deception pass Washington

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Expect the Best, Be the Best

Communication is complex and can be complicated. It can also be comforting, enlightening, strengthening, and restorative. It depends on how you handle it. It involves give and take, a partnership of words. One way to make it better is to use stories and humor to get points across. Debate is tiring and arguments are fruitless, but stories can transcend our daily existence and build bridges. It is a recognition that we are all equally human, equally flawed, and equally capable of love and acceptance.

Humor, when handled right, can lighten the often heavy times we live in and give us space to breathe. Not everything is humorous – at least not in the present, for sure. Someone has wisely said, “pain plus time equals humor”. We need to be serious where serious is warranted, but we can’t also remain there. Just like a house needs a good foundation, it also needs to incorporate nature to make it a home. Even in the desert blooms sometimes appear, with the arrival of spring rains.

Stories involve sharing your story and listening to others’ stories. They are a sharing of our hearts and minds. Stories can be a window to the soul, if only we listen. They lets us communicate to others what we have in common, instead of arguments that highlight what puts us apart.

It is true that we cannot always communicate with everyone. Some people are so set in their ways and committed to opposition that we are only wasting our breath trying. And there is a time when we must stand for truth and speak up and out against injustice. But we also would do well to ‘assume positive intent” and be ready to welcome others in, until and unless such time comes that the other proves unworthy of that respect.

My dear mom, now gone over 40 years raised me to accept anyone, no matter what they looked like, or where they were from, or what customs and traditions they kept. She valued each as equally human. She expected the best of everyone and did the best for everyone. In this lead-up to mother’s day, it is a pledge I wholeheartedly renew and urge everyone to follow.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

When you are in conversation with others are you just hearing the sound or listening for the words? And when you listen are you listening to respond or to understand? You might say what is the difference. It makes a great difference in the conversation and the relationship. Communication is a two-way street and listening well is as important as speaking well.

Listening just to respond is not really listening. It is a sign that we are either in a debate or a therapy session, or perhaps just a gabfest. We may be waiting for an opening to counter the other person’s arguments. We may be eager to share our own stories. Or, to be charitable, we may sincerely want to help but are in fix-it mode. But anyway it happens we are not letting ourselves absorb what the other person is saying and running roughshod over them.

Listening to understand takes time and patience. It takes time to absorb what someone else is sharing. By taking the time to really listen we are giving the gift of time to another, honoring their personal experience, validating it as worthwhile and equal to ourselves. We carve out time in our day to be a friend. Even in the midst of grief people don’t need solutions they just need a soul touch, someone to be there as a listening ear.

Only when we listen to understand can we really know another enough to help. Words often fail, but not all conversation consists of words. Presence is communication and eye contact is also.

Be aware of your intent when listening and also when sharing. Do you feel like others are really listening to you or just ready to respond? Be mindful of how you treat others and surround yourself with people you can share yourself with. It is an important part of communication.

Get to the Point

Get to the point! Have you been tempted to say that to someone who is going on and on, talking about everything under the sun, but you just know they want something? Some people can talk for hours it seems and say nothing. I had a coworker do that years ago and I finally said “bottom line up front Chris, what do you want? Our manager had been sharing with us the importance of putting the important things first – especially with emails. He called it BLUF for short – bottom line up front, meaning taking the request that you normally put at the end of the email and having it stated first. We have a bad habit, myself included, of putting all the supported reasoning first and then making the request. I have found this to be more effective.

When you are presenting this makes great sense. You start with something that grabs the audience’s attention and gives them a taste of what is to come. You layout your reasoning and then drive home the point at the end. Otherwise, you will lose them. You need to show that you know where you are going otherwise they won’t follow. But even in casual conversation, you need to know what you are trying to say and then say it.

Part of the problem is that often we may not know what we want or where we want to go. Sometimes we just want to relax in the comfort of friends. We don’t want to feel pressured to perform. We may be shy or reluctant to bring up tough questions or issues and use what I would call “warming up” as a way to approach the subject. We might mention the “landscape” for lack of a better word. Things that surround the topic, like our past history, others’ experiences, or our thinking about it, without stating a clear question, opinion, or request.

It’s kind of like dipping our toes in a cold lake or pool. We are afraid it will be too cold, but we think maybe if we gradually get in it won’t be so bad. I’ve done that and soon you get in. But often it is better just to dive in -get it over quick. What we fear is often not what happens and we put ourselves through more angst going gradual. Maybe we think the longer we take the better the chances that we won’t have to face whatever we fear after all.

I recall many times having this experience with dating in college. I would spend time getting up the courage to call a girl for a date. I was afraid that one of my dorm mates would overhear the conversation. What would happen then I don’t know – I didn’t think that far. I was just embarrassed and worked hard to avoid it. Sometimes it would last a couple of hours and I wouldn’t be able to make the call. Then I would be relieved – the pressure was off. But then the next day it would return full force again. The only time it really went away was when I successfully made the call and got the date. I put myself through such angst those days. If I had only just asked the girl in person I wouldn’t have had to suffer – and they usually said yes.

So, when you are trying to communicate make sure what you want to say, how to say it, and to whom you want to communicate, and then just jump in. Don’t tour the neighborhood, go knock on the door. People will appreciate that.

Do You Need A Translator When You Speak?

Do you need a translator when you speak? That may seem an odd question here is the US where most people speak and understand English. For some among us who are learning English as a second language there can be times when translation or explanation of words is needed. But for the most part, we speak the same language, so why would I ask the question?

There can be several reasons. For one thing, there are generational differences- especially our use of texting. Those who grew up with cell phones and texting tend to be faster in their use and often use a lot of abbreviations – like idk for I don’t know – to save time. It may seem like code but for them, it is very natural and second nature.

For those of us from the Baby Boom Generation, we have a lot of words and references that leave younger generations clueless. We make references to events – like Watergate, Vietnam, the British Invasion – that they have no understanding of or often appreciation for because they didn’t live through it as we did. We must be careful not to assume knowledge and patiently explain the resonance and relevance of those times.

For someone who is learning English as a second language there are things that don’t translate word for word, rather thought for thought. People need time to understand the expressions that we take for granted. Like “dead as a doornail” makes no sense in translating word for word. It is a phrase that has come down through time and we all know what it means but someone learning English and trying to translate it into their own language would not know. This is something we all need to watch out for.

And then there is jargon and acronyms – tech talk. Every industry has them and when we “talk shop” with other coworkers we use them freely. Everybody in the industry knows or learns the “language” that makes it work. The trouble is when we converse with others who aren’t part of our work environment. We tend to forget that they don’t know our “language” until the glazed eye look comes.

Part of clear communication is what I would call “self-translation” – wiring our brains to edit out the jargon before we start a conversation with friends or family who don’t inhabit our workspaces. It can even happen with non-work organizations we participate in, like school, church, sports, or non-profits – like for me Toastmasters.

There are many things that we can do to make sure when we talk we are really communicating clearly. This week I will be covering a few of those to give you food for thought – to use a common phrase. Your feedback is appreciated – especially your experience with this and examples of good or not-so-good communication experiences.

Expand Your Mind and Others

Have you ever studied a foreign language? Did you feel confused or like you felt you’d never catch up.? Did you have an experience like mine when I took 4 years of Spanish in high school, mostly in Phoenix? I had many classmates as well as neighbors whose native tongue was Spanish. I found that I could understand about only half of what they said because I could interpret it at about half the speed at which they could speak it. It was also easier to translate from Spanish to English than to translate from English to Spanish. Imagine how native Spanish-speaking people feel when learning English.

One thing I learned when taking Spanish classes in high school and German classes in college was that I learned much more about grammar than I ever did in English classes. We take it for granted when learning English because it is our mother tongue and we encounter it when we first learn to talk and we hear almost everyone around us speaking it. There are definite differences in other languages – like German where sentences begin with the verb, not noun or pronoun. And in Spanish, there is basically one sound for each vowel and only one silent letter, wherein in English there are many sounds for each vowel, depending on where it is in the word, and almost any letter can be silent.

That is why it is frustrating to hear people say “just learn the language” or “you’re in America,, learn English”. It’s not that simple – we don’t realize how complex our own language is. And then people are upset with accents – because “of course” nobody has an accent in the US. (right…hah!) We should give people a break and recognize that unlike many of us, they can speak 2 languages – or are trying to.

One place to reach out to connect on this level is in Toastmasters. There are many immigrants who join not only to practice their speaking skills, as do English speakers but also to practice their English. I belong to one such club Confidence Builders. We have members who come from India, Vietnam, Korea, and China. They are practicing their English and doing quite well. The feedback that they get from evaluators helps them improve. And it helps us to appreciate the different perspectives they bring to our often sheltered part of the world.

Perhaps you could kill two birds with one stone. Join a Toastmasters club to improve your own speaking skills, regardless of whether English is your native tongue or not. And at the same time help others improve their English and stretch your awareness of the world around you.

Making Connections

Have you ever felt like the proverbial tree falling in the wilderness and wondering if anyone hears or knows you are there? Do you feel like you are invisible or don’t know where to start to make a difference? Starting to be a voice can be like that sometimes. What you need is to find common souls, those others who share your passion. A network to collaborate with, for support when your energy flags, for help in brainstorming and sparking new ideas.

For me, my voice has been channeled by Toastmasters. For the past eight years, I have spoken regularly and learned to grow by encouraging feedback. I have also have had the opportunity to be a leader and encourage others to take the plunge and find their voice. When I first started to blog I felt a lack of feedback. But then I realized that I have a base to build upon – the four clubs that I am a part of in one way or the other. I realize that I can rely on them for initial feedback. If public speaking is your forte one of these places may be the place for you.

And since in the days of covid most of us are connecting remotely we can connect around the world, even though these clubs are all local to the Pacific Northwest. Leading Edge Toastmasters | Kirkland, WA ( is an advanced club geared to helping existing Toastmasters excel through enhanced evaluations. Edmonds Toastmasters Club ( is my home club, which currently is holding hybrid meetings – in person at the Pancake Haus in downtown Edmonds, WA, and on zoom with members from Texas to Michigan. Confidence Builders Club ( is a club that I have been associated with for some time and am currently coaching. Each of these is a good place to start if you want to explore public speaking and are open to new members. The fourth club I am part of is HNTB Sparks, is a closed corporate club. All of these have been a boon to me in my progress in public speaking.

Whatever you do, spend some time brainstorming where and with whom will you connect for support and common cause as you speak out for change

Be a Voice, Not an Echo

Have you ever felt like you were in an echo chamber? Where all around everyone was saying the same thing. No one seemed to have a different opinion, they all seemed to be parroting a common theme -like they were reading from a script? Talking points we call it sometimes. A group of people, be it a political party, a social group, or a religious organization, seemingly spouting the same message with no dissenting voices. In the pre-social media days, we had the chain letters that spread rumors that way and you would have people blindly sending on to the next contact the same message without a shred of analysis or thought.

It is good to build consensus and have shared opinions, but that grows out of discussion and debate, not simply stamped out and passed around as the “approved” script. When companies and organizations want to have a consistent message to their customers and consumers they have PR people put together packages. But in society at large, there needs to be healthy debate and discussion and room for disagreement. We don’t all agree and we don’t have to.

And that is where personal courage and deep thought comes in. True, there are boundaries we do not cross and extremes to which we should not go. But in between, there should be freedom for free thinkers. Especially when it comes to challenging the established line of thinking, of well-established patterns and institutions, and practices. We only grow by stretching ourselves, by learning not only new things but new ways of thinking and being.

So when was the last time you challenged yourself? When was the last time you disagreed with someone, especially someone near and dear? How did you feel and were you able to defend yourself and your point of view? Not that you have to defend yourself necessarily. But when you step out of the norm you will want to marshall your thoughts and be on solid ground,, just for the sake of your own confidence.

It is okay to be out of the norm or ahead of your time. We don’t always grow at the same rate, mentally, emotionally, or physically. I have encountered that with my wife. We have evolved in our thinking and attitudes on several issues over the years. And though we have in most areas arrived at a similar place, we didn’t always get there in the same time frame.

So be a deep thinker, freely examine what you know and believe. Seek to expand your knowledge base – learning is a lifetime activity. Keep on asking yourself the ultimate question- why? It’s not just for kids first getting to know the world around them.

Be a voice, not an echo. Feel free to stand out from the crowd. Be a leader in seeking to change the world in your own small way. Great change comes from lots of little movements when we least expect it.

Proactive not reactive

Be proactive, not reactive. That is the message we hear. But often it is easier said than done. There is so much we cannot change nor fix and it seems like we are literally tossed to and fro by life. We try to make progress but encounter obstacles daily. Frustrated by life we strike out and feel out of control. We seem to be victims of the fight or flee response – and even more, we encounter the frustration of the third response – freeze.

But there is another way to live. That way is to be proactive. To choose to prepare for life and make plans to move forward regardless of the obstacles. How do we do that? There are simple steps that we need to take. The first is to give yourself a break. We all are reactive sometimes. It is a part of being human. We need to accept ourselves as we are as a starting point. And see ourselves clearly, warts and all.

We also need to examine our behaviors and find out the what’s, why’s, and when’s of our reactiveness. We need to figure out what sets us off, why that sets us off, and when we are most likely to react. Everyone is different in reaction and everyone will be different in working to change to being proactive.

But you might say that it takes time to change. True, and again give yourself a break. You don’t have to do it all at once. Once you know where your reactiveness resides you can start to make changes. You know where your vulnerabilities are and where you need to work.

Being proactive is choosing to move forward to face fears and challenge difficulties before they come to your door. Confronting the obstacles and dangers of life can be invigorating when you see yourself as having the power to confront them, not letting them hunt you down. Be the hunter, not the hunted.

You can’t predict the future and there are no guarantees. But the more you can prepare yourself for what might happen, the better able you are to confront change and danger. And not knowing everything is not necessarily a bad thing. Someone once said “embrace uncertainty”, you might learn a great deal. Not just about life, but about yourself. You learn the extent of your abilities by having them tested, and challenged.

So give yourself a break. Be proactive, not reactive.

Tree and Forest

Tree and Forest, which do you see? Tree and Forest, which is more important? You can’t have one without the other, but we tend to see one or the other. You may have heard the phrase someone”can’t see the forest for the trees”. What does it mean? It is an analogy of limited vision. Some people are so focused on the minute details – like the tree above -that they don’t see the bigger picture of the forest.

I have that issue sometimes with coworkers in another department at work. They have been trained to process according to a script that lays out a strict linear list of data to fill fields and are audited all the time which requires them to work methodically and make no assumptions (more about that in a future post). Any deviation from the norm causes confusion. If a provider record, for instance, needs to be terminated they need to know why -resignation, retirement, death, etc. If the record was just incorrect they have no quick reference for it. Rather than see that the record just needed to be fixed they fixated on why. Can’t see the forest – the big picture – for the trees – the details.

On the other hand, some people can’t see the trees for the forest. They are so focused on the big picture that they either don’t get the details right or they fail to see the importance of the details. This is especially true when dealing with people. They focus on programs rather than people. They see the crowd and not individuals. This also causes problems because just like trees people are different – no “one size fits all” program will be sufficient. Or people will group people into categories with broad characteristics applied to all members of the group. For years women have suffered under those assumptions -“women drivers”, “dumb blondes” or “overly emotional”. Other minorities have suffered the same. Even “media” is a caricature – and a lazy way to get out of confronting bad actors in the business.

So the next time you walk in the forest take time to not only survey the beautiful tapestry but also get up and personal with the different specimens you see there. And when you are in a crowd take a minute to dial down from the whole to look at the variety of individuals there – and maybe talk to a few, reach out the help if you can. We need both tree and forest.

Risk – it’s not just a board game

I once stayed up all night playing the board game Risk. It was my freshman year in college, and I was young and foolish. Now I work in an industry that is constructed around risk and the avoidance of it – Insurance. We want to encourage people to avoid risk by getting regular medical care to avoid minor issues becoming major.

Taking risks results in growth. But we have to remember a few things about the risk to go about it wisely. For one thing, everyone has their own unique risk threshold. Things that would seem risky to some would be looked at as ordinary by others and vice versa. In college, I viewed dating as risky – the risk of being turned done, of embarrassment, etc. On the other hand, the Flying Wallendas – a high wire act, thought nothing of walking wires between highrises. So don’t assume you have to measure up to what others may attempt.

Secondly, taking risks doesn’t mean that you don’t prepare and have a plan for obstacles you might encounter. It just means that you don’t get so bogged down in the planning that you don’t step out and go. It means you don’t wait until you have everything perfect before you venture out.

And lastly, you need to make sure the reward is worth the risk. We usually see this as the goal or prize is worth the effort. That is why I’m not that much into video games. The reward for success just wasn’t worth the effort. I want to do things that are worth my time. Again everyone is different. I know plenty of people who love video gaming and do it constantly. Good for them I say, as I go for a walk or curl up with a good book. In order for us to take risks, the reward must be visible and valuable.

Taking risks is worth the effort to grow, unlike staying up all night playing a board game

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