’t seem fair, does it?  (‘No.’)  I agree, but that’s what happens.

“Those negative ripples go out and impact other people, who then sometimes give off their own negative ripples that affect other people around them and cause them to give off even more negative ripples.  Before long, the first negative ripple you sent out could end up impacting lots of people – people you’ve never met.

“But what if you worked harder at always giving off positive ripples?  What would happen then?  (‘The good ripples would go out and make other people want to give off good ripples.  Then those good ripples would make other people want to give off more good ripples to the people around them.’)  Exactly!  That’s it!  That’s what I wanted to help you understand.  You could help a lot of people have a better day just by starting the first good ripple.”

As I shared the diagram with him, I couldn’t help but think about how it applied to my own life and how often I’m guilty of sending off negative ripples – particularly with those I love the most.  My moments of frustration and selfishness and unkindness can ruin an entire evening for my family.  Because of my leadership role, my ripples are sometime more like tsunamis.  All the more reason for me to work harder at sending out positive ones.

Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, Unconditional Love…Positive ripples.

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Filed under agape love, christianity, family, grace, helping, Interpersonal, leadership, love, parenting, Relationships, Service, Serving Others, unconditional love

I Want *BIG* Thank You!

Our mae baan (“housekeeper” in Thai) left us this note the other day:

I’ll have to admit; I was a little put off by it.  It seemed to my western mind a little presumptuous for the mae baan to solicit praise.  I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve it.  She’s wonderful at what she does, and she’s a joy to have in our home.  I wouldn’t begrudge her the thanks, but I guess I prefer to come up with the idea myself.

I thought about it, and I thought about it all night long.  “What did she do that would warrant a note asking for a thank you?”  It could have been cleaning out the trash can.  I noticed it was a mess when I took out the trash, and it’s possible we never discussed that as part of her job when we hired her.  If not the trash can, then maybe the bathrooms – I’ve got two boys who need bigger targets.  If not the bathrooms, then maybe something to do with the dog (she doesn’t like the dog).

I went to bed still a little annoyed and without a satisfactory answer to my question.  When I woke up the next morning, I went down to the kitchen and read the note again, this time noticing where it was placed.

It was then that I remembered that English wasn’t my mae baan’s first language.  And while she speaks it much better than I speak Thai, she only has a few words in her vocabulary right now.  What she meant was, “I want the big size of these trash bags and this cleaner solution.  Thank you.”


You know, the times we often get in the biggest trouble while communicating are when we are using the same words and signals but ascribing different meaning to them.  Both parties in the communication go off thinking that they know what was communicated, but they actually have two unique interpretations.  When they both act on what they think they know, the seeds of conflict are sown.

All the more reason to clarify, clarify, clarify.  Assumed meaning is a dangerous thing.

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Filed under Challenges, Culture Shock, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, Relationships

Skills on a Short Shelf

In a taxi ride to the Singapore airport, I met a taxi drive who claimed to have been a mechanic for Datsun “Z” race cars when he was a young man. (You know he had to be young, because they haven’t been called Datsun for years!) He told me that he once worked on one of Paul Newman’s race cars. In fact, he said, that same car was recently featured in an article in Car and Driver – same engine twenty years later.

The man said that he loved the work and loved living in the U.S., but while he was there, his father grew ill and died back in Singapore. Since his father owned a construction company, the young man had to come back to run it for his family. After twenty years, he sold the business, but he found that he couldn’t return to auto racing mechanics. In the time that he had been gone, everything had changed.

All the parts were now measured in millimeters instead of inches. But even if he had been able to quickly do the conversions in his head, it didn’t change the fact that cars are now run by computers. He boasted that he could stick his hand into a bucket of parts while blindfolded and tell you what each nut, each bolt, each washer was for. Not anymore. Everything had changed. Now, his wife teases him that he’s an expert in internal combustion engines, but he can’t even get his Honda Civic to start.

The pace of change is increasing. Technical knowledge is almost obsolete by the time you learn it. Things are moving that fast. If you don’t spend time every year updating your technical skill, it’s going to be old and outdated before you know it. Technical skills have a short shelf life.

Of more lasting value are interpersonal skills and knowledge.  These skills allow you to adapt to changing environment, because the principles they are based on don’t change.  What was effective advice for dealing with people when Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book (How to Win Friends and Influence People) is still effective today – seventy years later.  And there was nothing new in that book, either.  Many of the practices were ones Jesus preached about 2,000 years ago.

Allow my new friend’s experience to be a cautionary tale for you.  Invest your time and effort learning how to understand and interact with people, and you will always be able to find someone willing to invest in your talents.

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Filed under Interpersonal, learning, Relationships


As if S.W.I.F.T. weren’t swift enough (read article for background), sometimes we just S.I.F.T. We still experience the Stimulus, Interpret it, have Feelings as a result and Take Action, but we totally skip the Wonder step.

Going directly from the Stimulus to the Interpretation is very common, and it’s a necessary innovation to help us make quick decisions in a busy world. It’s also an inevitable short-cut. Once you’ve experienced the same Stimulus a number of times from the same direction, it’s to be expected that you will make assumptions about the “why.”

But before we give ourselves credit for being astute observes of human nature and our environment, we have to admit that skipping the Wonder step can get us into lots of trouble.

For example, I once had a supervisor who used to praise me only as a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. (In other words, right before she was about to administer a “cure” for my performance.) I learned to distrust her praise, knowing that it was the equivalent of distracting me with candy so that she could stick me with the needle.

Fast-forward to a time when I reported to a different supervisor. This one genuinely praised me, but since I was accustomed to admiration with an agenda, I never believed that she was sincere and always listed for the “but.”

I was skipping the Wonder step, never pausing to ask myself why she was praising me, because my Interpretation was set from years of experience. I thought I already knew her motive even though it was a new supervisor altogether. Over the time we worked together, I always had difficulty trusting her, and it led to quite a few miscommunications.

Often times, we skip the Wonder step with those closest to us. After all, we know these people better than anyone else in our lives. Surely we shouldn’t have to Wonder why they do the things they alwaysdo.

But taking the same short-cuts frequently leads to ruts in our relationships. We are already responding/reacting to them before they finish what they are saying or doing, because “we know exactly where this is going.”

The biggest problem with this approach is that it signals to those around us that we have put them in a box. We’ve already decided what we think of them or the way they do things, and there’s really no way to change our Interpretation.

But what if they have changed? What if their motives are different this time around? What if the reason he’s calling this time is to tell you he was wrong? What if she wants to bury the hatchet and start fresh? What if they’ve had an experience that has changed their hearts? What if they have developed new skills that will make things different in how you relate?

By treating people like we’ve always treated them, we keep them as they’ve always been. Stopping to Wonder anew why they are doing the things they are doing allows for relationships to grow beyond their past limitations.

So, before you react to a Stimulus, stop and force yourself to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Assume positive motive on his or her part. Ask some questions to help clarify where they are coming from. Try to see things from their perspective. Avoid the short-cut; the scenic route is worth the extra time.

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Filed under communication, Interpersonal, Relationships

One-Up; One-Down

There is a game I hate to play.
It does my selfish heart betray
And leads me from my walk to stray
Along a mean and judging way.

“One-Up; One-Down” is the name
Of this universal game,
And it deserves to take the blame
For what should be the Christian’s shame.

It’s played when you first meet a man
And let your eyes his appearance scan
To compare him to you so you can
Answer the doubt, “More or less than?”

“Am I better, or am I worse?”
“Oh, I have got a better purse!”
“And she always speaks so terse!”
“Those kids of hers are such a curse!”

“That’s three for me and none for her.”
“I think I’ve won, but I’m not sure.”
“Her job I really do prefer.”
“And she owns an expensive fur.”

Who could ever win this sport?
One Referee lends strong support,
So players struggle to abort.
We’re playing on the Devil’s court.

He prefers we never win
But just play over and over again,
And to his face it brings a grin
To see us giving in to sin.

For God would have us love each other
And not assess our earthly brother,
For with our weighing we do smother
Our calling to selflessly serve another.

Repent, repent! And do it quick!
Don’t be deceived by Satan’s trick!
This game is evil, and if you pick
It only makes your spirit sick.

Choose for yourself not to compare,
But treat each person with such care
That they will think you very rare,
And you will answer your Lord’s prayer.

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Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships