Last week’s newsletter brought this thoughtful response from Sheryl Bullock who is a life coach: I am not particularly good at crossing cultural and age barriers to develop relationships with others. I would love to hear your stories about the people you mentioned…. What questions did you ask them initially? How did they respond? At what point did you know you had made a good connection with them? …There is a huge need for this information. People love stories and I think you still have many to tell!
Here are some observations that I’ve had to this point:
- Ask God to lead. Sometimes when I will go into a church service, fitness club or restaurant I ask God to open a conversation that might be of value. The previous post mentioned friendships arising from casual conversations with a grocery checker, a waiter, and a stranger at a conference book table. These contacts seemed to arise spontaneously. Did they? Be available and you will be connected.
- Cultivate the attitudes that characterize all good cross-cultural conversations: Be friendly, sensitive, willing to learn, respectful, authentic, not paternalistic (looking down on others), flexible. It’s amazing how people respond positively to attitudes like these.
- Resist your biases. (We all have them). If you disapprove of people who differ from you, this will be picked up quickly. That stifles connectivity.
- Express genuine interest in others. Ask open-ended questions. Then listen. Recently my wife and I moved into a condo community where we didn’t know anybody. Doors have opened with statements like “Hi, my name is Gary and we’re new here. Tell us about you.” Ask others about themselves and they usually respond. This works with visitors to your church, for example, with people you meet in the fitness club, or even with busboys who pick up your restaurant dishes.
- Respect boundaries by avoiding personal questions or asking about confidential information.
- Expect that some people won’t respond to your overtures. This may reflect shyness, discomfort with your friendliness, or cultural differences. What works where I live will need to be adapted elsewhere.
Previously I mentioned a good friend who is French. He jokes that his countrymen are like baguette bread: hard on the outside but very soft once you get past the crust. This takes time, patience, and sensitivity but the benefits are great. How have you connected across age and cultural gaps? Please comment.
In 2004 following my only experience as a surgery patient, the doctor made a prediction that proved to be accurate. He said that I’d make a complete and relatively speedy recovery. In addition to good medical care he commented on several positive signs, including my overall good physical shape based on consistent exercise, the “spirituality” that he saw, a determination to get better, my sense of humor (it beats complaining), and the social support that came from family and friends. At times I thought of this while reading psychologist Susan Pinker’s fascinating book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter.
This is not a self-help book built on inspiration and subjective opinions. Pinker does include captivating illustrative stories but, in addition, she reports on her interviews with a variety of experts and ordinary people, plus references to an impressive body of scholarly research. For example, the book documents ways in which face-to-face contact contribute to athletic success, language learning, brain development, overall health, longer life, stronger marriage, spiritual growth and better recovery from surgery like mine over ten years ago. Pinker’s work demonstrates her wide knowledge of brain functioning and neurophysiology as these relate to everyday behavior, stress-management and life fulfillment. The Village Effect is written by one of those rare scholars who is able to engage readers, write clearly, and make empirical evidence interesting and relevant.
Here are summary conclusions adapted from comments on the book’s cover:
- People with tight circles of friends who gather regularly are likely to live an average of fifteen years longer than loners.
- Social contact at the beginning of life helps us cope with stress later on.
- The lowest rate of dementia appears in people with extensive face-to-face social networks.
- A hug or a pat on the back lowers one’s physiological stress response, which in turn helps the body fight infections.
- Women with breast cancer who have large networks of friends are four times as likely to survive as those with sparser social connections.
This is an impressive summary of what most of us suspect or know. But in what practical ways does this book’s message relate to your work, career, relationships and lifestyle? We’ll have more on this next week. Meantime, please feel free to leave a comment.
This week I read two articles that describe growing technologies: one newer, the other well established. The first is the subject of the August 17 Time cover story (US Edition) titled “The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality: And Why It’s [nearly upon us, better than you think… and] About to Change the World.” Put on those increasingly sophisticated virtual reality goggles and our whole perceptions change. This is not just about making video games more dramatic. It can be about treating the effects of trauma, dealing with various psychiatric disorders, and revolutionizing education. I wonder about its potential for changing how we lead, learn about God, or advertise. And are there dangers that we don’t yet see? Apparently we’ll encounter lots more about this come Christmas shopping season.
Much more familiar are podcasts, recently discussed in a Wall Street Journal article (August 8-9.) We’ve all seen podcasts and webinars, some very sophisticated, which move us beyond radio, television or weekly written blogs like this one. Friends have urged me to replace or supplement this newsletter with audio and/or video posts, especially since these tend to be favored by so many people who like to listen or watch rather than to read.
- A good communicator knows the characteristics of his or her audience. Surely this includes knowing how the audience learns or prefers to get information. Most readers of this newsletter are older, educated, and presumably inclined to learn by reading. Like me. Would a different audience be attracted by a podcast or other non-written, video or audio format? What about using both formats?
- Experienced bloggers have demonstrated the value of captivating titles, eye-catching images, and succinct introductory sentences. These are more likely to attract and hold readers to the end. Similarly, aren’t most of us grabbed and retained by articulate speakers in attractive settings telling interesting stories with practical implications? Boring podcasts may give us something to hear or watch but they make no more impact than boring blog posts.
- Podcasts can be produced relatively easily. All you need is a computer with a camera. I have done these with my classes, replacing long lectures with video clips to be watched at leisure.
- Podcasts and webinars can be produced from anywhere and allow feedback so observers are more involved with the action. Should you be doing this? Should I?
Please comment. Tell us how you have used podcasts, webinars or virtual reality.
If the title of this newsletter sounds dull, please keep reading, at least this paragraph. Exactly one year ago Nadine Kaslow, then-president of the American Psychological Association, gave a talk titled “Translating Psychological Science to the Public” (published in American Psychologist, July-August, 2015 issue.) Dr. Kaslow makes a compelling and engaging case that applies whatever your area of expertise and interest. Too often we talk with like-minded colleagues and rarely attempt to translate what we know to outsiders in other fields.
As coaches, pastors, professors, or leaders of any other specialties, how do we communicate and impact people outside of our own specialties? Much of my work has involved translating practical findings from psychology to non-psychologists, including ministry leaders who lack up-to-date training in psychology or counseling. This newsletter/blog is a translation piece, converting information from selected articles or books into language and summaries that might be of value to others. We all know Christian leaders who seek to translate basic theological concepts into words that reach people who otherwise might be uninterested. Here are some of Kaslow’s conclusions geared for psychologists but with far broader implications:
- Translation means conveying some message “in a comprehensible, memorable, and relevant manner so the audience appreciates what it means and what difference [the information or message] makes.”
- To whom do we translate? It depends on our message. For example, it may be relevant to various professionals, policymakers, students, therapy patients/clients, or the general public.
- How do we translate? Be succinct, accurate, and with writing that holds interest and anticipates how recipients may respond to the message.
- What methods do we use? Obviously utilize articles, books, and traditional media like magazines, verbal presentations, radio and television. But focus too on using websites and social media. Many people are best reached through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, podcasts and other channels including, of course, blogs. And don’t overlook the arts, museums, or public education campaigns.
- What gets in the way? First, common attitudes, especially in professionals or academic circles where there is concern about inaccuracies or disdain of “popularizers” who may even be devalued professionally if they produce anything for popular audiences. Second, logistical barriers in those who don’t know how to reach beyond their own fields. One example, do you know how to get a magazine article or popular book published?
Thanks for reading beyond the first paragraph above. Now please leave a comment about your translating.
Almost every week for over a decade I have been writing this weekly newsletter. Blogs like this can get routine and tired after a while unless they are updated with some frequency. To start this process again I asked for feedback a few weeks ago and promised to give a summary based on the small but much appreciated, definitely non-scientific response that came in. Here’s what I learned:
- The summaries of contemporary articles and books are appreciated and should continue, especially if each leads to some practical conclusions.
- Roughly half of the respondents wanted personal perspectives gleaned from my years of experience. Examples include counseling Millennials, dealing with criticism, mentoring across continents, flourishing in the later years, and “Why a global perspective is absolutely essential in today’s world.” At any time you can send additional suggestions. I try to limit using the word “I” in most of the newsletters but apparently the Collins perspective would be valued.
- Some of the respondents had very good questions but on topics that may have limited interest to a broader readership. I may try to answer some of these privately or fit them into topics of greater reader interest.
- Nobody asked for more stories but these tend to be popular with writers, speakers and their audiences. Expect a few more.
- Nobody asked for advertising or a newsletter that blatantly markets my books or myself. For other bloggers this is OK. Don’t expect more here.
Here are things I’ve been learning about blogging. To keep posts relevant, blog writers (this could include you) need to know who their readers are and what they want or need. Decide whether you can provide this information and how. Shorter blogs, especially those with bullet points are more often read than long, dry text. Be consistent in your timing: Sporadic posts rarely get read. Titles matter. So do images, especially photos of people. Titles and images catch and hold readers who can always click and go elsewhere if the post looks boring.
One more: it’s important to get feedback from readers. That’s you. What would you add, based on your role as a blogger or as a blog reader? Please leave a comment.
Now a postscript on this holiday weekend. Happy Canada Day to you who are Canadians. Happy Independence Day to Americans. Happy both to dual citizens like me. And Happy weekend to everyone.
King Saul was not the first person to consult a medium or fortune-teller (1 Samuel 28.) Efforts to predict the future using sorcery and fortune-tellers have been around for centuries and even interest some Christians despite the Bible’s condemnation of these practices. In the church where I grew up, visiting preachers would sometimes conduct prophecy conferences where parts of the Bible, Revelation especially, would be interpreted in ways that seemed to mix biblical exegesis with preacher speculation about current and future events.
Today we take a more secular, quasi-scientific approach. We carefully look at trends in the present and make speculations about how these might play out in the future. Often these predictions are wrong, especially in an era of rapid and unpredictable change. But sometimes we can predict accurately enough to plan ahead wisely. Best example is the predicted development of well-studied diseases. Business magazines and newspapers often give predictions like those in the April 27, 2015 Wall Street Journal where experts made predictions on subjects including small business, the economy, mass marketing, retirement, religion, virtual reality gaming, health care and even sex. Here are three examples that might interest you:
- “The Internet of the future will be everywhere—and the more people who have it, the more important it will become…. Instead of seeking out the Internet, we’ll be surrounded by it. Instead of extracting data from it, we’ll be fed a constant stream of curated, personalized information to help us solve problems and live better.” If we can strike a balance between caution and convenience, the spread of connected devices will have a profound impact on the way we do just about everything.”
- What about books including textbooks and other printed communication? It’s likely that reading will always remain but the format will be different. Future books will be more on electronic screens than on paper, despite the tastes of maybe dwindling numbers of bibliophiles (people who avidly read, collect and/or have a great love for books.)
- Education, especially higher education will survive and thrive but it will continue to change dramatically. Information dumps and the “sage on the stage” will fade further. Teaching methods and models will shift to fit our increasingly digital world. Interaction and on-line activities will increase. Universities that thrive will have no alternative except to do teaching online and offer quality courses. What does this say about long sermons by “talking head” preachers?
Surely you have reactions to this. Please comment.
Have you read Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz? Probably most of my friends would answer yes, especially those who are younger. This might be described as an easy-going book on Christian spirituality written by a young guy who definitely was not traditional. I read the book when it first appeared and followed up by reading most of Miller’s subsequent volumes. I gave away copies of his Million Miles in a Thousand Years and most who read it liked it.
Last month when I read Miller’s latest book, Scary Close, it was clear that the now 43-year-old writer had matured. I missed the laid-back nature of Blue Like Jazz but was inspired as the author chronicled the journey leading up to his recent marriage. This is an honest book about one man learning what it means to grow in intimacy. For quotations from the book do an Internet search for Scary close quotes.
In the midst of my reading I watched a video interview with Donald Miller and discovered that he has become a businessman, running seminars about how to tell good stories and use stories on websites and in business. His web site (www.storylineblog.com) even offers a free ebook titled How to Tell a Story. Miller believes that stories can strengthen whatever work we do and enable us to be better communicators. Recently I’ve been learning that good teaching, counseling, coaching, leading, and probably ministry often are about using stories and helping others to rewrite the stories of their lives. Scary Close really is a book about personal and engaging stories that can have an impact. This author who originally challenged and amused me has changed into more of a teacher who can guide us all. He makes references to the Bible and is not afraid to write about Jesus.
Please tell us how stories have impacted you or your friends. If you’ve read Scary Close or other Miller books please let us know your reactions by leaving a comment.
One last thing: A big thank-you to all who responded to my request for input last week. If you intended to comment and did not, there still is time to shoot me a message. I’ll give a summary later.