What ‘Reality’ Are Your Words Creating?

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

e.e. cummings


Last week Pablo (names changed), one of my clients, informed me that he had gotten an unexpected job offer in London. Although nervous, he knew this was one of those rare opportunities.

I congratulated him for his luck and his courage. I know how a “rare opportunity” can be life changing as I’d seized such an opportunity soon after graduating college. I was given the chance to teach at a high school on a remote island in the Chuuk Lagoon, 700 miles south of Guam.

While I have many stories from my years at Xavier High School, the following is my favorite. . .

I arrived a week before the semester’s start. The principal reviewed with me the class roster, pointing out who was bright or lazy; who was a star or just a pain. When he came to the name “Augustine” he said that he’d probably not last the semester, as he was a major troublemaker.

I was intrigued – could he be that bad?

By end of the first class it was clear to me that Augustine was the brightest kid in the class – and, yes, the biggest “pain.”

I took him aside and told him that I wasn’t in the habit of taking crap from anyone –especially not a freshman! I told him that I’d heard he was lazy and that I had no doubt he could do “A” work, which is what I expected. He was shocked at my directness.

As the semester progressed, I kept at him and slowly, steadily, his grades improved from ‘C’ to ‘C+’ to ‘B’ and then, with his final exam, he earned his first ever ‘A.’

I was thrilled that he’d pushed himself to do the caliber of work I knew he was capable of. I also felt smug as I proved everyone wrong!

I went looking for Augustine and found him on the basketball court. I ran up, slapped him on the back and gave him the great news. I told him how proud I was and that I always knew he could do it.

His eyes glistened with tears, something no 16-year-old boy wants. He said that no one had ever told him, “Augustine, you can do it.” I was incredulous, yet I later learned that he came from an unusually broken home and that, indeed, most likely, no one had ever told him that he could “do it.”

This was many years ago and today Augustine works in his government’s historical preservation office.

The power of words is the power to create reality.

My words helped to create a new reality for Augustine because they helped Augustine see himself as he truly could be.

Is there an Augustine in your life?

THE Skill Needed To Be A Smart Communicator

Boredom occurs when you fail to make the other person interesting

Warren Bennis


For over twenty years I’ve had the privilege of helping people find their voice – helping people learn to communicate in smart, healthy ways. I’ve coached hundreds of men and women from their teens through their seventies. I’ve worked with people involved in multitudinous works, across the globe. I haven’t seen it all, but I have seen a lot.

While I know that I’ve had an impact on many people’s personal and professional lives, I also know that I’ve not been able to help everyone who has sought me out. In fact, there are probably just as many people I haven’t been able to help, as there are whom I have been able to help.

I’ve had to come terms with the reality that I can’t be all things to all people. Not every teacher or doctor or lawyer is the right fit for every potential client. And so I’ve had to learn my limitations and over time I’ve learned to be more intuitive, more honest and more strategic in accepting clients.

Acknowledging all this, I continue to grapple with the question: why are some people able to acquire a large repertoire of communication and interpersonal skills and others seem not able to expand their skill set?

I wrestle with this question in part out of curiosity, in part out of pride (why can’t I “fix” everyone) and in part, large part, because I’m genuinely baffled.

What is the difference between people who are successful in relationships and people who are at best stilted and at worst alienating in their relationships?

I believe the difference rests with whether a person is interested in and likes people or is disinterested and insulated emotionally and intellectually from people.

I’m amazed at how many people just seem to be not curious about people. They’re not interested in other people’s stories, in what makes them tick or in how they share similar fates.

Recently, Tanya (names changed), a psychologist, came to me because she doesn’t like talking with people! She’ll give them her attention and skill for the fifty minutes she’s being paid and then she wants them gone. She’s hired me in the hope that I can “teach” her how to talk with people in an informal way.

And then there’s Scott who works in the hospitality industry. He doesn’t understand why his team is upset that he doesn’t smile and greet them with a “Good Morning!” when he arrives at work. HR asked me to “help” him.

A therapist who’s not interested in people unless they’re paying her and a hotel manager who doesn’t understand why he should smile at his team when he arrives for work.


I bow before the reality and the mystery that as humans we are such wondrous and baffling (and frail) creatures.

I am convinced that if you don’t like people you’re not going to know how to learn to communicate in ways that are smart, strategic and healthy.

Skill is only rooted in interest.

Of course, the next question is:

Is it possible to teach someone how to be interested in people?

I stubbornly want to believe that there is – BUT, I’ll have to let Tanya and Scott get back to you on that. . .

Are You Afraid Of Enthusiasm?


I collect quotes – I’ve got half-a-dozen journals filled with quotes. A couple of weeks ago, I opened a journal and came across this quote from the French poet, Apollinaire:

“Come to the edge, Life said. We are afraid, they said. Come to the edge, Life said. They came to the edge. Life pushed them and they flew.”

I shared this quote with my client Eugenie (name changed) a few days ago.

Eugenie loves to read self-help books. She’s even thought that someday she’d like to work as a motivational speaker. For now, though, she’s a computer analyst at an international tech company. This past year she’s been asked to give guided tours to inner-city middle-schoolers. The hope is that the kids can see there is a wide choice of careers in life and especially that girls can have a role to play in the high-tech world.

Eugenie is not as comfortable as she’d like to be when speaking. While she does an adequate job, she knows she could be so much better. One of the things that puzzle her is the issue of ‘enthusiasm’. She’s concerned that if she’s too excited, too “bubbly” in her talk with the kids, they won’t take her seriously.

Eugenie has convinced herself that giving these kids the facts of what she does, without too much enthusiasm, will let them see that what she does is serious and important work.

Passion, though, is just what these kids need to see in a grown-up! They need the love.

I pointed out that someday she hopes to become a motivational, self-help speaker, so why not start now? She looked stunned when I asked this. She explained that her work is not inspiring and is rather mundane. When I asked why she does it, she quickly responded, “Oh, I enjoy it!” She then elaborated on all the aspects where she derives satisfaction.

I again asked why she thinks sharing the pleasures of her job would make kids not take her seriously. I then challenged her, “Why not use these school tours as an opportunity to practice being a motivational speaker?”

She responded with the all too familiar words:

“I’m afraid I won’t do a good job.”

“You mean a ‘perfect’ job” I corrected her. She smiled.

In other posts I’ve urged that you to commit to doing something you’ve put off doing for too long. Go Big! Go Bold! I’ve written. However, the truth is, you don’t have to do something huge in order to “go big.” Little things can be bold things.

I suggested to Eugenie that she doesn’t have to turn her entire talk into a motivational spiel. All she has to do is something she’s never done before in her talk.

That means, all she has to do at the end is say something like, “As much as I enjoy my job, I know that I won’t be working at this company forever – because there are so many things I want to do in life, with my life. And you can, too.”

If Eugenie says those two sentences to the kids, she will have done something bold.

She will have gone to the edge of her fear and allowed Life to push her. I guarantee she’ll fly.

What about you?

What bold “little” thing can you do that will let YOU fly?





Tossing Off Unfair “Labels”


Never say anything about yourself you do not want to come true.

Brian Tracy

I’m not sure how many books I’ve read in my life, but I know it’s been a lot. Of all the books I’ve read, my favorite title is “The Mad Woman’s Underclothes,” a little- remembered Germaine Greer book of essays. It also contains one of my favorite sentences ever: “It is the quality of daily life that matters most.

What makes for the quality of daily life? Well, it can easily be argued – good food, good drink and good friends. And I’d also add, “good words.”

My work is grounded in the conviction that the quality of our life is in direct proportion to the quality of the communication in our life. While much of my work is focused on helping folks learn how to communicate with others in smart, healthy ways, I recently was reminded that how we communicate with our own individual self is just as important.

Ned (names changed) is a new client who hired me because he realizes that if he’s going to advance in his field, he needs to hone his interpersonal skills. In our first meeting, Ned told me that he wants to become more confident. By session’s end, though, I was confused because he enthusiastically spoke of how he enjoys socializing with new people, exploring new venues and finding ways to push his comfort zone. He presented himself with a warm, engaging confidence.

I reminded Ned that while there are situations in which he wants to speak and act with more surety and agility, he already is a man who has considerable confidence. He’s a man who takes risks, is not afraid of people different from him and who successfully navigates a particular business world that is exacting in its demand for accuracy. Ned is demeaning himself when he says, “I’m not confident.”

A mystic of old wrote that, “Dark words hobble the soul.”

I love that word “hobble” for it captures how unfair words of criticism can trip us up. And Ned has been tripping himself up with the label, “unconfident”.

Ned’s first challenge is to toss off the self-imposed label that inaccurately describes who he is. He’s a confident man who wants to expand the areas in his life where he acts from a place of confidence.

The act of tossing off the label will actually give him confidence as he comes into a fuller understanding of who he is and who he wants to be.

That’s what living a life of quality is all about!

What about you?

What inaccurate labels do you attach to yourself?

What’s stopping you from tossing them off?