Posts Tagged: communication

Kavanaugh and Ford: and the Struggle to Discern What’s True

If you opened this, then you are probably interested in how this drama is going to play out over the next few weeks. I realize this could be construed as a political post, and I’d like to assert, that it’s not. I have a very specific response to Thursday’s hearings, and it’s not a political one, but an observation that will help you in your relationships.

My response to Thursday’s hearings is an observation of two people- two people I will likely never meet, or know or having any opinion of beyond how they presented themselves on Thursday during the hearings. We had a very brief glimpse into the life of both Christine Blasey- Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, and saw how they conduct themselves under pressure and questioning. But each came to the hearings with very different demeanors. That is what was of interest to me.

Since I meet with people for a living, listen to their stories and try to help them move forward, I  practice the art of listening, watching, and understanding. For hours at a time, every day, for years.

So, during Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies, I watched, listened and tried to understand what they were truly saying. I took in not only the words, but also the tone, the body language, and the facial expressions. Nonverbal communication tells you just as much, if not more than the spoken word.

Here’s my run down.

One, Christine Blasey-Ford came with composure, a vulnerability, a willingness to follow procedure, and quiet strength. Her voice was timid at first, but seemed to grow in confidence as she went on. Attentive, confident, and patient. She stayed on point, and submitted to the process.

The other, Brett Kavanaugh came with anger, volume, twisted facial muscles, and disrespect for the time and structure of the process. Interruptions, impatience, and blame. Angry, rude, and combative. He was unwilling to submit fully to the process, but attempted to control it with retorts, sarcasm, tears, and shouting.

I was convinced MORE of Kavanaugh’s guilt AFTER he testified. His demeanor sent up too many red character flags.

How we respond to an accusation tells a lot about our own character. We show our true selves when faced with our failures, our shortcomings, our weaknesses and yes, even our guilt. I don’t have any idea what truly happened 35 years ago in their lives, I only know what these two witnesses conveyed for me. We don’t often have video screens playing of people’s lives to corroborate the stories they tell about themselves. We often have to make judgments and decisions about who we trust, who we work with, and who we marry without the luxury of character witnesses, surveillance cameras and lie detectors.

So we rely on what people say, how they act, and how congruent those two things are. Why did Kavanaugh send up red flags for me? Because what he was saying (I’m innocent) and how he was acting (I’m combative.) Those two things were incongruent for me. They didn’t jive. I chalk the incongruence up to one thing: PRAT

Personal Responsibility Avoidance Tactics

Personal Responsibility Avoidance Tactics often show up in marriages and families and work places. They are not isolated to Republicans or men or Right Wing Evangelists or Left Wing Liberals or long time tv stars. They are tactics used everywhere by all kinds of people who don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. They are defense mechanisms against shame. If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone who uses PRAT (Personal Responsibility Avoidance Tactics) it’s enough to make you bonkers. PRATs are used to convince you that “there’s nothing to see here,” and “you’re the one with the problem, not me,” and “if you keep pressing me, I’ll make it worse for you.”

Common Tactics to get out of Responsibility

  • claim to be the victim,
  • evoke sympathy by crying,
  • change the subject,
  • shout louder,
  • interrupt,
  • list all the good things you’ve done,
  • counter attack with new complaint,
  • make stuff up,
  • give the silent treatment,
  • misrepresent what others are saying.

Trying to have a conversation or worse, disagreement with someone who avoids personal responsibility is exhausting and crazy making.

You and I have nominal power over how these hearings play out. But we do have power over how we respond, and what behavior we tolerate in our own lives. No matter what this Senate Judiciary Committee decides, the real questions are with all of us: do we use these tactics to avoid personal responsibility? And do we tolerate the behavior of those who do?

Want more information? I’ve written a book just for you! Check it out here to have more clarity and confidence in your relationships. You can get the clarity you need to have the strong relationships you want.

Click here for more information on how to have healthy relationships.



Communicating Boundaries (without losing your cool)

As I write this, I’m on a plane next to a mother with a baby. This baby is trying to type on my keyboard with her sippy cup. And it reminds me that boundaries are hard…. Really hard…. To set.
What should I do? Should I say something to the mother? I don’t think she is aware. Should I let it go and just use my delete button? Should I close my lap top and call it quits?

Boundaries are hard. Whether we are on a plane with strangers and their children, or in a long term committed relationship, synchronizing everyone’s needs and desires seems an impossible task.

Why we don’t set them: We usually will have reasons why we don’t set boundaries in the front end of a relationship:

  1. We don’t want to seem selfish, uncaring or high maintenance.
  2. We don’t want to imposition others.
  3. We hope the situation will get better, so we say nothing.
  4. We were taught that our needs weren’t as important as other’s.
  5. We are afraid of potentially negative or awkward interactions.

Can you relate to any of these reasons? You may find yourself right now, regretting or rehearsing one of these boundary-less situations that didn’t turn out well. I’ve been there.  Avoiding boundaries may seem like the “peaceable way of least resistance.” However, being boundary-less can sabotage what could be a great relationship.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned and now practice to help relationships navigate healthy boundaries.

Communicating a Boundary

  1. Communicate the value of the relationship. When a boundary has been crossed, unintentionally or not, the relationship can feel stretched, stressed or burdened. It is like different ingredients in a pot with the burner on. Things are going to bubble with enough heat. It’s important to say things like, “Our time together is important to me,” and “I really value our friendship,” and “your happiness is just as important as mine.” These statements help both parties to keep the main thing the main thing. They help us remember that we love each other and that we want what is best for both.
  2. Review your feelings and needs. Depending on your personality, you may be more practiced than others at sharing your feelings and needs with others. For those of you who have difficulty tolerating disagreement or discomfort of confrontation, you may avoid sharing your feelings. Here are some options of what to say, “When you tell me how to drive, I feel stressed,” and “I need support when I’m offering child raising ideas,” and “When you go grocery shopping, I need specific things too.” Stating your thoughts, needs and feelings is an exercise in self-respect. When you respect yourself and your boundaries, you are teaching others how to respect you as well. Communicating boundaries with people who value you usually goes much better than anticipated.
  3. Communicate a couple of solutions. After you have got your courage up to ask for what you need, (whew, you did it! Good job!) then you can brainstorm some ideas that will be beneficial for both parties. Maybe it can even be an opportunity for increased understanding and closeness. If you come in to the conversation with a couple of solutions, it may communicate to the other person just how committed you are to making the relationship work.


  • Don’t wait until you’re mad to set your boundary. Has this happened to you? Yeah, me too. Luckily, I’ve learned the importance of setting the boundary early on in the relationship so that expectations are set for all parties.
  • What if you already are mad? You may need to apologize for losing it, for snapping, for saying things you shouldn’t have. After you apologize, and seek to make a mends with the person, you may want to ask for a boundary to be set. I can imagine a conversation could sound like this, “I’m sorry for over-reacting and the things I said. I let my anger get the best of me. Would it be ok if we figured out a different solution for _________________. The way it is now really isn’t working for me.”
  • Remember to keep an “Us Together” attitude instead of a “me vs. them” attitude. Togetherness, mutually understanding and partnership is the goal if at all possible.
  • Caveat: if the other person is indifferent, unable, or unwilling to work together toward a solution, then togetherness and closeness is not an option. Most of the time, people are able to work toward some level of agreement and mutual respect. But on occasion, some won’t. It’s ok to stop trying in these cases.

Communicating boundaries is not easy. Doing it often and early actually gives the relationship opportunity to self-correct. It is a means toward togetherness, not away from it. What feels awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning, can produce wonderful results in the long run. Greater safety, shared experiences, and tighter bonds can be the result of boundaries handled well.

Need additional help? If you’re in the Seattle area, there is a great workshop I’d like you to know about. The name of this two day conference is “Is Childhood Trauma Intruding into Your Relationships?” Discover the Fullness of Joy You Are Create to Experience with keynote speakers, Dr. Bill & Pamela Ronzheimer, Marriage Reconstruction Ministries. I’ll be there too! Click Here for more information.

How to Have that Difficult Conversation: Part 1

Are you avoiding a difficult conversation? Maybe you are afraid of an explosive reaction, or of being minimized or turned down. It is normal to have disagreements and hurt feelings in close relationships. Even the strongest relationships must address painful issues. Difficult subject matter like hurt feelings, broken promises, or dishonest dealings have the potential to ruin a relationship. But skillful communication can help a couple face the difficulty together.

The next two blog posts, I will give you a template on how to have a difficult conversation. I want you to have the SECRET WEAPON to trans-formative conflict resolution so that all your relationships, whether at home, work or school, can benefit.

When you have to set a boundary, challenge a behavior, or get more information in the relationship, you may stress about how to do it with the least amount of discomfort to both parties. If you are in a strong and mutually respectful relationship, this tips and skills may be hard, but doable with practice. If you are in a rocky relationship, these skills are still helpful, although, you may get disappointing results from the other party.

  • The truth can hurt. The honest truth, when presented with love and respect can hurt a little, but it should never harm. Like a flu shot that stings and leaves your arm sore for a day- it hurts, but is protecting you from something much more painful and giving you a gift of immunity. No matter how loving you present the truth during a difficult conversation, it may sting for the other person to hear it. Your goal is to be thoughtful, gentle, and firm.
  • Wait until you’re ready. If you think the conversation could turn volatile, make sure you prepare yourself for the worst case scenario. Take some time to think, journal, pray and research your topic. Pay attention to how you feel, and what you need. Maybe you need a third party to be with you, maybe you need to drive your own “get away” car. Maybe you want to talk by telephone only. Wait until you have these details worked out.
  • Know what you want. It’s one thing to complain about what hurt you, and it’s quite another to identify and verbalize what you need instead. This takes some thought, practice and bravery. Think about what it is that you really want, what would make a difference to you, and why it matters.
  • Find a Good Place and Time. Think about the venue that would make you most comfortable and provide you the most support. Maybe you want to have it over coffee in a public café, or in a private office away from others. Maybe you want to have it when the kids are at grandma’s house. The place and time doesn’t have to be perfect, but preparation is very helpful.
  • Think about your own contribution. It’s good to take a look at your role in the situation and see how you contributed to the break down in communication or unhealthy dynamic. Be able to verbalize that in a way that honors both of you. Something like, “I handled our conversation poorly the last time we talked, and I want another chance to resolve this,” or “I see that I avoid conflict sometimes, and this time, I want us to solve this together.”

Once you have thought about 1) the truth of the situation, 2) what you need and what you want, 3) place and time, you’ll be ready for the next blog post that will tell you the HOW. There is a specific communication formula used to help partners/friends/spouses communicate through difficult situations with the best possible results. See you next week!




Take Back Your Power

Have you ever been in a relationship with a partner or boss or acquaintance where the conversation gets ugly? Maybe you are shocked by what was said and frozen to silence. Or maybe you were angered and snapped back something equaling mean-spirited. Whatever the scenario, you’ve probably wished later that you were able to respond more wisely.

29864348 - discussion between guy and girl over gray background

Often, when a conversation or disagreement starts to go south, one or both parties begin acting childishly. They use sarcasm, threats, name-calling and blame shifting to prove their point or win. These are emotionally immature ways of communicating, with emotionally charged feelings that result in immature understanding and poor problem solving. No Bueno.

38791925 - close-up shot of boy and girl sticking out tongues to each other on white background. children are half-siblings.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Although you can’t control what the other person does or says, you can control how you respond. Often reactions to negative stimulus (like mean words, gestures or attitudes) are automatic and unconscious. We barely even recognize what we are doing or saying until it’s over. Today, I’ll give you some tips on how to recognize your part in the unhealthy dynamic and ways to improve.

For a little exercise, choose a recent argument or dilemma in which you reacted problematically. If you can become more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, even the unconscious ones, you’re much more likely to gain control of them. Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can be less reactive to painful stimulus:

  • Why was I so angry/scared/withdrawn?
  • What exactly was I feeling when it happened?
  • Does that feeling remind me of a familiar feeling from my past?
  • Did I react similarly this time as I used to react to past painful stimulus?
  • Knowing what I know now, what would have been an appropriate response?
  • What kind of response would have solved the problem instead of added to it?

Once you are able to answer these questions with certainty, you will be twice as likely to respond with wisdom the next time you are faced with a painful or scary stimulus. We can not control or be responsible for other people’s choices or behaviors, but we can determine how we will respond to them. This is especially true in long standing close relationships because behavior patterns can be observed and even predicted. We know that another challenge will arise and another disagreement will emerge. Think about how you might want to respond next time with the following tips:

  • Recognize your triggers.
  • Slow down your response enough to think it through.
  • Imagine yourself responding the way you want to.
  • Recognize your personal needs for respect.
  • Determine your boundaries ahead of time.
  • Assert those boundaries with love and respect.

33924982 - an owl animal with glasses is reading a book in the woods for an eduication or school concept.

This list might take us our lifetime to master, but the energy trying is always worth it. Being a student of our own feelings and behavior adds value to out circle of influence. The more we are able to harness the power of our response, the stronger we become, the straighter we hold our heads, and the better we are treated in return. We can not expect others to value us more than we value ourselves. Taking hold of ourselves, while connecting with others in emotionally adult ways is the call for all of us.

Communication and the Power of Your Response

You’ve probably discovered that there is a difference between “reacting” and “responding.” I’m raising two teenagers right now, and when they say or do something I don’t like, I am keenly aware of the difference between my “reaction” versus my “response.”

confused me

A reaction, for me, is a quick retort, a sarcastic remark, a childish eye-roll, or a critical statement. Responding, however, is different. Responding is thoughtful, appropriate, peace-making, and effective.

If you’ve been to a session with me, you’ll know that I often talk about the fight/flight/freeze mechanisms in the limbic system. If the limbic system in the brain, senses a stimulus as provocative, potentially dangerous or threatening, it will send out signals to fight, flight, or freeze. If a person is triggered by a stimuls, word, or action in anyway, that fight/flight/freeze reflex can be very intense.

The stress response activated by the limbic system is a great way to survive a real life attack, but not so good of a way to maintain healthy relationships.

Sometimes an over-active stress response can start arguments, shut down meaningful conversation or escalate fights- the very things that derail relationships. Would you like to Respond with Wisdom instead of Over-react from fear or anger? Me too. Let’s explore what happens when we react instead of respond.

48129872 - closeup sad young woman with worried stressed face expression and brain melting into lines question marks. obsessive compulsive, adhd, anxiety disorders


When people react to a stimulus, they are often in a state of fear, anger or pain. Maybe the stimuls was hurtful or scary or mean, and the natutal reaction was one of survival only. Maybe your reaction was equally hurtuful or scary or mean. The thing about Survival Reactions is that they…

  1. come quickly and automatically
  2. not well thought out
  3. meant for survival, not relating
  4. can be interpreted by others as an attack (fight) or uncaring (flight, freeze)

If you experience fear, anger or pain, it’s likely that you will react (and sometimes over-react) with fight/flight/freeze behaviors. But what if your reactions are causing more problems? What if your reaction to stimulus (someone’s words or behaviors) is actually adding to the problem, instead of helping it?


Responses are different than reactions. When people respond to a situation, instead of react, they are more likely to have their emotions under control. People who respond wisely to a situation take the time to…

  1. consider all the options
  2. consider other points of view
  3. be thoughtful and deliberate

Sounds great, right? But how? One of my counseling professors used to  say, “It’s not what you do that matters. It’s what you do AFTER, that matters.” I think he is right. Although you are unable to go back in time for a redo, you are able to analyze what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. For right now, maybe you’re only job is to notice how your Survival Reactions are making things worse instead of better.

48488978 - closeup excited woman with many ideas light bulbs above head looking up pointing finger up isolated on gray wall background. eureka creativity concept

Things to work on this week:

  1. Determine to observe and learn from the unhealthy dynamics in your communication.
  2. Apologize for your part by saying, “I’m sorry that I sometimes I say things without thinking. I am sorry I hurt you. I am working on that, and want to do better.”
  3. Harness the power of a well thought out response by taking your time, talking to a friend first, praying, writing it down.

Next week, I will provide some exercises that will help you discover ways to take back your control over your reactions, and help you respond with wisdom.



My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

Subscribe to our mailing list