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?

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Think of a time when someone spoke loving or encouraging words to you. Those words will probably stay with you forever. However, you can probably think of even more instances when others have been critical or mean spirited or gossiped about you. Those words won’t be easy to forget, either, but for a different reason.

Words have incredible power—they can be uplifting and change someone’s life for the better, or they can be destructive and leave people with wounds that will last a lifetime. The thing is, the only words we have power over are our own. Once spoken, there is no way to get them back. Plus, we can’t control what other people do with the words we’ve spoken. Even if you don’t want them to, your words could end up traveling in a million different directions and—depending on what you said—get you in trouble one day. (This is especially true for anything we put on social media.)

It’s crucial to understand that our words reveal much about our character. Our words are reflections of our trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, and respect for others. Also, they’re telltale signs of our temperament and self control. What do your words say about you? How are we doing as a nation?

In recent history, some horrific tragedies have occurred among young people when they were publicly ridiculed through gossip, texts, or social media posts. Some of these even resulted in suicide. So much heartache—all caused by words used heartlessly and irresponsibly. Yes, our words can literally be a matter of life or death, especially to people who are vulnerable.

Here are four ways to guard our words and ensure we’re received as a person of integrity:

  1. Only say things about other people you wouldn’t mind them hearing. Try it for a week and you will truly be amazed by how it affects your choice of words. (I wish every school would take this challenge. Imagine what it would do to bullying!)
  2. When offering constructive criticism, recite it back to yourself in your head before giving it to the person. How would you feel receiving this exact criticism? Be empathetic and CONSTRUCTIVE (not hurtful!).
  3. Do not put anything on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram (even in private messages) that you would not want getting out. The internet is not private, ever.
  4. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, watch out for accusations, assumptions, and the tendency to name call. If you sense that you’re reaching the “boiling point,” pause for at least ten seconds to collect yourself and your thoughts. Above all, strive for mutual understanding and avoid words that incite emotion. A calm tone, especially in disagreements, makes a big difference.

When you apply these concepts in life, you’ll be admired for your tact, restraint, and uplifting spirit. You’ll see that your words can change your heart, body, and mind from the inside out, and your relationships with your friends, significant other, coworkers, and even your children will improve. And, if you can get others to join you, it might be the beginning of a wonderful movement in our culture! Are you up for it?

What are some ways you’ve helped build a positive culture of words

in your classroom, school, family, workplace, or community?

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.

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

Win Some, Lose Some

Coke or Pepsi

Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise

Big Mac or Whopper

iPhone or Galaxy

Rap or Country

Republican or Democrat or ______

We all have our tastes and preferences, and we make our choices accordingly. Sometimes we like our options. Other times, we choose what we dislike least.

And so it goes with our elections—especially last week’s. Like you, I “won” some and “lost” some. (Thankfully, my life goes on because I don’t define my hopes and dreams or faith in America by which person or party is in office. That would be giving them way too much credit.)

But, after observing the aftermath of this election, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts to help us keep things in perspective:

  1. Our nation is clearly divided, but this shouldn’t be news to anyone. In most of my voting years, the Presidential election is always pretty close. Usually, only a few percentage points separate the winner from the loser. So, you should expect half the people will disagree with you! And, yes, they did their homework, too.
  2. Knowing this, the question is how we deal with our victories and losses. Are we constructive or destructive in the aftermath? Do the winners rub it in? Or, do they respond with humility and kindness, knowing that the losers may be struggling with fear, anger, or disappointment? Do the losers resort to whining, blaming, name calling, protesting, and shaming to make the winners feel guilty or stupid? Do they really believe these misguided efforts to “enlighten” will change minds? No, they reinforce!
  3. Let’s remember that citizens consider many different factors when casting votes. What tips the scales one way or the other may be the candidate’s person, specific policies (of which there are many), party loyalty, or other factors. Our decisions are not only influenced by the candidates’ philosophies and positions, but also in how we uniquely weigh their importance. I might emphasize economic policy and someone else foreign policy or social issues, and that’s okay. For these reasons, it is highly presumptuous (not to mention silly, useless, arrogant, and obnoxious) to judge another’s votes. Please, let’s stop this.
  4. There is a tremendous disconnect between the worldview composition of the “mainstream” media and college complexes with the people of the United States. In other words, our population is much more philosophically and politically diverse than are our primary news sources and the educators teaching our young adults. This imbalance is a concern. Judging by our governorships, congressional memberships, and the White House, our nation’s political offices (and our general elections) are quite balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, so long as our primary media outlets and college educators’ worldviews are skewed (presently Leftward) rather than balanced, there are significant implications:
    1. We are more subject to bias and alarm (intended or otherwise) and less likely to understand different points of view and election outcomes we may not like. If our news and opinion sources are primarily Left-or Right-leaning, we are more apt to consider their information as unbiased truth, when it’s often opinion. In contrast, when we pursue a variety of information sources with differing worldviews, we develop more complete, objective, and informed arguments.
    2. We become more polarized and intolerant of differing views, considering people who disagree with us as uninformed, misguided, or worse. We argue rather than respectfully seek mutual understanding and new perspectives. Or, sadly, as is becoming more prevalent on college campuses, we simply shut others down. Ironically, we often agree on the ends, but simply differ about the means to achieve them! A good example of this is the use of tax cuts or government spending to stimulate the economy. Reasonable and really smart people disagree!
    3. We lose friendships. Now, this is just dumb.

The bottom line is that, politically, we are pretty much a 50/50 nation because of legitimate differences of opinion. So, let’s be respectful and resilient. When elections don’t go our way, let’s spend a little more time respecting the judgments of others, accepting that we don’t hold a monopoly on truth, learning more about opposing views, diversifying our friendship circles and information sources, and finding constructive ways to advocate for our positions the next time around.

And, yes, there will be a next time. After all, we Americans are a fickle bunch.

3 Ways to Help Teens Be Their Best Selves

I’m sure we can all relate. There are teens in your life (whether your children, students, or mentees) whom you want to see thrive. You want nothing but the best for them, and it can be discouraging when they make unwise decisions or when they perform poorly in a class, job interview, presentation, networking opportunity, or the like. Your first instinct is to wish you could have been their “inner coach.” But, then you realize that much of our personal growth comes from our disappointments and mistakes.  Experience is the best teacher of all, isn’t it?

However, since we are the ones with the life experience, it is our job as parents, teachers, and mentors to share our wisdom and lead by example. We want the teens in our lives to be their best selves in all arenas of their lives (school, relationships, sports, family, spiritual life, job, etc.), so it’s up to us to show them our best selves as well.  Here are three ways that you can help your teen be his or her best self and excel to the best of their ability.

  1. Remind them about the importance of positivity and an uplifting attitude. No one enjoys a Debbie Downer! This is especially true at job interviews and other similar networking opportunities. If your teen is looking for a last-minute summer job or hoping to nail down an internship, talk to them about the importance of positivity. Employers are much less likely to hire someone who has a negative, sullen countenance. Make a concerted effort to model this behavior yourself. When an unexpected situation arises, do a self-check and note the kind of behavior you are modeling around your teen. Positivity is not only good for our own morale, but also the morale of others. An attitude that uplifts others will benefit them not only on the job search—it will likely impact every area of their life for the better!
  2. Help them master the art of making a great first impression. As teens mature, their relational skills become that much more important. There are new friends to make, new jobs to land, new ambassadors to cultivate for their network, and perhaps interviews for college and scholarships. Today’s younger generation is far more casual than their adult counterparts, and many are flunking the test in more professional settings. The sooner they can develop an A game when meeting new people (especially adults!), the more successful they will be. Create fun role-play scenarios that involve new social settings and job interviews to help them build confidence when meeting new people. And, encourage them to view every adult they meet as potentially the most important person they’ll ever know. Trust me, they WILL stand out if they do.
  3. Don’t forget to instill an appreciation for (and the practice of) politeness. ‘Pleases’ and ‘thank-yous’ go a long way in every facet of life (job interviews, networking meetings, social settings, first dates, etc.). This is another area that we as parents and teachers can model ourselves. Do we make a conscious effort to be polite to both strangers and friends? How about within our families? Impress upon your teen that manners are essential to building a great personal brand.

 

One of the greatest assets we have to offer the teens in our lives is our wisdom and life experience. Let’s use it to their benefit by building the life skills that will help them thrive in the real world. It starts with leading by example—because our actions usually speak louder than our words!

6 Easy Ways to Show You Care

I hope this post finds you refreshed and uplifted after a Father’s Day well-spent with your family. Father’s day is such a special time to focus on the dads in our lives and show them our appreciation and love. This day always reminds me of the value of relationships—of mine with my parents and with my kids. I’m reminded of the strategic impact that fathers have in the roles of their children, even years after they’ve left the house!

As I reflect on the value of the relationships in my life, I’m reminded of our culture’s vulnerability to two conflicting priorities: relationships and things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you taken the time to think about what you really value in life lately? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally? You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others (dads, friends, children, and beyond):

  1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush, Snapchatting, etc.).
  2. In a tug of war between relationships and tasks, give the edge to relationships. Our tasks may seem urgent, but relationships should take priority. This is especially true when our children need our attention. Compromise your inconvenience for the times they need your counsel.
  3. Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time and energy. Don’t just give them the leftovers! They deserve your best self.
  4. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and share your feelings with them. (I doubt that my kids could have known that my all-time favorite Father’s Day gift from them would be a license plate frame with the engraved words, “Dad’s are cool!”)
  5. Praise them in front of other people. Say something nice about then when they are in earshot. You will help build their self-worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them (parents, this is a great pointer for you!).
  6. Forgive offenses quickly and (really) let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? On a related note, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool and be an agreeable disagreer.

 

Do the people you love know how much you care about them? What creative ideas, license plate frames or otherwise, would you be willing to share?

Communication Strategies that Empower and Influence Your Teen: Part Three

If you’re a parent, mentor, teacher, or coach with a teen (or teens) in your life, you’ve likely had some communication hiccups. Let’s face it—teens can be hard to talk to at times and I’m sure I was no different. That’s why we’re sharing our best tips to relate in a way that’s empowering, uplifting, and effective.

If you missed the first two parts of this series, hop over here to read the first installment and here for the second.

Strategy 5: Invite them into your decisions and respect their opinions.

One of life’s special honors is to be asked for our opinion. It makes us feel respected and valued, especially when we’re in a subordinate position. (In fact, it’s one of the top three motivators of a workforce!) So, knowing this, is it any surprise that our teens will appreciate being asked for his help or opinion?

I’ll never forget my indecision when choosing a title for my first book. I developed a new list every day for weeks, but nothing stuck. Then, in a moment of exasperation, I decided to call my son Michael, who was a sophomore in college at the time. I shared my frustration and without a second of thought, he blurted out, “Dad, why don’t you just call it what it is…it’s what I wish I knew at 18.” I knew it was the perfect title from the moment I heard it. Why didn’t I ask him from the beginning?

Because we parents are older and (usually!) wiser than our children, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of deciding everything ourselves. Yet, our children can offer invaluable perspectives just like Michael did. If we are training future adults, it’s imperative that we treat them that way, and that includes seeking out their opinions whenever we can. It’s an honor for them to be included, and it can legitimately help with our decisions and understanding.

 

Strategy 6: Remember, how you say it can matter more than what you say.

It’s easy to think that our words are all that matters, but nothing can be further from the truth. Our non-verbal cues can have far greater impact on how we’re received than the actual words we speak.

Our attitude and tone are particularly important in our communications with teens. If we come across as condescending, negative, angry, or irritable, they’ll tune out, shut down, or worse. Repetitive comments, excessive reminders, and above all, nagging, are as counterproductive with them as it is with us. It helps to check our body language, tone, and even attitude before we address an issue—even if it means pausing for a few minutes before we respond. After all, we’re raising future adults and we need to set the example.

 Strategy 7: Fully engage and have fun!

One of the greatest relationship destroyers affecting families is busyness and over-commitment.

How we prioritize our time and allocate it to our children is profoundly important—to us and to them. It’s critical that we create the capacity in our busy lives to invest in them. We will never get the chance to “do-over” and get this time back. That’s a life regret to avoid at all costs.

But, just as important is to have fun and take time off of the performance track. During the teen/young adult years, it’s easy to allow our time and conversations to become consumed by their daily tasks. (A good test is to monitor how much of your communication with them is task driven.) Make room for fun and good times and enter their world. It builds relationship capital for now and in the future.

There you have it! We hope these tips have been insightful and that you’ll consider applying them to your current adult/teen relationship. Remember to acknowledge the uniqueness of your child and to tweak your communications to fit his or her personality style.

Have you applied any of the above strategies to your relationship with your teen? How have they helped (or not helped)? What are your personal strategies for getting your teen to open up and maintain an open line of authentic communication?

 

Communication Strategies that Empower and Influence Your Teen: Part Two

With all the busyness that parenting teenagers entails (homework, sports, after-school activities, sleepovers, college applications, financial aid, finals, parent/teen relationship struggles, etc.), sometimes practicing good communication can fall to the wayside. It’s important to remember that we will never influence and empower our teens to be their best selves without applying effective communication strategies .

Are you struggling to “get through” to your teen? Feeling like you don’t know how to communicate with them as they’re gaining independence and you’re releasing control? This second installment in our three-part series will fill your toolbox with practical ideas to set them up for success (and feel good about it yourself, too!).

If you missed the first two strategies, check out last week’s blog.

 Strategy 3: Value and recognize the person more than the performance.

We all want our children to do their best. But, isn’t it more important for them to be their best? Over the past decade or two, our culture has been breeding “performance parents.” You know, folks who define their own identity and success by the performance of their children. You see it in the stands at Little League games and the desire for “bragging rights” when socializing with other parents.

I witness this firsthand when I speak with teenagers at schools. Many are heartbroken and resentful because of the pressure they feel, the comparison to siblings who are performing better, and the perceived lack of interest by their parents in the person they’re becoming. It’s not healthy and these pressure tactics don’t set them up for success. Rather than feeling valued, they feel controlled, as if managed by a driving supervisor..

Whenever possible, honor the admirable character qualities and behaviors of your children. Instead of simply praising their 3.5 GPA, honor their perseverance, discipline, efforts to improve, character, resilience, and dedication to excellence. Recognize their journey and what got them there, not just the destination. Express your pride in them, even when they don’t take first place. Show them that your love and belief is unconditional. Help them see how much you believe in them.         

 Strategy 4: Test the waters and start with positivity.

It’s not uncommon for teens to experience greater mood swings for reasons we don’t always know or understand. It’s hard when the child who at one point couldn’t stop talking is now the aloof and uncommunicative teen. Sometimes they just need to be alone. It’s important we respect that. It’s been one of my biggest growth areas as a father because I’m an analytic and so interested in their world.

When your teen is quieter than usual, it pays to test the waters with simple, non-controversial questions to take his or her “communication temperature.” If his answers are brief, or his mood seems closed, give him space and let him know that you’ll be around to chat if he wants. Try again the next day, or when you notice his or her temperament is a bit more upbeat and open. Here comes the most crucial part: try to start your conversations with a positive tone or topic. Even when we have tough conversation topics to discuss, it helps to get off on the right foot by saying something that will be appreciated. Negativity from the outset will only close the door. (Note to parents: If you notice your teen’s lack of communication is extended or out of character for them, it may be a sign of deeper struggles they’re experiencing. Be attentive to that possibility and gently ask if everything is okay.)

Communicating with teenagers who may be moody, closed-off, or eager for independence can be difficult. I’m sure it was for our parents, too! Remember to recognize their journey (not just the end result), give them space when they need it, and stay positive.  Stay tuned for next week’s post to learn more strategies for effectively communicating with your teenage children or students.

What strategies have you employed when it comes to communicating with your teen? Have you found some methods that work—and some that don’t? Feel free to chime in—we’d love to hear from you!

Communication Strategies that Empower and Influence Your Teen: Part One

After just finishing up a weekend that focused on all things “Mom,” (and what a great weekend it was!), parenting is fresh on my mind. Parenting is good work. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s vitally important work that forever impacts the lives of the next generation. As I reflect back to when I was parenting young teens, I am reminded of the importance of intentionality in this season of life.. In fact, there is one area that can either make or break your relationship with your teen. Can you guess what it is?

 Communication!

In order to set our kids up for success in adulthood, parents must be effective communicators. The crux of it is this: We may have all the wisdom in the world to offer, but if we package it in an unappealing way, it won’t stick.

Today’s post is the first installment in a three-part miniseries about communicating with our teens and is based on one of the most important chapters in Parenting for the Launch. We hope these strategies help you engage with your teens in a way that promotes trust and mutual respect, while still empowering and influencing them in a positive way.

Strategy 1: Meet them where they are.  

It took me far too long to realize that my kids, Michael and Lauren, were much more communicative at different times and places than others. Deep dinner conversations, chats during commutes, and all the times that were convenient for me often didn’t work for them. I learned that our best conversations were away from home at coffee shops or restaurants. A change of environment made all the difference in the world in terms of their willingness to share with me.

My wife, Jeanne, and I also learned that doing something with your kids (e.g., cooking a meal, watching a show, playing games, listening to music, taking a walk, building something, having a manicure or pedicure, or playing a sport) works. We noticed that a little distraction can take the “heaviness” out of a parent/teen conversation and cause them to open up more. It really helped build relationship capital by enjoying the experience and the conversation—and it could do the same for you!

Find the time and place that works best for your teen and sacrifice your convenience for them at this critical time. Notice what environments bring out more conversation and which don’t and operate accordingly. If they’re not in the mood to talk, let it be and don’t take it personally. After all, they have their own rhythms, too.

Strategy 2: Focus more on understanding and listening.

Because parents have the benefit of experience and wisdom, it’s easy for us to overly direct and control our conversations. The busier we are, the more we run this risk. We can easily do most of the talking and give them advice without first listening to their perspectives and feelings. Sometimes they just need to vent and only want us to listen. We can fall into a trap of prejudging and jumping to conclusions, without giving them the benefit of the doubt and respecting their opinions. Without realizing it, we’re devaluing them, harming our opportunity to influence and their opportunity to grow.

It’s amazing to see the difference in our conversations if our goal is merely to understand, share, and relate. By asking open-ended questions, valuing their opinions (even if you disagree), and focusing more on listening than talking, you’ll build capital and grow deeper in your relationship.

Bottom line: think “share with” rather than “talk to.” It’s a telltale sign that you’re treating them as the adult they are becoming, and they’ll appreciate you for it.

Do you have any special strategies for communicating with your teen? What have you noticed works well in your own parent/teen relationship? Stay tuned for next week when we will dive into two more communication strategies.