Category Archives: General

Why Texting is the Worst Form of Communication

couple textingI know you’ve heard it all before: texting is impersonal, it’s antisocial, and it’s ruined our ability to communicate with each other. Yet we all do it. Why? Because it’s also easy, convenient, and often timely. So why would I call texting the worst form of communication? The answer lies not so much in texting itself, so much as how we are using it to communicate.

When we use it as a messaging system to convey mundane, day-to-day information like, “I’ll be finished at 6:30pm”, “can you get milk on your way home?”, “you have a doctor’s appointment at …”, it can actually be very effective. It’s when we try to expand this from an expression of facts or data to something more abstract – for example, thoughts and feelings – that the message tends to get lost amongst the text. As I see it, there’s three main limitations that texting has over other forms of communication that often causes it to fail.

1. Communication is much more than words

You’ve probably come across the idea that over 90% of communication is non-verbal. While many linguists and sociologists dispute this figure and the ability to actually quantify the contribution of verbal and non-verbal components when communicating, it is generally agreed that effective communication relies significantly on vocal intonation and body language. In other words, how we represent ourselves physically, and how we sound, puts what we have to say – the actual words – into a certain context that the words alone cannot achieve.

Consider this snippet from a text conversation that perhaps all of us are familiar with:

Person A: Are you ok?

Person B: I’m fine.

What was your gut reaction to this? Did you accept Person B’s answer as literal? Did you find it dismissive or evasive? Or did it send a chill down your spine thinking they are anything BUT fine?

The fact is, we cannot know for sure whether Person B really is fine, or whether they are just saying that to avoid (or encourage) further discussion, or whether they are being sarcastic or passive-aggressive, because we have no other information – a look, a tone of voice, a body position – to help us put this statement into context. Person A then has two choices: they can either request more information, or they can interpret the meaning Person B intended.

Many of us don’t make the former choice, because we feel there’s an expectation (either our own, or from the other person) that we understand what is being said to us, so we come up with our own interpretation. The problem is our ability to make that interpretation is not only influenced by the person communicating with us – not just the words they use but our connection to and understanding of them – but also by a whole myriad of internal and external factors affecting our cognitive and emotional state at the time. Consider for a moment how you might interpret Person B’s response if you felt happy, worried, angry, or confused. How does it influence what you’re hearing them say?

And this is only from what appears to be a simple, everyday exchange between two people. Imagine how it is once the content becomes more complicated…

2. We are always communicating, even when we aren’t.

This is another way of expressing a fundamental principle of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP): you cannot not communicate. That is, even if you are not saying something, you are still communicating with someone through your actions. Consider as an example someone listening to you speak: are they leaning forward, focussed on you? Are they leaning back, arms crossed? Are they turned away from you or focused on something else? In each instance, although that person isn’t saying anything, they are still sending you a message.

When you can see someone these non-verbal interactions are generally easier to interpret. When texting, it’s almost impossible. Imagine you are texting back and forth with someone and they suddenly stop responding. You cannot know why they stopped responding until you get some sort of indication from that person. However, as we cannot not communicate, no response can be interpreted as a response in itself. In fact, the longer the ‘silence’ goes on, the more we try to interpret that silence. Did they get interrupted? Did the device they’re using suddenly stop working? Did they get offended by what you said or just lose interest in the conversation? Did they even get your last message? Again, your interpretation of what has happened will be very dependent on the internal and external influences on your own cognitive and emotional state at the time, including the context and perceived importance of the conversation you were having.

3. We have developed an expectation of instant gratification

There was once a time, not too long ago, when we were not always instantly accessible. If you wanted to speak with someone, you either had to know where they were and go to them in person, or you had to call them on the phone and hope they were able (or wanted) to answer, or you had to write them a letter and wait for them to receive it and respond. And as a society, we were quite accepting of that. We appreciated that being able to communicate required timing, effort, and in many cases, patience.

Today, we are all expected to be instantaneously available on demand, and texting is one of the primary causes of this. While we recognise that everyone has their own lives and responsibilities, and therefore may not be available to meet in person or take a phone call, texting is believed to be so unobtrusive that any of us should be able to do it at any time. That’s a problem in two ways.

The first relates back to our point about not being able to not communicate. When we text, we expect a timely, if not instant response. When we don’t get one, the scenario discussed in the second point above plays out.

But there’s also the responder to consider. Receiving a text message is often welcomed, however it can also be invasive. What if you’re at work, or at a family event, or a romantic dinner with your partner and you receive a text; do you answer it? That’s a hard question to answer: if you don’t, how’s the person who sent it going to react? If you do, how’s the person you’re with going to react? Seems like a no one situation, and in many instances, it can be. Either way you are sending a message to both people, and that not be the message you want to convey.

This is not to say we shouldn’t use texting as a means of communicating, in fact it can be a very valuable way of staying in touch with people or conveying important information. However, like any form of communication, texting is only useful if you consider its limitations, and work around those limitations.

Maybe the most effective text you can send someone is, “Hi. Can we get together for a chat?”

Opportunity from Disaster

Three years. A hundred posts. At least that many comments. That was raygates.me as I had grown and nurtured it. And with a click of a button, it was all gone.

That’s what I discovered about a week ago, and it was devastating. My blog wasn’t just a project or a hobby. I poured a lot of myself into those articles. It wasn’t just words I lost; it was a large part of myself. A part I had chosen to put out there for anyone and everyone to see.

My first instinct was to contact the host of my site to see if they had a backup they could restore. An unlikely solution, given that they were the ones to delete it in the first place, but when disaster strikes you’ll try anything. As I waited for customer service to come to my rescue, I questioned myself about the value of what I was attempting. Was there any value in attempting to restore all those musings? For that matter, was there any value in continuing with the blog at all? I hadn’t written anything for it in months (though in my defense, I was [am] still adjusting to moving to the opposite side and hemisphere of the planet). Was it really worth continuing with? Did it matter? If it disappeared from the digital universe, would it be missed? Perhaps this disaster had occurred for a reason. maybe it was time for me to give up. Draw the curtain. Fade to black.

The thing is: that isn’t me.

Funnily enough, that revelation came to me not in relation to the blog, but to my personal life, and once that fact broke through the gloom that had descended upon my heart and mind, I realised this wasn’t a disaster but an opportunity. An opportunity to reinvent myself. Not necessarily a complete personality and life change, but an opportunity to review where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. More importantly, an opportunity to choose where I want to go, and what I want to do next.

That was my problem: I didn’t realise, or perhaps hadn’t accepted, that making major changes in my life would also impact all the things I had previously planned. I was stuck trying to follow a map that no longer matched the landscape, trying to find the path to something I had already left behind.

It took a ‘disaster’ of this proportion to shake me off that path, to make me realise that my direction has changed, and so too has my destination. There will be similarities, even sameness to a certain extent; I’m not going to simply through everything I was working towards away. However, this is an opportunity for change. An opportunity to re-evaluate who I am, and who I want to be. Where I am, and where I want to go. What I’ve done, and what I’ve yet to achieve. It is a good thing, and most likely it’s exactly what I needed.

So, although there is still some heaviness in my heart, I will not be trying to resurrect my old blog, or my old posts. That was then, this is now. This is a new beginning. What this blog ends up being remains to be seen. I might be part diarisation, part documentation, part manifesto, part insight, and maybe even part egotism. What it will be is all me, based on the many hats I wear.

Whether you are one of my previous readers returned, or a new reader recently discovered, I hope you will stay with me as I chisel away the debris to reveal the masterpiece underneath. It will take some time, and it will likely look rough for a while yet. However, I look forward to discovering, with you, what it looks like.A New Day

 

 

Never Give Up

never_give_up_640_29I’d be surprised if anyone reading this has not experienced some point in their life when they felt like giving up on something. Maybe it was a relationship, a job, or a lifelong dream. Maybe it was trying to understand something, or help someone else understand. Maybe it was just trying to get your computer or phone to do what it’s supposed to do. We’ve all had times when it got too hard, too frustrating, too hurtful, or too impossible to keep going, and the only viable option seemed to be: give up.

Plow through the multitude of advice and self-help guides both on- and off-line and you can find innumerable references to make it easier for you to give up on things. Knowing when to quit – when to give up and walk away – has become a life-skill. There is merit in this: engaging in exercises of futility benefit no-one, least of all ourselves. If anything, they might cause far more harm or grief than abandoning them would. But how many things we pursue, or cling to, or believe in, are truly futile? How many just seem that way, because we lose hope, or faith, or motivation, or sight of our goal, or what set us in motion towards it in the first place?

The great African-American human rights advocate Frederick Douglass is often quoted as saying, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Inherent in this statement is the concept of never giving up. In the remainder of the address this quote is taken from, Douglass effectively states that all things worth having require effort. More than this, there is no promise that our efforts will be rewarded with what it is we want, however without that effort we guarantee we will not have it. Within this ideal, futility is not the effort required to do something exceeding that which we are capable of, but rather our own fears, doubts, and insecurities overcoming our resolve to keep striving for what is important to us.

This is not to say that we should just persist with things no matter what. There are numerous situations where continuing to do something would be detrimental, even harmful, to yourself, or even to others. What makes the difference is your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the thing you are deciding whether to give up on or not.

If something has true value to you, if it has true meaning, or is truly important to you; if something has true significance to you, is something you truly believe in, or is a fundamental part of your life, or the life you want, then never give up on it. It is worth the effort it takes to have it, and hold on to it. It is worth the fight, the struggle, the pain, the heartache, and the sacrifice required to have it.

I know when the lights go out in the universe, I would rather bow out knowing I never gave up on the things that meant everything to me, than spend my final thoughts regretting those I did.

Knowing When to Do Nothing

art_628465There is a concept in Taoism known as Wu Wei – literally ‘no action’, and often interpreted as ‘do nothing’. It goes hand-in-hand with another concept, Wu Bu Wei – ‘not no action’, or ‘do everything’ [1.] Those who study Taoist philosophy seek to achieve harmony in their lives by doing nothing and doing everything. The idea of doing everything is one that’s probably familiar to all of us: from the moment we wake up we attend to the tasks, chores, and activities of our day right up to the point we close our eyes to sleep again. Doing nothing, however, is a stranger concept. It does not mean being slothful, lazy, or apathetic. Instead, it is about recognising the times when there is nothing you can, or should do – that the right course of action is to not act.

It is a challenging concept to get one’s head around, so let me try to illustrate with an example. Think about the last time you had an argument with someone. It may have been over something of significance to one or both of you, or it may have been – in hindsight – over nothing. If you go back and think about it, you can probably see that it all started from something that was said or done that induced an emotional response in one of you. That response got expressed, which led to an emotional response in the other person, and back and forth it went. Like many arguments it probably heated up as it continued on, perhaps it even got out control and one or both of you were yelling at the other. Chances are at least one of you got their feelings hurt. (If so, hopefully you’ve resolved that by the time you’re reading this!)

Think of that argument as a timeline, like a scene from a movie. You can probably see how the argument started from nothing, and then developed into a full-blown argument. You can probably also see that it took two people to have that argument. Even if it was just one person berating the other, it still took the interaction of both for the argument to happen. Now imagine you can edit that scene. You can move along that timeline and pick a point and edit what happened at that moment. What might have happened if, at some point in the timeline, one of you had stopped arguing? It may have been as simple as saying, “stop, I don’t want to argue anymore”, or perhaps it needed one of you to walk away. If one of you had simply stopped, could there even have been an argument? And if there was no argument, could the problem have been solved faster, easier, or better?

This is where doing nothing becomes important. Using this example, you can think of the argument as doing everything. In fact, you probably are doing everything while arguing – yelling, shouting, trying to put forward, or impose, or defend, your view, and getting emotional. You’re trying to ‘win’, and you will do everything to ‘win’ – and sometimes, ‘winning’ leads to some very undesirable outcomes. If you’ve ever ‘won’ an argument but didn’t feel better for it, you’ll understand what I mean.

To not argue, or cease arguing, is to do nothing. It does not mean turning your back and walking away (though in some instances that might be what it takes). Rather, it is about recognising that continued action is not going to make the situation any better, nor achieve the outcome you really want. In that case it is better to cease your actions – to do nothing – and in doing so, avoid creating a new problem through arguing. As my Tai Chi master says, “you can’t resolve a problem while ever someone is trying to fight you. It is only when they stop fighting you can sit and have tea and work out what the problem is.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course it’s easy to say, yet much more difficult to put into practice. I’m going through a process now which, for the moment, is out of my control, and all I can do is nothing. And yet, for my life to go forward in the way I want it to, this process must happen, and quickly. I have people who need me and who are relying on me to get this done. I have opportunities that are dependent on this happening. And for my own well-being, I need this resolved. The fact that it is taking time is very oppressive and hard to deal with – it’s causing unnecessary strain on me and those I love. I feel responsible and I feel I need to do something to change it – I am trying to do everything, because I’m afraid if I don’t I will lose what it is I’m striving for. Yet the reality is that there is simply no more I can do until it is put back into my hands. I need to do nothing. I know this, and I know that in doing nothing I will be better off, but knowing and doing are often different things, aren’t they? So I am trying to do nothing, however I will be the first to admit it’s not easy.

We can all reflect on our lives and find instances where it seemed that no matter what we did, not matter how hard we tried, no matter how much effort we put into something, we didn’t get to where we wanted to be. We often think that if we stop, everything stops; that inactivity is somehow detrimental to achieving. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is like sailing: you can hoist your sails and work your lines and rigging all you want, however if you’re sailing against the wind, you won’t get very far. But if you stop, and just let the wind fill your sails, you’ll find it takes you to where you need to be.

The trick is not to just do nothing, but to know when to do nothing. And as the Taoists say, in doing nothing, leave nothing undone.

  1. Zhao, Qiguang. (2010). Do nothing and do everything: an illustrated new Taosim. Minnesota: Paragon House

The World Needs Heroes – Are You Ready?

kid-heroIt might sound like a throw away line from the latest superhero movie, however the fact is that the world does need heroes. We all do. Heroes inspire us and motivate us. They give us hope. They give us something to believe in, and something to aspire to be. They make us feel good about ourselves, and about the world at large.

For many of us our heroes are the larger-than-life people who have achieved great success in their lives. We find heroes amongst sports stars, entertainers, business and community leaders, and dare I say even politicians. These heroes are obvious because their success has put them in the public spotlight. They are interviewed and talked about and promoted to the extent that even though they might not be our personal hero, we cannot miss the fact they are heroes to somebody.

But then there are the others, the ones we often refer to as the ‘everyday’ or ‘unsung’ heroes. These are the ones whose faces you won’t see advertising the latest energy drink or sports footwear, or promoting their latest book, fragrance or clothing line. We find them in all walks of life: health professions, emergency services, military service, educators, religious leaders, volunteers, and parents to name a few. They become our heroes not just for what they do as much as for the fact that they do it at all, often without thought or need of thanks or compensation. They do it because to them it is the right thing to do – and for that they gain our admiration.

I have a number of heroes, and I would like to introduce you to two of them.

Jade is your typical 9-year-old Australian girl, who is constantly coming up with ideas to raise money for charities. She has supported everything from the preventing animal cruelty to research into childhood diseases. In her latest venture, she has taken it upon herself to make and sell what she calls ‘pink puppies’ – a folded piece of pink paper with a puppy dog face drawn on it. She drew her inspiration from the pink ribbon campaign known worldwide for raising funds to combat breast cancer – something she became aware of when her best friend’s grandmother commenced her own battle with the disease. Jade’s intent is to sell her pink puppies for 25 cents each, and donate all the money to Cancer Council Australia. She started by folding 50 pink puppies, which if sold will raise $12.50 for Cancer Council Australia. When asked if she thought it was worth all the work for a relatively small amount of money, she said, “it still helps, doesn’t it?”

Across the world, Emma is an all-American 10-year-old girl, who recognised a problem in her school and made a decision to try to fix it. That problem is bullying – an anti-social behaviour that is being increasingly recognised and publicised for the physical, mental, and emotional trauma it causes, particularly in school-age children. To tackle this in her own school, Emma decided to form an anti-bullying club to help other kids recognise bullying and give them the confidence to put a stop to it. In Emma’s words, “We don’t want kids to be bullied because we think it is wrong. We are hoping that when we are doing this we can encourage the bullies to stop! We want to help people feel better about themselves, which will help people step up to bullies.” Emma took a proposal to form the anti-bullying club to her school principal, and is waiting for the green light to go ahead.

Jade’s and Emma’s stories show us what it is to be a hero. At ages where all they should be worried about is what they’re going to do with their friends on the weekend, they have taken it upon themselves to make a difference in the lives of others, and to make our world a better place. Their selfless actions and altruistic intentions should inspire all of us. They show us that it is not just the act itself, but the intention behind the act, the desire to stand up and do something – anything – to make a difference, no matter how great or small, that is what makes a real hero.

Jade and Emma show us that we all have it within ourselves to be a hero. Are you ready to be a hero to someone today?

“I think a real hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

– Maya Angelou

Who are your heroes? What makes them a hero to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Words vs. Actions: Which is Greatest?

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When was the last time you heard someone say, “actions speak louder than words?” How about, “the pen is mightier than the sword?” Words and actions have been stuck in an endless grudge-match since both coexisted. Both have their merits and pitfalls, their strengths and weaknesses. Yet does one have an advantage over the other? Are words in fact stronger than actions? Or will actions always win out over words?

There’s no question that words can be very powerful, a topic I’ve touched on before. We’ve all felt their power at one time or another in our lives: “you’ve passed”, “you’ve failed”, “you’ve got the job”, “we’ve given the job to someone else”, “I love you”, “I hate you”, “I’m so proud of you”, “I’m so disappointed in you” are simple examples of phrases that have most likely had a profound effect on you when you’ve heard them. Even “yes” and “no” can be powerful within certain contexts; just think about the impact either word can have in answer to the question, “will you marry me?”

Words have proven their power through the evolution of language and communication. It’s important to realise that our use of words is not only for pragmatic reasons. Consider the difference between reading a book in order to obtain knowledge and information, and reading one purely for pleasure and enjoyment. Consider why we read poetry, or listen to songs. Greeting card companies exist because of the power of words. Words influence us. They are powerful enough to alter our thoughts and our emotions. If they can alter our thoughts and emotions, then they can also influence our actions and behaviour. If our can be determined by words, then perhaps they are more powerful than actions.

However, what are words without actions behind them? Consider a situation where someone says they can do something, but then demonstrates they really can’t. Or makes a promise, but fails to keep it. Or apologises for something they did, and then does exactly the same thing again. The words become meaningless, and words without meaning have no power. They lose their ability to influence, convince, or support anything. In this sense, words need actions; they are dependent on actions to reinforce them, to give them credence and credibility, to make them mean something. Actions reveal the level of truth behind the words, and that determines what influence the words have upon us.

For example, if someone says, “you can trust me”, and then demonstrates through their actions that you can in fact trust them, this will have a powerful effect on your perception of that person and relationship with them. However, an equally powerful effect will occur if that person’s actions demonstrates that you cannot trust them. The words themselves are unchanged – “you can trust me” – so they are not what determines the direction of influence. It is the actions the person undertakes after speaking them that determines their meaning (or lack thereof), and the ultimate outcome. If words can only derive their meaning from the actions behind them, then it surely it stands to reason that actions are stronger than words.

Consider what happens though when there are no actions, or to put another way, when someone undertakes the action of inaction. You’ve probably encountered this situation numerous times: ever sent an email or left a voice message and not had any response from the recipient? Ever scheduled an appointment with someone and they just haven’t shown up? Ever told someone something and their only answer was silence? Those who follow the concept of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) tell us that a person cannot not communicate: that is, even when someone does not respond to us, that lack of response is in fact a response in itself. The problem is, how do you know what they’re trying to communicate to you? Are they ignoring you? Are they indifferent? Are they considering? Do they simply have nothing to say or contribute? Or perhaps they haven’t had time to respond? Maybe they didn’t get your message at all? How do you know what they’re telling you?

The fact is you cannot know what the lack of action means without some form of clarification, and this will almost always be through the use of words. Words can explain both action and inaction, and thereby give those actions context and meaning, which then helps our understanding and comprehension. In fact, sometimes words are all you’ve got to be able to convey something to someone else.

Consider a couple separated by distance – perhaps one is a soldier stationed overseas, or needs to travel for business, or for whatever reason just can’t be with the person they belong with. Under these circumstances, the physical presence that conveys the love, security, and support through the many non-verbal cues and actions that occur when they are together is absent. Does this mean all those things suddenly stop, or change, or become less important? Not at all. However, many couples struggle with this situation simply because while they detect this absence – that something is ‘missing’ – they are unable to resolve it, or at least accommodate it, through other means. In this instance, words can be vital, because they might be all you have. We know that words influence feelings, emotions, and behaviours, and if it’s all you’ve got, then doesn’t that make them a great asset in terms of maintaining what you share as a couple?

This is not to suggest words can substitute for actions, nor that one needs to become a poet or bard in order to use words effectively in this type of situation. But saying something – saying anything – about how you feel about someone, what they mean to you, how important they are to you, or your relationship together is to you, can help ensure that you don’t ‘lose’ anything during your time apart.

Now here’s the real kicker. Ask a couple that’s been through this: was it the words themselves, or the action of expressing them, that made the difference? What do you think they will say?

It’s easy to keep going around in circles with this discussion, and therefore why words and actions have been squaring off for so long. Is one stronger than the other? Sometimes, yes, one does appear to be stronger, or have more meaning, or more power, than the other. Ultimately though, both words and actions are equally powerful; it is the context that determines the balance between the two. What does this mean in practical terms? My advice would be: don’t choose a side, or better yet, choose both sides. Just say what you mean, and mean what you say, and you will have the power of both.

Where do you stand? Are actions more important than words? Are words more powerful than actions? Are both equally important to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Walk the Talk: Why Your Word is One of Your Greatest Assets

3407902250_0ee64a18f7_bEver made a promise but didn’t keep it? What about one that you knew you couldn’t keep at the time you were making it? Chances are, if you’ve ever promised anyone anything, you’ve encountered a time where you just couldn’t keep your word. There may have been legitimate reasons for this, or maybe you just didn’t want to or think it was important. The reactions of those you made the promise to were most likely also determined by the nature of the promise, how much it meant to them, and whether they expected you would keep it. But does it really matter if we break our promises? Should we really be beholden to things we may have said on the spur of the moment, or under certain pressures or emotional conditions?

I’ve always tried to live by the adage, “don’t make promises you cannot keep.” The reason for this is because a person’s word does have value, whether it be in your personal or professional life. The value of our word is reflected in others perceptions of our credibility, our reliability, and our trustworthiness. It influences their desire to want to interact with us, both currently and into the future. Evidence of this is everywhere: the couple that breaks up after a broken promise, the customer who never returns to a store that did not honour an agreement or guarantee, or the politician who is voted out of office for failing to deliver on the claims that got them elected. But why is this so important? Why do we hold promises in such high regard?

A promise is a binding agreement; a vow, a guarantee, a covenant, a bond, or a commitment.It is more than a statement of intention, in that by making a promise you are pledging to ensure that you will do whatever it is you are promising to do.You could think of it as entering into a contract with someone, where you declare that a certain action or undertaking to be performed, under whatever conditions are agreed upon. Failure to keep your promise could be considered to be a ‘breach of contract’, with resultant penalties. In some cases, promises made ‘innocently’ can be enforced by legal means, as the law often does not differentiate between a spoken promise and a promise made through a formal agreement, such as a contract.

This is where a person’s word can gain or lose its value. You may have heard the phrase, “my word is gold”, and it can be useful to think of the value of a person’s word in such financial terms. Because a promise is not just a statement, but a guarantee, it holds a certain value. You could think of making a promise as making an investment in your word – your credibility, reliability, and trustworthiness – and giving it value. Keep your promise, and the value of your word ‘appreciates’. It increases its net worth, so the next time you make a promise, it is already at this new, higher value. To the promisee, this means your credibility, reliability and trustworthiness are already at a higher level, which means they will be more likely to ‘invest’ in your word, and subsequently in you.

What’s important to realise is that this is not just a one-to-one phenomenon. As your word increase in value with one person, that person then becomes your advocate, your ‘broker’ if you will. They share the value of your word with other people, and may even convince people to ‘invest’ in your word for themselves. In this way, the value of your word grows both actively – through direct interaction with individuals – and passively – through an on-flow effect to others. This is why we see marketing slogans such as, “1 million satisfied customers” – we think to ourselves, “if they were all satisfied, perhaps I will be too.”

Conversely, your word can just as easily ‘depreciate’ in value if you break your promises. Fail to deliver, or follow through, or do the complete opposite of what you guaranteed, and you can be sure that without extenuating circumstances to explain it, your word will suffer. This can have a compound effect if you tend to make and break the same promise over and over again. In fact, breaking the same promise multiple times can result in an exponential reduction in the value of your word. For an example of this, visit any court of law hearing divorce cases: you will likely hear many references to promises broken again and again.

This is also not confined to a one-to-one situation. If your word loses value with one person, you can almost be sure it will lose value to some extent with every person that one comes into contact with. This can have a disastrous effect on your credibility, reliability and trustworthiness, and can make future interactions with others very difficult, if not impossible. It is the reason why many businesses adopt the customer service policy of, “the customer is always right”.

So how do you give your word value? Or more importantly, how do you increase it’s value? Here’s four tips on how you can ensure your word is a worthwhile investment for others:

1. Only make promises you know you can keep – or at least that you know you have every intention to keep. If you know from the start that you cannot, or most likely will not, keep a promise, don’t make it in the first place. You are only setting yourself up for failure, and the fallout can be difficult to recover from. In fact, in many instances people may appreciate that you cannot promise something more than they will a broken promise.

2. Only promise what you can deliver – similar to the point above, this is about being able to ‘walk the talk’, that is, not overestimating or overstating what you can really do. Equally true for business as well as personal relationships, it can be easy to make a grandiose promise, yet fall short in being able to deliver on it. This is not always as bad as failing to keep a promise at all, however it can still damage the value of your word. For example, as a physiotherapist, I never promise my patients that I can cure them, because there are so many variables outside of my influence or control that could affect their final outcome – not the least of which being what they themselves do outside of treatment sessions. What I do promise them is that I will give them my very best level of care, because that is completely within my control and ability to deliver on.

3. No promise is too small – we always remember the big promises that people make or break, but there is great value in all the little ones that are made as well. It’s the little things that attribute to our consistency, our ability to deliver on something over and over and over again, and this can have a much higher net value than one large promise. All promises have value, and the smaller ones are every bit as valuable as the big ones. Think of it like building a wall: you can use the biggest bricks you can find, but it’s the mortar in between that holds it all together.

4. If you must break a promise, show good reason – in a given lifetime, very few people, if any, will be able to keep every promise they make. There are only so many things we can control, and even when we get all of these right, sometimes extenuating circumstances stop us from being able to deliver what we promised. If the reason for not keeping a promise can be seen as plausible, then you can minimise, even eliminate, any detrimental effect this might have on the value of your word. For example, a delivery company promises to deliver, “on time, every time.” But what if there is unusually heavy traffic? Or their vehicle breaks down? Or worse, they have an accident? Would it be fair to devalue their word under these circumstances? Ultimately, that is in the hands of the promisee. However, it is far more likely that someone will forgive a broken promise when it can be shown that it was beyond your control to keep it, than they will if they believe you could have done something to prevent it.

Whether it’s in business, in personal relationships, or even to yourself, invest in the value of your word, make it one of your greatest assets, and it will reward you accordingly.

Are promises important to you? How does a kept promise influence your interactions with others? What about a broken one? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

If You Want to Learn, Teach

TeachYou may have come across a version of George Bernard Shaw’s original quote, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” It was originally intended as a criticism of the teaching profession as a whole, however today it is more often used as a derogatory observation of a person’s actual skill or proficiency, the implication being they have chosen to teach something because they are not good enough to be successful at actually doing it. Of all the reasons someone may decide to teach something, this is perhaps the most misguided and nonsensical. The ability to teach – to convey knowledge, impart experience, demonstrate a skill and guide another’s growth – is invaluable: our world, our species, would not be as developed as it is today without those who have chosen to teach others. While it is easy to understand this in terms of the student learning from the teacher, one way that I’ve discovered and come to appreciate the importance of teaching is the amount of learning that the teacher gets from the student.

I’ve become a teacher in a variety of roles. As a physiotherapist, I teach people ways to maximise their functional abilities and avoid injuries. As a guest lecturer and non-fiction writer, I teach students about engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples using the principles of cultural safety. In martial arts I’ve taught people forms and self-defence. Even as a father, a friend, a mentor, or a blogger, I ‘teach’ others by sharing my knowledge, understanding, ideas, experience and skills. Over the years I’ve developed a strong affinity for teaching, much of which stems from how teaching advances my development. When I teach, I’m every bit as much a student as those who I’m teaching. I learn something from every teaching experience I undertake, and so I develop my own abilities further. For me, there are three main ways this occurs:

1. Teaching Tests What I Know

I know how to perform safe manual handling, how to engage with someone whilst being culturally sensitive, and how to perform a Tai Chi or Qigong set. I feel confident saying I know how to do these things, because if asked to do them, I know I can. Teaching someone else how to do them, however, takes me beyond simply knowing how to do something. It tests whether I really understand what it is I’m doing, and it does this with a simple, single word question: why?

‘Why?’ is a fantastic question, however it’s one we tend to stop asking ourselves once we think we know something. The moment a student asks you ‘why’, you immediately discover your own level of knowledge and understanding about something. This is reflected in your ability to provide a meaningful answer. It does not mean you must have an answer; in fact, as intimidating as it might sound, it can actually be a very positive thing if you don’t, because it enables you to recognise your own limitations, and offers you an opportunity to develop yourself further. When I first started teaching, I dreaded being asked questions – especially, “why?” – because I lacked confidence in my ability to answer them. Now I relish them. I seek them out and encourage people to ask me questions, because it’s a great way to check what I know, and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know. It both enables me to expand my understanding (see 2.) and identifies opportunities for me to learn more (see 3.)

2. Teaching Expands My Understanding

One of the great things about teaching something is that students will always think of something you haven’t thought of. This usually presents itself in the form of a question that you weren’t expecting, and commonly starts with, “why does…”, “what if…”, or “how can…”. Often they will come from a perspective that I had not previously considered. This is of tremendous benefit as it requires me to think outside of my own box, and expand my own viewpoint. It gives me a new way to apply my knowledge or skill, and tests whether my ability is at a level where I can do this successfully (see 1.), or whether I need to learn more in order to be able to do so (see 3.) Either way, my understanding expands, and my development continues.

3. Teaching Encourages My Learning

There is a saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know”, and this becomes quite apparent when you try to teach something (see 1.). When I first started teaching, I felt that as a teacher, I needed to know everything about whatever it was I was trying to teach. This was both positive and negative: it encouraged me to learn more about the things I was going to teach, but it also made me anxious about whether I knew enough to be able to teach. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s okay not to know things, and that when it comes down to it, I can’t always know what I don’t know. However, revealing the limitations in my knowledge and understanding gives me the opportunity to learn and improve myself. In many ways, it actually directs my learning more efficiently than simply trying to learn everything about something could ever do. This is because it allows me to take what I already know, and then selectively seek out what I would like to know in order to increase my understanding of something. In this way, teaching enables me to identify gaps in my knowledge or understanding in ways that other strategies, like self-reflection, for example, could never do. In this way, teaching and learning become an endless cycle: the more I learn, the better my ability to teach becomes; the more I teach, the better I can identify opportunities to learn more; and round and round it goes.

Whatever your field of interest, if you want to improve your knowledge, understanding, and ability, I encourage you to try teaching it to others. Develop a course, present a seminar, start an online discussion, or just try to explain it to someone else. You might be amazed at what you learn from it.

Do you teach something? What do you get from teaching? How do you find it benefits you? Please feel free to add your thoughts to the comments below.