Our Top Ten Parenting Goals for the School Year: Part One

Last week, we challenged students to set fresh new goals to jumpstart the school year. Goals that would enrich their lives and build valuable leadership skills. Now, dads and moms, it’s your turn! We can always up our games, too.

As we at LifeSmart evaluate the trends among today’s teens and young adults—the success stories and the struggles—we can often correlate the results to parenting effectiveness. No, we are not in control of our children’s success, but we can foster a supportive and empowering environment to give them the best chances. And, when we do, it’s a “win win” for all.

Based on feedback from students, educators, employers, and mentors, we crafted our top ten goals for parents this year. We’re sure you’re already modeling many very well, and, that’s great! But, as you reflect on this (and next week’s) blog, we hope you’ll find some areas to sharpen that will accrue to the benefit of your children.

In no particular order, here goes:

  1. Equip and empower for independence: Many teens are struggling with their transitions into adulthood. Although well intentioned, parents are often contributing by helicoptering, overprotecting, doing versus guiding, and treating their children as friends. Instead, let’s focus on raising self confident and well prepared future adults who are resilient and independent problem solvers. Let’s move emotionally and practically from the driver seat to the passenger seat by giving them greater responsibility and accountability and treating them like adults. Sure they may underachieve or make mistakes, but those lessons are vital to their personal growth and success.

 

  1. Develop soft skills and professionalism: Book smarts don’t always translate into life smarts. Ask any employer of young people. The lack of work experience and character education, as well as our casual culture and communication, are taking a toll. So, use every opportunity to build these vital skills for the workplace and life: high standards, integrity, dependability, positivity, motivation, teamwork/relationship building, communication, resilience, respect, and professional manners. It’ll help them build a great brand and gain admirers.

 

  1. Invest in your relationship: As teens exert their independence, it can feel like they’re pushing their parents away. But, no matter how discouraging this can be, continue to invest in your relationship—it will pay off. Keep those lines of communication wide open and put your listening skills to good use! Think “share with” more than “talk to.” Affirm their uniqueness and value, and demonstrate how much you believe in them. Find the time and place they open up most and make it happen. And, go tech free during meals.

 

  1. Build a strong work ethic: What happens when we do our children’s work because of their busy schedules or our desire to see them happy? It hampers their motivation and work ethic, and employers are indicating that this is a BIG issue. As teens mature, so should their responsibilities around the home. That means doing chores that will not only help your household, but will also prepare them for life on their own. Part-time jobs and volunteering for the community or neighborhood contribute too.

 

  1. Quash any sense of entitlement: Over the past few decades, our culture has become child centric. So, it’s not surprising that many young people see the world as revolving around them. (Many universities are playing into this too and delaying their students’ maturation.) Consequently, young adults are in for a rude awakening when they enter the competitive workforce. Be on the lookout for signs of an entitlement mentality brewing in your children, and take corrective measures if needed. A volunteer trip to the soup kitchen can do wonders. Teach yours that privileges and success are earned, often the hard way.

 

If these resonate with you, we hope you share this blog with your friends and pick up a copy of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. It’s filled with encouragement and practical tips to help you parent with purpose and let go with confidence!

So, how are you doing on these five? Stay tuned for part two next week.

The Most Important Lesson For This School Year?

In a world consumed with constant distractions and multitasking, it seems like we’re becoming more like bumblebees—paying short visits to one flower after another. We’ve never faced “incoming” like this before, and it’s affecting our attention spans, stress levels, and ultimately, our productivity.

So, how can we help our children navigate this noisy world where they’re being pulled in so many directions?

In my years of evaluating leaders, I’ve come to appreciate what virtually all of them have in common:

  1. Vision: an overarching idea of where they want to go. The person they want to become. The impact they would like to have in this world. The life they want to live.
  2. Intentionality: a commitment to setting goals and plans to turn their vision into a reality. Goals that are challenging but realistic, specific, and measurable.
  3. Relentless Effort: they are self motivated and focused like laser beams to achieve their goals and implement their plans. They don’t just work hard—they work smart. They have high standards and manage their time effectively and efficiently. And, they regularly review whether they’re on track and make midcourse corrections along the way.
  4. Resilience: an ability to overcome and learn from their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They don’t let disappointments defeat them; rather, they face their challenges head on and persevere.

With a new school year upon us, this is a great opportunity to teach your children and students how to apply these concepts in their lives. Arguably, this could be their most important learning lesson of the year!

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, mentor, or coach, have the children under your influence set new goals and strategies for the coming year. Encourage them to develop at least one goal in each of the following categories, and to create action steps (with deadlines!) for achieving them:

  • Career: surveying career matches, attending job fairs, creating a resume, sharpening interview skills, meeting people in careers of interest, etc.
  • Education: improving a GPA, taking valuable courses, reading specific books, watching/listening to media-based programs/trainings, etc.
  • Character: developing strengths, addressing weaknesses, modeling qualities/soft skills of admired people, etc.
  • Relationships: improving existing relationships, building new ones (peer, network), etc.
  • Skill: learning a new skill for personal growth, fun, creativity, etc.
  • Service: volunteering time and talent to support your community
  • Experience: checking off a “bucket list” item or two

The more we can instill the value of setting goals, plans, and strategies for life in our children at an early age, the better positioned they will be to achieve success, fulfillment, joy, and impact. Otherwise, especially in this day and age, they’ll be destined for distraction and random (at best) outcomes. It may be a mindshift for them, but they and their dreams are worth it! And, trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it!

Get in the Game to Access Your Career

Two college graduates found themselves in the same, all-to-common, predicament. They received their degrees and assumed, like many, that the job offers would flow their way. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories… especially with graduates whose degrees don’t naturally connect to specific careers. To these grads, it’s been surprising, confusing, and frustrating. Sadly, neither college prepared them for how to access the job market with their respective majors. And, it was taking its toll.

Let’s see how they’re handling this challenge.

In the first case, he is serving at a local food and tavern establishment, waiting for the perfect job to come his way. He has been approached by the owner of a company in his desired field, but has declined opportunities to apply for the open positions because they didn’t meet his high standards. Unfortunately, pride and entitlement have gotten in the way. He continues to flounder, hoping that someday, somehow, his dream job will appear on his doorstep. For some inexplicable reason, staying the course in a dead end job is better than taking a slightly imperfect job in his desired field.

In the other case, she decided to consider somewhat related positions, albeit at a lower levels than desired, in order to enter the industry. She even expanded her geographical range to find job openings—despite knowing it would mean a brutal commute. This is a good news story that is still playing out. After landing the job, she was promoted in two months (!) and is now in line for the job she wanted.

The difference? He is proud and stuck in neutral. She took her medicine, got in the game, and will soon be reaping the rewards in the fast lane.

In my mentoring, I hear variations of this scenario all the time. Many graduates are struggling to find the entry positions of their dreams, losing self confidence, and stubbornly resisting the steps needed to enter their career. They’re disillusioned because they thought their degree would punch their ticket.

Life is hard! What to do?

When I advise young adults entering the workforce, I ask them to envision a dartboard where their dream job is the bull’s eye. The question is what to do if the bull’s eye isn’t available? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Expand your territory. In many cases, your dream job isn’t available in your desired location(s). If so, see if there are open positions in other acceptable locations. Sure, it might mean a move farther away than you hoped, but you have to be flexible and go where the jobs are!
  2. Expand your positions. Here, you might have to swallow some pride and be willing to consider entry positions (and internships) that are at levels below your expectations. As you screen different career sites and apps, broaden your horizons to see if there are related jobs that you can access. Sure, it might take a little longer to land your dream job, but by considering jobs in the “nearby rings around the bull’s eye,” you get in the game and position yourself for the eventual prize. Remember, employers generally give preference to current employees when filling positions. It might take two steps to hit your bull’s eye, but you’ll still hit it!
  3. Create a matrix of desired positions and employers. Make a list of several acceptable job titles as you screen sites such as Indeed.com. Then, regularly, screen to see which jobs are currently available. Also, identify employers you would love to work for and regularly screen their sites to evaluate open positions. Be flexible in considering job openings at interesting employers. It may not be the perfect starter position, but new opportunities will eventually arise. And, you’ll have the inside advantage!

 

Sometimes we simply need to be more flexible and humble when it comes to accessing our careers. But remember, in order to win, you need to get in the game.

Crisis Decision Making 101

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I remember having to go back and clean up my messes or apologize for saying something out-of-line. Being impulsive in the heat of the moment never worked in my favor.

I may have learned it the hard way, but eventually I figured it out. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state (whether we are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but (where possible) wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day. Often, with the perspective from time and reflection, I change my decision for the better.

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Being in a stressful situation messes with our brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities.  A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we’re stressed-out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can, or at least defer it until you’ve settled down and can think clearly. Ask for more time if you need it. Learn to recognize and release your stress.  Here are 3 quick tips to help unwind and cool you down:

  1. Reach out to your support system. You don’t have to go through hard moments alone. Their wise counsel and perspectives can help immensely.
  2. The endorphin rush you get from exercise will up your mood and help chase away the blues.
  3. Practice conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. Meditate, pray, do yoga, or all of the above. Connect your mind, body, and spirit for a holistic de-stressing.

Also, think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? Which young people in your life can benefit from this lesson when facing stressful situations?

3 Tips for Conquering Conflict

Question: What do the Montagues and Capulets have in common with convincing a 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. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises.

We invite you to use this article as an opportunity to perform a self-check. How do you rate on your levels of self control, understanding, and respectfulness when conflict arises in your life? What can you do to better handle conflict with others?

Here are three tips to help you manage conflict:

  1. Respect yourself and your right to be heard. 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. Although conflict is uncomfortable, we must respect ourselves in the process while being respectful to the other party. Don’t ever sacrifice your well-being or comfort for the sake of someone else. You deserve to be heard just as much as the other party.
  2. Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (This is especially true when it comes to talking politics. The current political climate is pretty tense, and conflict is high—both on social media and in real life.) We may want the same outcome as others with whom we disagree, but simply have different strategies to get there. Always strive for mutual understanding, while being attentive to your tone and body language, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Consider having a heartfelt retroactive talk about it once things have calmed, and vow to do better next time if it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d have liked. And, remember that barking, yelling, and name calling won’t change anyone’s mind, anyway. Instead, it usually emboldens.
    Finally, if you’re in a heated conversation and your emotions are bubbling, try using this phrase: “I have a different perspective.” If the other party is disrespectful after that, simply suggest a follow up conversation at another time and move on.
  3. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. However, 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.

The ability to manage conflict is a hallmark of a true leader and a symbol of integrity and maturity. What is your favorite tip for handling conflict? Do you have any life lessons from past experiences you’d like to share?

Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

-William Butler Yeats

 School’s out! I am not sure who loves to hear those words more—kids or teachers! Can I get an “amen?” Old and young alike are looking forward to sunset barbecues, beach days with family, copious amounts of sunshine, and a little more sleep. In my school days as a youngster in Wisconsin, it was all about, “Heading Up North’.” It’s a well-deserved break for everyone, and I hope yours is unforgettable!

However, it’s important to remember that just because school’s out doesn’t mean learning has to go out the window, as well. Education isn’t just for classrooms! Lifelong learning is a pursuit that will serve kids (and adults) well for the rest of their lives.

In this global, knowledge-based economy with an endless database of instantaneous information at our fingertips, students need an insatiable appetite for learning. This means not only expanding their subject knowledge, but also having diverse interests. What ways are you as a parent, mentor, or teacher helping them explore other subject areas that challenge their minds or satisfy their curiosity?

I grew up living the simple life in small-town Wisconsin. It was a childhood I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I spent most of my free time either playing sports or hanging out in the woods with my friends. But, while that got me through high school and college just fine, I began to notice something early in my career… most of my peers were more intellectually well-rounded than me. I especially noticed it at gatherings when politics and world affairs were discussed.

I knew I had some serious catching up to do, especially considering the growing number of client meetings I attended. Thankfully, once I committed to stepping up my intellectual game, my confidence grew. It made a huge difference in my investment management career. Looking back, I regret delaying that process.

Here are some ways you can help your teen (or yourself) engage in continued learning this summer and always. Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone—I promise the benefits will be bountiful.

  • Learn a new sport or revisit one you haven’t played in awhile
  • Make an “I’m interested in____ list” and brainstorm ways to tackle it
  • Catch up on current events by reading REPUTABLE newspapers or magazines (sensationalist social media headlines don’t count)
  • Volunteer for a charity
  • Visit the library and check out a book on a topic of interest unrelated to your career. A country you’ve always wanted to visit. A hobby you’d like to pursue. A historical figure you’ve always admired. An era that intrigues you.
  • Read a book that wasn’t assigned to you or is outside the genre of something you’d normally read
  • Write a book, essay, or poem; cook a meal you’ve never made before; draw or paint something that interests you
  • Check out all the museums near you
  • Job shadow (or have coffee with) someone who is employed in a career field you’re considering

Encourage the young people you know to stretch their wings a little and be lifelong learners. It’ll help them advance in life and make them more well-rounded, dynamic, and confident people.

 

How do YOU keep sharp and keep building your repertoire of skills and knowledge?

 

 

Take Responsibility; Don’t Dodge It

 

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible
for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

 Ah, the blame game. We’ve all played it. Most of the time, it simply doesn’t feel good to accept responsibility when we’ve fallen short, so we cast the blame on others (e.g., “If my teacher wasn’t so rude, I wouldn’t have failed the class.” “I know I got a speeding ticket, but my friend made me late!” “My teammates cost us the win.”).

However, we’re all human, so we make mistakes.  Every single one of us. Sometimes those mistakes are completely innocent and happen by accident, and sometimes they stem from a bad decision, a character flaw, or selfish motives. But no matter what, mistakes and shortfalls are part of life. While no one keeps track, they number well into the thousands in a lifetime. That being the case, one has to wonder why it’s so difficult for us to admit our mistakes and accept responsibility.

Is it because the words “I’m sorry” don’t come easily? In such cases, it’s sometimes easier (and feels less shameful) to blame others and make excuses. Our pride gets in the way.

Or, maybe we fear how others will react. For people who have been victims of abuse, this is a natural response.

Is there a better way to handle our mistakes?

People who are prone to blame others first are actually reflecting their own insecurities. Implicitly, they assume their relationships can’t withstand an acknowledgement of a mistake or shortfall. However, it’s a false assumption, especially since most people appreciate it when someone admits a mistake and asks for forgiveness.

When you make a mistake or your best efforts fall short of the goal, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can TAKE responsibility, apologize if appropriate, do what you can to make things right, and commit to doing better the next time around.
  2. You can DODGE responsibility, blame someone else (or the circumstances), and walk away from the situation – leaving others (and yourself!) with the problem you created.

Choice #1 will gain you the respect of your family, peers, and colleagues and help you learn from your mistake. It’s an act of integrity. Choice #2, on the other hand, will damage your reputation and deprive you of a valuable opportunity for personal growth.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that might cause us to miss out on great opportunities to learn and grow! That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach you were convinced benched you every game because “he didn’t like you?” He could have been a great trainer and helped you up your game. That “jealous” classmate? She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: Accepting responsibility is a hallmark of a true leader and a sign of maturity. The next time you’re tempted to blame first, swallow your pride and admit that you fell short. You’ll be respected and admired by others when you do… and you might be surprised by the grace they extend to you in return!

Do you find it difficult to admit your mistakes and accept that you aren’t perfect? Why? How do you develop the value of taking responsibility for mistakes in your teens or students?

Cultivating Productivity in Our Teens

career fairLast week we talked about senioritis, and how giving in to the temptation to slack off near the end of the school year can come back to bite us. That’s why it’s so important that we as parents and teachers do our best to cultivate productivity in our teens.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my chance encounters with people. It goes something like this:
Me: “It’s great to see you! How’ve you been?”

Them: “Busy!” Or,

Them: “Crazy busy!” Or,

Them: “Out of control!” Or,

Them: “Overwhelmed!”

Is this good?

No, it’s not. We’re experiencing a crisis of over-commitment and information overload like never before. It’s not supposed to be this way. After all, technology is supposed to make us more efficient, isn’t it?  Not more stressed! At the risk of sounding like Fred Flintstone, faster isn’t always better—especially if it reduces our quality of life and productivity.

These days, everyone is consumed with “busyness.” You see it everywhere. Our attention spans are shorter, our responsiveness has markedly deteriorated, our cell phones have become appendages (where almost nonstop beeps and vibrations are creating a false sense of urgency), we’re having a harder time focusing, and relational depth is increasingly being replaced by superficial breadth. Our children are bombarded with information and opportunities like never before and it’s showing up in anxiety levels.

It is crucial that we arm them with a strong productivity foundation to handle this brave new world.

Let’s start with time management. Whether they go on to college or the workplace, they will be in charge of how they spend their time. Successful people are extremely disciplined with their time, viewing it as a priceless asset they cannot get back. That’s the attitude we want to cultivate in our teens. They will need to develop prioritized daily “to-do lists” arranged by importance and urgency, and plan their time accordingly. Top priorities come first and before the fun.

Another key productivity driver is their ability to set goals and plan for their achievement. Encourage your children to set goals regarding their career, family, education, personal growth, finances, service, experiences, recreation/leisure, and daily responsibilities. The more specific, realistic, and measurable they are, the better. Consider setting some time aside with your student and making a list together of their measurable goals— immediate, short term, and long term. Then, train them to develop strategies and plans to achieve them. Without a planning mindset, success is, at best, a random proposition.

Finally, our kids need to become great decision makers. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, I describe an effective six-step decision-making process. The steps are: 1) determine your key decision criteria, 2) get the facts, 3) identify all the alternatives, 4) conduct an objective pro/con analysis for each option, 5) engage wise counsel, and 6) listen to your “gut instinct” or intuition. By working the process, their best option will usually reveal itself. It’s a GREAT discipline for selecting among several college alternatives!

Here are some questions to consider as you prepare for launch time and “train for productivity:”:

  • Are they effective goal setters, planners, time managers, and decision-makers?
  • Do they control technology, rather than allow technology to control them?
  • In their daily planning, do they focus first on what matters most?
  • Do they consider their time as a precious asset?

Let’s do our best to cultivate a foundation of productivity in our teens, as it will the foundation of success for the rest of their lives. Also, don’t forget to lead by example. Ask the above questions about your own life, too. There’s room to improve for all of us!

How to Help Your Senior Finish Strong

se·nior·i·tis noun se-nyer-‘i-tis: an ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors evidenced by tardiness, absences, and lower grades.

Sound familiar? I know I certainly suffered from senioritis during both high school and college (and my daughter is living it as I write this)!  At this point in the year I was so burnt out on tests and looking ahead to college or my new career,that it was easy to rationalize slacking off at school. But, now that I am older (and hopefully wiser), I look back with a different perspective.

If you have (or are) a high school senior, you know just what I’m talking about. So here are some thoughts about why it’s a good idea to stay the course and finish STRONG. I promise you, you’ll never regret pulling yourself out of your senioritis slump and finishing well. Here’s why:

  1. After graduation and throughout college and career, you will find yourself in situations where long, arduous efforts will make or break your success. A deadline for a huge presentation at work, grad school applications, or a team project for a history class are all examples of situations that require effort and adherence to deadlines. As life goes on, the stakes will only get higher, so it’s important to develop and nurture the discipline of finishing strong NOW.
  2. Success in all areas (career, academics, relationships, sports, etc.) requires planning, practice, and perseverance. Here at LifeSmart, we like to refer to these as “the Three P’s of Success.” In order to apply these P’s to your life, I encourage you to create daily to-do lists and implement daily goal-setting sessions. I guarantee you will see your productivity soar. (And remember, procrastination is a ‘P’ you want to avoid like the plague.)
  3. Good study habits are important throughout your life, not just during high school. Trust me when I say college academics are far more challenging than high school (my 3.8 GPA in high school became a 2.85 in my freshman year of college!). And of course, once you start moving ahead in your career, that doesn’t mean you’ll never study again! Most careers require some continuing education, and you’ll have to study and prepare for presentations, conferences, and portfolio building, and more.
  4. Most college admissions are contingent on the student finishing well! So, too, are academic awards and scholarships!

We’ve all seen painful examples of when people or teams squandered great starts by not finishing strong and incredible finishes from slow starters that eventually won the game. No matter who you were pulling for, the 2017 Super Bowl was the perfect illustration of what can happen when you ease up. Unfortunately, that big lead for the Falcons didn’t matter in the end. Better luck next year!
Current high school seniors are about to enter the most amazing six months of change in their lives. They’ll be saying “hello” to their future with more freedom and responsibility than ever before. Their worlds will become bigger and more exciting, but their plate will also become more full.  Encourage them that this is their time to finish strong and launch their future well. With planning, practice, perseverance, and patience, they’ll knock it out of the park. Their success is there for the taking.
Do you have – or know someone with – a classic case of senioritis?  It’s that time of year! What are some of your ideas for overcoming it and finishing strong?
 

Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.