what does my house tell you about me? #choosinghowtolive

Last year I started to act on the sense of calling to move to a new area after living in the same community for close to 20 years.

There are LOTS of things to consider when you look to make a move like this. Of course there’s a whole slew of financial and adult-type decisions to make (spending limits, mortgage options, market speeds etc). And there are the more practical aspects like access to the freeway for driving to my work or the number of rooms I need or the amount of garden I could possibly hope to manage. (Let’s face it, I’m paying someone else to do that regardless of how big or small it is. Know your limits.)

A primary motivator for the move was to locate myself more intentionally in proximity to people I want to do life with. I am well engaged in my local church so I wanted to live close to it and to the other people who are part of that community. And of course, there were a few ‘wishes’ amongst that in terms of the style and character of the home, the number of established trees nearby and a few other preferences that would always give way to other more significant values.

As I was processing all of these things, the sense that grew to a conviction for me was that it wasn’t just a matter of choosing where to live but how to live.

If I’m starting with a blank canvas and almost every option is on the table – what is going to be the overarching framework for how I decide? And the question reverberated,

How do I want to live?

That was an entirely different way to look at things. Not just WHERE do I want to live but HOW did I want to live? Quite a few things rose to the surface and shaped my priorities but they could best be summarised this way; I wanted to live in community. Like, actually IN community. I want to live within walking distance to a community hub of shops and activity that will allow me to play and shop locally. I want to live in a location that is easily accessed by others and where I can develop relationships with my near neighbours (after 17 years in my previous home I didn’t know the names of anyone in my street). I want to have a home that allows me to host and nurture community through shared hospitality and warm inclusion. The list could continue if we were to move beyond the geographical and practical considerations (which maybe I’ll explore in future blogs) but for now, that’s enough of a summary. And it was this filtered searching process that led me to purchase the house I now own and live in. (Which I love! Check it out, how cute is it!!??)

 

I love sitting in the light-filled loungeroom watching and listening to the activity of the community that moves along my street. There’s a teenage boy who catches the school bus at the end of my street and when he walks past he bounces his basketball and it makes me smile to think how he is probably getting into constant trouble for the repetitive noise but I love it. There are some teenage girls who catch the same bus and sometimes they’ve walked past singing at the top of their lungs. There are families with dogs and young children on scooters, people tending their front yards and nature strips, friends honking their horns as they drive by, visitors coming and going and all manner of sights and sounds. I love it.

BUT, this is the view you would have of the house if you were to walk by on the footpath.

 

And this will. not. do!!

It’s the only house in the whole street that has a fence that high. In fact, when describing it to people I would say “it’s the one near the corner with the very high fence.” because it was the distinctive feature. That fence is almost 6ft tall. Most people can’t see over it at all. I can see over it from the elevated loungeroom and with the benefit of sheer curtains to shield my privacy, but anyone really wanting to look into my property would have to get up on their toes and crane their neck and be altogether un-subtle.

Some of you are thinking, “yep, that’s what a fence is for! Security, privacy and generally stopping nosey neighbours from seeing into your property!” But that’s not how I choose to live!

I imagine the children of the neighbourhood speculating about who or what is hiding behind that fence. “My ball went over the fence once and I was too scared to go and get it.” “I hear she collects the legs of crickets in jars.” I know, I know! My overactive imagination has been well documented and is clearly at play here! But you get the gist. When filtered through the “how do I want to live” question, a high fence is communicating exactly the opposite to my values and desires.

So, the fence got a trim!

 

How great is that? Who doesn’t love a good before and after transformation?

I feel like my house now says what I want it to say about who lives there and how she’s choosing to live. The large gates are gone, the fence is trimmed. People might not even really notice the difference or be thinking about what they’re thinking about when they look at my house now. But it’s not sending the wrong sub-conscious message anymore.

And last week, the guy with the basketball walked down the street and bounced his ball on top of my fence smiling to himself as he successfully balanced it the whole length of my block.

And just to add to my sense of joy and satisfaction in living where I live – I have landed amongst some great neighbours … one of whom voluntarily did the labour of cutting my fence down!! Can we just pause for a moment to admire the excellent work of my neighbour Blake? I came home one Saturday to a spotless front yard and a shrunken fence … amazing!!!

 

isolation and living alone

There are only so many times a living-alone-Single-extrovert can hear the words ‘isolation’, ‘social distance’ and ‘cancelled’ before the weight becomes a little too much to carry and it has to leak out of my eyes! Yesterday I had a significant ‘moment’ (think tears, snot, a few little hiccup-y gulps and one or two audible groans!).

Last month I shared a post how long ‘til the realise I’m dead? and it seemed to resonate. Single people commented repeatedly “This is exactly how I feel!” and married responses repeated the sentiment “I’ve never even thought about this before.”

The same people who worry about not being discovered to have died are bound to be experiencing an additional layer of anxiety in the face of these shut downs and measures of separation to responsibly manage the movement of COVID19 and it’s impact on our health care system and to protect our most vulnerable.

CHECK ON THEM!

Social media is being flooded with posts from Introverts saying this is their idea of heaven. From what I understand, the cancellation of social events and being ‘forced’ to stay at home are the stuff their dreams are made of! 🙂 HOWEVER, even the most introverted of introverts could acknowledge that, as much as they love being alone and are personally energised by that time to recharge, there’s also the reality that without the interruption of exchange with others there can be an un-health that shapes their thought life. As much as they can do without social interactions, the circuit breaker of other people’s engagement in their thought processes and internal dialogue is a healthy and necessary thing.

CHECK ON THEM!

As organisations (like mine!) move to working from home (can we just pause for a praise break that we live in such technologically advanced times – so many opportunities to stay working and connected through online platforms!) while this is a fantastic provision – it’s also a socially isolating move. Many living-alone-Singles rely on the accountability and regular interactions of work life and will struggle without it. As churches move to streaming their services, be reminded that it’s not just the sermon or worship our congregations will be missing (in fact, these things have been out-source-able for a long time now) it’s the connection to one another, a sense of engagement in something bigger than themselves, the opportunity to keep regular relational accounts with one another – to give and receive prayer and encouragement.  (My church has set up an online/phone prayer service to facilitate this – what a great initiative!)

CHECK ON THEM!

For those of us living alone who have the love language of physical touch – this experience has another layer of impact. The social distancing protocols don’t apply within your households. You might sleep closer than 1.5m to your spouse. Go ahead and TRY convincing young children not to invade your (or each other’s) personal space – that’s not happening! So, even in a time of physical disconnection you’re experiencing some connection. In my regular life I can go days without physical touch and now, it’s mandated! In my little ‘moment’ yesterday, this was part of my processing … how long do I have to go without any physical connection?

CHECK ON THEM!

I messaged my friends – the ‘her is ours now’ family referenced in this blog being family to those without family – and shared about my little meltdown and said “I decided you could adopt me, then if we need to isolate I’ll isolate with my ‘family’”. The response was, essentially, an affirmation that they thought I already WAS adopted, and that if we get shut in as family-units then my place of shut in is with them! “If ‘Her is ours now’ then ‘her corona is our corona now’ too!”

Of course, we’re prayerful that the measures our country are employing now might avoid a complete lock-down. Things are changing daily as we continue to track the spread and learn what we can from other countries (another praise break – how grateful are we for all the fabulously smart and compassionate people in our medical system?!) and there’s no real point in leaping ahead to worst case scenarios. Being sensible and caring in this moment is our best next step. If I came to know I was infected I would never intentionally expose them to the virus.

But, I can’t tell you the relief that came to me in my emotionally charged episode, to have my friends make it clear that I won’t have to be alone. It was such a circuit breaker for my fear, loneliness, overwhelm and distress. There’s a plan, an option.

CHECK ON YOUR LIVING ALONE FRIENDS.

If only to give them a safe place to process the emotions they might be feeling. Each of us will travel an experience like this differently as it’s shaped by our lifestage, personality, health status and other factors. Let’s do what we can to grow in our understanding and empathy for one another.

how long ’til they realise I’m dead?

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I wondered if it was just my overactive imagination, or perhaps the product of watching too many true crime documentaries, but a quick poll of some of my Single friends tells me I’m not alone in asking this question. How long could I be dead before people would notice I’m missing?

I’ve seen the news reports – I’m sure you’ve seen them too – where neighbours alert authorities to an unpleasant smell, an overflowing mailbox or dogs barking incessantly and the subsequent inquiries reveal someone who has died. Clearly, some time ago. And it had gone seemingly unnoticed until now. It’s one of my worst fears.

As someone who lives alone and quite independently, there are often long stretches of time between points of check in. Frequently, when travelling between locations – the office, home, from one work visit site to another, church, a friend’s, the gym, a family event – I’ll find myself calculating the amount of time there is until the next point that my absence would be noticed. My church friends might just assume I’ve slept in or I’m speaking at another church, the gym has my money and doesn’t check to see why I didn’t show up to a class I’ve booked, my work colleagues could assume I’m having meetings or working offsite … it leaves substantial chunks of time in which I could be dead (or in less dramatic but still significant difficulty!) and no one knows yet.

I spend a lot of time on the road. That same active imagination allows me to envisage a scenario where I’m involved in an accident of some catastrophic, fatal nature, and the attending emergency services have to find out who I am. They could discover my home address but no one would be there. They could knock on a neighbour’s door but it depends which door they chose as to how helpful that would be. They could try the last number called in my phone – but that could be someone that I don’t even know personally. Anyway, these are long drives, I’ve had plenty of time to (over)think.

I recently saw a conversation thread on an online chat forum that raised the topic of Singleness and Illness. Pertinently, several Single post-ers commented on bouts of sickness that saw them home-bound for multiple days without anyone inquiring or offering assistance. For many, it was not so much the issue of being unable to look after themselves or requiring medical care but the fear attached to the experience. What if my condition worsens? How long must it be before someone notices my absence?

Of course, the answer is simple and, perhaps, obvious. A Single person who is sick just needs to make sure they let someone know they are, right? But the flip side of that is the often larger fear of Singles that they are perceived as needy or overly focussed on themselves. “Hi Pete, just ringing to let you know I have a bit of a cold coming on.” “Lucy, it’s 8:07, I’m leaving home. It’s 8:52, I’ve arrived at work. It’s 4:39, I’m going home via the supermarket.”

Every time I speak (write) something like this out loud it’s met with an enthusiastic cry of “yesssssss!” from Singles and a general sense of relief to hear that someone else knows and understands. That maybe they’re not so strange, or needy, or self-focussed – that maybe, just maybe, this reflects a legitimate heart cry to be known, looked-out-for and not too far beyond the reach of care or interest.

Couples and families, next time you’re feeling “checked up on” you might consider the gift that is to you. When you’re someone’s someone, they generally care about where you are! They keep short accounts. They check if you’re not where you’re meant to be when you’re meant to be. There’s a blessing in there that you could be mindful to appreciate.

And all of us, check in on your Single friends! Notice when they’ve not been in touch for a while, inquire about their health, show interest in their movements and schedule. It doesn’t take much to keep everyone connected … and off the news!

your single friends need you (probably more than you need them)

A few years ago I was sitting with my housemate and we both got a text message from a married friend. She was letting us know that she’d had some medical issues arise. There’d been some preliminary testing that was either worrisome or inconclusive enough to warrant further investigations. So she was going to have more tests done and was asking for us to be prayerful.

My friend and I both thought to respond in the same way and I sent a message back including “I hope you have some friends journeying this with you”. We later discovered that this was considered to be a strange kind of response. There she was informing us as her friends and inviting us to be part of the process – why were we questioning whether she was including her friends? Ultimately as a married person the need to contact friends was triggered far later in the process than it might have been for a Single person. A Single person who is experiencing negative health symptoms would probably contact a friend straight away. A Single person would seek the opinion of a friend or family member to know if they should go and get that checked out. A Single person might let a friend know that they’re going to a doctors appointment and perhaps even invite them to come along. So by the time further testing was required a Single person may have included their friend/s a lot more in the process. The reality is that for the married friend she had been processing all that with her husband up until that point.

Single people can have different expectations and requirements of friendship.

For a Single person, their friends are the entirety of their network of advice giving, problem-solving and listening. For those who are married and in a family environment a friend serves a different purpose. If circles of trust were to be drawn a spouse might find themselves at the very core and then friends at varying stages of distance in the widening concentric circles. For a Single person without a spouse at that core, often friends are drawn into a place of higher trust, of higher reliance; of higher connectedness.

What this creates is a potential power and need imbalance in friendships. Where the Single person requires more of you than you require of them. Where your name would be listed closer to their inner circle than their name would to yours. A friend of mine recently recounted a revelation she’d had of this when her Single friend asked her to come around to look at her new flooring. She thought it was an odd request until she connected with the fact that she would have had numerous interactions with her husband over new flooring and not felt the need to tell others – whereas her Single friend might not have had any engagement about her floors with anyone else. Perhaps a trivial example, but a helpful illustration of the different experiences.

This plays itself out in many ways, including socially. Where a planned social gathering might be additional to your weekly social calendars and fuller household, it can be the entirety of a Single person’s social connectedness. Where a cancelled dinner or a lack of invitation might result in you having a more quiet night at home, for a Single that could equate to being completely alone.

My friend Nancy and I talked about this recently as we sat across from one another at dinner. I made the observation that I needed that interaction more than she did. She’s married and is also a mum and as we talked some more she reflected, “I don’t think I had ever really considered how much my relational tank is filled incidentally and how that shapes how many friends I need, what I need from them, and the time and space I have to give them.”

What that means is that a Single person needs to maintain a lot of relationships to ensure their input and output are sufficient to experience the human connection we are built for. Even for me, as a highly extroverted and socially and relationally competent person, that can be EXHAUSTING! There’s a lot to balance to ensure that there are enough of those once a week, once every fortnight, monthly catch up types of relationships to spread across the day to day of life in order to keep the relational tank at a healthy level. That need makes us vulnerable. There’s great risk attached to this reality that we probably need you more than you need us.

Singles, identify and own this reality. You need others. It’s risky. It’s exhausting. It takes intentionality and purpose but you can create the kinds of relationships that will allow you to give and receive the love, belonging, serving, fulfilment, purpose and joy that you need.

And for you non-Singles, maybe you could do a self-audit like my champion friend Nancy, to recognise the level of relational filling you operate out of before leaving your house or making any extra effort. It might increase your sensitivity to the needs of the Singles in your world and grow your understanding of the neediness they experience and the risk they take to stay relationally engaged.

being family to those without family

“Her is ours now!”

This was the declaration of a new 5 year old friend when she discovered I didn’t have my own family. She had inquired about it after a few visits where I’d shown up clearly without one! “Does she have a family?” Her dad assured her I had parents and siblings, but she was thinking more about the kind of family that would come along with me. After some reflection, she made the decision that this ‘no-family’ situation would just not do and announced my immediate and complete adoption into hers!

Out of the mouths (and hearts) of babes.

The reality is that there are many Singles who journey life in the void of all that we are designed to express and experience in family. That’s where you and we come in! The opportunity exists for us to be family to those without family. Here’s some thoughts to consider as we endeavour to do that and do it well.

not all singles are created equal

Every Single is unique. Personality and temperament; factors like extroversion or introversion, history, circumstances or life stage, contribute to ensuring every Single has a unique set of needs as well as contributions to offer. While some generalisations might be made about certain demographics, there are often more exceptions than inclusions.

assume nothing – talk about everything

The only way to ensure what is on your heart to offer to a Single in your world is going to be accepted in the manner you’ve intended is to avoid assumptions and ask lots of questions. What are the situations that you find most difficult? How can I best support you? Is it helpful if I did “this” or would it be better if I did “this”? I read/heard/saw this from another Single, is that your experience? How does it differ? etc Often, things done with the greatest heart to help and include miss the mark because of the misalignment of expectations that could be easily averted if communication had been clearer.

what you take for granted

In the busyness and monotony of your every day life it can be easy to take for granted some of the things you experience in family (and potentially, even begrudge them). The buzz of noise and chatter as family goes about their regular routine, the sharing of responses over something seen on tv, serving one another in practical ways, incidental contact that happens as you move around each other, externally debriefing your day, a kiss goodnight – all this and more takes place in your home constantly and, often, without much thought. Singles often experience deep longing for these experiences and also could benefit from the grace, capacity for compromise and others focus that these circumstances demand.

the gift of normal

Don’t underestimate how powerful it might be to include a Single friend in the normality of your life. As chaotic or mundane as it might feel to you, it could be an incredible gift to someone whose day to day is often absent the dynamic these family environments bring. It’s possible to inadvertently communicate to a Single person that they’re an imposition or separate to your family when there’s a sense that they require a level of ‘hosting’ that is disruptive, rather than a type of inclusion that is mutually beneficial.

singles have more to lose

True, the responsibility to extend invitation, action social planning or nurture relationships doesn’t rest solely on those who are friends to the Single. But, the reality is that in the instigation or execution of such interactions a Single has less to offer and more on the line. If your family invites a Single person to dinner – whether they say yes or no, you’ll still be having a family dinner; if they cancel last minute, you’ll still be having family dinner. For a Single – the contrast is stark and so the risk is greater. When a Single invites a family to their house, they can’t offer an existing social dynamic – you’ll need to bring that with you. Until you are there, nothing is happening! It might seem an obvious point to make but perhaps it’s a perspective you haven’t fully considered. It’s certainly a dynamic by which many Singles feel hamstrung.

monitor & adjust

Seasons and circumstances are constantly changing. What works in one stage of family or life rhythm will need to be adapted as things shift. A biological family navigates these transitions constantly and included others can also – but it requires communication. The courage to ask the questions as changes happen will ensure that relationships are kept strong and mutually edifying as each new season is embraced.

LISTEN HERE – for further ideas for being family to those without family

READ THIS (“arriving alone”) – a practical encouragement to support Singles by helping them overcome a simple yet often debilitating obstacle

 

 

how to GIVE feedback 3of4

When looking to create a culture that is defined and informed by healthy review and encouragement it starts with asking for feedback. Leaders go first in demonstrating a posture of humility and a desire for continuous growth. What must we consider when it comes to giving feedback?

Giving helpful feedback requires THOUGHT and PRACTICE

Having an opinion is easy – communicating it in ways that are beneficial to the receiver is not. At least, not without some intentional consideration of language, purpose and context. It is completely unhelpful (and potentially destructive) to give feedback that is unprocessed.

Train your BRAIN!

There is no such thing as ‘constructive criticism’!

Criticism is the expressing of disapproval in response to someone’s faults or mistakes. It’s about de-construction not construction! Constructive critique? Yes! But not criticism. There’s no place for criticism in a healthy culture of feedback.

We need to intentionally train our brains to look and listen for opportunities to affirm, encourage and build up. When watching others in action, attending events, sitting in meetings, hanging out with family and friends … wherever!! …the question on our minds should be, “what can I appreciate about what is happening here?”

Leaders tend to look more analytically at things – which is part of what enables them to lead change and increasingly better outcomes. Left unchecked, this can lead to being highly critical, negative and fault-finding.

Encouragement is by far the greater tool for emboldening people for their best contributions and positioning them for maximum growth and development.

Stop at ENCOURAGEMENT.

People are often quite aware of their weaknesses, they trip over them every day.

We need to recognise that most people are their own worst critics. The internal dialogue of many is a replay of all that has gone wrong, could go wrong and is going wrong. The last thing they need is to have those thoughts verbalised externally and in the voice of others.

Personally, encouragement around what I can do and what is working has made the greatest contribution to my growth and improvement. I see this repeatedly in those I mentor, lead or train. Encouragement provides a core foundation for future development, a strong base from which to launch into addressing those areas of weakness or skill deficiency. When a person is confident in your confidence in them they are best positioned to tackle difficult stretch and growth.

A “PRAISE SANDWICH” needs more bread.

The old ‘praise sandwich’ – one piece of criticism sandwiched between two positive comments – is a good start, but research tells us that this ratio is inadequate. Most studies indicate that the ratio is more like 6:1 of positive words or experiences to counteract the negative for a person to reflect on an encounter, relationship or overall experience as ‘positive’.

Always ASSUME the BEST.

When giving feedback after failure or that requires a degree of rebuke, always assume the best. In trust-filled environments we must start with the belief that others intend for positive outcomes rather than assuming intentional failure or shortfall.

“I know you were hoping the game would include everyone but there were too many left on the sidelines.” as opposed to “Why wouldn’t you play a game that included everyone?”

Not only will it nett a more positive response, it’s a reflection of your own heart, attitude, focus and discipline to have gone to the best case scenario rather than assuming the worst.

Assuming the best positions us alongside someone in their fight for greater personal character and outcomes rather than in opposition to them.

Distrust is cancerous to healthy culture and relationships. Choose trust.

Give an ACTIONABLE take-away.

Ensure that your feedback conversation lands in a way that the receiver can walk away with some practical next steps. What can they do differently? How can they address the shortfall? What might they think about for next time? Who could they enlist to help them toward a better outcome?

Some situations are so specific and unique that they are unlikely to be repeated but there are always principles within them that can be adopted and transferred. Constructive feedback will help tease those out and highlight them so that a person feels they’ve added extra tools to their belt.

STEWARD the moment with care.

Remember, when your feedback is invited or required you are given incredible power. Another person is submitting themselves to your opinions and your words – this is incredibly sacred ground and is a position of high vulnerability for them.

Regardless of the intensity of the situation, don’t forget you’re dealing with a person.

In a healthy environment you might establish capacity for more robust levels of feedback and review but this is developed gradually and gently.

In the rush of a moment or the busyness of personal or organisational life, we can be careless with our feedback. We can flippantly throw out observations that carry great personal impact to others. Or, we can neglect to take the time to speak encouragement. Often in meetings where time is short, we focus on what needs to be fixed as it seems most pressing – but sometimes, the greater investment might be to celebrate what ought to be affirmed so that it will be repeated.

Read more in the FEEDBACK series – Let me give you some feedback, Asking for Feedback … stay tuned for Receiving Feedback.

 

 

 

let me give you some feedback

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read the words feedback and review?

For some, it might be a sudden bolt of terror as you consider being on the receiving end of a rant about your inadequacies. For others, it might remind you of awkward moments of forced encouragement sharing around the boardroom table. For others, it might be more about overly long meetings that meander around, are unnecessarily drawn out and don’t always have any tangible impact. Or a combination of all that and more.

When I read the words feedback and review I think necessary! 

Feedback is PERSONALLY necessary.

External feedback and review is essential to personal development and discipleship because it answers the question (we should all be asking), “How do other people experience me?” You know your motives, you know your own strengths and weaknesses, you know your intent but what you don’t always know is how those things are received by others. Feedback is the key to discovering that and to inviting the wisdom and perspective of trusted others into your personal and character development.

Feedback is essential to IMPROVEMENT.

If your team or organisation is wanting to do things well (and if you’re not, what are you doing them for at all?) and to do them the most effective and efficient way (and if you’re not, you’ll be frustrating and burning out high capacity volunteers and staff) then you need to know what is good about your good so you can keep doing it!

You can’t improve what you don’t review.

Even if something is going well, you need to know WHY so you can continue to do what made it work in the first place. Without reviewing to identify the key components to your success (in anything – a project, strategy, team meeting, performance or service provision) you may unwittingly attribute that success to the wrong thing and neglect to focus on or repeat those factors that led to the success. Furthermore, your capacity to turn good into excellent is thwarted when you don’t know why it was good to start with.

If you don’t know why it’s working when it’s working you won’t know how to fix it when it breaks.

Feedback is essential for SELF AWARENESS.

Ignorance is not a virtue. Feedback is the anecdote to that moment of revelation when we discover something about ourselves that we previously hadn’t known. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The people around you know your weaknesses and strengths – they are on the receiving end of them everyday. There is no benefit to remaining unaware of the impact we make on others and how we are perceived and received.

We want to learn from those who love us so we won’t be unnecessarily shocked by those who don’t.

As Proverbs 27:6 frames it “Wounds from a friend can be trusted…”. We want to invite healthy and helpful feedback from those who love us, are for us and who are onboard with the mission and vision we have for our life or our organisation and will help us to head confidently in that direction.

No one has been fired for asking for feedback but many could’ve avoided being fired if they had!

Feedback given well results in profound ENCOURAGEMENT.

People need more encouragement than we think they do – and sometimes even more than they think they do. For the most part, many of us live in the void of knowing how we positively influence people or contexts around us.

We are never in the room when we are not in the room so we don’t always know the impact we made on the room!

Feedback is the vehicle to help us understand the unique offerings we contribute to relationships, to teams, to projects and to environments.

Often, our greatest strengths and our most unique capacities feel so natural to us that we don’t realise the impact of them on others. You might observe this for yourself, often when you affirm an attribute in someone they’ll respond with “yeah, but anyone could do that.” – when the truth is no, anyone could not do that. The fact that it comes easily or naturally to you doesn’t make it universally common.

Intentional feedback gives opportunity to highlight and celebrate strengths, talents, skills and gifts in others. Providing great encouragement and fuelling ongoing engagement.

Feedback shapes a healthy CULTURE.

When feedback becomes part of your culture (in relationships, as a family, team or organisation) it is self-determining. The more we give feedback, the more aware of self and others we become and, the more aware of self and others we become, the more feedback we will be led to offer.

When feedback is expected it is more accepted.

The more we engage in intentional feedback; the better we get at giving and receiving it and, the more we anticipate that as the natural process of living our best lives. Feedback culture creates pathways for feedback to be given – intentional processes and opportunities for feedback to be invited, offered and received. These pathways are predictable, accessible and supportive of the easy exchange of ideas and review. A culture of feedback also shapes language that makes this feedback most useful.

A simple example of this is the use of the word ‘because’. “I liked your presentation this morning” is a nice pat on the back but holds little value. What did you like about it? What’s your idea of a good presentation? What are you comparing it to? What did you get from it? How has it impacted you?

“I liked your presentation this morning … because …” You used great visuals to support your point. It was really engaging. You helped me understand something new. You brought a fresh perspective … you get the idea.

Empty praise is not accepted in a healthy feedback culture.

TRUST is required and nurtured.

A key component in a strong and healthy Feedback Culture of a team, family or organisation is trust. When feedback is part of natural rhythms and interactions it builds trust.

We can trust the motives of those who would give us feedback. We can believe that they are all about working towards our shared goals or for my personal benefit.

We can trust the silence of others because we know if there was something to be said they would have said it. Feedback culture means that there is as much honesty in the meeting as there is in the hallways (or the “meeting after the meeting”). We don’t have to fear what is not being said.

We can trust how we are being spoken about because of how we are being spoken to.

A healthy culture of feedback will nurture high trust and shape an incredibly healthy work or relational environment.

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Let’s keep this conversation going – watch out for future blogs in this series about the necessity of Feedback. We’ll look at asking for feedback, how to GIVE it and how to RECEIVE it. Stay tuned.

when is the right time to talk to your kids about sex?

It’s a question often wrestled with by parents and leaders, when is the right time to talk to kids about sex?

The answer is simple.

The right time to talk to your kids about sex is just before they hear it from someone or somewhere else.

That might not be the answer you were hoping for. In fact, that probably opens up more questions than anything. How can you know when they’re going to be exposed to content on television, scribbled on a bathroom wall, stumbled across on a computer or device, conspiratorially whispered about amongst friends at a sleep over, or joked about in a locker room? It seems impossible to predict, and therefore difficult to pre-empt, but it is undeniably the ‘best time’.

The power of first exposure.

Our brains are wired to attach knowledge about a subject to the person who first introduced it to us in an informative or useful way. So, whoever first exposes us to information is solidified, subconsciously, in our minds as the expert on that topic. We are far more likely to return to that source if we find ourselves needing more details or, if we get data from an alternate source, we are likely to come back to the original source to verify or test it.

What an incredible opportunity that presents as parents or people of influence in the lives of young people. If they are introduced to concepts of sexual biology, reproduction, arousal, intimacy, consent, masturbation, boundaries, gender, safety, identity and responsibility by you, they are more likely to see you as a source of useful information and understanding on these topics. How much more preferable is it that YOU be in this position of influence than a child’s school friends, bus pals or anything that might spew out of a television or smart phone?

This doesn’t completely address the question of timing, but I believe it ought to create a sense of urgency and boldness driven by the value of equipping our young people to adequately navigate their own sexuality, understanding and expression in a highly sexualised culture.

“I don’t want to talk to my children too early because I don’t want to introduce them to concepts before they need to be … and I don’t want to arouse their curiosity, which might lead them to further (potentially unhelpful) exploration.”

This is a hybrid of commonly expressed concerns by parents when wrestling with decisions around timing.

The myth of early exposure.

It goes without saying (which generally means it needs to be said!) that when we reference ‘early’ conversations (as in, prior to when they might otherwise be exposed) those need to happen in age appropriate and ongoing ways.

It’s not just ‘the talk’ it’s a lot of talks. It’s a continuing conversation. Any thoughts you have, as a parent or leader, of having one conversation that articulately (and in completely non-awkward ways) covers all of the necessary topics and concepts your child needs to successfully land them in sexually educated, adjusted and healthy adulthood need to be banquished! Sorry! 😉

In light of this, any topics you broach ought to be couched in language and cover information that is able to be helpfully processed and absorbed by the individual child. It will be different at every stage of development, but it will most likely be different from child to child. Their level of maturity, sensitivity, social awareness, personal experiences, personality and intellect will all impact what they need to know and what they are able to absorb.

Tips

  • You need to talk about everything in order to be able to talk about anything. Developing a relationship of open dialogue with your child (about Minecraft and puppies and football teams and complicated school/friendship dramas and …)  will grow their confidence that you are someone they can trust to handle conversations about particularly uncomfortable or uncertain topics.
  • Ask your child to ask questions – and then ask more questions. “What do YOU want to know? What do you understand and what more can we learn about together?” Respond to only the questions that are asked and check understanding as you go. “Does that make sense? Does that settle what you were thinking about?”
  • Capitalise on ‘teachable moments’. Interact with books they’re reading or things they see on television – “Why do you think she/he reacted like that?” If your child says or does something that indicates a wrong understanding (like the Gr 5 child wrestling with a peer in the playground I overheard exclaiming “stop it, or you’ll catch puberty!”) or an awareness or exposure to something – speak to it, ask about it, clarify it.
  • Act normal! Even if you don’t feel normal, ACT IT! It is counterproductive to try and explain the ‘naturalness’ of sexuality and intimacy while you stumble over words, don’t look anyone in the eye and scurry off as soon as there’s the slightest break in conversation. So …
  • Practice! Practice what you might say, what words you might use, how you might describe certain acts, attributes or attitudes. Read articles or listen to speakers who can help you develop your language – it will help your child as well as increasing your confidence.

The myth of aroused curiosity.

Curiosity only exists in a void. It’s true, right? You are only curious about what you don’t know. Speaking about pornography or masturbation isn’t a guarantee that your child is going to go off and explore that more for themselves. They are far more likely to if there’s a gap in their understanding. If they haven’t asked the questions that they still have or if they haven’t fully understood what you’ve explained.

Tips

  • Ask comprehension questions “Can you tell me in your own words what I just explained?”.
  • Encourage active listening “Nod at me if you are following but stop me if I’ve said something that was a bit weird or confusing.”
  • Plan a follow up chat. “That seems like enough for now. How about we check in later once you’ve had a chance to process that some more?”
  • Monitor your child. If they have been disturbed or discomforted by what they’ve heard you might notice that in their behaviour, body language or responses.

What do you think? What have you found helpful or unhelpful in your own experience? What further information or discussion do you require to help you keep this conversation going (or to start it!)?

married at first sight & back to school photos

One of my favourite times on the Facebook calendar is back to school week. My newsfeed is flooded with naaawwww-worthy photos of ‘firsts’. First days of school (massive backpacks on little legs and hiding under seemingly enormous sun hats; school dresses triple hemmed and ‘shorts’ that reach down to mid-calf), first days in a new year level or a new school. Last first days for those at the other end of their schooling. Some show the side by side photos of the changes made across the years – tracking the inevitable growth and accompanying differences. Moving from teary hugs and farewells at the classroom door to the increasing independence that sees a child walking or riding off on their own or with friends.

I love it! It marks a new season, acknowledges the passing of another year, signifies for the family yet another shift in life stage and rhythm and celebrates the success and potential of movement through education and other life markers. And it’s pretty stinkin’ adorable, too.

Running parallel with that this year, was the start of another season of Chanel 9’s super successful ‘reality’ show, Married at First Sight. “Successful” in terms of its ratings, not in regards to its success in bringing couples together who actually stay together. It’s a psychological and relational train wreck that produces fascinating television viewing and boosts the social profile of those who participate (surely that’s part of their purpose for being there, right?). But it also highlights underlying cultural and personal expectations that the narrative of a ‘normal’ or ‘fulfilling’ life is centred around finding your soul mate and living in marital bliss.

In the lead up to the show’s airing, one participant, Sarah, recorded a sound byte that played on repeat,

“I’m 38 years old and I have nothing to show for my life.”

As she looks at her life and she applies the known methods for measuring it, she finds herself with nothing to show for it. This comment (and the fears and feelings that framed it) represent her justification for applying for the show. She’s 38, she’s not married and has no children – time is a’wasting! It’s time to employ emergency measures!

At a cursory glance, this comment is dismissible as untrue. Without knowing anything much about her we could readily identify things she might have to ‘show’ for herself. Lives invested in, experiences she gathered, career and other successes she’s enjoyed. But I think we need to listen to what she’s saying. To lean in a little more and seek to understand more fully what her comment is echoing of a message society sends (in both subtle and more overt ways) of how a life should be measured and celebrated. And particularly how that translates for a Single and/or childless person.

For those who are married, each anniversary is an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and celebrate the achievement. High five, us! We made it through another year! Social media gives opportunity to publicly affirm one’s spouse and for the couple’s community to congratulate and encourage them.

For parents, milestone days – the birth of children, firsts of all kinds, ‘before & after’ pictures denoting achievements, changes and growth, performances and of course, birthdays, engagements and weddings – all bring opportunity to gather friends and family (in real life or online spaces) to again, celebrate, and encourage. To reflect on the journey till now; to dream and plan together for the future.

To use Sarah’s language, these are many of the things you have to “show” for the years you have lived, the transitions you’ve navigated and the impact you’ve made on the earth. These are the things publicly celebrated. They are acceptable, anticipated and even requested opportunities to share with others the rewards of the labours of time, money, energy, expertise and sacrifices of all kinds that bring about these moments.

So, if you are not married and don’t have children – how does your life’s journey get marked and acknowledged? In what moments are the community of a Single person called to gather to celebrate, publicly affirm and encourage, to invest advice and energy, to reflect growth and change, to honour success and draw others in?

Commonly, Singles report that attempts to share moments of celebration, difference or success are often perceived as self-absorbed or self-promoting (“why are you making such a big deal about your birthday?!“) or met with jealousy (“I wish I were Single so I could travel more!“).

The success stories told usually include friends, colleagues or family stepping in to facilitate those celebrations and affirmations. My friend Nancy is a champion at this! She enthusiastically and creatively celebrates the birthdays, new jobs, buying a home, graduations, return from holidays and moving days of her Single friends to ensure they’re well marked. And to draw his or her community into expressions of encouragement and celebration.

Think about the people in your world (specifically but not exclusively Singles and/or childless). How can we act to ensure they know what they ‘have to show’ for the life they’re living? What moments of reflection, celebration, affirmation and gathering can we be part of facilitating?