September 2014

What Are We Going to Do When We Hit the Land Mines?

You prepare for the bad times in the good times. That means when you’re making good money, you save some for when you aren’t. Among a lot of other things.

In SpeakStrong terms, it means you talk about how you’re going to handle land mines before you hit them. Not IF you hit land mines, but WHEN. Any relationship that is dynamic and alive will hit land mines. Will you overlook them? Will you ignore them? Will you put on a happy face? Or do you agree that at times, the best way out is through? What might that look like? 

If someone refuses to have that discussion upfront, you might reconsider letting them deeply into your life. When things are smooth, it’s hard to imagine they won’t always be. When they aren’t, it helps to know that you have agreements that you are all in – that you won’t play games, retaliate, go silent, etc. and that you will… what?… you tell me.

How do YOU handle it when you hit the land mines in the relationships that matter?

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Confronting the Witch with… Witch Hazel

Witch-Hazel 200I recently attended a meeting where everyone was required to use pencils because someone in the group is allergic to a chemical that pens emit. That woman is able to come to these meetings because the group is sensitive to her sensitivities.

Yesterday was a different experience. At the end of my Pilates session, the instructor handed me a wipe. She explained that no one wanted to exercise in other people’s germs, and she wanted me to wipe down the equipment I had used. I took the wipe reflexively, commenting that I am more concerned about chemicals than germs. The trainer laughed and told me about a student who held the wipe up with disdain, displaying her acrylic nails. The trainer wasn’t having it. 

We need to be sensitive to others’ sensitivities. My reactions are more food-based than chemical, and I don’t think the congestion I woke up with this morning was from handling Lysol. But some people suffer greatly from just a little chemical contact. 

No, handling a chemical wipe doesn’t send me to bed for a week, but I still don’t like it. So how do I handle the trainer’s policy and insensitivty with… sensitivity?

I shared the tale with Bob. He replied, “That’s why I use witch hazel. Most of my clients are fine with commercial antiseptics, but for the few that aren’t, the witch hazel works well.”

I was delighted. I use witch hazel on my face as an astringent. I will show up to my next session with a tub of witch hazel wipes. No need to get teachy-preachy. Instead of going confrontational into the problem, I will show up with my own solution.

I will leave the tub with her for my future use, and as a gift for others who share my concerns about chemicals. 

Thanks, Bob! 

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Honesty and Purity of Heart

Pure Heart 300When “Abby’s” interview ended badly and she declined my offer because I had made her uncomfortable, I wanted to speak with the gal who had referred her right away. Why? Well, I am human and I was feeling a bit wounded. However, I can honestly say that my major motivation was that I wanted her to be able to communicate some positive things about my impressions of Abby when they spoke. Our conversation was in no way an “Abby-bashing” session. It included quite a bit of sincere praise. I hoped some appreciation would slip in to her conversation with Abby. 

While I don’t claim to do any of it perfectly, when I search my heart I can say that I honestly have good intentions most of the time. The people in my inner circle trust that. I trust that in them. Yes, we collide at times, fumble in confusion and wound each other in some way or another. That basic trust is what makes it so doable. Without trust, everything needs explanation. Without trust, Speaking Strong becomes a tedious chore that doesn’t make great relationships possible; it makes them impossible until the trust is built. 

Honesty simplifies life. Purity of heart is what makes honesty workable. One of my friends often affirms this. When I or we struggle she will say, “I know your heart.” I don’t claim to have attained complete purity and I don’t suggest that my inner circle has perfected it either. But we have enough purity that we can share the secrets of our souls with a sense of ease.

That is precious. I am grateful to everyone who honors me with that kind of trust. I am grateful to those who don’t slam the door because they discover I’m human too and/or I triggered them somehow. 

Some people say life is short, but I say life is long. I am also grateful to those who have slammed the door and then walked back through it for a do-over – a do-over that resulted in us being in each other’s inner circles. Perhaps some day, Abby and I will find our ways into each other’s inner circles, too.

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That Girl Can Talk, But Can She Listen?

I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past months with people about their tendency to dominate conversations.  Most have gone well – but the latest one didn’t quite work out as I had hoped.

I get frustrated when people finish my sentences for me, interrupt and/or talk over me, often assuming they know what I am trying to say. (Trying is the operative word here since they don’t let me finish.) Addressing it hasn’t always been easy or fun, but, to the credit of the would-be-dominators, I am now able to enjoy the company of several people instead of being frustrated in their company or distancing myself. Occasionally I hear of someone else who experiences the dynamic that I have worked through with them.

Saturday was a different story.

“Abby” was interested and excited about doing work for me. She had everything I needed – the skills, the enthusiasm, the interest. Except there was one problem. When we spoke on the phone, she interrupted me several times, took the conversation in directions and details that didn’t serve the point, and basically dominated the conversation.

There was no space for grace.

There were several things I intended to say that I didn’t because Abby was doing a lot more talking than listening. I considered saying something about it on the phone, but decided to wait until we met. 

When I got off the phone, I told my husband, “I will not have one more tangential person in my life.” If it was going to work, Abby and I needed to find a better communication balance.

I mentioned the issue to the gal who referred Abby. Yes, she noted, sometimes when Abby called she would put the phone down and do other things and Abby didn’t notice. In fact, she had just done that for an hour.

That wasn’t going to work for me.

So I told Abby that we needed to work that out if we were going to be able to work together. Abby launched into a long and detailed explanation of what had happened the day we spoke that made her nervous and chatty. I felt that sinking feeling I get when I sense I’m being led down a rabbit hole. I told Abby those were the kind of details that I found distracting and off point. Abby seemed to understand, and after that, she only interrupted me once. Abby left all smiles and reportedly eager to start. 

Two hours later I discovered a message on my answering machine. Abby wasn’t going to be able to work for me after all. She was very reluctant to speak with me when I returned her call. She said I put out “uncomfortable energy” and she needed to be herself at work. 

On reflection, I can think of ways I could have said it better. That’s always true.

Am I disappointed? Yes – and I’m also relieved. If someone being herself means talking and not listening, this isn’t the place for her. I’m sure she has people who love her. I also know pretending to listen like the woman who referred Abby just doesn’t work for me. Abby had everything I was looking for on a skill level. Just not on a communication level. 

Man, that girl can talk. But I discovered she isn’t willing to listen. 

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PowerPhrase: No need to lie, no cover to blow

Womann lie 200Nadine is a professional in my husband’s industry. She was interested in seeing what my husband does, so we invited her and her husband over for dinner. We were surprised when Nadine extended the invitation to our mutual friend Mike and his wife.

We love Mike and enjoy his wife, but having them there as a couple would change the whole intent of the evening. Mike understood that. He offered to call Nadine and tell her he had a conflict, and we would all get together for dinner at his house another day. Bob told Mike, 

  • No need to lie. I don’t want to involve you in any duplicity.

Bob said he would call Nadine and let her know that we’d like to get together with Mike and his wife another time, and keep the focus more professional for this event.

I love it.

I said almost the exact same thing to a friend only two days before. I interviewed someone my neighbor referred to me, and the interviewee reacted to some feedback I gave her. While she left all smiles, telling me how excited she was and how eager she was to start work, she called later and left me a voice mail saying she couldn’t do it after all because of other commitments. (More on that later.) I visited my friend to talk about it – and to get a hug. The interviewee texted my friend while I was there. “I’ll just tell her I haven’t talked to you yet,” my friend told me. I replied,

  • Please don’t lie. I have nothing to hide here. You are free to share anything I’ve said. 

More and more, I find that saying what I mean and meaning what I say without being mean when I say it is the best approach. I remember when I asked a woman I respect what I could say about something, because I didn’t want to blow her cover. She replied, 

  • I have no cover to blow.

What a great way to live. Not always easy, but great. 

Please comment:
Click on the post title and share your own experience, thoughts and insights. 

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Anti-social? Or reflective?

do not disturb sign 300“I’m feeling anti-social today,” Layla explained.  Layla is going through challenging times. I understood and respected her need for space.

The next day, I asked Layla if she was still in an inward, reflective mood. She wasn’t. She was ready to engage again. Extended retreats are wonderful at times, but currently, Layla’s life is demanding clear, decisive action, so I was relieved to see her reemerge so quickly. 


The need for retreat, reflection and hearing one’s own voice is not generally honored in our culture. We speak of introspection as if it’s a weakness or a problem. We wouldn’t accuse an extrovert (or someone in a social mood) of being anti-reflective. 

I try to align myself with my community members so that my presence supports their inner journey instead of distracts from it. That’s why I often am invited in by people who are keeping the general world at bay. But even so, there are times when the “do not disturb” sign applies to me, too. 


Introverts of the world, let’s unite and set the record straight about the need for retreat at times!

Or… maybe not. Perhaps it’s better just to let the world turn without us on occasion. Maybe our challenge is simply to honor introspection in ourselves and put out our “do not disturb” signs when we are called inward.Please comment 600

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PowerPhrase: I asked myself what my resistance was, and…

I had invited “Elle” to dance with me several times. Normally, when I invite her to something, she gives me a clear yes or no. Dance was different. She would give vague and indefinite answers. Or she would just go silent.

I noticed a similar thing when she invited me to classes she likes. I would go silent rather than give a clear yes or no. So I told her that I would love to go to be with her, but the event itself wasn’t top priority to me, and I wanted to focus on things that were. What I didn’t say (but will) is to keep inviting me, because sometime I might decide I want to join her. 

Elle’s response to my dance invitations felt odd enough that I was about to address them. But I didn’t have to. Elle initiated the conversation herself. She said,

  • I asked myself what my resistance to dance is, and I realized that I feel nervous about going. 

I appreciate her directness and clarity.


I’ve done much the same thing around calling my parents. I asked myself, what is my resistance? I discovered that it seems to me they want news, and my life is simple and routine – on the outside at least. So I started looking for things to tell them. I’m not traveling the world these days – I don’t have glamorous tales of outer adventures, but the crab apples getting ripe will have to do. 

I picked up the phone and called. They were happy to learn about the crab apples. 

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Innocence Lost in Cat-land

I’ve posted about our cat Cindi before, and about our morning ritual. It was such a sweet start to our day to sit on the floor brushing and adoring her while she danced and pranced around for us to admire her. We delighted in being with a critter we love and are excited to see. There was an innocence to the whole experience… until recently. Here’s what happened. 

We discovered our cat loves liver. We started feeding our cat liver at the end of our morning ritual. It only took a few days for us to notice that the addition of liver changed the whole morning dynamic. Suddenly, Cindi seemed uninterested in being adored. She didn’t seem so glad to see us anymore. Her parading about appeared mechanical. The morning ritual became all about… liver. 

Oh, she still goes through the motions. She’ll rub against something, take her bows, lick her lips and look up to the counter where we keep her liver. Perhaps we’re projecting, but it sure seems to us that she’s saying, “Was that enough? Have I earned my liver? Is it time yet?”

Innocence has been lost in Cat-ville. Love was tainted by a goal.

Where have you experienced that before?

Have you ever had a job you loved that became a means to an end until the life got squeezed out of your labors?

Have you ever found that the big adrenaline quest has rendered you unable to enjoy simple sweetness? 

Has something that once was beautiful in its own right ever been turned into a means to an end, and you started going through the motions?

The liver is really good for Cindi. She is vibrant and healthy. We’ll keep it as part of our morning routine. But we can’t help but feel a bit of a loss for the way we used to begin our days. 

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PowerPhrase: I Won’t Be Offended If…

I received some powerful responses to a recent blog post. I was focused on other priorities, so I let my community members know that I had received and appreciated the communication, and would reply when I had time and clarity to sink in to my response.

I think that kind of acknowledgement is courteous and it aligns expectations. Plus, I loved the replies, and looked forward to being able to reply. I wanted my readers to know that. 

Dee, one of my readers, replied to this email in a welcome and gracious way. She told me,

  • I don’t reply to your posts just to get a response from you; I just like to reply! If you don’t find the time to reply, I won’t be offended.

Dee’s clarity is freeing and welcome. And gracious. 

To my mind and heart, replies like the ones I received require a response, whether or not their authors do. 


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No Self-Betrayal Here…

Yesterday I coached a young woman in an animated way that was made possible by what she didn’t do with my words.

She didn’t globalize, demonize or black-and-white-ize. She heard my observations in proportion to the situation.

She didn’t take my personal examples of my own struggles in similar situations as an excuse to care-take, teach or analyze me. She let me stay in the role as coach and kept her focus on how my words could help her move forward.

She didn’t play victim. She heard my observations about unhealthy boundaries as an imperative to speak up decisively with those who are taking advantage of her goodwill, instead of an invitation to self-flagellate. 

She didn’t put me on a pedestal and hang on every word as gospel. She used my observations as a tool to help her see the situation clearly for herself. 

Another way to put it is: she stayed conscious. That meant we were able to go deeply into her challenges and the resources and options available to her. We got a lot done in a short time. 


Earlier this week I posted about self-betrayal. People often betray themselves by getting on their own case about their flaws, quirks and foibles. Some of my readers did some of that after reading that post.

That’s beating a dead horse. This young woman and I wouldn’t have been having our conversation if she hadn’t already outgrown the person she was who got her in her conundrum. Yes, it was helpful to see how cause-effect had created an untenable situation in her life. It’s even more helpful to recognize and applaud the new eyes that are allowing us to see our folly and make new choices. 

I salute her for honoring herself (and me) rather than betraying herself. 


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