Life is full of stress. I have wished many times in the past, that relationships came with an instruction manual to live a positive, wise, and stress-free life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to happen that way.  These principles above have aided me in my struggle for communication “heart to heart”.  Let me know if they help you.  

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1. Listen with one heart instead of two ears.

In life, on any one given day, a potential conflict springing to the “center ring” exists.  It occurs between children, between parents and children, between the parents, teachers and teaching assistants, staff and parents, between employee and boss, etc. All within a context that can be as varied as the children trying to decide whose turn it is, to whether or not the base runner was “safe or out,” to the price of plumbing repairs seeming “rather steep,” to “wouldn’t you like to make a donation to the _______ fund?”

Experience has taught me that a lack of careful, thoughtful, intense and sincere listening on my part leads inevitably to an escalation of the problem. 

When I have jumped to “policy requires,” “research says,” or “my perception of the incident you describe is,” without first giving my attention to the “needs” of the other person in the corridor, on the phone, or in my office, I jeopardize the hope of either a satisfactory conclusion or a creative compromise.  While listening costs time and energy. It is worth the price tag attached.

2. Every verbal feast should be accompanied by a plate of forgiveness.

I’m downtown in the mall or in line at the grocery store and someone steps on my toe or jostles my arm or causes me to lose my balance.  S/he says,“Excuse me.  Pardon me.  I am so sorry.”  I say, “Not a problem.”  And both of us are on our way.  Why isn’t that small level of forgiveness in existence when people “talk” to each other as when people “walk” with each other? 

Everyone is aware of the difficulty of communication (in fact in my opinion, there are no synonyms at all in the English language); everyone is enlightened enough to recognize that his/her perceptions are clouded by past experiences, values, belief systems, cultural heritages, etc.  However, it is easy to leap to conclusions about the message received. Instead of holding an attitude of “it was an accident” or “it wasn’t intentional,”

I have observed over the years that human beings believe their own motivations to be the “best” and pure in intent, but others to be tainted with the “worst” and dusted with malice.  Before we realize it, the seeds of “war” are planted.  To avoid this, a plate of forgiveness should be constantly passed back and forth with a bite taken whenever the need arises in a conversation.

3. Take care of the adult within the child and the child within the adult or treat the child as an adult and the adult as a child.

I learned quickly, 25 years ago, when I had 42 children in a room so cramped with desks that there was not enough space to create aisles, to become aware of the adult developing within the child.  I discovered in my struggle for appropriate classroom management procedures and the instilling of self-discipline techniques, that the easiest way to obtain it was to assume I was working with adults.  This was interpreted by me to mean that I would ask the children (as I would have adults) their opinion on:  how to run the class, what to teach, what consequences should be applied, etc.

It meant, I thought/believed/acted “as-if” what they thought and had to say “was important.”  Ever since then, I’ve strived in my interactions with children to “communicate with the growing adult.”  This creates an automatic level of respect upon which the children seem to thrive.  I don’t use baby talk; I get down on their level; I ask them multiple questions in my detective search to find out ‘who they are’.

When I discovered how well this worked for me in teaching/tutoring/testing children, I began to wonder if the reverse wouldn’t be true as well; there is a child struggling to be remembered/cherished in the adult.  In my interactions with adults, I search for the hidden child.  For example, at the University of Notre Dame, I teach a class entitled Psychology Foundations 4100 for individuals working on their California teaching credential.  The entire semester is built on the principle that in each and every class, there must be an element of ‘play’.  And so we do ‘play’ – with large wooden blocks (for teaching observation techniques)’ Tinker Toys (for demonstrating the importance of planning), Wikki-Stixs (for promoting creativity in the classroom), etc.  The students tell me (with probably some apple polishing), that they love my class and plan to emulate some of what I do.  I hope it’s true!

4. I cannot hear what you are saying because your actions are yelling! Or I cannot hear what you are saying because I am too busy “doing” what you are “doing.”

I remember with fondness, a particular incident during a week that my niece Brandy, and her daughter – (my grand niece), Krissie Jo, spent with me.  Even before Krissie Jo’s birth, I had been promoting to Brandy the value and importance of reading to the baby. So, Brandy began reading to the baby, when Krissie Jo was still in the womb.  Every night, just before Brandy’s ‘pregnant bedtime’ and every night since the baby’s birth, children’s picture books have been an important part of the evening ritual for this tiny family. 

As a result, it was a delight to watch Krissie Jo “read” to herself.  She takes a book – any book – adult or children’s – holds it in front of herself – turns to the first page and begins – “Tah, blah, ah, etc.”; then no sound erupts from that rosebud mouth as she turns the page and she begins again, “Tah, blah, etc.”  This is the pattern that is followed until the book is completed.  May we as adults, never forget the power of the model we set before the children within our realm of influence.

5. I believe in the sun even when it rains.

‘Six Seconds’ work often requires counseling work on my part with schools.

Several years ago, I gave a test to one school faculty member from the book, Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman.  I also took the test myself.  The results were fascinating.  I was surprised that I had received the highest score for an optimistic outlook.  Translated, that meant, when good things happen, my attitude is that success occurred because of both hard work and ability, and when bad things happen, my attitude is that failure occurred because of the difficulty of the task or perhaps bad luck/poor timing, etc.  If we want children to be achievers, we will strive to build in them, a belief system that says ‘success is due to consistent effort and competent skills’.  Optimism can be taught.

Simple Gift = Less Stress

Simple Gifts

Tis a gift to be simple,

Tis a gift to be free,

Tis a gift to come down 

Where we ought to be

And when we find ourselves 

In this place that’s right

Twill be in the valley

Of love and delight.

Nineteenth Century Shaker Hymn

Anabel’s Story: What has kept this goldfish alive?

It certainly hasn’t been my diligent cleaning of his/her home.  There was algae growing up the side of the bowl and the water was pea green. It had been several days/weeks/ months past due for a cleaning.  Thank heaven my son had been given a more regular “maintenance program” during his upbringing.

So, on this quiet and open Saturday morning, it seemed a reasonable activity.  I put the goldfish in another bowl of clean, cold water and began working on the murky stuff.  In dumping the water down the drain, I accidentally lost approximately one-half of a cup of brightly, multi-colored sea gravel.  A new challenge had reared its head.

My garbage disposal (described by the manufacturer as ‘industrial strength’) could probably have eaten a few bits of gravel, but a half of a cup was beyond its capacity.  I thought briefly of calling a plumber, but could see my pennies turning into hundreds without stopping at the tens and decided I would attempt a fix on my own.

Remembering my success with other mechanical devices, I probably should have re-thought my decision – especially knowing that “time is money.”  Nevertheless, I plunged ahead.  I dug out as many of the minuscule pebbles as I could by hand.  This wasn’t very fruitful and turned into a slow, extremely laborious process so, I brought in a backup machine – a Kirby (‘industrial strength,’ so said the manual) vacuum cleaner.

This increased my picking up capacity and in approximately five minutes, by sticking the vacuum nozzle down the garbage disposal drain, I sucked up all the visible gravel.  However, the garbage disposal now refused to operate.  At this point, I went to the garage and searched for the manual that had arrived with the disposal (approximately 17 years ago.)  I knew that someplace, there was a folder labeled “Household Appliances.”  Sure enough, there it was, the instructions said try the ‘reset button’, but I needed a certain type of wrench which I didn’t have.  If that failed (I decided to pretend that I already had failed) the instructions said to take the handle of a broom (I thought this only occurred on television and wasn’t real) and insert it into the gears and push counterclockwise.  Eureka!  I couldn’t believe it.  It actually worked.  “When all else fails, read the instructions.”

I thought of this incident and ‘wished again’ as I have wished many times in the past, that relationships (parent to child, child to parent, friend to friend, significant other to significant other, boss to employee, etc.) came with an instruction manual and that just by applying the right technique “counterclockwise,” the relationship would work.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to happen that way.  What I have discovered, however, in many years of trying, trying and trying again, is a set of principles that have stood me in good stead.  

Anabel Jensen

President of Six Seconds and professor of education, Anabel Jensen, Ph.D., is a master teacher and a pioneer in emotional intelligence education. A two-time Federal Blue Ribbon winner for excellence in education, she was Executive Director of the Nueva School from 1983 to 1997 where she helped develop the Self-Science curriculum featured in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence.