My dad was a high school coach for DuPont High School. He loved all sports, but football was his sport of choice. He used to tell his players, “Now, men! Winning in football is 90% attitude. The other 50% is physical!” (Did I mention that Dad taught history, not math?)

Everything may be going fantastic in every area of your life, but if you choose to view it negatively, pessimistically, you will be miserable. On the other hand, everything may be falling apart and spiraling down to a very hot place, and yet, if you choose to view it positively, optimistically, then life is worth living! The key word in both sentences is “choose”. You probably cannot control over 90% of what happens in life. The one thing you can control in life is attitude.

The unique thing about attitude is that you can change an attitude in just a few seconds. Attitude is born from mindset, a perspective. Perspective is not just what you see in life, but also how you see it. Think of this way. You can either be thankful or complaining. Complaining is fruitless; it’s been said, “80% of the people you complain to just don’t care; and the other 20% are glad!” Complaining releases all kinds of negative chemicals and hormones in your body that begins a depression spiral.

On the other hand, you can choose to be thankful. Thanksgiving is not just a day in November. It is an attitude that releases some extremely positive chemicals and hormones in the body, while reducing some of the negative ones.

The key to this is choice. It is not what life gives you but what you bring life that makes the difference.

Now, apply this vital life principle to relationships. Relationships just don’t happen. Strong, lasting, meaningful, mutually satisfying relationship grow from purposeful activities. The primary activity that creates the most fertile ground is listening.

The effective listener begins with an attitude of value. You purposefully say to yourself about the other person, “I genuinely care about you. I want to fully hear what you say, feel what you feel, and understand what you mean. YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO ME!” You might even say this out loud to the person.

Guarantee: If you express this mindset, you will enter the conversation (no matter what it is about) with the listener’s attitude. What they say and how they say it is all on them. How you choose to receive it … is ALL on you!

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You may find this hard to believe. Most people’s major complaint about work, their organizations, their marriages, their friendships, their relationships is communication. (See, I knew you would find this hard to believe!)

She sat across the room from her husband as I guided their conversation. They had come to me for relationship coaching.

She said in tears, “Talking to him is like speaking to … a brick wall!” Bet you coulda finished that sentence for her. He did.

I turned to him and asked for his response to what she said. He replied, “Huh?” She said, “EXACTLY!”

He said, “What?”

This site is devoted to training how to use new tools and strategies to communicate for a change. “For a change” because most people need to start communicating. And “for a change” because most people want better relationships. They want to see things change.

Communication involves two things – listening and talking. Sometimes talking is verbal. Of the two, I have observed that listening skills are most lacking.

Whether it is in marriage, dating, friendships, customer service, therapy, sales, ministry, public speaking, or any form of communication/relationship, ineffective listening is a major issue which leads to misunderstanding and conflict. The most requested training/coaching sessions involving executives, realtors, engineers, marriages and families is listening.

I said, “LISTENING!”

Poor listening leads to broken relationships, unnecessary conflict, lost business, time, and money. And poor listening leads to some major health issues. Listening more effectively helps create harmony with others. This reduces conflict, destroys barriers by building bridges, and relieves personal stress.

The biggest reason we are generally poor listeners (about C- to D- on average)? Lack of training. We claim listening is important – 70% of effective communication is listening, the other 50% is speaking (Hey! I’m a communication guy not a mathematician!) I have asked thousands if they have ever had a semester or year of listening training in grade school, junior high, high school, or college, rarely will one hand go up! We train speakers not listeners. And yet, almost all agree that effective listening is far more valuable.

Here’s the truth: LISTENING: true, effective, active listening is hard work! It takes effort. It takes energy. When people genuinely listen, it makes them physically tired because of the work/energy involved.

AND LISTENING – true, effective, active listening – is the result of good training.

Here are three tools which I focus on to develop listening skills. I guarantee that if you practice these, you will become a more effective listener. You will be a better leader. You will experience deeper, more meaningful, and mutually satisfying relationships. You will increase your income. And you will live a more peaceful, less anxiety-laden life.

ATTITUDE, PARAPHRASING, AND ASKING QUESTIONS

Attitude. There are three basic attitudes you need to work on to improve your ability to listen well. You need to genuinely care about others. You need to care about understanding the other person first. This means that you need to desire to understand MORE than you desire to be understood.

Paraphrasing is an explosive tool which demolishes barriers between people faster than any other. Paraphrasing is not simply repeating back word for word exactly what a person says to you. That’s called repeating, not paraphrasing. You can repeat every word and still not understand what was meant. Paraphrasing is presenting back to a person in your own words WHAT THAT PERSON MEANS to that person’s satisfaction.

Not only do you need to have great attitudes about others and powerful paraphrasing skills, you also need to be able to ask good questions. Being a great question asker draws people to you, creates a more positive image of you, and affirms the value of the other person. This all leads to a warmer, more open communication climate. If you will master the skill of asking good questions, others will also want to listen to you as well.

Future articles will focus more on each tool.

*I agree with the axiom “You cannot not communicate”. All behavior is communicative. And, as, Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson in Pragmatics of Human Communication observe, behavior is one of the few things in the universe of which there is no opposite; you cannot not behave. Therefore you cannot not communicate. Verbal behaviors and nonverbal behaviors make up communication. If we want things to improve, we need to learn to communicate more effectively … for a change!

“Boise church of Christ. Where church is family … A place to start over!”

I ended nearly every commercial and radio program I aired on Boise, Idaho’s 50,000 watt, 670 KBOI News Talk Radio station with those words. I know thousands and thousands heard the spots. One day, Valerie responded.

Valerie told me on her first Sunday visiting church that she had been hearing me for a long time on the radio. One day she listened and heard me say, “… a place to start over …” and she thought, “I want to start over! I think I will check these guys out.” Valerie was more than a tire-kicker. She was and is a doer. I requested some help with a two-day event to reach out to children and families at the EXPO. She volunteered. A couple months later Valerie was at the church building helping to set up and aiding throughout the day with an outreach neighborhood Easter Egg event. She attended Bible studies and fellowship gatherings. She helped with our YOUTH RALLY – cooking, cleaning, serving, talking, laughing, serving…

I began to preach a series on forgiveness. That’s when God’s Spirit made His move.

“Hey, Kev! Can we meet together and talk?”

“Sure. Coffee this week?”

“OK. How about Starbucks Tuesday afternoon 3:30?”

“You’re on!”

That’s where I learned more of Valerie’s story. We shared some struggles we each faced in life. Her face lit up when we discussed how God literally will give a person, any person, a new beginning, a clean slate, a start over! The joy on her face, the tears in her eyes, the excitement in her voice I will never forget.

It wasn’t long after that conversation that Valerie died, I buried her, and she rose again to live a brand-new life – forgiven, fresh, a new baby in Christ, a child of God, filled with the Spirit of Jesus. The day she was immersed was a great day of celebration.

The good news for her and for everyone else who has been baptized into Christ does not end at the water. And it is a good thing it doesn’t, right? It doesn’t take long before Satan scores a victory. We sin. We feel miserable. We thought we had left it all behind and we had made a serious commitment. AND WE DID! However, we discovered that we are weak, fallible, stumbling, bumbling followers of Jesus who still miss the mark and fall short of His glory. Some go into a spiritual tailspin. They suffer what I call the “after baptism blues”. And sometimes the sin involves consequences that are difficult to bear, not to mention the feelings of guilt, shame, and despair. We think, “Will God forgive me? I failed so bad. I fell so hard and so far away. How can God ever use me again?”

I remember a time or two in my life where I seriously asked those very questions. Fortunately, God had strategically placed a very wise mentor in my life, a man I lovingly call my spiritual dad, Paul Eckstein. When I asked him these questions, he replied, “Of course God forgives. God heals. God restores. Of course, God uses failures. He has no choice. That’s all He has to work with!”

With a broken heart and a broken, wounded spirit, I confessed my sins to God. And He forgave me, restored me, renewed me, gave me a fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. How do I know? Because that’s what He says that He’ll do – 1 John 1. I am so glad to serve a God Who gives a second chance. In fact, I have had sooooooooo many second chances that if I could have a dollar for every second chance God has given me, I could easily retire and come visit you in my private jet!

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