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A Gift Given is a Gift to Give

How do you create more joy this holiday season? Obviously the holidays are a time of celebrating, feasting, relaxing with family and friends, and reflecting on the bounties of the season. I have found what adds to our joy is to recognize and receive the gifts that are given and in return to give them to others.

You may be aware of a situation that occurred in late October here in Utah which received national attention on the Today show. Ethan Van Leuven was diagnosed with  leukemia when he was 22 months old. From that time on he underwent the use of experimental drugs, full radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and even a bone marrow transplant. His cancer went into remission and then returned. In October of this year, the doctors announced that he had only, “two days to a couple of weeks to live.”

Because Ethan loved holidays, his family decided to celebrate Halloween, his birthday and Christmas all in the same week. Ethan’s community, family and friends went to work and mobilized to make his last days memorable.

Halloween was held on October 21st. Ethan dressed up in his Superman costume and went trick or treating with friends and family in his neighborhood. All the families were ready with treats for the young boy.

On October 23rd a parade was held in Ethan’s town to celebrate his birthday one month before his actual fifth birthday. The parade was led by a police officer in his cruiser who announced from the car’s loudspeaker, “Ýou are our hero. Thank you for being part of our lives, Ethan. Our hero.” Over one hundred people participated in the parade and included characters like Darth Vader, Indiana Jones and the Black Angels. Also marching in the parade were local police officers, firemen, a man playing a bagpipe, the Belgian Malinois from the Max Cares 4 Kids Foundation, and other mascots from local sports teams.

In addition, a 13-year old boy, who didn’t know Ethan, donated his stuffed animal collection to Ethan for his birthday. The boy had spent years collecting the animals that he had won from inside claw machines that are frequently found at arcades and supermarkets.   

For Christmas Eve, celebrated on October 24th, everyone decorated their homes with Christmas lights. Santa and Mrs. Claus showed up in the town’s big, red fire engine to give Ethan a ride around town. In the evening, someone showed up with a tractor to give Ethan and his family a hayride around town to view the Christmas lights. Later that evening 150 people showed up on the Van Lerven’s front lawn to sing Christmas carols and act out a live nativity scene, complete with shepherds, wise men, angels, and even a live baby representing the baby Jesus. A local radio station even played Christmas music for three hours for the family to enjoy. After all the festivities Ethan and his family returned to their home for the remainder of Christmas Eve and Christmas that they celebrated the next day on October 25th. Ethan passed away three days later.

Everyone was uplifted by their own acts of service, kindness, sacrifice, ministering, and love that they gave. The joy that everyone experienced was the result of deliberately forgetting themselves and giving the gifts that they had been given[1].

What Gifts Can You Give?

Here are a number of given gifts you might give this holiday season:

A Life—This is not a gift that is frequently given, and yet our mothers laid their lives on the line to bring us into this existence. Our service men and women and other public servants willingly and courageously risk their lives to defend and protect us.

A Moment of Time—Time is a valuable commodity to many of us. Simply stopping and being fully present with another person demonstrates care and concern for them. Set aside some distraction-free time.

A Listening Ear—Have you ever noticed those individuals who seem to talk to you at the most inopportune times? Or perhaps you are confronted with those who always have a story to tell, and they tell the same story over and over again? Understand that they are seeking acknowledgment and a personal sense of value or affirmation from others. Be fully present and truly listen.

A Kind Word—There are too many words of hate, rancor, complaint, and frustration that are expressed today. These words create a dark spirit of negativity that drag us down. As hard as it seems, choose to offer a kind word to those around you. We could do a better job of expressing appreciation to those who do things for us. Speak kind words to others.

A Helping Hand—There are ample opportunities to pitch in and make another’s burden lighter. You could help clean up the kitchen, make a meal, rake up leaves, shovel some snow, wash a floor, clean a bathroom or wash a floor. At work you could help someone finish a report, offer to send out an agenda, help with a frustrated customer, or run a meeting. Helping is a wonderful way of connecting and spending time with those around you and improving your relationship. Do something with someone you love or care about.

A Token of Esteem—Perhaps you have some cherished item that means something to you that you could give to another. My father used to pick avocados from our tree in the back yard in December. Then he would put them in small, brown lunch sacks and deliver them to everyone on our block. Everyone loved to see him coming. Give something away that means something to you.     

A Smile—Many people are highly stressed this time of year because of the year-end projects that are due at work and with holiday preparations. Smiling at people and looking them in the eye will brighten their day. You’ll notice them do a double take. Just keep smiling and you’ll notice that they will smile back. Find people to offer a bit of sunshine to.

An Unexpected Visit—Many older folks are shut in at this time of year or their families are far away. Identify someone who is alone, get out of the house, and go knock on their door. When they answer the door with surprise just tell them that you came for a visit. Talk to them, show interest in them, and tell them that you are glad they are there. Give people the gift of your presence.

A Touch—Touch is a powerful tool to make us feel connected to one another.  Find ways to connect with people by shaking their hand or touching them on the shoulder.  Where appropriate, give them a hug or hold their hand.

I said something supportive recently in the airport to a young mother who was struggling with her young child. Out of nowhere, she grabbed me, hugged me, and thanked me. I have to admit that I was moved. Where appropriate reach out and touch someone: a family member, a son, a daughter, or someone you highly cherish. Look to connect with those you care about.

A Word of Appreciation—We don’t thank each other enough. Start to notice the things, the small but simple things that people do, and then say, “Thank you for… ” to them. Express appreciation to let people know that you care.

I am sure that there are many more gifts that are given to you that you could give to others. You are probably wondering what this article has to do with REAL Conversation. I hope that you realize that your life *is* the conversation, and I hope that you are living it deliberately. My gift to you this holiday is the story of Ethan Van Leuven and the reminder that you have the power to lighten and lift others.

Happy Holidays to you wherever in the world you may be!!


“‘Overwhelming’ Community  Support for Little Boy with Cancer,” Shara Park and Whitney Evans, October 24, 2014, http://www.ksl.com/?sid=32083427.

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Ask-Don't Ask to Tell

Soon after I turned 16, I took a young lady on a date around the lake late at night to watch the moon come up. When it was time to go home, I started the car, drove maybe a quarter mile, and the car stopped. In shock I noticed that the gas gauge registered “E.”

So my date and I started walking. When we arrived at my home, her parents and my parents were waiting up for us. As soon as she left with her parents, my dad started in.

Here are some of the questions that he asked:

 “What do you think “E” on the gas gauge meant?”

 “Did you think it meant “Enough?”

 “How far did you think you could drive with the needle on “E?”

“Do you think you will “E-ver” see her again?”

Although this went on for some time, I really didn’t have the presence of mind to answer rationally. I remember just standing there staring at the ground and feeling more and more worthless by the minute.

Unfortunately when things go wrong or when the results aren’t what was expected, some managers will ask questions in this manner. These types of questions are not really meant to be answered. They are really disguised statements of frustration or contempt for the current situation. The problem is that when an individual is belittled with these types of questions, the individual must invariably resort to the past in an attempt to defend themselves or their current actions.  

The following common questions attack an individual from a number of perspectives. I refer to these types of questions as “negative” questions because they result in defensiveness and they do not explore or help to solve the problem. Taking a moment to formulate more “positive” questions can produce a much more desirable result.  

Let’s review a few examples.

“Did you decide that …?”   

Notice that this question attacks the judgment of the individual. You can see how a person has to retreat to the past and explain their reasoning or rationale to explain their decision. This question is really a disguised statement for “You made a bad decision.”

Think of how much more useful it would be to ask instead, “Given what happened, what would you do differently next time?” Notice that this question forces the individual to think about the future and how they might solve the problem. This type of question has a more positive effect on the individual and the process that needs to be improved.

“Why did you do it like that?”

This question criticizes the effort of the person. No one is going to purposely attempt something that they think will not work. This negative question is really saying, “You did this incorrectly.”

 Instead of asking the previous negative question, think of how much more effective it would have been to ask, “What were you hoping to achieve by doing what you did?” followed by, “What would you change the next time around?”  

“Shouldn’t you have…?”

This question is about giving advice. Advice is usually signaled by the use of the words “should,” “could”, or “would.” The only problem with giving advice is that you assume that you know what the person was thinking at the moment and that your thinking would have resulted in a better outcome than what they achieved. In reality, the only evidence that you have for these assumptions is that you thought them. Consequently, this question is really stating, “I need you to do this this way.” However, because you never asked to understand, you still haven’t discovered the reasoning behind the other person’s behavior which produced the undesirable result.

 How much better to ask these positive questions: “What prompted you to alter the procedure?” “Do you believe you might get a different result if you followed the same plan?”  “Why or Why not?”

“Are you the one who blew it?” 

This is the same as saying, “You blew it!” This question simply assigns blame.The person obviously knows that something he or she did didn’t work out. The motivation for using such a question could be none other than to point out and emphasize the obvious. Doing so does not inspire confidence or motivation moving forward.

Asking the following questions would be more effective: “Where could you have used some help or support?” “What did you learn from what happened?” and “What would you do differently going forward?” Notice that these questions allow you to see the other person’s point of view while inspiring them to think and evaluate a future course of action.   

“Didn’t you know that…?”

This is the same as saying, “You don’t have a clue about what you are doing!” The purpose of making such a statement is to make a point while challenging the person’s capability.

You would be better off asking something like, “What was most important about how you chose to accomplish the task?” Such a question provides insight into the value that the person assigned to doing what they did. It also provides insight into what they didn’t know, understand, or the priority they assigned to their action. It is more important to explore their thinking to produce a different result rather than demeaning them for something they didn’t know. You want to create a moment for teaching and coaching to improve results.

Often the negative questions above emerge out of a degree of frustration in the moment. If you have a tendency to ask such questions, you need to take a moment to restore your rationality before addressing the individual. Using “positive” questions or questions that provoke another’s thinking take time to formulate.

For example, rather than asking, “Are you the one who blew it?” why not ask, “What would you do differently next time?” Notice that this question doesn’t force the person to defend themselves.Rather, they have to stop and think about what they would do differently going forward.

Asking questions that initiate thinking and move the conversation into the future are not only respectful, but also they allow you to assess the understanding of the individual to whom you are talking. This puts you in a position to understand, coach and teach the individual should you need to do so.

Finally, recognize that whatever questions you ask, you must slow down your tempo, use a respectful tone, and ask the question with a moderate volume. Delivery is just as important as the wording you chose.

Taking time to ask yourself what you really want to know and how you might ask certain questions requires deliberate focus on your part. Asking positive questions will help create an atmosphere of trust and respect that will lead to stronger working relationships and better results.

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Can You Connect with Different Communication Styles of an Audience?

Of course no one sets out to intentionally offend or cause friction when they speak or communicate with large groups of people; and yet, everyone has a unique style of communication—which can differ dramatically from group to group. Because of our inherent style differences, there is a chance that we might unintentionally offend someone or create unnecessary conflict.

When speaking to large groups of people, it is important to recognize the interaction or communication style of others and then mirror or “match” that style when communicating with them.  Your interaction will be more effective, you will increase engagement and create rapport, and you will be more likely to achieve desired results.

The challenge for any professional is for them to adapt their style to the style of their audience or to the person to whom they are speaking. The good news is that anyone can learn to do this. It gets easier with practice and, in time, will become second-nature.

Recognizing Communication Styles

Becoming familiar with the differences between the four distinct communication styles, will help you become a more effective speaker or facilitator:

Initiators want action. Their speech tone is often blunt, emphatic, and no-nonsense. An Initiator is not shy about invading someone’s personal space to make a point. They hold direct, sustained eye contact and often gesture by pointing or chopping the air to emphasize their words.

Builders value recognition and appreciation. Builders love to share their ideas and their “big picture” viewpoint. They use a varied, animated tone. They like to be near people and will often touch others when speaking. Builders give intermittent eye contact.  They use expansive gestures and descriptive language, and are generally enthusiastic.

Connectors are relationship-oriented. They enjoy being a part of a group and collaborate well with others. Connectors use a quieter tone of voice, and do their best to avoid conflict. Connectors appreciate a generous personal space, especially when in a group of strangers. Often Connectors avoid direct eye contact when conversing, instead looking down or to the side. Their gestures are casual, not emphatic.

Discoverers value precision, accuracy, and process. They are fact-oriented and need data to make decisions. Discoverers use little inflection when speaking unless they disagree, then they may become cynical or sarcastic. They like at least one arm’s length spacing between themselves and others. When asked a question, a Discoverer will look to the sides before answering. They use minimal hand gestures, preferring instead to cross their arms or keep them at their sides.

Below is a chart to help you identify the differences that different styles present:




Proximity to Others

Eye Contact

Hand Gestures


Results, action

Direct, blunt, emphatic

No limit

Direct, sustained

Points, chops


Relationships, appreciation

Animated, inflected

Close, touching




Others, team

Quiet, thoughtful

2 arms’ length

Down, around

Casual, soft


Accuracy, process

Matter-of-fact, cynical

Arm’s length




Observe Your Audience

When you have to speak to a large audience, you should observe how individuals are interacting before you begin. Are people in close groups, speaking enthusiastically? Are people sitting quietly, waiting for the presentation to begin? Are they checking their watches or responding to email? Do they seem in a hurry or more relaxed? Look at any materials they have in front of them: how are things organized? Are items spread around, or do you see neat stacks?

These observations can give you an idea of the communication styles of the individuals who are present. Adapt your presentation to fit the majority of the people in attendance by gently reflecting their choice of words, tone, proximity, eye contact, and gestures.

Here are some more suggestions to help you engage large groups of various communication styles:


·        Present key information with specific points.

·        Be direct about what you want them to do.

·        Do activities to test their knowledge.

·        Keep your energy level high and the pace moving to keep their attention.

·        Recognize they may not answer your questions if their expertise is called into question.


·        Express interest in their ideas and listen to them.

·        Gently keep maintain control of your presentation when they begin to talk too much.

·        Use personal examples and stories to keep their attention.

·        Make precise points you want them to understand.

·        Ask them to summarize for the group what they have learned after an activity.


·        Draw them into a discussion or activity with questions.

·        Provide examples and stories to help them make an application.

·        Allow time for their questions.

·        Express personal interest in them.

·        Explain reasons why you are asking them to do something.


·        Provide an agenda if possible.

·        Be prepared for questions; be patient. Do not take personal offense!

·        Be prepared with data and authorities to support your points.

·        Provide step-by-step instructions for activities, procedures, or processes; written is best.

·        Give them time to process new information.

Managing Extremes

Because many audiences consist of a mixture of styles, the challenge becomes to adapt your presentation accordingly. For example, the Initiator may want you to move too quickly, and you will need to make specific points for him or her. The Builder may want to talk about their ideas and experiences, so it is important to keep them on track. The Connectors are often very quiet or non-participative, so you will need to draw them in with questions and try to involve them in a productive way. Finally, the Discoverer may ask many questions, sometimes asking them as a way to make a point or draw attention to their own expertise. You will need to manage this type of questioning in order to stay in control of your presentation.

As you become more skilled at discerning and adapting to your audiences’ styles, you will become more effective at connecting with each group, increasing your rapport with your audiences, and providing information they need in a more meaningful way. 

Of course no one sets out to intentionally offend or cause friction when they speak or communicate with large groups of people; and yet, everyone has a unique style of communication—which can differ dramatically from group to group. Because of our inherent style differences, there is a chance that we might unintentionally offend someone or create unnecessary conflict.

When speaking to large groups of people, it is important to recognize the interaction or communication style of others and then mirror or “match” that style when communicating with them.  Your interaction will be more effective, you will increase engagement and create rapport, and you will be more likely to achieve desired results.

The challenge for any professional is for them to adapt their style to the style of their audience or to the person to whom they are speaking. The good news is that anyone can learn to do this. It gets easier with practice and, in time, will become second-nature.

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