Th 287399

Fact, fiction, and reflection

June 1, 2008
Have you noticed that some of the best things in life suddenly “pop up” when you least expect them?
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For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: Reflection, fact or fiction, communications, leadership, stress, listening, monitoring, momentum.

Have you noticed that some of the best things in life suddenly “pop up” when you least expect them? There is tremendous value in exposure to the unexpected!

Marlyn and I recently traveled to the Leadership Institute of Seattle to attend a three-day workshop on building effective communication skills in times of intensity. The program was highly recommended, so I registered with a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn. I thought I'd signed up to learn how to communicate with others. This did happen, but I also learned about communicating with myself!

Mindful reflection

My anticipation of a valuable experience began the minute I decided to attend. Marlyn and I work as a team with clients, but we couldn't recall the last time we attended a learning event together as students. We both knew that an opportunity like this was overdue. I also recognized the need to call time out from the “white water” world I was living in. I needed to slow down, and do something for me!

From the moment I found an empty chair in the workshop room, I felt comfortable. I was in the right place. Despite all the blessings in my life, I knew I was stuck. It was hard for me to admit it, but life had lost some of its excitement. All this was telling me that changes needed to be made, and clearly, it was a time for mindful reflection.

I kept asking myself why it had taken me so long to accept this reality. Was my ego getting in the way? Maybe so! It wasn't hard to find excuses. Ankle and knee surgery the previous year had disrupted my life considerably. I kept telling myself that with all that was going on, there was no way that I could find the time. But for most people, there is no time to be found. One of life's tough lessons is that we have to make the time, and this is a personal responsibility.

Have you ever sensed that spending less time doing and more time thinking would be beneficial? Would a break from the usual patterns of your life be worthwhile? If so, when was the last time you called “time out” and signed up for a reflective learning experience focused on you? Would there be a benefit in sharing an experience like this with someone in your life?

When two people hear the same messages at the same time, partnering takes on a new meaning. Personal and professional relationships are strengthened, and the value of the learning gets multiplied many times over. You may even have more fun!

It's story time

The workshop content yielded many insights, but one insight rose to the top of the list. Read on to see if you get a glimpse of yourself. Have you ever suspected that something about you was getting in your way, but you couldn't name it, and you didn't know what to do about it? Here's what happened with me.

We were introduced to a self-awareness model that addresses the way we think. I learned that I am an expert at “meaning making.” When I encounter a challenging and intense situation in my life, I sometimes jump to conclusions.

In the absence of concrete information, I have a tendency to fill the void with inaccurate thoughts and unwanted possibilities. I am a master at creative story-telling, but there is a problem! The stories that I create too often turn out to be fiction. They are based on invalid assumptions and inaccuracies that take me down the wrong path ... a path where I spend unnecessary time and energy dealing with a future outcome that, in reality, will never occur. What a waste!

The good news is that there are other ways to respond to these stressful situations — simple and very effective ways to separate what is actually happening from our interpretations of what is happening.

  1. Start by staying in the present. Don't jump to an immediate conclusion.
  2. Use the power of curiosity and inquiry to foster a spirit of exploration and discovery.
  3. Distinguish your interpretations and assumptions from actual, observable data. Even though hunches and intuition can turn out to be correct, check them out by asking the right questions.
  4. Remain open and flexible as you move through this process. Your willingness to postpone judgment will contribute to a more successful outcome.

That's not what I intended

Another facet of communicating effectively in times of intensity also caught my attention. If you've ever said to someone, “No, that's not what I meant,” then you have experienced what's called “the interpersonal gap.” This gap occurs when the intention of your communication does not match the impact that your words have on the other person. The receiver has not accurately heard what you intended, but without further communication, neither of you know that this has happened. The danger, of course, is misunderstanding, which is a more serious cause of conflict in communication than disagreement.

Once again, we need to recognize that we are “meaning making” beings, and we must consciously work to separate fact from fiction. We communicate through filters that are unique to each of us, which explains why two people can hear the exact same statement yet interpret it completely differently.

Given this complexity, it's a wonder that we can communicate at all! This awareness certainly caused me to reflect on how I communicate, and it emphasized once again the danger of making assumptions.

Especially during difficult conversations, the temptation is to state the message and say to yourself, “Thank goodness that's over.” We then have a tendency to move on as quickly as possible, assuming our message has been heard correctly. Have you been there? Slow down! It's so important to check out the other person's perceptions and feelings.

A great way to do this is by paraphrasing, summarizing, and checking for impact. For example, “I'm sensing that my words have upset you. Am I reading this correctly?” Or, “Here is what I heard you say ... Have I interpreted your comments accurately?” Although this takes time in the short term, checking for impact and meaning will save time in the long term. It also conveys your interest in the other person and his or her point of view. This has the potential to prevent a misunderstanding and protect the relationship.

Maintaining momentum

When you approach learning with an open mind, you leave room for the unexpected. My Seattle experience went beyond what I imagined. The basic intellectual content was excellent. The participatory format gave me the opportunity to discover valuable things about myself. My informal conversations with other attendees added considerably to my learning.

So what's next? If I simply jump back into my daily routine and put my workshop notes away, not much will change. Monitoring what I learned is essential. Assessing my progress with the help of another person will be invaluable. I don't want to get stuck again, so I've already registered for another learning event with Marlyn, this time in Chicago. Look out, Windy City!

Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn's insights into people and relationships and coaching skills complement Doug's motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at

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