Sleep On It

“No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap.” — Carrie Snow

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a good night’s sleep feels really good. Yet, it also can affect our listening and observation skills.

65005867_28531d076aIn this article in Scientific American by Robert Stickgold, (subscription required) he not only reminds us of the health benefits of a good night’s sleep – immunological resistance (less sick), hormonal balance (less likely to suffer obesity) but he also highlights a fascinating study which he and his colleagues at Harvard conducted.

They conducted a memory study which tested the emotional memories of the sleep-deprived vs. the well-rested. (Read the article for more details) The end result was that when we are sleep deprived we not only forget more, but what few memories we do retain are heavily biased toward a negative emotion.

In other words, when we don’t sleep we remember more negative events. By a long shot. Stickgold won’t go as far as saying it causes depression, but the researchers did find a correlation.

Our listening and observation skills depend heavily on how we interpret what we are seeing and hearing. And our long-term interpretation is based on what we remember. Hence, it seems to me at least, that if we’re sleep deprived we’re going to listen and observe in a negative way.

As we wind down into a holiday break, take some extra time to sleep on it. It may do more than make you feel good.

Happy Thanksgiving!

photo credit: Slouch on the couch via photopin (license)


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mood Swings

“If you don’t manage your emotions, then your emotions will manage you.” — Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman, Transforming Anxiety

Giving an evaluation is like pushing someone on a tire swing – push gently when they’re just learning then push harder when they want to go higher.

Tire_Swing-1Yet, there’s another type of swing which should play a role in our evaluations – Mood Swings.

Having been a member of multiple Toastmasters clubs for quite some time, I’ve noticed a subtle pattern as I have observed my friends’ evaluations over the years … as well as my own.

Before the meeting one can tell if someone is having a bad day or a good day. They may be experiencing stress in their life, like work stress or the loss of a job. Some days they might be boisterous and enthusiastic, other days more reserved. That emotion will leak out.

And when it leaks out it can leak into our evaluations. A good mood often means a more positive evaluation. Conversely, a bad mood portends more negativity in the feedback.

I’d encourage you to consider your mood before your next evaluation. If the world is sunny, you might see a speech more favorably. If the world is dark, you may be a little more harsh than you intend.

If we’re going to push the tire swing, it helps to watch for those mood swings first.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A New Evaluation Framework At the D7 Fall Conference

It’s been a little while since I’ve written to you, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be presenting at the District 7 Toastmasters Fall conference –

Yes, this workshop will make you think.

Warning. This workshop may induce thinking.

Saturday, November 7th, 2015
More info and signup –

I’d encourage you to register and attend this conference as this is one of the big events of the Toastmasters year and the cost is very reasonable ($60 in advance, $75 at the door of which I get nothing) for a full-day conference. Plus they feed you!

My workshop will be focused on a new framework for evaluations. It’s less about what to evaluate and more about how to structure your feedback. It’s a framework I created through many hundreds of hours of observing talented evaluators. Plus, I have found it highly effective outside of Toastmasters as well.

In other words, its all new material! 

Here’s a little promo video the district put together if you’re curious.

I hope to see you this Saturday!

photo credit: Instagram Photo — Follow us @canoozlepets via photopin (license)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Your Employees And Children Won’t Confide In You

I guess Trust is kind of like Buddhist sand art.
It takes a long time to build and can be destroyed with a single, angry breath.

Many, many years ago I had a boss that would take me out for happy hour to discuss business, or just shoot the breeze. He’d buy drinks and food. Sometimes he’d buy me breakfast or lunch. He told me I was on a promotion fast track. I loved working for him.

Many, many years ago, I also had another boss. He would yell at me when I made a mistake. He routinely embarrassed me in front of co-workers. He made me work late and on the weekends. He was condescending, arrogant, and rude. I hated working for him.

It was the same man. And he was an alcoholic.3282762289_387321cdf8

Erratic behavior can be a symptom of alcohol abuse. On any given day, I’d wake up with a sense of dread and fear – hoping that the “good boss” would show up to work, but often finding the “bad boss” at the office. Always afraid of that angry word.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t trust him even if he was nice to me for long periods of time. If I made a mistake, I hid it. If I did something good, I hid it. I didn’t trust him to recognize my successes and help me with my failures. I never confided in him although, deep down, I believe he really liked me.

Fast forward to the present day.

I was having lunch with a friend a while back and the topic of ‘listening’ came up. My friend is a trained therapist with a doctorate degree. I described how my teenagers – as well as their friends – don’t often seem willing to open up. I can’t help them if they won’t talk to me. So, I asked my friend what the most important thing was to being a good listener. He paused, thought, and then said (paraphrased),

“Trust. If the person doesn’t trust you, they won’t talk. They have to feel safe.”

I’ve thought about this. A lot. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how important that kind of trust is in our family. Am I creating an environment where my kids feel they can talk to me about their troubles?

No. At least, not always.

Thinking back over the past 15 years, I see how erratic I have been towards my kids – sometimes getting angry over minor offense to which they confessed. Sometimes I was quite attuned to what they needed, really focused and listening. And other times, too quick with a harsh word. I can’t expect myself to be perfect – 17 years of child raising will produce some conflicts – but sometimes my own actions have been … closer to that alcoholic I worked for so many years ago than I care to admit.

I guess Trust is kind of like Buddhist sand art. It takes a long time to build and can be destroyed with a single, angry breath.

I still don’t trust my old boss even though I haven’t spoken with him in almost 20 years. However, I am trying to slowly, patiently build that sand painting of Trust for my own kids. I don’t expect it to be completed any time soon, and I’m not convinced I can build it without blowing it away a few more times. But I’m trying. One day and one grain of sand at a time.

This is a bit longer than my normal posts, but I hope that if your employees, children, friends, spouses, or parents aren’t talking, you might pause to think if you are trustworthy.

photo credit: Sand Art via photopin (license)

Leave a comment

Filed under Listening

Where You Have Been?

“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.” — Corrie Ten Bomm

Recently, I was running – running up a hill to be precise – when I passed a man who was a bit older, and probably wiser, than myself. He was walking. He was walking … backward.

7046303621_a5c4e2c813Jokingly I told him that I was “doing it wrong.” In response, he chuckled and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Yes, I walk this way so I can see where I’ve been.”

Now stop and think about that for a second. Then stop for another moment and look behind you. Not literally, as a few of you wisenheimers just did, but figuratively. Where have you been? What have you accomplished? How have you grown to be the person you are today?

The time stream always moves forward, and for most of our lives we always are looking ahead for what’s next. That’s healthy and one doesn’t want to get stuck in the past. But every so often it doesn’t hurt to look behind us and marvel at all the good we’ve done – earned a degree; learned lessons; worked hard; made friends; got a good job, lost a good job, got an even better job; got married; raised a family; won awards; traveled far; or changed someone else’s life for the better – Yes, you have a lot to be proud of!

Once you’ve taken a look at all the good you’ve done, turn back around and look forward with a little less anxiety and a little more confidence. Then take that next step.

Some days, life feels like an uphill struggle. And yet, when we know where we’ve been, it can make the climb a little easier.

photo credit: Leopard from behind via photopin (license)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Bigger Plate

“Many people complain that their plate is full. Yet, most refuse to use a bigger plate.”

It’s pretty easy to say we’re too busy.

photo-34Yet, why is it that some people seem to be able to do so much? You know those people with the full plate – hyper-involved, president of a bazillion organizations, a resume a mile long, six college degrees. How do they do it?

Perhaps they use a bigger plate.

Instead of complaining that they have too much to do, I believe that they learn how to efficiently manage multiple projects at once. Here are some ideas on how you can do more and get more out of your days. And it starts by listening.

  1. Listen to Your Stress – Nothing kills the ability to change and grow like anxiety. Learn to feel apprehension and instead of running from the pressure, get chummy with it. Exercise and sleep more – checking with the doctor first, of course. Less worry, more capacity to do good.
  2. Listen to Successful People – Open your ears and eyes to how successful people manage their time. Understand how they compartmentalize. Learn how they handle their frustrations. Observe how they relax. Invite them to coffee and ask how they do it.
  3. Read – Educate yourself. If you spend all day Sunday struggling with bills then reserve one Sunday to read a book on how to manage finances. It will help you be more efficient.
  4. Observe Disorder – A disordered life is a small plate. It fills up quickly. Wherever you spend a lot of time, organize that part of your life and you’ll waste less time.
  5. Get Involved – There’s no substitute for being around a lot of people when it comes to personal growth. Seek out volunteer opportunities in a variety of ways with a variety of people who want to help you grow.
  6. Leave Sticky Notes – When you leave a project, write a sticky note (or a virtual note) and attach it what you were working on. Then you can easily pickup where you left off. (I can attest at how valuable this is. I leave notes everywhere.)
  7. Apply – In this case, observation and listening aren’t enough. You need to apply what you’ve learned, keeping what works and dropping what doesn’t.

A bigger plate holds more. Likewise, the more you know, the more you can do.

Choose a bigger plate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


“Memories are for what’s important. Notes are for what may be important.”

Memories are like a house.

When we need a spoon, we go to the kitchen. A shoe? Go to the closet. Just like a well-organized home, we can access most any memory quickly and efficiently because we keep it fresh in our memories. i.e. We remember the important stuff.

4683130187_e4bf9c7a7eHowever, there is a limited amount of space in our memory house and if you’re like me, your home is already crammed full.

So what to do if our house is full and a new opportunity knocks? If it’s important, we’ll throw away some trash in our house to make room. But what if it sounds intriguing, yet we can’t quite find a place for it in our mind?

Solution: Put it in the tool shed.

In other words, write it down.

Just have a conversation with someone? Write it down, stuff the note in your pocket, and put it on your desk for later review. Every so often, go through the notes on your desk and prune out the notes that are of no real value. Then act on those that remain.

It seems so obvious, but in my observations, most of us don’t take notes. Go to a conference. How many people are actively taking notes? Probably few. Yet, if we really want to listen and observe better, we need to remember better.

And if we can’t remember it, put it in the toolshed for later.

photo credit: Keat takes notes via photopin (license)

Leave a comment

Filed under Listening, Observation

Improved Concentration. Improved Observation.

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape” — Unknown

How well we observe can be related to how long we observe. Try this exercise to increase your attention span.

  1. Pick something to observe.
  2. Note the time on a clock.
  3. Observe.
  4. At your first impulse, look at the clock.
  5. Note the time – 10 seconds, 20 seconds, or longer.
  6. After a couple tries, resist the first urge to look at the clock. Try to go a little longer. Repeat.

8193844555_c0e008bb4eDoing this exercise, I found that I could stretch out my concentration time by gradually increasing the time I resisted looking at the clock. My attention span had slightly increased.

One simplistic explanation for this increased attention span was that as I set and met simple goals, I was minutely increasing the level of dopamine in my brain. New research on dopamine – “the movement & pleasure chemical”- has revealed that it influences our motivation and focus. Through incremental successes, we rewire our brains to make it easier to complete a task.

This article explains how reaching small goals can increase dopamine levels. The author likens it to a video game. Easy levels progress to more difficult levels. We beat the easy levels and try to get farther and farther. It’s addictive and dopamine is playing a role in that “addiction.”

Here’s another layman’s article on the role dopamine may play in motivation. Further, dopamine efficiency may improve with exercise.

I don’t claim to be a neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or any kind of ‘ist.’ But it stands to reason that if we can focus better, we can observe better.

And whether it’s through a “video game model” of incremental goals, or through exercise, dopamine may help our concentration.

photo credit: Fox and purple flowers via photopin (license)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Face Time

“The face is more honest than the mouth will ever be.”  ~Daphne Orebaugh

Listeners spend a lot of time looking at a speaker’s face. But what does the listener’s face tell us?

A lot, in fact.

medium_2993946006A speaker knows by a listener’s face whether or not they are paying attention. A speaker knows if the listener is bored by the stifled yawns. A concerned look reveals discomfort.

Based on those visual cues, the speaker will make adjustments in their own facial expressions. And most likely the adjustment will be made unconsciously. You’ll see the same thing in casual conversation as well.

The other day I was meeting with someone. They were smiling as they were talking. Without warning, the smile disappeared. They looked concerned. Nothing in the story changed, but I realized that I was frowning. It was just my “think-face”, but I am quite sure I looked unhappy. A frown rebound returned the speaker’s smile.

Try this exercise.

The next time you are listening to someone try some different facial expressions. Try listening to the same person with a concerned look, a pleasant look, or a disinterested look. Does the speaker make subtle changes to her or his expression? Does your look match the mood of the speaker?

A couple hints when trying this exercise.

  1. An expressive person might be easier to read than “old stone face.”
  2. Don’t try this with your boss or your spouse … Please. 🙂

Your listening face matters. If you look grumpy, don’t expect people to strike up a pleasant conversation. A big toothy grin during a tragic story might not work either.

Your listening face might even determine how much “face time” you get.

photo credit: via photopin cc

Leave a comment

Filed under Listening

The Act of Observation

“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps — we must step up the stairs.”  — Vance Havner

Last night, my daughter took a different path through the neighborhood on her way home.

As she walked, she noticed a hawk under a tree. It had a broken wing. Together she, her sister, and their friend managed to get the injured animal into a box, and this morning I took it to the Audubon society.


A hawk has amazing eyesight. But a hawk won’t eat unless it acts.

Here are a couple questions for you about your relationship with observation and action.

  • After you finish reading a book do you take action?
  • When you observe a problem, do you take the first step towards fixing it?
  • Do you act based on what you observe throughout the day? Or, do you act without observing?

There’s a balance between seeing and doing – observation and action. Too little observation and we become automatons. Too little action and we become passive.

Observation is not passive. It takes an active mind. Being active develops an active mind. An active mind is more observant. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Hawks have amazing powers of observation. Perhaps we can learn from them.

Last night, my daughter acted. Perhaps we can learn from her.

photo credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc

Leave a comment

Filed under Observation