Prepping for the Ultimate Vacation: Keeping the Right Perspective on Work

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The other night I was saying good night to my little brother and he was complaining about how he wanted to spend more time with me. “I’m sorry buddy, I really wish I could,” I replied sincerely, “but I have to work and sleep and work and clean up my room and work…” I trailed off and tried to think some more positive thoughts, “Man, I want a vacation…the break I’m most looking forward to is heaven–I’ll have lots of time on that vacation!” “Yeah, will you go kayaking with me in heaven?” Reuben put in.Image result for kayak

We conversed a little more before I got up to go to my own bed. “When is he coming back? I can’t wait!” Reuben said as I stood up. I was confused because we’d been talking about my friends, but no one in particular. “Who, Reuben?”

“God! I want to go to heaven!”

The sincerity with which Reuben proclaimed that sentence stirred my thoughts as I lay in my bed. As I mentioned in my last post, 40+ Hours: What do We Communicate at Work?, a lot of us college kids working our tails off this summer are waking up every morning thinking, “there’s got to be more to life than this…” Admittedly, I’ll put myself in that category.

But for those of us to who believe in an everlasting, perfect life in heaven, there really is something more to life than this. And we need to remember this so that we can live it out. Those of us who label ourselves “Christian” are called to communicate this hope, but we can’t do that if we don’t regularly remind ourselves of how temporary this life is.

I don’t really care what you believe the afterlife is going to be like. There are many differing views and we can get caught up in the details of this. But I don’t believe what it will be like is half as important as the fact that it will be (and it will beImage result for bed head good). It will be and it is where we are meant to be, ultimately. It’s going to be the perfect world where we won’t have to deal with this daily hatred toward work.

It might help to remember that there is more than this daily grudge when you wake up in the morning and sigh, glaring into the mirror, wishing someone else could step into your skin and play your role, while you literally disappear from life for a while. But, while there is more to life than this, living through what you are living through right now is part of that plan. Just because there is something better in the future doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place right now. In fact, where you are now has a purpose; it’s the only time we’ll have to influence what happens on earth. It’s prep time.

Use this prep time well. Planning a vacation takes a great deal of work. My most recent vacation was a camping trip. We had to plan what to eat, where to camp, how to get there, and what to do. Then we had to actually buy and prepare the food, gather all the 18403285_1754038291279700_3994285769559169567_n (2).jpggear, print out maps, squish everything all into the car, do all the driving, and make sure everyone who was supposed to come along met up with us. The trip was amazing, but if we hadn’t used our prep time, we couldn’t have had such a rewarding trip.

Our time on earth is that prep time for the ultimate adventure in heaven. Everyday the decisions you make influence yourself and others and ultimately can bring you farther away from or closer to who God wants you to be. Use this time to grow. Work for it. Store up treasures in heaven. Get your hands dirty. Glorifying God through working is how we find purpose on earth. But as you struggle through this prep work, work with anticipation, knowing there is something more. Keep this on your mind, so that you can communicate the hope, joy, and excitement that we who call ourselves Christians ought to radiate. We are called to be witnesses and how much better used is our time on earth if we spend it inviting and inspiring others to come with us on this adventure? Believe that what we are living through right now is temporary. Believe that there is more coming. And then live it out. Communicate through your joy, hope, and anticipation the reality that we ought to share.

Daily remind yourself of the upcoming vacation and use this time to prepare for it so that, like a young child, you too can ask, with sincerity, “When is he coming back? I can’t wait!”

Please share your thoughts, comments, and arguments. I would love to hear from you!

40+ Hours: What do We Communicate at Work?

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A couple of days ago I was talking on the phone to a friend from Cornerstone University and we were talking about work. “I was so looking forward to summer,” she stated, “but now I’m working and I’m like, ‘oh yeah. This is what summer is like.'” Honestly, as much as we college kids complain about school and gripe about how we can’t wait for summer, how many of us working 40+ hrs/week getting paid minimum wage or working our tails off in manual labor jobs aren’t missing the late night “homework” parties just a little bit? I have a pretty sweet job, but I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely awake in the morning excited for the day of work. In fact, I’m pretty prone to grumble.

Matthew 12:34b claims, “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Our attitude greatly affects our communication. For those of us who claim to be Christians, in order to fulfill the commands to “be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) and to be witnesses of the joy and hope we have within us, we need to have an attitude check in Image result for minimum wage jobsrelation to our work. One of the greatest inspirations I’ve had regarding my attitude towards work came from Evan Koons in his devotional series titled “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.” The point that Mr. Koons made was that we are put on earth by God to serve. Our purpose and our joy comes from glorifying God through the form of serving others. Obviously sin has made work imperfect, but the ultimate goal remains. Work isn’t about me and my bank account (even though that is a relevant aspect). Instead, work is about me using the skills and talents which God has gifted me with to serve others. Work is an opportunity to bless those in my life and to glorify God.

Granted, getting paid is important. However, when I go to work, focused only on making money and getting out of there, every hour is pretty much a countdown until I have free time which can spend as I want to. It’s about me, and since I’m working more than I am not, it’s about how I’m upset to be working. I’m grumpy and I communicate that.

However, when I can view work as an opportunity to bless my boss, my co-workers, and my costumers, I can view my efforts as a positive way to impact the world. I can be grateful for the opportunity to interact with others, grateful for the chance to use my life for a bigger purpose than just myself, and I can praise my God.

Image result for lifeguardThis won’t mean I ‘ll be excited every day. It won’t mean I’ll suddenly be converting people left and right. But this attitude will be putting my heart closer to where it belongs and will allow me to more clearly communicate the love that should be overflowing from my heart. I have found that the less I think about myself and my happiness, the more joyful I end up being.

“Don’t ask if you don’t like what I have to say!”: Relationship-oriented vs. task-oriented comm

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When I lived at home, all the kids in the house had one night per week where they were assigned the task of making dinner. One of my sisters was always looking for suggestions. I remember one day when she came into my room and asked, “BethAnn, what should I make for supper?” “I don’t care,” I responded, looking up from my homework. “I love your chicken noodle soup and rolls.” “No, I don’t really have time for that.” I made another suggestion, “Your Stromboli is great…” She looked a little annoyed, “That’s a lot of work!” “Okay, well…I like your meatballs in cream sauce.” At this point she was definitely flustered, “Why do you always expect me to make all the hard meals?” My expression changed to annoyance as well, “I don’t care what you make; make whatever you want!”

For Pete’s sake! I hadn’t cared in the first place, I was just offering suggestions so that she had some ideas to brainstorm from. It’s what I would’ve wanted. And I was even complimenting her and her cooking left and right, for crying out loud. If she didn’t want suggestions, why in the world did she ask?!

Most of my regular readers are familiar with my favorite Deborah Tannen quote: “What seem like bad intentions may really be good intentions expressed in a different conversational style” (p. 151). This episode between my sister and me demonstrates this quote to a “t.”

I really hadn’t cared what my sister made for dinner. No matter what she made, I knew it would be good. But if I had just said, “I don’t care” and went on with my homework, it would look like not only didn’t I care what we had for dinner, I also didn’t care that she was struggling with the decision. Therefore, I thought I was showing love by offering suggestions–and especially in my compliments. I had great intentions. But they weren’t communicated in my sister’s conversational style.

I was focused on the task: we need ideas for what to make for supper. My sister was taking a more relational approach: find out what the other person is in the mood for, and how much he/she is feeling up for before actually worrying about. While my way of making suggestions was to offer very specific options and branch out from there, my sister was expecting very generic suggestions–getting a notion for how she was feeling, which could then be specified. She would’ve felt the care I was trying to offer had I instead started with, “Well, how much time do you have?” or “What do you think of something with pasta?” because these questions would be focusing on her before focusing on dinner. With this being her expectation, my specific suggestions came across as demands–and high demands at that, which is why she felt offended by what I had meant in love.

Task-oriented or relational-oriented communication can be something as simple as starting with specific suggestions and branching out or starting with general suggestions and narrowing in. And yet even this which sounds like such a small deal can cause quite a mess! It is these sort of small variations that I didn’t recognize until I started studying communication. Which is part of the reason I feel studying communication is so worthwhile and so applicable.

Understanding how these small expectations can upset whole conversations helps us to extend grace to others and calm ourselves down. Especially when we learn to see the good in both, it can also help us to understand the other person and to communicate better with him/her in the future. Obviously I’m not always going to remember that my sister might prefer general suggestions before specific suggestions, but when I start to sense her growing tense, I’ll remember and because I understand this facet of communication better, I’ll be able to speak in her language. I’ll remember she might be asking more for the relational connection than for literal dinner suggestions. And this is fine too, because I love my sister and would be happy to show her this 🙂

What experiences have you had where you had good intentions but the other person didn’t seem to sense that? Do you know someone who asks for suggestions or advice and then gets angry when you offer it? Could the differences be attributed to something as small as task focus vs. relational focus? Could you re-asses the situation and see some of this principle at play?

Leave me comments or suggestions! I want to hear from my readers 🙂

Why Sarcasm?

Screenshot 2017-03-29 at 6.36.47 PM - Edited.pngI love skiing. I’ve had the opportunity to go quite a few times and have seen the slopes at their busiest. One day, when my friend and I were going through the rental system, the place was just the opposite–it was practically dead. As the woman handed us our skis, my friend stated sarcastically, “Wow, it’s really bustling here!”

The employee’s response made my friend and me want to laugh. “No!” She exclaimed passionately–perhaps with a tad bit of annoyance–“You should see what it’s normally like. We aren’t busy at all right now!” As soon as we both stepped outside we chuckled at the fact that the sarcasm hadn’t been picked up on and, thereby, how stupid we must’ve looked to the employee.

Sarcasm has a bad rap. It can be seen as disrespectful, and has been stereotypically assigned to the rude teen who rolls his eyes at his parents and responds in some snarky way to some wisdom they offer. For the record, I am not condoning this sort of behavior. I believe that–especially those of us who call ourselves Christians–should always, always portray respect, even when you don’t necessarily admire the other person. Just like every other aspect of communication, sarcasm  is a tool and needs to be used responsibly. That being said, in the right circumstances and used appropriately, I think that sarcasm is a creative way to engage with communication. I feel that understanding what sarcasm is and why we use it can help to present sarcasm in a friendlier perspective and admire it when it it’s worth being admired.

Why do we college kiddos enjoy using sarcasm? For inspiration on how to address this question, I turn back to my favorite communication expert: Deborah Tannen. The first thing Tannen brings up is how humans like to challenge themselves. We like to create more and more elaborate skills, inventions, and ideas. Life gets more exciting when we embellish what would otherwise be the same old, same old. We do this in communication too. When skiing, the emptiness of the rental building was so pronounced that my friend wanted to say something. But why state the obvious, boring fact: “this place is kind of empty”?

So we use sarcasm to add a little style to the statement. It gives communicators a bit of a challenge and adds interest. Tannen explains it metaphorically, saying, “The speaker feels clever for having pitched a curve ball, the hearer for having caught it” (p. 71).* If sarcasm can be pulled off like this, the game is well worth the effort. Of course, there are times, like my example, where the trick isn’t pulled off so cleanly. “But if the curve is not caught–if it hits someone in the head or flies out of the ball park–no one is happy. The communication ball game is temporarily brought to a halt” (p. 71).*

Recognizing that sarcasm can be taken the wrong way, I would encourage responsible and thoughtful use of this form of communication. But, when used appropriately, I believe we can have a greater appreciation for sarcasm by understanding some of the nuts and bolts of it.  When you use or hear sarcasm, admire the puzzles we can make out of every day communication. Recognizing what is behind sarcasm can make it that much more interesting to those of us who use it (and perhaps that much more understandable for those of us who don’t).

What are your experiences with sarcasm? You readers from the younger generations, when do you use sarcasm? Do you appreciate it or find it too dry? I’d love to hear any thoughts.

I’d also be especially interested in hearing from those of you who are past the college-age audience that I typically write to. Could you see yourself admiring sarcasm or do you view it as always disrespectful? When is sarcasm appropriate and when isn’t it?

I don’t feel like this topic is addressed very often and would be happy to write a sequel if I receive enough thoughts from you readers 🙂

*Tannen, D. (1986). That’s not what I meant: How conversational style makes or breaks relationships. New York, NY; Harper

Apologizing 101

 

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This post may feel a little different, but sometimes we just need to go from theoretical posts to highly-concrete immediately-applicable posts about communication. That’s what this one is here to do.

I wish I could honestly say I have never had a reason to apologize. But goodness knows I can’t. Last summer I thought I worked out a balance with one boss where I could work a second job. I thought we’d discussed it clearly and that this job would be perfectly acceptable. My second day back from the new job, my boss was shocked to hear this was a six week commitment. It wasn’t a good time.

I felt terrible. In retrospect, I could see how poorly I had described the commitment the second job would require. I suppose the commitment was so obvious to me that I hadn’t given a full description, and the one time I had, it was rather in passing. Oops. Months later, I still feel bad about it–I had, in a way, betrayed my first boss. An apology was owed.

There are good ways to make an apology and there are bad ways to make an apology.

Rule #1: Use “I” language (take responsibility).

Instead of making accusations, “I didn’t realize you didn’t understand what I was saying,””I’m sorry you didn’t know what this second job would look like,” or–worse yet–“I’m sorry you don’t pay me enough for me to only have one job”; use “I” to take responsibility. “I’m really sorry didn’t explain this well,” “Sorry, recognize wasn’t being clear,” “I’m afraid wasn’t thinking this through enough.” The moment you start accusing the other person, they will likely be very opposed to accepting your apology and you’re likely to make matter much worse. If you don’t remember the other two tips, I’d claim this one is the most important.

Rule #2: Acknowledge how you hurt the other person. 

When you can demonstrate to the other person that you recognize you’ve caused them pain, they can understand that you’ve been thinking about them. Be very specific: “I know that I’ve really inconvenienced you, I’ve committed myself to being elsewhere in the mornings–which is the time that you really need me the most,” “I understand that, now that I’m not here as much, you’ve been left to carry more than your weight,” or “I realize that this wasn’t fair to you–I fell short of offering sincere loyalty” (notice how I didn’t say “you probably think I betrayed you”). When the other person recognizes that you are thinking about them too, they are more likely to take you seriously.

Rule #3: Express remorse and ask for forgiveness.  

Arguably, you could do the first two steps without acknowledging that you regret what you did. And, to be honest, in some situations, you may not regret what you did. What you did may have been the right thing to do or you may be in the position that, if you had to do it again, you would. Still, you can still recognize that you were responsible and you can still acknowledge that you caused pain, and you can certainly still be sorry that the other person was hurt. “I am very sorry that I caused you so much trouble and that I interrupted your summer plans. I feel terrible about this and I would like to ask for forgiveness.” Do recognize, however, that forgiveness will not always be offered. Nor will it necessarily be offered immediately. But that part is up to the other person.

A good apology, then, looks like this (bonus points if you use the person’s name): “Deb, I’m really sorry that I’ve broken your trust when I took on this second job. I recognize I wasn’t being clear and I certainly didn’t give you fair warning. I know this has been harder on you and made you carry far more than your fair share of the burden. I know it has hurt you and I regret that I had to play a major part in that. I’d like to ask for your forgiveness and let you know that I’m trying to use this experience to make me think through things more thoroughly before I make commitments.”

Make it sincere–not sappy. And know that sometimes a good apology is exactly what it takes to heal things, but more often, a good apology is only the very first step on a long road. Extend grace, don’t speak poorly of the person behind their back, and give it time. Unfortunately, knowing how to offer an apology is something you’ll need throughout your life. Knowing how to offer a good, sincere apology can make a heck of a difference in the midst of the tense position.

The Dark Side of Communication: Reasons Why Studying Comm is Worthwhile

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Why study communication?

When I started my Interpersonal Communications class and then again when I began my independent study on communications, I was shocked by a wave of despair. The more I studied communication the more I saw how impossible it was to actually communicate exactly what I wanted to communicate. Words can have multiple interpretations; ideas are taken differently according to past experiences; different personalities make communicators prone to take things in opposite ways; tone of voice, facial expression, nonverbalsproxemics, and much more can be taken the wrong way.

When people find out I’m majoring in Communications, I almost always get the joking response, “ah, so you’re good at communicating.” No, I’m not good at communicating. And, after having continued studying communications, I find myself more and more assured of that. In fact, arguably most people aren’t good at communicating. So what is the point? Why am I majoring in communications and, an even more relevant question, why in the world am I blogging about communications and making you think about the depressing topic?!

Well, the truth of it is, there is value in knowing how treacherous the art of communicating is. After all, with the countless possible incongruencies and the necessity of communicating every single day, there is bound to be a few hang ups. Knowing this fact alone makes the hang ups easier to deal with. After all, recognizing that you won’t always take the other person quite as they meant to be taken and vice versa always leaves a margin of error, which stops us from being overly-confident in the first place. If something someone said (or seemed to say) appears to be significantly “off,” having a background in some communication makes it more likely that you will recognize that there may have been a miscommunication, instead of immediately reacting negatively. You’ll be more likely to extend grace, understanding that miscommunication is inevitable.

This knowledge of communication and miscommunication also helps us feel better about ourselves when another person reads us wrong. Knowing that miscommunication happens is by no means an excuse not to try to speak more clearly to others. However, this knowledge can be relieving when someone informs you that all your life you’ve been telling him/her that he/she stinks. My sister used to tell me that what I was constantly communicating was not love–she felt I did very little to show her I loved her (we have significantly different love languages). Obviously, at this point, I needed to make some changes in my communication with my sister. However, knowing that there was a misunderstanding allows me to stop second-guessing if I really had such bad intentions my whole life (it allowed me to recognize that I really do love my sister–I just hadn’t been speaking her love language). And it can stop you from convincing yourself that you just can’t express anything right and that you must have something wrong with you.

Once you begin to recognize these miscommunications, you can start to embrace my favorite of Deborah Tannen‘s quotes: “What seem like bad intentions may really be good intentions expressed in a different conversational style.” When you are willing to humble yourself and recognize that different people (who still have good intentions) express things in novel (but not entirely negative) ways, you’ll have a whole new world opened to you.

Ultimately then (big picture), the very least learning about communication can do for you is broaden your understanding of the world and encourage you to extend grace–both to yourself and to other communicators. And when you’re willing to give yourself and others a second chance, you have that much more opportunity to build relationships (and to keep relationships). You could have less opportunity to hold grudges and more opportunity to understand differing perspectives. This will give you some freedom to step out and build relationships with people who are different from you. In doing this, you can eventually start to bridge some communication gaps. No, you’ll never have such a sturdy bridge that you’ll be able to completely avoid such miscommunications. But you can at least build a rope bridge will allow you to go on adventures that previously hadn’t even had available.

Why Do We Act the Way We Do?: Taking Circumstances into Consideration

IMG_3128 (1) - Edited.jpgI have a 10-year-old brother. He’s a perfect definition of a handful; he’s high energy, low attention, not especially well-coordinated, but a lover of dangerous adventure, testing authority, and always squirming. Coming home for spring break, I got to see the little fellow again.  I was also re-introduced to a struggle with patience.

Naturally sometimes my youngest sister and my brother squabble. My little sister will lose her patience and yell at my brother. “He’s not going to listen to you or respect you if you yell at him,” I’m always quick to advise, assuming my sister must just not be grown-up enough to recognize that such little things are not worth getting worked up over. It’s just part of being a kid, an instinct you have to grow out of. It’s just part of who my sister is right now.

However, as I was on break, I’m ashamed to admit I found myself yelling at my little brother as well. “Gosh, this cold really makes me irritable,” I was thinking just the other morning. Having a sore throat and a dripping nose has a surprising effect on one’s patience.

This type of thinking is a great example of the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error occurs when you judge a person’s character for their actions, instead of putting the emphasis on their situation.  For example, when another student gets a bad grade, you are likely to think they are a little less smart or capable as a person. However, if you were to get the same bad grade, you’d be likely to attribute it to your situation–the tough teacher, the confusing test, the lack of sleep you had.

In American culture, we are taught from childhood that we are masters of our own fate and can control our destinies (Shiraev & Levy, 2013, p. 69). Hence, when we tend to judge actions as if it was the person’s choice and will to act that way. We see the homeless as being homeless because they are lazy, the oppressed as oppressed because they are weak, and those struggling as struggling because they are just that kind of person. Not only do we assume that they are the source of their situations, we assume that they probably deserve it (Shiraev & Levy, 2013, p. 70).

This attribution is so easy to commit we do it all the time without realizing it. But this error is an error. Thinking this way–ignoring the effect a situation has on another’s actions–leads directly to judgmentalism that really isn’t fair. My sister wasn’t yelling at my brother because it is just in her nature to yell. She was IMG_2652 (1) - Edited.jpgyelling at him because she was at the point where she didn’t know what else to do. Similarly, I can’t put all the blame for yelling at my brother on having a cold. If something as minor as having a cold causes me to act in anger towards my 10 year old brother, I need to work on my patience!

Can you think of situations where you have fallen prey to the Fundamental Attribution error? What is something you judge the character of others for but blame your situation for when you commit the same action? What are you going to do to try to think differently?