8 Financial Tips to Teach Your Teen This Summer

Happy summer, LifeSmart friends and family! We hope you are staying cool and finding some time for rest as you enjoy this season with your loved ones. One thing summer brings about (other than barbecues and baseball games) is teens working their summer jobs. Whether they’re nannying, mowing lawns, spinning pies at the local pizza joint, or interning at a law firm, the goal is to gain real life job experience, and of course, make whatever money they can before school starts up again in the fall.

This brings us to an important point. Money. Have you equipped your teen with the financial know-how they need to succeed in the real world (and avoid major financial pit falls)? Many parents assume their kids are learning personal finance at school, but unfortunately, many schools assume the students are learning it at home! It’s a crucial topic that all-too-often falls through the cracks. And, guess who loses?

As your teen embarks on their summer job (or even as they plan to get one next year), use this as a launch pad to build their financial literacy. The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. You simply need to know the basics and abide by the disciplines and key principles. One way to approach it is to teach them how to avoid these eight most common financial mistakes:

  1. failure to set goals and plan/save for major purchases (instead, many load their credit cards with debt, making their items that much more expensive)
  2. failure to set aside an emergency fund for unforeseen expenses
  3. spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses (a top learning priority!)
  4. incurring too much debt, including student loans and excessive credit card usage
  5. incurring significant fixed expenses relative to your income that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing and cars)
  6. impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping (make, and stick to, your shopping list beforehand!)
  7. failure to begin saving and investing for the future as soon as possible (and missing out on the compounding of money over long periods of time)
  8. failure to appreciate how the little things can add up (e.g., eating out versus in, paying up for name brands, owning a dog or cat)   

(Number 6 is an especially common pitfall among young people when working a summer job. They aren’t used to having a surplus of money in their checking account, so they go on spending sprees and end up saving much less than they could. A good rule to learn, especially at this time of life, is save first, spend on “needs” second, and IF there is money left over, enjoy some “wants.”)

This list isn’t just for young people—they’re for everyone. Periodically review how you’re doing in each of these areas, and encourage the young adults in your life to do the same. (Remember, they’re watching you, so be sure to “walk the talk!”) If we can successfully avoid these traps, we’ll ALL be in better financial shape!

This summer, let’s get the next generation equipped for financial wellness!

Our Top Tips for Teens Who Are Glued to Their Phones

The school year keeps teens very busy. Even with fully remote or hybrid schedules, they wake up early, take classes for the majority of the day, do their homework, participate in sports or extracurricular activities, and get as much as sleep as they can. So, fortunately for them, the summer can be an opportunity for them to have a little breathing room, relax, and simply be a teen. However, I think the parents who’ve been home with their kids over the last week or two can all agree on one thing…


We’ve probably all said it: “Back in my day, we didn’t even have cell phones…” And yes, that’s the truth. And we did just fine! However, it’s important to acknowledge the element of connectedness that Gen Z and the following generations possess. Thanks to the advancement of technology (most notably the variety of social media networks like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and more) teens are able to be more in touch than ever and engage in the world around them in a way that was never possible for us. The sense of community and camaraderie that is fostered from this connectedness is pretty amazing!
That being said, it’s also not okay for teens to sit around, scrolling all day! It’s not good for our health, physically OR mentally. In fact, for many, it can actually be an addiction. Have you ever noticed how your teen (or you?) reflexively reach for their phone, even if they don’t have something specific to check?

It’s vital the teens in your life know that there’s a time and a place for technology, social media, and smart phone use. Although it has many benefits, technology has some downsides that we need to consider. We should be considering these “cons,” so to speak, for the social, psychological, and physical health of our younger generation.

Here are some factors to ponder:

  • We text or email rather than talk. This is having significant consequences on communication skills—ask any college professor or employer. We now have a bull market in remedial reading and writing programs, and many young people are having difficulty carrying on face-to-face conversations with adults. Good luck with those job interviews!
  • Our lives are more distracted because of our numerous interruptions (a text message, a new Facebook message, an Instagram comment, an event reminder, an e-mail, etc.) and our attention spans have shrunk.
  • Kids spend less time using their imaginations, reading, and being active. We lose the ability to read body language and social cues in other people.
  • Our waistlines are growing as we’ve become more sedentary.
  • We sleep poorly, as online activities keep us up too late and the constant stream of information makes it difficult to turn off our brains. Also, staring at a screen before bedtime can mess up our internal clock and make sleep more difficult.
  • We are being consumed by “busyness” and it is affecting our responsiveness to true priorities, such as family togetherness, activity, spirituality, service, etc.

I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone (well, when I was a teen, an in-state long distance call was $3 a minute!), but I believe there’s some middle ground. When I hear about car accidents occurring because of drivers’ texting, or when I see kids texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company (I’ve also seen the same from grown adults when they’re supposed to be out on a date), I think the pendulum may have swung too far.
Here are some ways you can encourage the young people in your life to be smart about technology use as they spend more time at home this summer. Let’s help them (and us!) find that middle ground:

  • Strongly consider setting technology-free hours within your home. For example, between the hours of 6pm and 7pm for dinner, and from 10pm until morning.
  • Parents, place limits on the amount of time your children spend on technology each day. Be on guard for any collateral damage from technology use (e.g., relationships, communication, productivity, motivation, anxiety, attention spans, irritability). 
  • Lead by example (THIS ONE IS HUGE!) and show the teens you know how to enjoy life’s special moments without their phone. Go for a walk and enjoy good conversation (no need to post a filtered Instagram shot of the scenery!). Go outside and play volleyball or basketball. Go for an all-day hike on the weekend, and challenge everyone to leave their phones alone the entire time.
  • Disengage from phone use when you’re together at coffee shops, restaurants, and the like. All too often I’ve seen parents as phone addicted in public as their kids. Isn’t this supposed to be “quality time?”
  • If you’re a teacher, make sure your classroom is a phone-free zone if at all possible. Encourage practices that help strengthen your students’ creativity, activity, and resourcefulness.
  • Remember that setting boundaries/limits on technology use can be the greatest source of “fireworks” between parents and their teens. However, it’s important parents stay strong on this one because the love you exert today will pay off in productivity and greater health for them in the years to come.  

Time is a precious asset and that relationships are designed to be personal. Your brain was designed to be active. Your body was designed to move. Don’t let your electronic devices interfere with any of that.

Enjoy your summer with each other and hopefully as much screen-free time as possible!

Two Words for a Fulfilling Life

An annual highlight of mine is visiting an area 8th grade class that uses our What I Wish I Knew at 18 curriculum for its Life Skills class. The students submit their questions in advance, and I answer as many as I can. They have an uncanny knack of asking great questions, and this year was no different. My favorite one:

“What are your two tips for a fulfilling life?”

Simple as that! Yet profound and deserving of my best thinking, for sure. After some serious contemplation, I came up with my answer: Grit and Gratitude. Each powerful in their own right, but simply magnificent in combination.


Let’s start with grit. Growing up, this word had a distinctly negative connotation—a cross between grimy and dirty. However, nowadays, in a new form, it’s made quite a comeback! Success experts, as well as my own research and observation of leaders, point to grit as a quintessential ingredient. 

Although definitions vary, I describe “grit” as a composite of vision, focus, effort, and resilience. For example, using an Olympics analogy:

  • Vision is becoming the Gold Medalist
  • Focus is organizing my life (time management, diet, sleep, practice) to achieve my vision
  • Effort is my work ethic (discipline, efficiency, effectiveness) and determination
  • Resilience is my ability to overcome and grow from adversity and obstacles; relentlessness 

Importantly, each is required for our goals to be achieved. Whether one is an Olympian or a student setting goals for adulthood, grit is the secret ingredient to making dreams come true. Like you, I’m excited to hear the stories of grit that we’ll be treated to in the upcoming Summer Olympics (I’m reminded of the film, “Miracle,” that recounted the US Olympic Hockey team’s Herculean upset of the Soviets in 1980.). And I’m likewise inspired to hear the stories of how our graduates showed grit to achieve their goals. What a great class/home project to have your students/children share their experiences where their grit made all the difference!

But a life of fulfillment isn’t just about achieving goals, is it? 


Have you known people who, despite their circumstances, are filled with joy? And others, who despite their circumstances, are sourpusses? Like most, I am drawn to people who lift our spirits through their own. They remain positive, hopeful, and peaceful through thick and thin. You see it in their countenance—especially their eyes and mouth, and in their words, expressions, and attitudes. 

How is it that some people are joyful (which to me is a notch above happy) and others less so? Is it genetics or from some inner catalyst?

I believe that gratitude is the secret ingredient to joy—and living a fulfilling life. Dictionary.com defines grateful as, “warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.” What’s not to love about that? 

Note that I’m not just talking about the “being happy because I just won” kind of gratitude. Rather, some people have a knack or nature of thankfulness from the moment they awaken. They look for the good in people and things. They’re appreciative of their lives and opportunities. They give credit to others before themselves. And no matter how gloomy the times may be, they find a way to be thankful for what is good and maintain perspective. They don’t allow the bad to crowd out the good. Whining and pity parties are not in their vocabulary. 

When I find myself in a slump, it’s usually a sign that I need to increase my gratitude quotient. I remember what I’m thankful for: God, family, friends, country, those who sacrifice to keep us safe, caregivers, teachers and coaches, nature, beauty, art, health, sports, recreation, love, compassion, wonder, and opportunities to use my gifts and talents to make the world a better place. Just to name a few. I’m sure you have others to add to your list, too. 

So, to be joyful, we first need to be grateful.    

The Daily Double

But what happens when you have both? Simply put, it’s magic!

I’d like to introduce you to someone who, despite being only 19 years of age, already has this “2G Factor” down pat. Her name is Rachel Heck. She just accomplished a rare feat of winning the Division I Women’s Golf Championship as a college freshman (from Stanford University). Rachel has accomplished much in her young golfing career, but she is even more impressive as a person if that’s possible. Rachel exudes joy and it clearly stems from gratitude. 

Rachel dedicated her victory in honor of a servicewoman, Victoria Pinckney, who, as a 27-year-old mother, died in Kyrgyzstan while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. Before her round, Rachel wrote Ms. Pinckney’s name on her scorecard to help maintain perspective during this pressure-packed event. Rachel ultimately won the championship by one stroke. 

Our world needs more Rachel Heck’s. In case her name is new to you, here’s a link including her post-round interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBcpTKMHpRc. Her grit and gratitude are palpable and immediately apparent. I hope you share this inspiring interview with your students/children to see the power of these two qualities in one person.

So, there you have it. My answer to a fulfilling life! What’s yours?


The LifeSmart Team  

How Can You Show More Professionalism?

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”

~Alistair Cooke

For young adults who are just entering the workforce, it can be an eye-opening experience. In a culture that has grown more coarse and casual by the year, and where parents and educators expect the other to take responsibility for building employability skills, many employers have significant retraining to do. So, it’s no surprise they are increasingly valuing professionalism in their employees.

When we hear the word, “professionalism,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is appearance and language. However, the scope is much broader. So, let’s review some of the key aspects of professionalism in a workplace context. Each one is important for adults and children to master.

Appearance: this includes dress, hygiene, countenance, body language, neatness, cleanliness, posture, etc. When you start a new job, err on the side of more conservative dress and closely observe how others, especially the most admired employees, appear. They’re your best role models. Workplace functions vary from casual to business-casual to business. Be sure to come properly attired no matter what. Would your CEO be comfortable including you in a major client dinner? There is only one right answer!

Attitude: employers expect you to arrive on time with a positive attitude and ready to rock. You must try your best regardless of what else is going on in your life or whether it’s a Monday morning after a week of vacation. Keep a positive disposition, even if you’re in stressful situations. Positivity is the sign of a winner!  

Excellent Performance: true workplace superstars deliver high job performance and contribute to the success of the organization. They go above and beyond. They can be relied upon to achieve their goals and meet deadlines. Also, they work well with others (both inside and outside). Think “dependable excellence.”

Manners and Etiquette: these reflect on one’s personal standards and respect for others. They are especially important in business/social settings and meetings with clients and prospects. You needn’t be an Emily Post, but you must “show well” to others in your basic etiquette. Closely observe, and learn from, those with excellent manners, courtesy, and graciousness. You won’t win an account with exceptional manners, but you’ll surely lose one if they’re lacking.

Ethics and Confidentiality: every employer has basic policies and procedures that must be followed, in addition to laws and regulations. And, depending on the position, employees are often privy to confidential information. Here, your standards must be impeccable and nothing less. A broken trust, or failure to adhere to ethics and policies, can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask!

Representation of Employer’s Brand: most companies have a mission, vision, and statement of values to which employees are expected to honor. Your supervisor and leaders must be able to trust that you will capably represent the company’s values, both at work and in the community. As we’ve increasingly seen, that includes our comments and posts in the public square, especially on social media.

Communication and Relationships: in the workplace, our relational standards need to be even higher than with our personal relationships. Communication, both written and oral, must be more formal and appropriate, and always tactful and courteous. In order to build a harmonious working environment, positivity and constructive communication are the order of the day. Also, many lifelong friendships are formed at work, where mutuality and respect guide our behavior (especially in mixed gender relationships). Finally, one must never use position or power to abuse, disrespect, manipulate, or harass another. No exceptions.

Growth Mindset: successful employees are committed to lifelong learning. They seek professional development opportunities through webinars, journals, podcasts, and the experienced pros surrounding them. All of this positions employees for advancement in their current job and next-level opportunities.  

Here are some key reasons why professionalism so important to employers:

  • Employees are representing their employer and its brand, both internally and externally. Thus, professionalism is a personal and organizational issue.
  • Customers and prospects expect and deserve it! Professionalism is a sign of respect we show others. We’ve all experienced unprofessional sales and service calls, and it motivates us to take our business elsewhere, doesn’t it?
  • Employees who struggle with professionalism rarely last long and certainly receive fewer opportunities. This is especially the case if the position is people-centric like sales or customer service. 
  • It builds stronger relationships and helps us make good first impressions when we meet new people.
  • It helps us do a solid job, even on those days when we’re not at our best.
  • It helps us bring out the best in our colleagues, especially when we’re in managerial roles.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

Parents, don’t take for granted that your children are learning these valuable employability skills at school. Take primary responsibility for it, and introduce them to successful professionals whenever you can. Today’s cultural messages are not preparing them in any way, shape, or form to be a professional, and our schools and universities aren’t consistently helping either. The ball is in your court. 

Parents of High School Seniors: You “To-Do” List for May

Time is flying by, isn’t it? It’s finally May, our college selection is complete, and it’s time to relax (at least a little bit). Now, our students need to focus on finishing strong while also enjoying what they can about this weird, pandemic-stricken year. Hopefully their schools have come up with creative ways for them to enjoy some camraderie during the final days of high school. There may be a couple of forms to complete for their chosen university (if university is their next step), but for now, it’s time to let your graduating student soak up these final weeks before the official “launch.” Are they lacking in motivation for their studies? For sure! It pays to remember we were, too.

Of course, we all hope that our teens will be the responsible ones, the ones who choose not to participate in underage drinking or any other activities that may harm their reputation. May is an incredibly timely month to bring up the topics of reputation, values, and their personal brand. Few things are as important (and fragile!) as our reputation. Why? Well, it’s very difficult—nearly impossible—to fully recover from a damaged one. In your teen’s first year away from home, his or her values will be tested like never before, and many of today’s (or tomorrow’s) decisions will have long-term consequences. And, graduation season can offer many opportunities to get derailed.

When we stay true to our core values and strive to be a person of admirable character and integrity in all circumstances, we will have less stress, a clearer conscience, and fewer regrets moving forward. If you want to take “inventory” of you and your teen’s most important values, try going through this values checklist. It will be a great conversation starter for the whole family!

The month of May should also be a time for you and your teen to really connect as you develop and strengthen the new dynamic of your relationship. As you begin to discuss the issues of reputation and values, here are some other “conversation starters” to get fruitful, meaningful talks started:

  • Review the types of upcoming situations where their values may be challenged, and how they plan to approach them (parties or get-togethers, senior events, senior skip days, etc.). When they’re in a high-risk situation, what will their plan of action be?
  • If you haven’t done so, create a “rescue plan.” Agree on a code word or phrase that your teen will text or call you with that indicates a problem situation that needs immediate attention and rescue. This may sound overly protective, but it can be a life saver!  
  • Have them consider the various influences in their lives, such as family, music, movies/TV, friends, social media, organizations and clubs, etc. Help them be able to determine which influences may be positive, which may be negative, and which are neutral. Encourage them to avoid negative influences at all costs.
  • Share some realistic scenarios (maybe from your own personal experience) of the college lifestyle (including but not limited to parties, drugs, alcohol, hook-up culture, cheating, etc.) and discuss ways to handle them. Prevention is always the best medicine, but impromptu decision-making skills are essential, too!

Enjoy your time with your soon-to-be adult as the school year comes to a close. Given the unprecedented times we experienced (and are still experiencing), it was a challenging year for parents and students alike. Remember to be open and honest with them, as they are much less “kids” these days as they are maturing young adults. Stay tuned for next month, when we will talk about focus points for June!

Conquering Communication Conflict

“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point—a higher, more expansive place from which you can see both sides.”

~Thomas Crum

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes
 to sit down and listen.”

~Winston Churchill

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Question: What do Facebook “friends” in an election year have in common with parents telling their five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next-door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone, and that’s okay. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises. After all, great things can happen when we successfully work through it. 

In this, our final segment of our five-part series on mastering communication, I’ll tackle some common sources of conflict and offer some preventive and management strategies.

Although certainly not a complete list, here are some common sources of communication conflict:

  1. Viewpoint disagreements.
  2. Dislike of decisions.
  3. Misunderstandings.
  4. Messenger “packaging.”
  5. Goal differences.

Viewpoint Disagreements

Have you ever noticed how every four years there is a spike in disagreements? Hmm. Wonder why! Aside from politics, however, people have different points of view on a host of topics and that is healthy and normal. Our backgrounds, experiences, training, and passions inevitably result in a variety of perspectives—diversity that spices up our lives. But sometimes it gets a little too spicey and morphs into genuine conflict. Within families. Among friends. In our workplaces and communities. It’s always been this way, but now it’s exacerbated by social media. 

Is it possible to conquer our conflict? We believe it is. Here are our tips for managing these types of conflict, recognizing that some involve the message and others the messenger:

  • Focus on a goal of mutual understanding through respectful sharing. Be open to other points of view. Listen actively and ask follow-up and clarification questions. Think “share with” versus “talk to.” Allow all voices to be heard. It’s amazing how differently we listen if our goal isn’t first and foremost to convince others we’re right and they’re wrong. Bullying and shaming others for a different opinion will never win a convert. 
  • Explore common ground. In some cases, our philosophical (or other) differences are so great that they are irreconcilable. However, in others, people may actually have common goals but differ on the methods to achieve them. By searching for common ground on goals, it takes the “sting” out of the discussion about methods. 
  • Differentiate fact from opinion. Often people share opinions but state them as fact. That doesn’t go over well. Encourage all sides to delineate the two. And remember, our opinions are often framed by the media we consume and that may result in significant bias. Be sure your sources are diverse and reliable. 
  • Clarify and confirm. Often, miscommunication occurs because of misunderstandings. When there are viewpoint disagreements, it pays to periodically confirm what we are hearing from the other party, especially if their nonverbal cues indicate concern or confusion.
  • Respectfully agree to disagree. Our differences may still exist after a quality conversation/communication. That’s perfectly okay—there’s nothing wrong with having different points of view. Conclude by sharing your appreciation for their input and perspective and strive to keep the communication channels open.   

Dislike of Decisions

Similar to the preceding scenario, conflict can occur when someone in a subordinate position (child, direct report) does not like, or is disappointed with, a decision made from a “superior.” Common examples are the teen who loses privileges after violating a curfew or an employee who was bypassed for a promotion in favor of someone else. The wise decision-maker will understand that the other party is disappointed, upset, or resentful and communicate with empathy and lots of listening. It is critical that the disappointed party feel heard (if they so choose) and be treated with dignity and respect. 

For the person in the subordinate (disappointed) position, the key is showing respect for the “superior’s” decision-making authority, seeking helpful feedback, and making the best out of the situation—hopefully seeing it as a growth and learning opportunity if appropriate. 


Who hasn’t experienced conflict stemming from a misunderstanding? Despite our efforts, sometimes our communications are misinterpreted, while other times, we misunderstand others. Either way, they make for difficult conversations and, at times, regret. No matter how many times we proofread a letter, email, or text, we can miss the mark because we cannot always correctly perceive how our audience is interpreting our message.

Here are some helpful tips when dealing with misunderstandings:

  • Give the other party the benefit of the doubt as you would want to receive from them. Often when we misunderstand someone, we make assumptions, or worse yet, assign bad intent. That’s not only unfair to the other party, but it also brings a destructive attitude into a supposedly rectifying conversation. These communications rarely go well, and inevitably end up with feelings of regret and shame. We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we were trying to! You know what they say about assuming! 
  • Be extra certain the timing is right. If either you, or the other party, is upset, be sure it’s the right time for follow-up communication. This is especially important if there is a risk of either party assigning bad intent. In order for the communication to be constructive, all parties need to enter with cool heads and healthy state of mind. (Note parents!)
  • Be quick to apologize. Whether you or the other party were the one misunderstood, don’t hesitate to apologize for lack of clarity or a mistaken interpretation. That quickly takes the sting out of the situation. It also shows a willingness to move on.  

Messenger “Packaging”

Sometimes our communication conflict arises from how the message was packaged. Was it appropriate to write that communication versus share it orally? Was the tone of voice constructive and respectful? Was the body language positive and supportive of two-way conversation? Did the sender adequately understand and show respect to the audience? Was the timing of the communication appropriate? 

In most cases, when the messenger doesn’t come across well (as distinct from the message itself), it’s the result of a negative answer to one of the above questions. Thus, especially on important or sensitive communications, it’s important to get them right ahead of time. This will help to avoid those regrettable corrections. If it slips through the cracks, an apology and promise to do better next time are the order of the day.

Goal Differences

Occasionally there is conflict when the parties want something different from the conversation or communication. This irritating offense is common on social media. How many times do we see great information sharing punctuated by an obnoxious comment that attempts to “sell” the audience on their point of view. I don’t know anyone who likes being sold to when they were simply attempting to have a normal conversation. 

In these circumstances, it’s advisable to ignore the remark or to arrange a conversation where the goals are mutually agreed from the outset. When parties want something different from a conversation, it’s rarely constructive. 

Other General Tips

While the above apply to specific situations, here are some other conflict prevention/management strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Respect all parties’ right to be heard. That includes you, too! Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities.
  2. Set appropriate boundaries. If there is disrespect, irrational behavior, or irreconcilable goals for the communication, it’s best to postpone it to a better, more constructive, time when our attitudes are right. 
  3. If you’re upset, pause for ten seconds before responding. It’s amazing what ten little seconds can do! If need be, pause the conversation for a cooling off period. Keep your tone respectful and calm (admittedly not always easy!). 
  4. Focus more on the difference than the person. More progress will be made this way. 
  5. The more sensitive the topic, the more it needs to be handled in person. Simply put, there’s too much at stake relying on written communication when there is conflict. 
  6. Stay constructive and humble at all times
  7. Don’t stuff your concernscommunicate them. Although we may not like conflict, it’s important to maintain your self-respect by sharing your thoughts/feelings. And who knows, the other person might be unaware of your concerns.  
  8. Remember, judgmental rants will never win a debate. Nor will bullying behavior. 
  9. Avoid toxic people. This is especially true of social media. Disengage. 
  10. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. When we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

We hope you enjoyed this series on communication and that there were some nuggets you, your family and friends, and the children you guide can put to great use. 

Here’s to successful relationships and communication to you and yours.

Become a Masterful Communicator: Part Four

Written Communication: Issues and Fixes

“I didn’t mean it like that!” ~ Everyone 

All of us, at one time or another, have had the big written communication fail. Sometimes we’re the “messor,” and other times, we’re the “messee.” My earliest recollection was in seventh grade when I received a note from someone that said, “(so and so) told me to tell you she wants to break up with you.” Now, what exactly was I supposed to do with that?!? Some years later, I sent a special Valentine to a “potential” girlfriend made from a simple computer program I wrote. I thought I was clever and creative. She thought I spent waaaaaaay too much time on this card and got scared away. Despite my protestations to the contrary, the damage was done, and “we” were history. 

Now you have a good idea why I’m so sensitive to written communication breakdowns! And why I’m so bothered that they’re happening everywhere.  

Issues and Risks

What’s going on? Here are some obvious culprits, and I’m sure you can add to the list:

  • We’re communicating more through technology and less in person than ever before. In the absence of our tone of voice, nonverbal cues, and immediate feedback/two-way responses, misunderstandings and misinterpretations are commonplace. Our inability to hear the tone of voice is particularly damaging when an incorrect one is imposed by the receiver. Clarifications are also made difficult due to the lack of instantaneous give and take. As such, it takes longer to rectify mistakes.
  • Perhaps through a false sense of a protective shield, we are writing messages that are much more appropriately shared in person/orally. This includes content that is provocative, sensitive, and confidential. And, especially on social media, messages are often more bold, angry, disrespectful, impulsive, arrogant (counting opinion as fact), and divisive than is our general nature. We can come across as more direct than intended. Not good!  
  • Out of view, we are less sensitive to our audience and may not read from their perspective. When relationship strains exist, or when feelings may be hurt, written communication can be especially risky.
  • We forget to consider that written communications can end up in the “hands” of others without our knowledge or permission. Also, emails and social media posts are routinely monitored by current and prospective employers—certainly not our intended audience!
  • We can write more casually than the situation calls for.

Here’s a good example. I have a friend whose relationship with another was showing signs of strain. My friend was feeling judged and wanted to share her concerns. For various reasons, she chose to write a letter. Knowing both parties as I did, I discouraged my friend from sending it due to my perception of the risks of how it would be received without her tone of voice. Although my friend’s intentions were honorable, it proved to be a disaster. It was received defensively as I feared, and it took several years to restore their relationship. An all-too-common situation when we decide to write it out, rather than talk it out.


So, how can we reduce the risks of written communication fails? Here are some suggestions:

  1. When in doubt and the risks are high, prefer oral communication (in person or via technology). If, as the experts claim, nonverbal cues and tone are more powerful influences than our words, it’s worth considering. But if you must…
  2. Be sure your attitude is right. Avoid writing when you’re angry, emotional, or upset. This applies to writing you initiate or when you respond to social media posts. Consider sleeping on it or holding off until your emotions are in a better place. This will test your self-control, but it’s well worth the extra time. 
  3. Remember your audience. Few suggestions are more important than this, given that written communication is one-way and absent your voice tone. Package your message so it will be received openly and respectfully from your audience. This will not only help you communicate in a proper tone, but it will also greatly improve your content and word choice. This is especially important if your audience will likely perceive your content as “bad news” or upsetting. Avoid arrogance, condescension, and insensitive remarks like the plague.
  4. Don’t write something about someone else you would regret if they saw. Also, avoid sharing confidential information unless it’s approved and labeled as such.  
  5. Read it out loud before you press “send.” Once you’ve developed your initial draft, read it from the audience’s perspective in monotone fashion. This will help you make any needed last-minute adjustments (and correct errors!). Also, if you have a chance, run it by someone else for feedback to see whether your message will likely hit the target. They can offer invaluable perceptions, so take their comments to heart. These are helpful confirmations about whether this communication should be in writing at all. 
  6. Be sure to distinguish between fact and opinion.
  7. Ensure your writing style (casual vs. professional) is appropriate for the circumstances and audience. 
  8. Press “send” and expect the unexpected. Often, despite our best attempts, our message doesn’t come across as intended. Even if we’ve taken every precaution, some may misread your comments and react strongly. In these situations, it’s best to follow up with oral communication to avoid further misunderstandings. Or, in the case of social media when comments are with people you don’t know, think like the Beatles and let it be. 
  9. Take the issues and risks mentioned above to heart.

I hope these help your written communications be the best they can be and reduce the risk of breakdowns. Next time, I’ll tackle conflict management in the last of our five-part series, so stay tuned. (Just in case.) 

Become a Masterful Communicator: Part Three

Oral Communication Essentials

“Two monologues do not make a dialogue.” ~ Jeff Daly

In this, the third segment of our five-part series on mastering communication, I’ll tackle what sometimes seems like a lost art—oral communication. Our growing dependence on technology in our communications has come at cost, it would seem, to our verbal communications based on observation, pervasive complaints, and employer concerns. 

It needn’t be this way. After all, at least in theory, we should have fewer communication breakdowns, when done orally. The benefits, when compared with written communications, are profound:

  • We can observe important non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language
  • We hear the tone of voice, which adds style and emotion to our message and reinforces our words
  • We receive instant feedback and give-and-take with our audiences; misunderstandings can be swiftly corrected through clarifications and elaboration
  • Our communications are more naturally two-way in nature, which are especially important when topics are sensitive, provocative, or private in nature
  • We can engage, support, and encourage more deeply

Surely, written communication can be easier, less emotionally draining, and more efficient, but oral communications are easily more effective because of the above. 

Interestingly, some years ago, Performance Advantage conducted a survey to identify the greatest motivators in a workforce, from the perspective of employees. The top three responses are also highly relevant to this topic:

  1. Being appreciated and recognized
  2. Being involved in decisions/in the know 
  3. Being understood by an approachable boss

Considering the above, would oral or written communications most likely hit the mark? 


Before sharing our best oral communication tips, let’s identify our key goals and what makes communication effective. First, is mutual understanding. Note this doesn’t necessarily mean mutual agreementbut, rather, knowing each other’s position/perspectiveThis is made possible through give and take, elaboration, and clarification. Second, is mutual engagement. This is accomplished through active listening, follow-up questioning, approachability, empathy, humility, kindness, and mutual respect. All parties are made to feel heard. They are agreeable when disagreeing. Conversations are constructive. Communication is two-way. 

Strategies and Tactics

Keeping in mind the above goals, here are some of our best tips for winning oral communications:

  1. Enter with the right attitude. Before any communication can be constructive, all parties need to be in a positive frame of mind. That way, we can begin with a spirit of mutuality and maintain a proper tone. On the other hand, if we are angry, upset, tense, or emotionally charged, it’s best to have a cooling off period before we engage in conversation. This is particularly important for parent-child communication. If our timing is off, it can do more harm than good. 
  2. Be fully engaged at all times. Demonstrate through your words, tone, and non-verbals that you are committed to a positive conversation. Strive to let the other party do more of the talking. Focus on active listening and responding with genuine interest and follow-up questions. Avoid interruptions like the plague. 
  3. Think “share with” vs. “talk to.” One of the best ways to achieve mutual understanding is to have a sharing, collaborative mindset during the conversation. One of the most common communication complaints is when people feel they are being talked to instead of being a co-equal participant. (The first few lines of the song, “Everbody’s Talkin’” come to mind!) The resulting sense of disrespect breeds disengagement and resentment. Again, this is a huge issue with parent-child communications. How we say it can matter more than what we say.
  4. Be a student of your audience. It helps to know the personality makeup and background of our audience, to the extent possible in order to customize our communications and hit the mark. (We highly recommend the DISC personality test for this purpose.) 

    Additionally, knowing the context of our conversation and audience makeup help determine how formally/professionally/casually we should share our thoughts. Many young people are so accustomed to casual conversation that they have difficulty in more professional/adult contexts (e.g., job interviews). It’s important for them to learn how to adapt their communications to different audiences.  

Also, it’s essential to observe the facial expressions of our audience to ensure they are interested and correctly receiving our message. If there is misunderstanding, it often appears via expressions. When our audience seems confused or bothered, it pays to pause and ask if there are questions to provide the necessary clarification. Be sure you, and the children you are guiding, can identify expressions indicating boredom, confusion, irritation, distraction, and strong disagreement.  

  • Separate fact from opinion. Increasingly, communication breakdowns are occurring when emotionally charged topics are on the table. Thanks in large part to the editorialization of the news media, we are often guilty of stating as fact, what is in actuality opinion. We’ll have more to say on conflict resolution in our last part in the series, but for now, let’s all strive to keep these separate and to be respectful disagreers. 
  • Remember the three motivators. Previously, I mentioned the top three motivators of a workforce (being appreciated, valued for our input, and understood by an approachable boss) that apply so well to general oral communications, regardless of our audience. 

We invite you to check out our three books: What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence, as each has extensive sections on communication. 

See you next time when we delve into written communication. 

Become a Masterful Communicator: Part Two

Making a Winning First Impression

“A stunning first impression was not the same thing as love at first sight. 
But surely it was an invitation to consider the matter.” 
-Lois McMaster Bujold

One of life’s greatest adventures is what becomes of the people we meet for the first time. Every relationship has its beginning, but we don’t know what will come of it at the time. Who knows, it might be a future spouse, BFF, boss, reference, mother (or father) in law, client, or work colleague. None of us would be where we are today if it weren’t for new connections that turned into something great. And as for me, I don’t for one minute believe they were all due to chance. 

Here’s a great example. When my son, Mike, graduated from college and unexpectedly returned home (after a planned startup went kaput), I developed a list of people I wanted him to meet. At the top was my friend Tim, who ran a young adult ministry in our area. I called Tim and arranged a visit the following week at a local coffee joint where Mike and I would be. I knew they would hit it off and something good would come of it. To make a very long story short, the intro was magic (they were sharing contact info about two minutes in!), and Tim recruited Mike into a leadership role in his organization. That led to an eventual introduction to a beautiful (and single!) young gal named Stevie. A year later, they would be married, with the ceremony officiated by none other than Tim himself! 

Clearly, if I didn’t initiate this connection, Mike’s life would never be the same, and we wouldn’t have acquired a wonderful daughter in-law. But another thing was key. Early on, we taught our children how to make a great first impression. As we always said, you never know what comes from the people you meet, so always be on your “A Game” when it happens. Thankfully, they took that advice to heart. 

Interestingly, when I taught a life skills course some years back, I asked my students what was the most valuable lesson over the semester. The landslide winner was on how to make a winning first impression. Kids are starving for this kind of practical skill-building and the stakes are too high if we don’t teach them this essential lesson. Parents and teachers, take note!

For some people this comes naturally, but for others, it’s an acquired skill. Those with strong social skills, some level of extroversion, and a dose of self-confidence thrive on opportunities to meet new people. It is naturally more challenging for introverts (who often love one-on-ones but not group settings), those less socially experienced, those lacking self-confidence, and in situations where they feel “out of their league” with a particular crowd or person. (I vividly recall struggling with this early in my career—small town kid meets high finance! Thankfully, I overcame it with experience.)

There is another aspect in today’s world that is interfering with successful “first impressioning.” The more we, and especially our children, consume technology and gaming, the less time we spend in person with others. This is taking a significant toll on relationship building and has become increasingly common (ask any employer of teens/young adults). It is manifested in social awkwardness, distractibility, disengagement, discomfort, and disinterest—none of which will win fans and influence people.  Telltale behaviors include a weak handshake, wavering eye contact (often looking down), phone distractions, poor body language, nervous gestures/speech, and difficulty carrying on a two-way conversation. We’ve all seen it. 

The good news is that with some training and experience, it’s a pretty easy skill to master. If I did it, you/they can, too! As for the training part, here are our best tips for making a winning first impression:

  1. Embrace the opportunity. You are about to meet someone who might be an amazing person in your life, so act like it! And don’t forget, you’re a pretty amazing person for them to meet, too! Be excited for the adventure of what might come. This will get your attitude right. 
  2. Demonstrate through your words, tone, and body language, that you’re excited to meet them. Allow your enthusiasm to come through. Be positive. Smile. Stay engaged throughout. Avoid distractions like the plague. 
  3. Focus more on getting to know them than on them getting to know you. Nothing takes the pressure off of meeting someone more than focusing on them in your conversation. Ask questions. Then follow up questions. And more. Listen. Listen. Listen. Being inquisitive is the best way to deal with nerves, especially when meeting people with much stronger credentials.
  4. Be genuine. Often, especially in professional situations and interviews (and social/dating encounters), we try to impress. We talk more. We brag. We try to act smart and be funny. At its core, this is a self-confidence issuing of thinking we have to be someone else in order to win favor. People see through it in a heartbeat. So, relax, take a deep breath, and just be yourself. And if that’s not good enough, nothing more was meant to be. That’s okay!
  5. Be confident, but humble. This is a balancing act, but one surefire way to ruin a first impression is being arrogant and self-centered. Humility is always a winner. 
  6. Be respectfulfriendly, and polite. You needn’t be Miss Manners but pretty close!
  7. Avoid these risks. Since you’re just getting to know them, stay away from controversial topics or private matters that require a more advanced relationship. Remember, at inception, you’re simply acquaintances.  
  8. Remember (and repeat) their name. The older we get, or the larger the number of people we may meet at an event, the more apt we are to forget the name of a person we just met. It’s embarrassing (personal experience here!). So, I make it a point to mention their name at both the beginning and end of our conversation. And if it’s a common first name, think of someone famous with that name to help you remember.  
  9. End on a strong note. A good closing that demonstrates you are glad to have met them will leave a great impression. Even something simple like, “___, it was great meeting you. I look forward to seeing you again,” will be appreciated. And, say it with a smile.  

It is said that the first 30 seconds of a job interview may not land you the job, but it can surely cost you it. Maybe that’s not fair, but it is the way it is. Throughout life, our relationships matter almost more than anything. Let’s help our kids get off to a winning start with theirs.

Next time, we’ll be exploring oral communication essentials.

Become a Masterful Communicator: Part One

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

~ James Humes

With the benefit of 66 years of hindsight, I can safely say, “We’ve come a long way, baby,” to borrow a line from a Loretta Lynn song. Surely, we can all agree we’re not there yet, but our world has seen progress on a number of fronts during my lifetime.   

At the same time, I think we’ve regressed in some ways. While those of us in the “older than 50 crowd” can occasionally plead guilty to looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, certain areas are so obvious that most objective observers would agree. So, today, and in the next several weeks, I’ll be tackling an issue that has become increasingly concerning, with the hope that it will enlighten and help us reverse course. 

Houston, we’ve got a communication problem. 

If I were to offer some descriptors of the most common communication complaints I hear, they would go like this:

  • People are talking at me and not listening
  • Everything has become politicized and is often biased; I can’t have a normal                       conversation without it devolving into a political rant
  • I don’t feel safe saying what I really feel; I am often shamed or bullied when I do
  • People are characterizing their opinion as fact and jamming it down our throats
  • People seem more comfortable writing their views than sharing them in person
  • People are acting more angrily, boldly, arrogantly, disrespectfully, and impulsively   on social media, especially when they disagree
  • Many young people are struggling with in-person and professional communication

To be sure, several of the above go to the heart, rather than merely to our communication tactics. That said, a number of them derive from violations of common communication standards, and these will be the focus of this blog series. 

One reason communication can be challenging is that each of our interactions has a different purpose. Common examples include to inform, persuade, inspire, share, support, and enjoy. Each demand something different from us as communicators. The setting also comes into play, and is often out of our control, ranging from the intimate (in person, one-on-one) to distant (a social media post). If we’re not strategic in our approach, the end result can be a communication breakdown.  

So, how do we hit the mark in our communications? The first step is remembering that communication is a two-way street. The second is understanding the key components of communication that we need to get right. If we mess up with any of the following, our interaction will likely be a disappointment:

1.     Our Words. Certainly, our word choice has an enormous influence on successful communication. We get into trouble when we say something that would have been better left unsaid (hello self-control!) or when we use words that are overly provocative or would cause our audience to feel disrespected or shut down. Our words will either foster mutual understanding or enjoyment or not. By putting ourselves in the position of our audience before the words flow, we can insert a proper filter when communicating our message. If it’s not constructive, it’ll be received as destructive. 

2.     Our Timing. The saying, “timing is everything,” often applies to communication, especially on sensitive topics. No matter what we say or how we say it, if we’re not in the right frame of mind or our audience isn’t, it’s best to wait for a more opportune time. This is especially true of parent-child conversations when either party (or both) is upset. Mutual understanding and respectful sharing are almost impossible if the timing is wrong. 

3.     The Form. As technology has advanced, our communications have become increasingly impersonal. In years past, we shared more in-person, with the advantage of seeing firsthand how our audience was responding. Nowadays, as more of our communications are in written form, breakdowns are more common. We don’t have the benefit of hearing the all-important tone of voice and observing non-verbal cues. This is a significant cause of miscommunication and misinterpretation when we put to writing something better shared orally, and especially, in person. That’s because our audience is imposing, correctly or not, our tone of voice when we communicate in writing. It’s wise to prefer oral communication, especially if the topic is sensitive, personal, provocative, critical, or controversial.   

4.     Our Tone. The tone in our communications reveals whether our true intent is mutual understanding. No matter what we say, if our audience perceives us as arrogant, condescending, disrespectful, untruthful, manipulative, or controlling, we will not succeed. Great communicators anticipate how their audience will receive their message and ensure it comes through in their voice or writing style. Our words and tone must be aligned. 

5.     Our Non-Verbals. Many communication experts argue that body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues have more impact than our words. When I communicate with someone, I pay specially attention to their eyes, mouth, and posture. Why? They reveal engagement, interest, and enjoyment in our conversation—important clues to whether I’m accomplishing my objectives. This is a critical skill for young people to master. Too many are not.   

6.     Goal Alignment. Whether we think of it or not, we usually have goals for our communications. However, our goals are not always congruent with that of our audience. This is especially common when we think we are sharing information, only to find their motive is convincing us of something. Whether we (or our audience) are the instigator, when we don’t have the same purpose, our conversation will suffer. 

7.     Relationship Capital of Parties. Arguably, one of the most important ingredients to a good friendship is trust. And it doesn’t just happen overnight. It comes with time and mutually shared experiences and conversations. So, as we communicate with others, it pays to be mindful of where our relationship is—especially if our topic is personal or potentially charged. People who are relationally awkward often don’t understand this concept when they communicate with people they don’t know well—especially when they ask personal or invasive questions—or overly share about themselves. 

8.     Understanding of Our Audience. Successful communication is a two-way street, and that requires us to know our audience to the best of our ability. It is said that the best communicators are the best listeners, and it’s hard to deny. That’s because good listeners are more focused on their audience than themselves. A good rule of thumb is to have the audience command at least 60% of the conversation (assuming one-on-one). Through preparation, great questions, and understanding personality factors, one can better tailor communications to each unique audience. Connection is crucial when it comes to communication. 

As you reflect on communication setbacks you’ve experienced, I suspect some of the above will resonate, and that you have some other culprits to add to the list. 

I hope you enjoyed “round one” and share it with your family, friends, and any young people you are guiding. Let’s all commit to “upping our games” as communicators, for our own benefit and that of the younger generation. They’re watching. Closely.

Here’s a glimpse into our upcoming topics in the series:

Part Two: Making a Great First Impression

Part ThreeOral Communication Essentials

Part Four: Written Communication Keys

Part Five: Handling Conflict

To great communication!