Active Hope

“Active hope is a practice…it is something we do, rather than have.” Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone When I feel hopeful, I have some confidence that what I hope will happen is likely to happen. For example, I hope this meeting accomplishes what I want it to accomplish. Or, I hope people listen to one another’s perspectives. In this way, desire for a particular future is a part of hope. “Active hope,” according to Joanna Macy and Chis … Read more…

When Your Hair Is On Fire…

According to Stephen Covey, one of the seven habits of highly effective people is that they, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  It sounds so simple. Something you could embroider on a pillow. Or, make into a poster. Simple does not mean easy. When someone says something that sets your hair on fire, the temptation is to go tit for tat, tooth for tooth, measure for measure. We go round and round, getting … Read more…

“Go-To” Skill #2: Asking Questions of Genuine Curiosity – Revisited

This blog entry was originally posted on November 4, 2015. We think this skill is more important than ever. Listening (“Go-To” Skill #1) and asking questions of genuine curiosity (“Go-To” Skill # 2) are the keys to the kingdom of understanding and working well with others to solve tough issues. Without these two, we are stuck in the movie Groundhog Day, recreating the same conversation over and over again until we get it right. In “Change Your … Read more…

“Go-To” Skill #1: Listening – Revisited

This blog entry was originally posted on October 28, 2015. We think this skill is more important than ever. Listening is the most underutilized and essential element there is for meaningful conversation. It is good for whatever ails any meeting. Although it does not cure a common cold, it does prevent misunderstandings, strengthen relationships, and help people clarify their thinking. So, why don’t we listen more deeply and more often? Among many possible reasons, three stand … Read more…

Remember, How We Talk Matters

In the introduction to “How We Talk Matters,” I wrote, “Our need to talk better together has never been greater.” Little did I know then how much more separated,  polarized, and combative we would become. My purpose then remains my purpose today: to provide inspiration, tips and tools to create constructive conversations about consequential questions. Please share this with anyone you think might be interested in helping all off us improve the tone and constructiveness … Read more…

Handling Hidden Emotions

A colleague was in a meeting recently with her counterparts from around the state trying to figure out how they might collaborate to improve each of their organizations’ individual performance. As they considered possibilities, one member of the group kept objecting to everything in a harsh tone. Basically the message was, this will never work, don’t even try it. So, on breaks and when the naysayer was not in the room, the group came up … Read more…

Winning Or Losing?

Some believe living is all about being right/winning OR being wrong/losing. This either/or perspective is exciting and fun in sports. We can root for our team or favorite athlete with passion. However, this way of thinking is destructive in conversations and when we are trying to get stuff done with others. What does it mean to “win” in conversations? Convincing others your solution is the right one? Silencing others? Dominating the conversation? Looking good in … Read more…

Good Conversation Is An Inside Job

A good friend and colleague told me recently how reading my book, Talk Matters!, inspired him to reflect on his inner workings and how he interacts with others in his various roles as an experienced manager and member of several boards. I, of course, appreciated his taking my words to heart. It also got me to thinking that the essence of good conversation might primarily be an inside job. Despite years of teaching communication and … Read more…

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

In this time of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” the children’s rhyme, “Liar, liar, pants on fire”, doesn’t seem as amusing now as it might have when we were children. Lying or communicating falsehoods is a serious matter. It is serious enough to be addressed by one of the Ten Commandments that are foundational in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (“Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”) and one of the elements of Wise or Virtuous Speech In the Eight-fold Path for ending suffering in Buddhism (“abstinence from false speech”).

The perils of lying are even illustrated in one of Aesop’s best-known known fables “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”  and the iconic stories about Pinocchio.

“False speech” undermines people’s trust and creates uncertainty among friends, colleagues and family members. When people lie, we then tend to question everything they say. As the old man who tries to comfort the shepherd boy in Aesop’s fable said, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!”

Being untrustworthy undermines relationships and creates disharmony. Right now, trust and harmony are qualities we need more than ever in our lives.

Saying things that aren’t true also affects those who say them. I still remember the embarrassment I felt lying to my cousin when he caught me walking home from school early one morning in Adams, Massachusetts. “School was canceled,” my first-grade self exclaimed. I can still feel the shame I felt when he handed me over to my justifiably skeptical mother. It was painful to experience her mistrust of me for a time after this. I now know that I was experiencing the discomfort of “cognitive dissonance” or the conflict between one’s thoughts and words.

In addition, lying also reflects badly on and creates mistrust in the group or institution that the untruthful person is a part or representative of.  If you can’t trust someone to speak the truth, can you trust the group or institution they are speaking for? All in all, falsehood undermines the social fabric of our society.

It seems we all “lie” in big or small ways every day. When someone asks us how we are, we say we are fine even when we are not. We avoid telling people when they hurt our feelings. We tweak numbers and obfuscate performance at work. We don’t openly disagree with colleagues even when we do.

What leads us to lie, withhold accurate information, exaggerate, or create false impressions? Usual reasons include saving face, making a good impression (i.e., being loved or admired), keeping the peace and avoiding conflict, not hurting others’ feelings, gaining advantage over others, protecting one’s job or status, avoiding doing what you don’t want to do (School was canceled!), or creating confusion in order to distract people from the truth.

The unfortunate impact is that in the face of confusion and misinformation, people get cognitively overloaded and give up trying to discern fact from fiction.

Telling the truth is often not easy. For the sake of our relationships and the social fabric of our society, and to engender trust and confidence in the institutions that make civil society possible, we need to start telling the truth more and asking for the same from others.

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

Returning to the Present Moment

This spring, the water in Murray Canyon* is higher and faster than I have ever seen it. Heavy rains have washed parts of the trail away. To reach Seven Sisters Waterfall you need to follow a trail that goes from one side of the creek to the other. This entails crossing the creek multiple times on rocks or forging through the cold water rushing down from snow capped mountains. Either way, over the rocks or … Read more…