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Listening: Seven Tools For Doing It Well

Listening involves more than you think! It takes work, focus, time, and energy. Are you up for the task? How important is it really? Learn seven critical tools for good listening!

Here is a scenario I see play out in my office over and over again: one spouse wishes the other would speak up more. They are frustrated thinking that the other doesn’t really care to make the relationship work because they won’t talk. I have seen wives who wish their husbands would talk more and husbands who wished the same of their wives. I have seen parents who wish their teens would talk more or team leaders who are frustrated because they can only get a few of their group members to share their ideas. What’s wrong? Why does this happen?

I can tell you one of THE biggest factors has to do with listening.

I shared a PLEDGEtalk Facebook post this week, that said: “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters. Think about it.”

The person in front of you–whether it is your spouse, your daughter, or the team–won’t believe you are ready and willing to listen unless you are silent.

That means:

  1. you are looking intently at them.
  2. you will be sure not to have a frown on your face but an expression that portrays the idea that you care what they have to say.
  3. you will be patient, for as long as it takes for them to gather their thoughts. And when they do begin talking, you will do everything you can to make sure you don’t interrupt or interject. Instead, you will work hard to stay focused on each word and sentence that comes out of their mouth.
  4. you will wonder and maybe ask why they chose the words they did to describe how they are feeling or to explain their perspective on a matter.
  5. you will be intrigued with what they are saying while at the same time actively putting your own thoughts and reactions up on a shelf in your mind. Note I did not say put them under a rug to be buried, but up on a shelf for later. Your ideas, your reactions can’t be your focus–not if you are listening. Makes sense?
  6. you will keep working at putting your reactions on the shelf while staying SILENT and listening.
  7. And the only time you will speak is for the purpose of clarifying what the other has said or echoing back to make sure you heard correctly.

THAT is real listening!

When a person finally gets the experience of someone genuinely listening, they believe they matter and find their voice!

Now a few words of caution:

  • You may try using the seven tools above and not see the same intended results as I get. Don’t despair or give up. Remember I have been doing this for years as my profession! Go back through the list above to see if you missed anything and keep working at it. It also might take the quiet person awhile to believe that you really are sincere.
  • You may use any or all of the above tools and see quick results. Beware. If these tools are not already part of who you are, you will quickly forget them, fall into old patterns, and watch the person in front of you once again fade away into silence. If this happens, take note, admit what you just did (i.e. interrupted, or reacted, or grew impatient, etc.) and ask them if they would continue to share while you work once again at listening well.
  • You may grow weary or discouraged when you see how much work it takes to really listen well. You may even be tempted to think “if I have to go through all of that and more just to find out what another person is thinking, it’s not worth it. What they have to say must not be all that important.” You couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rather, they are like a mine full of precious jewels just waiting to be discovered!

Most of the breakthroughs I see in my office between spouses, or between parents and a child come when they learn to really listen. When truly listening, we give the gift of being heard. It’s when tears are most apt to appear, and real connection begins!

Think of the last time you felt really heard by someone. What was it they did to make you feel that way?  Let me know below!! I always appreciate your comments–it is encouraging to me as I feel like I am being heard!  :)

(Thanks to www.123rf.com for picture: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_iqoncept’>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

Change? Here Is A Simple Plan

Yesterday, my 82 year old Dad asked me about my goals for the new year. Then he told me of an area in his life he hopes to change in 2018. I have great respect for him that at his age, he still has personal plans for self-improvement! I hope I have that same mindset when I am in my 80’s.

What about you and I for this coming year?

You have probably heard it said:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

That quote is supposedly from Benjamin Franklin, along with the following story.  At one point Benjamin became painfully aware that people didn’t like being around him. In fact, they would cross over to the other side of a muddy street to avoid him. Soon thereafter, he chose 13 characteristics about himself that he didn’t like and set out to change them. He chose one characteristic each week for 13 weeks to work on changing. At the end of the 13 weeks, he started over doing the same. No doubt, Benjamin’s plan for self-improvement, was the critical element in him becoming a better version of himself.

We have probably all made resolutions at the beginning of a new year–or any time during the year for that matter–that we haven’t kept. That doesn’t mean we should stop making efforts to change. Again remember Benjamin Franklin:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

I am writing this blog post, because I have made a plan to do more writing this year. Without that plan, you would not be reading this.

Whatever you think about New Year’s Resolutions, let me encourage you to do this:

Pick one area of personal change–just one–to focus on. Then make a plan to bring about that change. That might involve learning about that area, telling one person or several about your plan, and asking them to encourage you to keep up the effort. It will no doubt take work and persistence. You will likely fail, more often than not especially at first. But if you don’t give up, and stick with your plan, your chances of seeing real change are very high.

Now, being a marriage and family counselor and coach, may I suggest a few change options to consider for those of you who are married?

First, reading or listening to a book together can be very helpful. One important element to bring about change in any area of life is to gain new insights from others.  Here are three books I am currently recommending:

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman.  One reviewer said this about Gottman’s book:  “Read this book just when I was about to give up on my marriage. It turns out that there have been so many things I took for granted and this book helped me realize exactly what my husband and I have been doing right, what we’ve been doing wrong and what else we can do to strengthen the bond. This saved me from so much marital grief and frustration.”

Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage, by Gary Thomas. One reviewer said this:  “Whether you are a newlywed or married 20 years plus, this is a great book to spice up the romance & intimacy in your marriage. It’s funny how that works. As you begin to Cherish your spouse and honor them when they are present or not, they begin to change toward you. The smiles are more genuine and they feel truly LOVED and Cherished.”

The PLEDGE of a Lifetime: Her Hope For Connection. His Guide Through Conflict, by yours truly. Here’s what Traci B said about my book:  “I am excited to implement PLEDGEtalk in everyday conversation with my husband, and someday with our children, to create a home where people feel understood, validated, and genuinely loved.”

I also HIGHLY suggest you plan on attending a conference this year where you learn firsthand from others how to improve your marriage. I am a big believer in the weekend getaway marriage conference entitled:  A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER. You can find all the information you need about attending this HERE. There are many dates and locations throughout the year for couples to attend. Sign up using my code:  “madly in love” and my Name:  Mark Oelze to get $100 off the price. And for every five couples using my code, I get to send someone who can’t afford to go FREE! My wife and I attended this conference a couple years ago and really appreciated it!

Now I know that some of you are thinking: how do I get my spouse to agree to work on our marriage or attend a conference so that we might see real change? Ask him or her to call or email me and I will show them how to save $10,000 (plus) by working on your marriage! (Seriously!)

Zerrin and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary December 19th.

Check out our PLEDGEtalk Facebook page HERE to see what our kids gave us for our anniversary. We plan to be in this for as long as we both shall live. Over the course of our marriage, Zerrin and I have attended at least 10 different marriage conferences, read at least 30+ books on marriage, and have spent countless walks and talks working on our marriage. And I know there is still MORE to learn in order to change!

So two questions as we begin 2018: what area of your life are you going to focus on this year to change and become a better version of yourself? And what is your plan?

I’d love to hear from you below!

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My Personal Struggle When I Am In Conflict

There’s a reason why most people struggle to have only a few solid relationships. They are hard and take a lot of work!

My wife and I just spent two weeks in Asia. We taught on principles of healthy communication and conflict resolution. Besides my counseling, this is what I do best and I am most passionate about. And guess what? On the last night of our trip, my wife and I had a conflict!  Ugh!

It happens to all of us!

When I teach the PLEDGEtalk process, I don’t promise it will keep you from having conflict, though it can decrease and minimize it. I do promise however, you will know what to do when conflict happens.

Often times I share openly about conflicts I have had. This one however, is just a little too fresh for me to share at this time. Suffice it to say, it was over finances.

Following is my own internal struggle when the conflict happened, and looking back–four MUSTS my wife and I had to do in order for us to come back to peace and love each other once again.

No doubt you have heard me say that we rarely just decide to have a conflict. Instead, it just happens. It usually takes us by surprise. This case was no different for us.

We had just completed 30 plus hours of training on communication and conflict resolving and there we were–in a struggle with conflict ourselves! Even though I teach this stuff all the time, I am always caught off guard how difficult it is even for me to use the principles we teach when conflict actually happens. I don’t mean difficult because they are hard to understand. In fact, I think what I teach is quite clear (see HERE for a brief refresher OR HERE to get the full Infographic!) What I mean by difficult is this: when I find myself in the midst of a conflict I struggle to will myself to do what I know and teach is right. But I must! Let’s make that the first of the four MUSTS!

MUST # 1:  When conflict happens we must will ourselves to do what is right and good, regardless of how difficult it is to do.

Quite honestly, when conflict happens, I often don’t want to do what is good. I just want to do what is best for me and make my case. I want to make sure they see how they are wrong and that they get it right hereafter. It’s not a helpful mindset, I know. I am just telling you what often goes on inside of me and where I was that night. Repeatedly I had to check that part of me, get it under control, and move onto the next MUST.

MUST # 2: When we struggle with conflict, we must remind ourselves of what we value.

I value relationships and speaking with love and respect. My daughter is a Kindergarten teacher and is writing curriculum for her classroom, calling it the PLEDGE of Friendship. She teaches her children that when they are mad at each other, they have to remind themselves of the value of friendship. She teaches them to remember that the person they are mad at is their friend. I had to remind myself I was speaking with my wife whom I love dearly. Whether it is your spouse, your child, your friend, your co-worker or your boss–remind yourself to value the person in front of you. It was and is a must for me if I want to build my relationships. And there is nothing I value more.

MUST # 3: When conflict happens we must refuse to give in to the impulse to interrupt or make unkind comments.

Even when we remind ourselves of what we value, we have to monitor ourselves very carefully when talking with others. This is especially true when in the midst of a conflict. The struggle is controlling the impulses to interrupt and argue our own point of view, to tell the other where they are wrong, or to use hurtful words–all of which is terribly destructive to our relationships. I am painfully aware that I am very capable of doing everything of which I just spoke. I had to monitor myself carefully to not harm my wife as we discussed our frustrations with each other. It is hard, but worth it to us both.

MUST # 4: When conflict happens, we must be deliberate to use the principles of PLEDGEtalk.

I apologize if in any way that sounds arrogant. I sometimes fear that it does. But here is what I know. As I counselor, I have observed the way people communicate for hundreds if not thousands of hours and can tell you without hesitation what they are missing. It is found in PLEDGEtalk. In the conflict with my wife, I knew I had to listen to understand her perspective even when I didn’t want to. I needed to echo back what she said to make sure I understood correctly and we were on the same page. It was then crucial that I acknowledged that I understood her. And we both needed to take turns sharing our thoughts and feelings. Thankfully by doing so, we came back to peace.

Two additional thoughts I wrote en route to the USA via our connecting flight from Tokyo:

First, we received a testimony with the following story from one of the leaders where we just completed the PLEDGEtalk training on our trip:

“This morning we talked with Mary (not her real name) who shared how she used PLEDGEtalk in her communication with her husband. For years she has wanted out of her marriage but felt she could not leave. Both spouses felt trapped. This past week they had a huge conflict and could not talk to each other. Finally, when they had gotten to the point where they were not highly emotional, they had the longest conversation they had ever had. They were able to listen to each other, understand each other, hear each other’s concerns, and figure out the root of their issues! Mary said she has never felt freer. Since then this past week they have been able to communicate every time a conflict comes up and resolve it almost immediately using the PLEDGEtalk steps! The huge wall that had been built up over the past few years was taken down. They literally feel like they have put down their weapons finally!”

The principles of PLEDGEtalk work, when you work the principles!

Second, I just watched a commercial on our plane–presumably selling the idea of how wonderful air travel can be because we can stay in touch with those we love the most. It was a story of a little boy who ran to his dad just coming off the plane. They embraced and then walked down the corridor hand in hand. In the next scene, the dad was holding one of the son’s hands while the mom was holding the other as they were running through a field of tall wistful grass and spring flowers. A beautiful moment. And I thought to myself: it’s what we all want. Everyone on earth deeply longs to be loved and in relationships!   BUT–it takes work to make it happen.

Will you do the work? Will I?

In summary, remember these four MUSTS the next time you find yourself in the midst of a conflict:

  1. We must will ourselves to do what is right and good.
  2. We must remind ourselves of what we value most.
  3. We must refuse to give in to any impulse to interrupt or be unkind.
  4. We must be deliberate to use the principles of PLEDGEtalk.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about what I have written. Leave them below. Thanks!

(Photo Source)

When I Lost My SELF in Marriage

I cringe every time I hear it.

A man or a woman states: “I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve lost myself.” It is the reason they give for why they left their marriage and family. They have left to find themselves once again.

It’s not that I don’t understand what they are talking about. There are times over the course of 35 years of marriage that I too have wondered “who am I?” What I have a problem with is how they respond to the question and seek to “find themselves” again. To leave a spouse and family is a betrayal of trust to the highest degree. Whereas it may seem to be the only answer, and even feel good at first, the decision leaves devastation in it’s wake as the spouse and children are left behind to drown in a sea of pain, confusion, and loss. In an attempt to fix one problem, the person leaving creates an untold number of other problems.

If you have ever had similar feelings of having lost yourself in your marriage, I urge you to continue reading. There is more to consider and another way…

First, you must remember that loving each other well in marriage requires that you “lose” your self. Countless times you must give up your own desires to fulfill the desire or need of a spouse or child. Each occasion could be described or thought of as a negative experience where you “lose” your self. It could also be described as love. What it is depends on the why. It is love when you voluntarily give up your self for the benefit of another, knowing full well that love costs. It comes with the territory.

Second, the question of how to find oneself again is really the wrong question. Far better to focus on questions such as: who have you become in your marriage–both good and bad? Who are you becoming? And for those who follow Christ, how is He shaping you to become more like Him?

Getting married is like voluntarily placing yourself in a mold alongside your spouse knowing full well, that when the mold is heated up you will both be shaped into something very different! It is impossible for the mold to not change you. It is two becoming one. Each person is shaped into someone they were not before entering the mold. When done right, both become better versions of themselves.

When considering who you have become in your marriage, you must ask how have you handled the molding experience in good ways? Continue in those ways, always seeking how to love well.

Where have you handled the molding experience poorly? In cases where you believe you have given up a part of who you are that you believe to be good, how are you handling that? Have you lost your ability to speak openly and honestly about important matters in the relationship? Has this resulted in you becoming distant, angry, or even bitter? No doubt it is here when you might be most apt to think, “I have lost my self.” And it is here where you might face the temptation to leave.

For the person choosing to leave, there will not only be a path of destruction left in your wake, but another problem looming ahead. The cycle will inevitably start over. After some time of “finding yourself” and enjoying who you are once again, you will likely find another life partner. Life will once again be grand until…the day you experience frustration and disappointment in that relationship. Finding resolve will again elude you, leading to repeat feelings of having lost yourself, and furthering your anger, bitterness and distance. Why? Because you did not learn in the first place how to deal with your frustration and dissatisfaction! You did not face your fear of conflict. You did not discover along with your spouse how to voice your concerns and work through your differences. And you abandoned your life long commitment–that invaluable component of marriage that is meant to hold you together through the difficult times. Commitment is designed to force us to look long and hard to discover what all is needed to thrive for a lifetime.

The greatest question we must each ask ourselves is not how do I regain that which I have lost about me, but how do I become all I am meant to be before God, my spouse, my children, and those around me?

My challenge to you is stand firm on your commitment until you answer that second question. Vow to do whatever it takes. Determine to do the hard work: to gain whatever you need to learn; to think, read, attend conferences, have mentors; to ask those who have proven records in their marriage and family; to pray and keep on praying.

Do whatever it takes.

Questions? Comments? I would love to hear from you in the space below!

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A Simple Way To Increase Respect In Your Relationships:

You and I both learned an important life lesson at a very early age: take turns.

If you have children you teach it all the time. One is playing with a toy, when another child comes along and grabs it because he wants to play with it. The first child cries or reacts in anger as she grabs the toy back, and a fight quickly ensues. As fast as we can, we jump in between the children and say: “you two need to take turns!”

How does this relate to better communication at work and at home?

At Work With Your Team:

Think back on your last team meeting. What went well? What didn’t?

Two way communication is critical for a team to succeed – where everyone understands the importance of each one sharing AND listening. All too often before one person has the chance to finish what they are saying, another jumps in on top of them with a different thought. Soon another does the same and another. Ideas, even good ones, are missed because people aren’t taking turns really listening to each other. Even when someone is able to share their entire thought without being interrupted, a very similar experience occurs as soon as there is silence – someone quickly jumps in to share their idea and then another follows suit and another.

What if there was a different norm? A question or idea is brought to the group’s attention, for the purpose of discussion and gaining further insight. The first person speaks up and has everyone else’s full attention. When finished speaking, it is obvious others are reflecting on what has been said. Questions are asked of the speaker to clarify or draw out additional ideas. Important takeaways are duly noted before someone else takes their turn to share an idea.

For communication to take place at its best, a team leader must foster a culture where each person is invited to speak and experience the respect of everyone else through intentional listening. Only then will mutual respect be experienced by all, and the optimal environment be in place to gain the most from the time together.

In team meetings or small groups, we must take turns – both speaking AND listening.

Today With Your spouse:

Tonight when you greet each other, take turns sharing about the day. Don’t be so eager to tell about your day that you cut the other person off in the middle of them telling about theirs. Listen intently instead. By doing so you are showing respect to your spouse.

Tonight With Your Kids:

Practice with your children as well. Give your full attention to them when you see them after school. Then ask them for a few moments of their time and attention as you share with them some about your day too. Being deliberate to do this will teach your children how taking turns when communicating is a way of showing respect to others. It will help them with friends and go along way in preparing them one day with a future mate and family.

Whenever In Conflict:

Perhaps nowhere is the need to take turns more apparent than when in conflict. It is a must. Each person is angry or hurt for some reason. Critical to solving that conflict is the act of giving each other an opportunity to share their side, while we listen to truly understand and appreciate their perspective.

Today and this weekend – practice and model taking turns when in dialogue with your team, your spouse, and your children.


But powerful.

It will deepen mutual respect!

Now do this with me quickly – leave a short phrase or sentence below telling me one place today where you are going to put this into practice. Let’s encourage each other right now by writing it down in the comment section below:

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Give This Gift To Everyone Around You

Time and again we have heard people say: can we use PLEDGE in any relationship? And we want to shout YES YOU CAN! We have heard of people using it with their children, with their friends, with their parents, in their workplace, and even in politics!

Recently I was struck again with the thought that everyone has a story inside them. I was saddened and convicted that too often I don’t stop to hear their story. Sometimes, I even forget there is one. Nevertheless, there are deep things going on inside each of us. There is a story about our life growing up. There is story that has been lived out in our relationships as adults.

There is story each day we could tell – if there was someone to listen.

And that’s the catch…

if there is someone to listen.

Hear me in… the pain I feel. The anger I exhibit. The depression I experience. The addiction I cannot overcome. Hear me in those moments when I attempt to open up, as feeble as it may be. Hear me in the confusion that washes over my face when you talk to me. Hear me when I am silent, not knowing what to say. Hear me when I talk non-stop, keeping you at bay.

There is story waiting to be heard at every moment, with every person.

Taking time to listen is a gift we can give day after day, every day.

It is a gift to our spouse, a gift to our children, a gift to a friend, a gift to someone we work with, a gift to our neighbor, and a gift to the stranger on the street or the check-out person in the store.

This week I had the honor and privilege of being the guest author/speaker in my wife’s class with her second graders. It was great fun! I got my little kid fix! My wife is teaching PLEDGE to these children. As I was talking to them about pausing when they are mad, I asked if they had ever heard of the Golden Rule. Most had not. I taught them about treating others just like we would want them to treat us. They didn’t like it when someone said mean things to them. They didn’t want to say mean things to others either. Instead, they just want someone to listen when they are mad or hurt.

Everything we needed to learn for life we learned in – ok, second grade.

We all just want someone to listen.

When we are mad, or hurt, or afraid, or sad, or confused, or discouraged, or excited and happy and encouraged – we want to share our story with someone – if they will just listen.

So today, look around you. Watch for those moments when someone, some where, in some way is saying: “Will you hear me in _______?”

Ask them questions like:

How are you?

What is happening?

How are you feeling about ____?

If they give you a quick, brushed off answer, say: “No I mean it. How are you really?”

And give them the gift of listening to their story!

Share with us how you listened this week!


Using PLEDGE In Your Family

Here is what one of our our recentPLEDGEtalk Live event attendees said when she went home from the and began teaching PLEDGE to her family:

“We started implementing this in our marriage, AND with our four young children, right away. My 6 and 7 year olds are already responding positively when they see me do the pause sign during the conflict between them! Thank you for this new tool!

This same person said even further: “Even after such a short time, I’ll hear my 7 year old son comment to himself, pause and shift, when he gets frustrated with his sister!”

Imagine similar experiences in your home:

A mother stops what she is doing when her angry daughter speaks to her. She turns towards her daughter with the intent of really listening. As the mother seeks to understand her heart, the daughter feels loved and her heart softens. Mom disarms the conflict by validating her daughter’s hurt and angry feelings. Both feel closer, thankful for the connection they experience. As the tension in the room subsides, the daughter expresses more of an openness to hear what mom has to say in response.

That same daughter begins to note the destructive nature of her words towards her mother. Convicted, she learns to pause before she speaks. She considers more carefully her words and how to express her anger, but in a loving way.

In another family, two children are playing when a conflict occurs over who grabbed the new toy first. Mom is about to intervene before either hurts the other, but before she can say anything, the older child uses a hand motion to signal they need to pause. Moments later, the children agree to give each other a turn rather than fight.

As the kids get older, each family member learns to listen well and understand each other when communicating. Each one reflects on what the other is saying, clarifying wherever needed, and valuing what is said. Imagine a family where felt love is more common than not because of the way each member relates to the other.

You say: “Is that really possible?” More than you think.

It will not be easy. It will take work. More specifically it will require that you first put the principles into action in the way you relate to your spouse and your children. After doing so, you then teach and train your children to follow after you.

10 Keys To A Peaceful Marriage

If you have been reading my blog for very long at all, it would hardly be a surprise to hear that most of my life I have sought to learn principles to get through conflict in a more productive manner rather than just fighting. As an adult I formed those principles into a conflict resolution process we call PLEDGE. I use the process personally and teach it to others on a regular basis so that they might truly learn to love well.

More recently I have been thinking that to get the most out of the PLEDGE process, some key ingredients are necessary to put into the mix.  Read more