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    3 Ways to Be a Better Listener

    A few years ago a video, It’s Not about the Nail, went viral. Today it’s been viewed more than 16 million times. In case you haven’t seen it, it's worth the watch! 

    The video shows a husband and wife arguing about a nail in her forehead that is snagging all of her sweaters and causing her headaches. When her husband tries to tell her that the nail is causing the problem, she becomes defensive and tells him he always tries to fix things - when what she really needs is for him to listen. When he listens to her describe how awful it is to have this constant nagging pain, he responds by saying, “That sounds really hard.” Relieved that she feels like he finally understands, she says, “It is. Thank you.”

    Whether you are listening to your child, a co-worker, your spouse or you are the one wanting others to listen to you, something powerful happens when people feel like they are not only being listened to, but completely heard. 

    When people were asked, “How do you know when someone is listening to you?” they said things like, “They don’t interrupt me when I am talking. They look at me. I can tell they are 100 percent zoned in to what I am saying and not distracted by their phone or who might be walking through the door. They ask questions to make sure they are on the right track.”

    Most people believe they are good listeners, but when you get right down to it, we live in a society that is filled with noise, and most of us have a hard time slowing down enough to listen well. In fact, many have gotten so used to the chatter they literally have a hard time focusing when things get quiet. 

    One thing is for sure: You cannot seek to listen well and also be doing something else. 

    David Myers’ work as the director of the Brain Cognition Lab at the University of Michigan makes it very clear that the brain does NOT multitask. It may act in parallel functions (touch, sound, vision), but when engaging in distinctly different tasks, the brain operates like a toggle switch - jumping from one thing to another. You cannot be looking at emails and listening to someone talk about their day at the same time. It’s literally impossible.

    If you want to enhance your listening skills, consider trying some of these strategies:

    • Be attentive. If you are in a place filled with distractions, move to a different room. If timing is bad, say so and propose a different time to talk so someone can have your full attention. 
    • Ask questions. Sometimes, asking clarifying questions can help to make sure you are tracking with the conversation and not making assumptions. This also helps cut down on the temptation to start crafting your response instead of listening to the very end.
    • Pay attention to body language. Even young children will grab their parent’s face and say, “Look at me,” when they are trying to tell them about their day. We can tell when people are present without really being present by the look in their eyes. Turn toward the person who is speaking and make eye contact with them - it shows them you are not just physically present in the moment. Taking notes can help you stay focused, but it also sends a message that you are paying attention.

    Listening is a skill that takes practice. If we are honest, most of us would admit we can do a better job of listening to the people in our world, whether we agree with them or not. While listening well takes time and energy, it’s a worthwhile investment in any relationship, especially since communication involves both talking AND active listening. People know that what they say matters when you listen well. 

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    Why Soft Skills Matter in the Workplace

    People often talk about what helps young people succeed in the job market. In the last few years, we've placed tremendous emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The question is, however, will these skills actually help young adults find and keep jobs?

    In a recent Washington Post article, Cathy Davidson cites two studies touting that workforce readiness isn’t only about the hard skills. Take Google, for instance. They analyzed hiring, firing and promotion data since the company began in 1998. The most important qualities of Google’s top employees were: being a good coach, communicating and listening well, people smarts - valuing different points of view and values, having empathy toward and being supportive of colleagues, being a critical thinker and problem solver, and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Guess what came in last? STEM expertise.

    Additionally, Google found that their highest functioning teams were not necessarily the teams with the smartest team members. Instead, they were the teams with members that exhibited these traits: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of teammates, empathy, emotional intelligence and emotional safety.

    Caroline Beaton, a Forbes contributor who covers the psychology of millennials at work, asked more than 100 top HR managers, recruiters and CEOs what was important for entry-level job seekers. Nearly all of them said soft skills such as leadership, communication and collaboration were more important than others. The head of HR at Prezi said he looks for candidates with a solid foundation of soft skills and trusts the rest can be built upon those. 

    According to Beaton’s research, there are four additional soft skills that are under-discussed yet essential for workplace success: focus, more than a college degree, agility and humility. 

    Employers today look for workers who can concentrate, which is apparently difficult due to various things, including technology. Additionally, Beaton shared that while employers value higher education, many interviewers said college graduates often lack people skills. One CEO said that recent college graduates do not have the necessary skills, and he realizes he must hire someone who is still willing to learn after graduating from college.

    Job seekers who can adapt and adjust will have a leg up when it comes to applying for a job due to the fast pace of change in almost every workplace. One CEO said she looks for individuals who demonstrate resourcefulness, goals-driven behavior, team player mentality and relentlessness. 

    Finally, Beaton found that employers want to hire humble people who don’t take themselves too seriously and are willing to admit when they don’t know something - in addition to willingly asking for help when they need it.

    Undoubtedly, hard skills are important. The Google research, along with others, shows that teaching soft skills will be every bit as important in preparing the next generation well for the real world of work.

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    4 Tips for Becoming a Team in Marriage

    After you marry, who should you approach first as your confidant, to ask for an opinion or to work through an issue? Your spouse or your parents? Many couples wrestle with this in the early stages of marriage.

    One woman shared that she resented her husband of two years going to his mother about everything. He responded that he is closer to his mother and that she knows him better.

    “My husband and I dealt with this in the first few years of our marriage,” says marriage educator, wife and mother, Gena Ellis. “When I showed up on my parents’ doorstep, my mother told me to go home. She said I didn’t live there anymore and I needed to go home to my husband. My husband was not being mean or hurting me. I was just spoiled and mad that things weren’t going my way, so I ran home to Mama. I am grateful my mom set these boundaries.”

    Even though you love your spouse, learning how to get along together and grow your trust level takes time.

    “I think a lot of men don’t realize how their relationship with their mom can lead to their wife's insecurity in the marriage relationship,” says marriage coach Dr. David Banks. 

    “For example, many well-intentioned men do not realize that confiding in mom after getting married is like being traded from one sports team to another and going back to your former coach for advice. This actually works against building trust in the marriage and figuring out how to rely on each other.”

    Both Ellis and Banks agree that parents should receive, raise and ultimately, release their children.

    “It is truly in a couple's best interest if parents are a safety net rather than the first line of defense,” Ellis says. “If your adult child is having trouble 'cutting the apron strings,' helping him/her do that provides the best chance of a healthy and successful marriage. It is not helpful to say things like, ‘You will always have a room here.’ Or, ‘If she starts treating you bad, you just come home to Mama.’”

    If you are a newlywed, Banks and Ellis offer these tips as you leave your parents and join forces with your spouse.

    • First, sit down together and talk about what it means to be a team.

    • Resist the urge to run to your parents at every turn. Set healthy boundaries for you as the couple and for your parents. Constantly turning to your parents creates difficulty in building trust and confidence in each other.

    • Watch the influences you allow around your marriage. People who have a negative view of marriage don’t typically help you to build a healthy relationship with your spouse. In other words, you may have hung out with people before marriage that you should see less often now.

    • Consider attending a marriage enrichment class. There are great tools to help you build a strong, lasting marriage.

    “Loyalty is foundational to a healthy marriage team,” Banks says. “You may feel like your parents know you better and can offer better advice. But think of your marriage as your new team. Even though your old team knows you better, your job now is to make sure your new team knows you. This isn’t about giving up your relationship with your parents. It is about creating a new system where there is balance and everyone understands their appropriate role.”

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    How to Balance Marriage and Children

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    How to Balance Marriage and Children

    Some couples marry and have lots of time to nurture their relationship before children come along. Other couples marry and bring children into the marriage relationship immediately. Either way, when children enter the picture, the marriage relationship often resembles two ships passing in the night.

    There is no question that parenting focuses a lot of energy and love toward the children. And sometimes it becomes a challenge to have anything left for your spouse.

    While research indicates that marital satisfaction decreases when you have children, it doesn’t mean couples should throw in the towel. Many assume that after children come along, the kids should be the main focus. But studies show that child-centered marriages are the ones that are most at risk for distress. Focusing on building a strong marriage is a wonderful thing to give your children... and yourself. But, any parent can tell you that is easier said than done!

    In many instances both spouses are running 90 to nothing trying to juggle the kids, work, take care of household duties and care for their marriage. If couples don’t have their guard up, tyranny of the urgent can push date night to the bottom of the list in a flash.

    “If your marriage is strong, your whole family will be strong - your life will be more peaceful, you’ll be a better parent, and you’ll, quite simply, have more fun in your life,” says Elizabeth Pantley, mother, author and parenting expert.

    Being intentional about taking care of your marriage doesn’t have to be complicated. Pantley offers some helpful (and free) tips that don’t require extra hours in your day.

    • Look for the good and overlook the bad. When you are tired and stressed, it's easy to focus on the negative. Train yourself to look for the good qualities in your spouse.

    • Give two compliments every day. Life often gets so crazy that you might think something like, “She sure looks pretty in that outfit,” or “I really appreciate the ways he engages our children,” without actually saying it. Think about how you feel when you receive a compliment. They aren’t hard to give and they don’t cost a dime.

    • Pick your battles. It is easy to fall into the trap of fighting over silly things that truly will not matter 24 hours from now. Before you gear up for battle, ask yourself if this is really a big deal. In many instances the answer is no.

    • Be intentional about spending time with your spouse. It might be early in the morning or in the evening after you have put the children to bed, or even better – a date night. This is the hardest part because the tyranny of the urgent typically reigns. Some parents have formed a co-op where they take turns taking care of each other’s children in order to allow for couple time.

    While loving your children is important, making time for each other should be at the top of the list. After all, the heart of the family is marriage and it's really important to keep that focus. Even though it probably doesn’t feel like it right now, your children will become adults in the blink of an eye. Then they will start their own families and it will just be the two of you again.