Questions are more powerful than answers

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Are you struggling with your relationships, whether it be a personal relationship or a business relationship?  We are conditioned throughout our life to have the answers to our problems or to other peoples problems, so we automatically move directly to solutions or answers when dealing with conflict in our relationships. 

Let me give you examples of how we offer answers versus asking questions when facing conflict. 

1. You are arguing with your partner, consider asking questions of your partner such as "How would you describe your current feelings" or "What outcome would make this situation successful," rather than asking "why are you upset" or "what is your problem". 

2. You are trying to close a deal with a client, and they tell you they decided they are not interested.  Most people either 1) Accept or 2) become defensive. You could ask your client "What were the factors that got you into this decision."  Asking questions in a way to gain better context into their decision-making process rather than asking why they didn't choose your product or services helps you extract more information to handle their objection. 

3.  Many people have a conflict with their managers or co-workers in the workplace, ego usually is front and center, and you must step back from your emotions and consider a different approach. Consider "How could I do things differently to ensure our success" or  "Could you give me more insight into steps that I could take to improve this situation." 

Putting Emotions Aside

We often allow our emotions and ego to enter our conflict, which doesn't create an environment to solve our problems. You need to put your personal feelings aside and open your mind and heart. You must try not to allow your emotions to control the situation. The next time you have a difficult conversation with someone, ask the other person for a moment to get your thoughts together and think about what you want to say. We often want to go on the defensive when we feel like our backs are against the wall. Take that moment to take a deep breath, think about how you got into this conflict and established a couple of questions you can ask. Once you have your questions, address only one issue at a time and follow-up with additional questions to gather more perspective so you can solve the conflict. 

Avoid Answers

Even if you have answers to the problem or conflict, avoid using them. When you address conflict with answers such as "I think", "My perspective is", etc. You are going to answers that could make the other person to feel as if you are attacking them. If you address the conflict from a place that is not driven by emotion and ego, you are more likely to come to a resolution much sooner. You will avoid a long-standing conflict and build stronger relationships. 

Unrealistic Expectations = Sadness and Disappointment

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When was the last time you had planned something down to the last detail, you were excited about the outcome and then BAM! Yep, disappointment.  It happens to everyone. We expect the people in our lives to act a certain way, and then disappointment, they don't. We hope a trip or vacation to go a certain way, and then disappointment, it doesn't go as planned.  The simplest definition of disappointment "the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one's hopes or expectations." 

The feeling of sadness or displeasure

When we place expectations or hopes on what we wish the outcome to be, we are setting ourselves up for sadness or displeasure when it doesn't work out the way we wished.  I am just as guilty as you; I recently had planned a Thanksgiving trip with my family to visit my soon to be ninety-year-old grandmother. The day before we were planning to leave my nine-year-old son came down with the flu and had a 102-degree fever.  I would not go under any good moral compass drive seven hours to Pittsburgh and expose my aging grandmother to the flu. So, I decided to cancel our trip, and we had to plan Thanksgiving in Asheville, which we had not. I was disappointed and frustrated that my entire trip got screwed up. I allowed myself to get in a bad head space for a day, and it put a strain on my loved ones around me.  When something does not go the way we had hoped or expected, we go through a stage of sadness or displeasure.  

Setting realistic expectations

If we get stuck in our head too long or our disappointment is so bad that is impacts our lives, then we are setting unrealistic expectations in our lives.  We need to learn how to set realistic expectations for our relationships, employment, and other aspects of our lives. When something does not go as planned, we have to step back for a minute and ask ourselves if the expectation that we set was unrealistic and should I be reacting the way that I am for the situation.  It was ok for me to get disappointed that I could not see my grandmother or have Thanksgiving with my family in Pittsburgh, but I allowed my disappointed to impact other people around me. 

We have to start being realistic when things don't go our way and stop acting like the world has ended and figured out a solution to overcome the disappointment or sadness.  In a relationship, if someone rejects you when you meet them for the first time, or breaks up with you after a few months or dating or even after a decade of marriage, it will hurt no matter the length of time. We can choose to feel deflated entirely, or we can look at the rejection or situation as an opportunity for self-growth or change.  Most cases, disappointment is something we create in our mind. We need to evaluate the situation and see if there was something we could have done to change the outcome, to avoid the disappointment. Often it comes down to the fact that we put the situation, relationship, or person on such a high pedestal (high-expectations) that when it did come out the way we expected, we had such profound sadness or disappointed.

It starts with you.

Setting expectations starts with you. When you plan a vacation, you need to understand that not everything is going to work out perfectly, it might, but there is a chance something will go wrong. We can get frustrated, or we go with the punches and look at the positive in the situations. Our partner after a decade may break up with you, and you can be devastated and sulk for weeks, months or years, or you can look at the situation as an opportunity for growth and change in your own life.  When life happens, we have the choice to pick the feelings and reactions to the situation. We can open our minds and hearts and realize things happen for a reason and that negative energy such as sadness or disappointment takes a lot of energy out of us. We can step back and focus on the positives from the situation and move on with a positive mindset. Grow, learn, create new opportunities for yourself. 

The Fear in Making Decisions: Why It Paralyzes Us

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Sit down with a pen and paper, now think about the last year of your life and think about all of the decisions you considered making but were fearful of making for one reason or another. Did you consider starting a gym membership? Did you consider going back to school to finish that degree but were fearful of not being successful as an adult student or maybe the fear of not having enough money to get by while you went to school? Did you want to leave a bad relationship but were fearful of the people around you that you might disappoint.  How about the cool business idea that you always talk about with friends, but you sought comfort in the 9-5 paycheck you had been receiving for the last ten years. 

All of these decisions you considered making but didn't were missed opportunities, and you chose not to make them out of fear. Fear of not being good enough, not having enough, disappointing others around you, or the fear of failure. You are not alone, every single person around you has failed at deciding because they had some form of fear preventing them from making a decision.  Over the last three years, I have made quite a few decisions that were uncomfortable making, but everything always worked out, and it resulted in a happier version of me. 

Making a giant leap with tons of fear:

In 2015 I was working a full-time salaried position with an international software company, traveling to Sweden, Germany, England on a regular basis. This job took me away from my family on a regular basis, and when I was home, I worked long hours in my home office and never really had the opportunity step outside and smell the fresh air and enjoy life. One afternoon I was having lunch with a friend, and he asked me if I was ok, I asked why he was asking me if I was ok and he said: "your legs are bouncing and it appears like you are not able to focus on anything."  I realized later that I was having an anxiety attack and there were other symptoms throughout that week.  The next morning, I woke up and called my manager at the time and told him I would no longer be working for the company effective immediately. He tried to reason with me and keep me from leaving, but I needed to make this change, and I had to do this now. 

I told my wife at the time that I quit my job and asked her if she would look for a job and I was going to start my own business. I was fearful of her response and how it would look, but she was supportive of me, and although she loved being a stay at home mom, she immediately started looking for a job as a school teacher.  Within a couple of weeks, I had five paying clients that covered what my full-time salary paid more and more. 

Working through fear and doubt

When we work through fear and doubt, it usually results in two possible outcomes. The first is we break through to the other side and see that making the decision wasn't nearly as bad as it was before we made it. The second is we get halfway through our choice and pull back from completing the action and then we are lost. If I would have taken action to quit my job and then after leaving my job, decided I had made a mistake out of fear and begged for my job back my employer may have told me where to go, or I would have been stuck unemployed and looking for a new job. The difference was I was fearful I wouldn't have enough money to pay my bills, I was afraid that my wife would be pissed off at me. The shear determination to be successful and to provide for my family was enough motivation to get me past the fear of not having enough money. 

After the dust settled

Within a couple of months, I was working fewer hours, making more money and being a part-time stay at home dad. I dropped my children off at school every morning and picked them up at 3 pm every day. Making a move to start my own business was the best decision I made. Now some people might say, "you are lucky it turned out that way." Wrong, I was not lucky, the difference was I put in the work, I asked for referrals from one client, I went to networking events, I marketed myself. Within six months I had a client in Australia and two additional clients in Germany, one large client in Chicago. At some point in the future, I will tell you a different side of the story, which is how I allowed other situations in my life get in the way of my success. 

Fear can paralyze us or drive us.

The definition of fear is "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat." As humans when we believe that something is dangerous or will threaten our way of life, we respond to fear by sticking to the safe path.  Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fear response within us that is hard to defeat. Exposing ourselves to our demons is the best way to move past them. When it comes to making difficult decisions in our lives, we resort to our belief of what negative outcome "might" happen, rather than focusing on what positive outcome there might be. 

Recently I took my two children (ages 10 and 9) and a friend of my oldest to see Imagine Dragons in Charlotte. My son was afraid to attend the concert because of what he had seen lately surround concerns. A bombing in the UK at a concert and of course the mass shooting in Las Vegas. He asked me a thousand questions about what happens if someone tries to kill us at the Imagine Dragons concert, or what if someone plants a bomb. I asked him how many concerns has Imagines Dragon's played in the last few years, and he didn't know. I said hundreds and not once has anything like that ever happened. It doesn't mean it wouldn't happen, but I told him his fear of worrying about something that is so rare would prevent him from enjoying the concert. He eventually calmed down and enjoyed the show, but this is a prime example as to how fear can paralyze us. When making decisions about life or career, we immediately think "what if I change career fields and I don't get a job" or what if I quit my 9-5 job and start my own business and it isn't successful". These types of thought patterns prevent us from taking action as we are more focused on the negative outcome versus focusing on how to take action and make it successful. 

How coaching can help you overcome fear

Overcoming fear is not always easy, and for people that have lived their entire life living off fear, it is even harder to overcome. Coaches will work with you to find the source of your fear or uncertainty and help you develop strategies to overcome that fear. It will not happen overnight, but with time you will make one accomplishment and then another, and then once you start to realize that you can overcome fear, you will have the tools to take on fear moving forward.  

Behind the Prison Walls

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This past week I spent two days teaching business and professional development to twelve inmates at the North Carolina Women's Prison in Swannanoa, NC. I have to admit when I first considered this opportunity, I was a little hesitant and unsure of what to expect. After spending the week with these ladies, I learned so much about the human struggle, but also about the human spirit. 

Building Trust & Product Ideas

During the first day, I could tell that these ladies were skeptical of me, and didn't trust me, but why should they. We spent the first class focusing on coming up with ideas for a product and developing a mini business plan and marketing plan for that product. I had them work in groups and come up with a conceptual product or service idea. One thing that I realized very quickly was how our environment stifles our creativity, but when we are given creative freedom our minds open and can shape ideas that may have been untapped before. The ideas that these ladies came up with were "interesting", but it was limited to the knowledge that they had while serving time in prison and the time they spend in society before being incarcerated. It took a while to build trust with them during the day, and many of the women were distance and didn't engage much with me. 

Team Building, and Openness

On the second day, I started out the day-long class with an exercise using We! Connect Cards from We!™ which was co-founded by Chad Littlefield and Will Wise. These cards provoke thought and interaction across the group, and the ladies appeared to enjoy this exercise. I also participated, which I think they appreciated.  I connected a second exercise called Truth and Lies. This exercise was to have everyone write down three true statements about themselves and two lies, but the lies could not be entirely unbelievable. When I introduced this exercise, the ladies said: "we live together, eat together, work out together and study together 24x7, we know everything about each other." So we proceeded with the exercise and what they found, is that they didn't know everything about each other. Interesting enough they struggled to determine what was the truth and what was the lie. This exercise was designed to build trust and knowledge of their peers and to strengthen the team. What was most interesting to this particular activity was a couple of the women knew exactly what my true statements were and which ones were my lies without knowing anything about me and they were all quite neutral statements. 

Establishing a Common Link

After spending the week with these twelve ladies, I had the chance to learn about their stories, where they came from and why they were in prison. The majority of them were in prison for drug-related crimes, and the rest were for alcohol-related offenses. I completed another exercise that was designed to again, build strength in their team. I asked them to come up with a common problem and then we would discuss as a team potential solutions to that problem. They didn't come up with a topic, so I proposed drug & alcohol abuse in our society. As we started, they immediately came up with solutions, and it wasn't what you would immediately think. They all had a joint solution, which was to start with programs to identify and counsel young children that might be abusing these substances already at a young age.  They said they started at a young age, and it progressively got worse as they got older.  Interesting enough, a good portion of them said the biggest problem wasn't drugs on the streets it was at home, in the medicine cabinet. They said the biggest issue is how pharmaceutical companies push prescription drugs onto families with young children.  

Regardless of where you stand on this topic, what I loved about this exchange was they were all respectful of each others proposed solutions and as the conversation continued, the proposed solution became stronger with each team member. I think in business we often fail to bring our team members for such discussions on business topics. How many of you have sat in conference rooms with executives or managers telling you how things should be done. Our companies can be much stronger if we bring together our teammates to solve common problems. You may be surprised with the results. 

Departing with Common Respect

It has taken me a long time in my life to accept people for who they are, and I am still learning. Being inside the walls of that prison last week gave me a different perspective on human relationships and acceptance. These women came from various backgrounds, some rich, some poor. Some were young (20's), some older (50's). Some had been there three years, some thirteen. But I realized that they have a common respect for each other, and truly want the best for each other. It didn't matter what race or sexual orientation they were, they accepted each other for their friendship. At the end of the week, they eventually accepted me and learned to trust me, because they knew I wanted them to get something out of the week that would make them better prepared for when they leave the walls in the next year (it is a transition program). 

Spare the Judgement

I believe that they all want to make changes in their lives, and want to participate as a law abiding citizen. I think their biggest challenge is the rest of us believing they are capable, and giving them a chance. I would encourage you to look at felons differently if they are willing to prove to you that they indeed are ready. Don't just discount people for what their past looks like, give them the lens they need to look through for a better future.