Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Disturbing Neighbor

When I moved into my home 13 years ago, I was thrilled to be living on a dead end street. Ah, peace and quiet! Imagine how disheartened I was to discover I lived two houses away from a teenage rock star wannabe!

Every evening, his band would rehearse in his garage for hours. The cacophony of noise that emanated from his makeshift studio was nothing short of unmerciful.

His garage faced my bedroom window (which I left opened) so the noise filtered into my room long after I retired for the evening. This was not working for me. Yet I knew that legally he had every right to practice and I had no recourse. Or did I? I decided to take matters into my own hands and confront him. However, I am wise enough to know the proper steps to take to gain his cooperation.

First, I checked my attitude. I needed to make sure that I was calm and relaxed. If I was angry and frustrated, that would be reflected in the way I spoke to him.
Next, I needed to see things through his eyes: a young man with dreams of being a rock star. That's actually an admirable quality. He could have been on some street corner doing drugs.
Third, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he didn't realize the noise was a problem for me. After all, how many times are we oblivious to how our behavior effects others?

I also knew it was important to establish a commonality, some interest or characteristic we shared. That acts like a bonding agent.
And I needed to be fair and reasonable in what I was requesting of him.

So, I took the necessary steps and approached him one evening. I introduced myself and asked about his music. He shared how he and his band were trying to get some gigs and ultimately a record deal. I congratulated him on his dreams and wished him luck. I mentioned my love of music as well. We had established a nice rapport.

Then I made my request: I explained how the noise interfered with my ability to sleep when it went beyond 11pm. I asked if he could help me out by perhaps closing the garage doors. To my pleasant surprise, he apologized and agreed to my suggestion. I thanked him and we parted on good terms. Problem solved.

When we treat one another with dignity and fairness, resolving our differences becomes effortless.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Maintaining Personal Excellence

One of my private clients has serious issues with anger, or perhaps I should say with "nastiness". She's pleasant most of the time but she makes it clear that if someone is rude to her she can dish it out even worse. "I can get really ugly when I have to," she declares, as if she's proud of it.

How often do we react to someone's bad behavior with more of the same? Someone cuts you off on the highway and you give them the finger. Your brother misses your wedding so you retaliate by not attending his baby's christening.

Sadly, many people allow their behavior to be determined by what others say or do. And to make matters worse, they offer lame excuses to justify their actions. "I criticized you because you said something hurtful to me first."

Doesn't this sound reminiscent of eight-year olds? "You pushed me so I pushed you back!" One can make allowances for a young child's lack of maturity and good judgment. But one is expected to outgrow this behavior by adulthood. Unfortunately, some do not.

Does two adults behaving badly ever improve a situation? To the best of my knowledge it doesn't. Therefore, it is critical for each individual to set and maintain their own personal standard of excellence and never relinquish to another's poor behavior.

If I am honest, I remain honest even in the face of lies.
If I am kind, when others are thoughtless, I set the example of kindness.
My generosity does not falter to another's selfishness.
If I am a respectful person, then I maintain that standard even, and especially, with those who are rude.

If your external behavior is not congruent with your intrinsic values, you will create internal conflict. And when you are in a state of turmoil, you cannot be at peace.

Set your standards of excellence high. ~ Never lower them for anyone.
Let others aspire to be like you. ~ Maintain your personal excellence.
Be the example for others to follow.


My client is proud of her behavior. For me, I'd be ashamed.


If you like this article, read "Built Tough", Newsletter entry, March 9, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fear or Faith: a Heavenly Story

I believe very strongly in the power of intention. I have been on tour with my new book, The Secret Side of Anger. for several months. When my book was released, I made the decision that in addition to the traditional methods of selling books, I specifically wanted to use mine to help non profits raise funds for their organizations. With the plunging economy, people were fearful of not having enough for themselves and were naturally cutting back on expenses. Non profits are hit particularly hard.

I, however, have a very deep faith in God and believe that he will continue to provide for me as he always has. I increased all of my donations.

The morning of one of my book signings, The Daily Record had an insert for the Market Street Mission, a homeless shelter with whom I had recently become affiliated. They were seeking donations for the upcoming holiday dinner. Of course, I thought, I'll write out a check. But then I decided that after my signing, I would ask for donations from the audience. After all, this was a local organization I'm sure everyone was familiar with. Not feeling comfortable with soliciting donations though, I put the idea aside.

The lecture began and I spoke about fear (one of the underlying causes of anger). I also spoke about my faith and trust in God and my ability to live without worry. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. For the first time ever, every single person in the audience bought a copy of The Secret Side of Anger. Some paid with $20 bills and told me to keep the change (that's $7!). "Put it to good use," they said. I was speechless! (And for me, that's quite a challenge.)

I returned home with far more money than books sold. Of course, there was no doubt as to where that money was intended. So along with my own personal check, I made a sizable donation to the Mission.

What happened that evening was further testimony to my belief that when you have pure intentions in your heart and put forth the appropriate effort, God makes miracles happen.

Put all fears to rest. Work unselfishly for the good of all humanity. God will do his part and your rewards will be heavenly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Never, ever ask this question. It is the quickest way to offend someone and turn an ordinary conversation into an argument.

We've all encountered someone who is upset, distressed, angry, sad or not in a positive frame of mind. In an effort to find out what's wrong, we sometimes blurt out a rather offensive query.
The question (in question) is "What's your problem?" (emphasize "your", say it with an attitude and be sure to scrunch up your face.)

We've all said it or had others ask it of us. And the typical response is...? "Me?? I don't have a problem! What's you're problem?"

Wow, what just happened here? I'm asking a simple question of concern and you're reacting defensively. Now for sure someone has a problem and it certainly isn't me!
(I hear some of you laughing. Can you relate?)

So why is it we react so strongly to a seemingly innocent inquiry? Oftentimes, we hear something very different from what the other party is actually saying.
Rather than recognize the sincerity of the original request (assuming it is heartfelt), we hear an implied criticism. "You are the problem!" We take personal offense - we are being told there is something wrong with us. Feeling as though we are under attack, we respond with resistance or hostility.

(I find this reaction odd because if that same person walked into their mechanic's garage and was asked, "What's your problem?" they wouldn't react the same way. Why? Because one understands that the mechanic is referring to their vehicle and not them.)

So imagine how different the response would be if the one being questioned realized the other person was referring to their situation or experience and not them personally? We all have problems (an issue we're struggling with, a dilemma that needs to be resolved, a concern weighing heavily on our minds). Those internal issues are reflected in our behavior: the way we act, speak, our body language. The individual is addressing the apparent issue, not who we are as a person.

So what alternative approach can one use to better uncover the root of the problem?
Select one of the following and see if it results in a more cooperative response:

1. "You seem upset?" (My observation, not criticism). "Is something wrong?" (Some thing is clearly addressing the issue as opposed to attacking the individual.)

2. "Is everything ok?" (Again, every thing deals with a non-human entity.) "Is there anything I can do to be of assistance?"

Can you see how these questions sound less threatening? This will reduce the odds of the other person becoming defensive. While not 100% foolproof, they certainly increase the chances for a more positive dialogue. They have consistently worked well for me, especially when dealing with hostile people. I hope your results are equally as beneficial.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

R~E~S~P~E~C~T: This is What it Means to Me

Working with clients at the battered women's shelter is both a blessing and a challenge. Rarely are they happy about being mandated to attend my weekly anger management group. It is not uncommon for them to be angry and unattentive during our meetings. Some sit with folded arms and closed minds.
Last year was no exception. "Rebecca" was agitated and complained she didn't need this "crap". She had five kids to care for and this was taking her away from them. Her body language clearly stated how upset she was: she sat next to the exit door with arms and eyes closed. Periodically, she would mumble something under her breath. I didn't let her attitude phase me. If she disagreed with something I said, I would ask to hear her input. I acknowledged her view point as valid (it was) and told her I appreciated her input. Not once did I challenge or criticize her. Even in the most sensitive of topics (I'm a strong Christian, she's an atheist), I respected an valued her position.
As weeks turned into months, Rebecca's attitude slowly changed. I was no longer viewed as the enemy but rather someone who was caring and accepting. Gradually, her chair moved closer to me, arms unfolded and she took an interest in what I had to say. She even began participating in the meetings.
Several months later, she came to me excited with the news that she was finally moving into her own apartment. I was thrilled for her as she put her arms around me to give me a big hug.
"I'm going to miss you," she said. "Can I still come to the meetings?"
"Of course!" I told her. "I would love to have you here."
She had gotten a really good job in her field of nursing. When I asked her where she would be working, she stated, "Oakland Care Center." My jaw hit the floor. We had just put my dad in that facility. "What's his name?" she asked. "I'll make sure he gets extra special care." I knew she would.
Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, even and especially when they are at their worst. Respect will bring out the best in them. Be the example. Let others aspire to be like you.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'm Right, You Loose!

One of the biggest mistakes we make when entering into a discussion occurs when we realize we have opposing views. We begin debating an issue only to discover we each see things very differently. I may believe that a vegetarian diet is a healthier way of eating. You are a traditional meat and potatoes connoisseur. As the conversation progresses, so does the tension.
I am convinced that my way is right and therefore (since there can only be one "right") yours is wrong. You take the same stance with your position. I present you with documented proof that validates my beliefs. You counter with research that outweighs mine. I desperately try to enlighten you to the fact that your so-called "statistics" come from sources not nearly as current or respected in the field as mine. You fire back stating vegetarianism hasn't been practiced long enough for any conclusive proof of its health benefits.
Knowing that you are right, you continue your quest to prove I'm wrong. That puts me on the defensive. I hold fast to my position, determined more than ever, not to be humiliated by appearing ignorant and misinformed. Sound familiar?
This is a no-win situation. Instead of both parties agreeing to share their personal views in an arena of mutual respect for one another, insecurity takes the rein and it becomes a battle of ego. Each, wanting to maintain their dignity, argues their point until exhaustion, refusing to relinquish to the other. Tempers flare and what began as an opportunity to learn, quickly escalates to an ugly assault upon one another.
It is important to be willing to see the validity in each person's position and respect it. There are few issues of true right and wrong. Most matters are simply a difference of opinion, preference, or perception. A confident and sensitive person is comfortable with opposing viewpoints and insures that each party maintains their dignity.
Avoid using terms such as "right" and "wrong". Be gracious in your debates. In the end, you will earn the respect of the other party and that far outweighs being right.