Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Life is all about timing… the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable… attainable. Have the patience, wait it out. It’s all about timing.
Stacey Charter

For those of you wondering, I do read other things besides Havi’s blog. πŸ™‚ The fact is, though, that her writing inspires me so often that I end up giving you links to her posts a lot more than to any other writers combined. This time, her post about plans inspired me to craft a five-year-plan of my very own. (Truth be toldΒ it wasn’t as much the actual post as the word “Time Capsule” in JoVE’s comment – which led me to find another brilliant addition to my feed – that sparked my imagination and pushed me into grabbing my pencil case and a sheet of paper and get cracking.)

I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years?

The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map. Being my life’s passions, I think each node deserves its own post. πŸ™‚

The first node I came up with was the red one.

I teach

Sooner or later, I’ll graduate as a teacher. However, it’s not just the education that pushes me towards teaching. Rather, it’s been the drive to teach that has led me to seek out the education I’m about to finish. Since I’m pretty passionate about communication, it will probably be the core of what I teach.

As an English as a Foreign Language teacher, I want to give students the possibility to actually communicate in the foreign language from the very beginning. Language is a tool for expressing emotions and opinions, influencing others, navigating in social situations and creating a shared understanding of the world around us.

The big, painful task is to convey this fabulousness to students who might not even realize that some people actually speak English. As, you know, their mother tongue. As in, they don’t speak any other language. By the time they finish compulsory education in Finland, most students will have studied at least two languages besides their mother tongue, so learning a foreign language and its culture may turn into a chore, not a gift. My passion is to help them see it as a gift.

I also want to teach communication and social skills using my drama teacher education. Nonverbal communication, listening and awareness of status changes are among the things I want my students to learn. Drama also has a big element of self-communication – reflecting on the things you’ve done and seen is a key part of learning in drama, as well as a key skill in life.

Besides communication, I would love to teach Shiva Nata for a living. In a way, it does link to communication, though – Shiva Nata is to self-work what cable Internet is to communication. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t tried it. πŸ™‚

Furthermore, I have a feeling that the whole “embrace the failures” mentality of Shiva Nata would be an interesting spice to the activities of any improvisational theater activity. I will hopefully have a chance to try out a session of Shiva Nata and impro later this fall, and I will report back as soon as I recover from the experience.

Why, then, do I want to teach? Teaching is inherently linked to the other nodes in my Time Capsule Mind Map – I Create, I Help, and I Love. More on those in following posts.

Thank you so much for reading, once again – keep catching your own insightings!



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Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take, I’ll be watching you

The Police: Every breath you take

Yesterday, I was driving to visit an acquaintance, and my daughter was sitting in her car seat in the back. We normally take public transit if it’s just the two of us, so she doesn’t have a lot of experience of being alone in the back seat. This time, however, circumstances favored us taking my mom’s car.

Normally, she really likes it in the car. It hums, the scenery changes, and most of the time there’s someone next to her, keeping her company. This time, though, she was alone in the back, and I don’t know if it was that or some other reason, but she was really unhappy and voiced it very loudly. Since I’m pretty averse to letting my child cry for lengthy periods of time, I pulled over and went to the back seat, tried to calm her down and gave her the pacifier. She settled down for a moment, and just as I was starting the car again, she began to whimper. I started singing a simple lullaby that we’ve been singing to her since she was a few weeks old, and that seemed to calm her down. I ended up singing the song over and over until we arrived at our destination.

Apparently the sound of my voice and the familiar song were strong enough messages to convince her that she was not alone and that I was close by, even when she couldn’t see me. As far as I understand, developmentally she is yet to realize that things exist even when you can’t see them.

“I’ll be right there!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about presence ever since I read an article on a study concerning babies’ stress when they are ignored. The babies in the study were six months old, and in the study, their mothers played with them normally, but “froze” for two minutes at a time every now and then, staying in the baby’s sightline but ignoring the baby and staring at the wall. The babies showed elevated stress hormone levels on the following day, when they were brought back to the research facility, even though there was no ignoring on the second day.

I found out about the study on an online message board, and there was (unsurprisingly) some discussion as to what the practical applications of this study are. Some people thought it more or less chains mothers and infants together and lays a guilt trip on anyone who dares to go to the bathroom with the door closed if their child is left alone for that time. Others saw it as a defense against “just let the baby cry it out, it’ll be all right” type of advice.

Personally, I do think that babies need their mothers close by. If a child voices a distress and it systematically gets no response, it will eventually stop voicing its distress because it’s just no use – no-one will answer anyway. However, a response may well be something along the lines of my car-ride lullaby. If my baby hears my voice, it knows I’m not far away. I haven’t disappeared from the world, even if I am currently invisible.

Furthermore, she knows she is not invisible – I can hear her, I can vocally respond to her cries, I can take eye contact when I get closer and I can pick her up when I see she’s in distress. My presence and interaction with her convince her that she exists.

The online presence

In many ways, the online world reflects this “someone please tell me I’m not invisible!” line of thinking. Establishing a presence online – whether in Facebook, on message boards, in the blogosphere, on Twitter – really requires time, effort and reciprocity. There are a few online contexts where I’ve managed to create a presence, and others where I’m really only a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it face in the crowd.

Creating that presence takes time. Reading (because most of the presence is in text form) what others have contributed, finding interesting tidbits to share, regularly coming back to see what others have added since your last visit. It takes effort. Figuring out your opinions (on more serious matters), grafting your message so it’s easy to read, wording your jokes, timing your responses so you stay on the pulse and don’t comment on ancient topics.

And it takes reciprocity. Commenting on what others have already said, taking it a bit further, reading the responses you get and possibly repeating the whole cycle again. It’s the online equivalent of the eye contact: “Yes, I can see you, there you are, you exist in this world.”

Degrees of presence

For our daughter, I’m probably the number one presence in her life. The head honcho, the one who hardly ever leaves her side. My husband is a close second. After that, there are the grandparents, the godparents, our friends, and so forth in descending order.

It’s interesting to see how the degrees of presence show in her behavior towards us. Since I’m nearly always there, my presence borders on boring. It’s safe, but it’s also something she doesn’t make a big deal about. The few exceptions are the times when she wakes up from her nap, and sees me coming in the room if I was somewhere else. The smile on her face says “Awesome, you were gone and now you’re here!” My husband, on the other hand, seems to get all the giggles. πŸ™‚ He is a safe presence, but not quite as predictable as I.

Then there are the interesting visitors, the ones who ring some kind of a bell but aren’t daily contacts, people like my mom and some of her godparents. There has to be a grace period of her reacquainting herself to these visitors from the safety of my or my husband’s lap, before she is secure enough to cuddle with them.

Online, the degrees or presence became evident on another message board, when there were several cases of sad news in a short while. Since the people in question were “big names”, it seemed that everyone knew what was going on in a heartbeat. Similarly, “big names” leaving or taking a break would be a huge deal in an online community – just because so many people are so used to their presence. It’s safe. You can count on their “it’s okay, honey, I’ll be right there”.

When a small-time presence disappears for any length of time, you hardly notice – until they return, or until someone points out they are gone. I’m fairly confident there were less than a handful of people who wondered why I’d been a lazy blogger, and most of those people were real-world friends. πŸ™‚

A shift of sorts

Since creating an online presence (and a real-life presence, too) takes time and effort, you can realistically have a limited number of really influential presences in different social communities. At the moment, my most influential presence is in the context of my family, but there are other, smaller ones in the background.

I’ve noticed I need the feeling of being a strong presence in social communities. Possibly for the “someone sees me, therefore I must exist” reason. This is probably why I’ve originally liked being a group leader or a teacher – there are more pairs of eyes to strengthen my existence. πŸ™‚ Being a quiet onlooker in the sidelines has not been a suit that fits.

Until now.

I don’t know if it’s the arrival of the baby or something else, but there has been a change in my relationship towards social situations, whether live or online ones. Before, I’ve felt like I need to open my mouth, to contribute, to be a presence in order to “buy” my foothold in the community. Contributing has been the currency of being seen.

Now, I feel like contributing has become the primary force. I want to contribute when someone needs help, thoughts, entertainment or ideas. Or when I have an idea that needs voicing. If someone sees it and benefits from it, wonderful. If they comment, even better. But I don’t feel like my contribution was a failure if it’s met with silence.

Furthermore, I enjoy just observing a situation without feeling the need to contribute. If something comes up, I’ll express it, but I don’t feel like I’ll be thrown out of the room (or off the Internets) simply because I just observe. I love going to a moms-and-babies meetup, sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and just listening. And my worth as an online community member is not determined by my post count. πŸ™‚

As is appropriate, the writing of this blog post was interrupted a few times by the cooing of a napping baby who needed my presence. πŸ™‚

Thank you so much for popping by again! If any thoughts came up (and you feel the need to contribute πŸ˜‰ ), feel free to share in the comments! If not, it’s okay to just sip coffee and observe, and possibly catch your own insightings!



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Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.
John Wilmot

So I’m a parent now. Three months and counting. πŸ™‚

During these three months, I’ve come to understand a number of “parent behaviors” that previously fell under the category of “How is it possible that…??!?!”.

For example, I can totally see how a child might end up dominating the entire household. For the first few months of a child’s life, the parents more or less have to respond immediately to the child’s demands. There’s no such thing as “just a moment, dear, Mommy will change your diaper after grown-ups have finished coffee” when there’s a screaming alert. Once the child starts to want things that are not immediately required for survival and well-being, the parents need to be very conscious of the distinction between needs and wants. It takes effort to break the habit of immediately fulfilling the request.

But there’s one thing that still stays in the “What the what???” category. Allow me to illustrate.

Let’s say it’s one of those (fictional) family get-togethers where you meet everyone who’s a second cousin or closer. I’m stuck at a table with a remotely related nephew John, 8 (fictional) and John’s parents (also fictional). I decide to make small talk.

Me: So what have you been up to this summer, John?

John’s mom: Well, he went to a summer camp for two weeks, and we’re heading off to Switzerland for a week in August.

Me: Oh, that’s nice. So John, did you watch the soccer World Cup?

John’s mom: Yeah, he and his dad watched every single game. He was so sad to see Argentina lose to Germany, weren’t you?

John: Yeah.

Me: Ah, Argentina. Who was your favorite player, John?

John’s mom: He totally rooted for Messi, he wanted us to buy him a Messi jersey but they are so expensive…

…And so on. Sadly, even though the story is fictional, it’s based on a number of real-life incidents.

Why, oh why is it ok for mothers to speak on behalf of their children? When the children are actually there to participate in the conversation? When the child is the actual person being addressed in the conversation?!!

How on earth do these parents think their child will learn the basic rules of grown-up conversation if they’re never permitted to participate in one? How will the child learn to trust his or her own opinions if there’s never any room for voicing them? I know some children are so shy that it’s a huge endeavor to answer a stranger’s question with a single syllable. In that case, the mother’s task is to encourage the child to say something, anything, and lavish on the praise when they do – or take over the conversation if they don’t. Assuming the child won’t be able to answer is a sign of mistrust towards the child.

More than once I’ve had the urge to disregard the mother’s response and wait for the “John” in the conversation to answer for himself. The problem is, most of the time the child in question is too shy to elaborate on what their mother has already divulged – or too used to having their mother to answer the questions to even bother elaborating.

The other option would be to say, “I’m sorry, I was asking John. So, John, …?”. The problem is that if I did this, the mother in question would probably get really offended. Furthermore, I’m not a big fan of embarrassing people in front of their children. On the other hand, if a parent acts like an ass, isn’t it ok to give the child a break, too?

So far my solution has been to keep asking the child questions tagged with their name, all the while maintaining eye contact with the child. My hope is that eventually, the mother will notice from my verbal and nonverbal cues that I’m hoping for the child to answer.

What else could one do in a situation like this? If you come up with a possible solution, please share it in the comments – I could use some more proverbial ammo when dealing with these kinds of parents. πŸ™‚

Thank you for reading, again, and keep catching your own insightings!



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Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come.
Thomas Carlyle

Summer has come, at last. So far, it’s been a few days of sunshine and heat wave followed by four days of rain. On the bright side, the plants on our yard have flourished.

Learning a new home

A week ago, we gave back the keys to our previous apartment, and officially transported the last load of boxes to our new home. To our home. We’ve made progress on several fronts, and it’s slowly starting to feel like home.


A few days ago, I noticed there’s a lilac tree outside our bedroom window.

On our yard, there’s a patch where we apparently have some kind of a lily growing. Because it hasn’t bloomed yet, we don’t know which one.

There are several items (both in and outside cardboard boxes) that still don’t have a place.

I don’t know which buses stop at the nearest bus stop, because I’ve always walked to the metro station.

Bit by bit, we’re learning the ways of our new home. As we get more and more things put where they belong, we know more and more about our home.

So far, it’s a half-filled puzzle that we need to complete. A Scrabble game midway through, and our team still has half a bag of letters to place – aiming to get the Q on a triple word score square. πŸ™‚


We visited a friend’s family a few nights ago. I’m one of the godparents of their daughter, 5, so we spent some quality time one on one. We played hide and seek, and then we made a fairytale drawing. I took a piece of paper and a pencil, and told her we were going to create a fairytale, and I was going to draw as we made it up. “But I can’t make up a fairytale!” Don’t worry, I said, we’re going to make it up together.

I asked her what she wanted the fairytale to be about. “Could it be about a witch?” Yes, it could. Was it a good witch or an evil one? “An evil witch who flies around on a broomstick.” And I started drawing.

For the record, I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag on any artistic standards. It didn’t matter. By picture three, I didn’t even have to ask her questions or suggest plot twists anymore – she was on such a roll I hardly had time to sketch the major plot twists. πŸ™‚

After we finished the story (one that involved a magic potion, turning people into frogs, a burning village, a gingerbread house and a girl who first shrunkΒ the witch and then hoovered him/her with a vacuum cleaner), we had filled both sides of a letter-sized paper with drawings. She then wanted to tell the story to both of her parents separately.

Well, first she wanted them to guess what the fairytale was about, but when the witch was mistaken for a giant mosquito and the knight in shining armor for a bunny rabbit (I mentioned my drawing is liberal, didn’t I?), she decided it was better to explain the story.

It took the five-year-old about three minutes to get over the “I’m not sure I can” hurdle. Once we got in the flow, she didn’t care if she was good at telling stories or not. She was doing it.

Grades, perceptions and voodoo dolls.

For a final tidbit, I went to see my study register online for the first time in a few weeks. I had received the credits and the final grade for the study module. I got a five out of a maximum of five! Hooray! I know I worked really hard all spring, and it’s fabulous to see that all the work really paid off. More specifically, I’m glad that I was able to process the trillion things I learned into a format where the mentors could also see I’d learned something.

I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with grades in general. On the other hand, I’ve always had a high GPA as a kid and a teenager, and considered it a kind of a badge of honor. That means I’ve taken good grades somewhat for granted – until my matriculation exam (the Finnish high school finishing exam).

I’d been a good student, especially in languages, and I thought the Finnish exam would be a piece of cake. At the time, the Finnish exam was divided into two different exams on two separate days.

In the first exam, I had a splitting migraine throughout the exam. At one point I couldn’t see what I’d written, because the words were spinning on the page. In the second exam, I had stomach flu and had spent the previous night getting repeatedly sick and thus not really getting enough sleep. Suffice to say I didn’t really perform at my usual level on either occasion.

Since then, I’ve tried to view grades not as an indicator of my knowledge, but as an indicator of what I’ve been able to communicate to the examiner or teacher. The two go hand in hand, of course, but I know that the grade doesn’t necessarily reflect my knowledge or level of learning at all. It doesn’t describe me – it describes the examiner’s perception of me.

This reminds me of a chapter in The Usual Error book (read my review). If the other person has a voodoo doll that vaguely resembles me, I don’t have to react when they stick pins in it. If they talk to me like I don’t understand something, it doesn’t erase my understanding of the topic – it’s their perception that they’re talking to.

In the same way, when I get a rave review or a fabulous grade, I do get really happy, but I don’t have to cling on to it for dear life. I don’t have to fear the day when the compliments end, and I don’t have to keep reminding everyone I meet that I was indeed called this and awarded that ten years ago.

The essence of me doesn’t fluctuate depending on whether I get compliments or criticism. All the compliments and criticism are, in fact, representations of other people’s perceptions of me. And whatever they say, I’m still the one who knows what I can do, what I’ve learned, where I’ve made mistakes and what I should do differently.

And that’s pretty cool.

Have a lovely, sunny/rainy (whichever you’re needing most right now) summer weekend, and keep catching your insightings!



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Between friends differences in taste or opinion are irritating in direct proportion to their triviality.
W. H. Auden

Yesterday, I got to witness a meeting unlike anything I’ve ever seen. An actual, official meeting, where the chair walked out midway through. There was a lot of antagonism in the air, and a lot of it took place between two people – the rest of us were more or less indifferent. As it was my first time seeing the group and watching them interact, I had a blast observing the way the situations developed.

The situation was essentially that a smaller group of people had been in charge, and some group members from outside that inner circle had expressed their criticism a few days before the meeting. In writing. With a few derogatory adjectives thrown in for good measure.

The content of the text was partly accurate, partly inaccurate, but a part of it was clearly about the kinds of people these inner circle members were – according to the writers’ opinion. Understandably, these members were quite irate after being personally attacked.

All this became apparent through the status battle between the two main figures. There was only one member of the inner circle present at the meeting, although he did have some support from the sidelines. It was one of those “Ooh, you didn’t just say that to him, did you?” kinds of conversations that was painful yet fascinating to listen to.

“This is just my opinion”

Both sides did have their justifications, but both of them made crucial communication errors that ultimately escalated into one of them, the chair, leaving the meeting midway through.

Both of them expressed their own opinions as factual information, backing it up with anecdotes of experience. Furthermore, when the attacked party mentioned that they were quite insulted by the writing, the writer expressed his right to have an opinion, and that the recipients should not be provoked by it.

Wait, what?

Yes, you’re entitled to your opinion. If you think the other person is incapable of doing their duties as well as an annoying, stuck-up elitist, it’s perfectly all right to think so.

But come on, writing a memo for an official meeting and expressing your opinion about the person – not their actions or accomplishments – in no uncertain terms? When it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever to the agenda of the meeting? Oh please.

And then, when confronted with the hurt you’ve caused, defending yourself by saying that others shouldn’t be provoked by your opinion, and that it’s not about the people, it’s about the topics?

Having a strong opinion doesn’t justify being obnoxious.There are ways to criticize people’s behavior without criticizing the people themselves. And if you have insulted and hurt someone by expressing your opinion, the grown-up thing to do is to acknowledge the hurt and be sure to rephrase your opinion. Unless your original goal was indeed to create dissonance and hurt people.

Everyone’s got one, and they tend to stink

Truth be told, the person in the receiving end didn’t come through with flying colors, either. From the very beginning, he discarded the memo as rubbish, even the valid points made in it, because the ending was so obnoxious. He also categorically trumped every suggestion made by the writer during the meeting. Furthermore, he repeatedly expressed his dislike of the writer – who was present – in front of the rest of the group, calling him replaceable, stupid and incompetent.

Even when his “side” tried to get us onwards in the agenda by telling him to discard the insults, he persisted in talking about the hurtful things the writer had said. In front of more than a dozen people, who had been patiently listening to the charade for almost two hours at that point.

Sure, he was hurt. Some of the other participants of the meeting did acknowledge the fact that he was hurt. But by fighting fire with fire, he ended up making a mountain out of what could have been a molehill.

From what I gathered, these people had had some antagonism before. In that case, in my opinion, it’s even more important to settle things face to face, without an audience.

Maybe that was the point, though. The audience. If people agree with me, my opinion is more valid than the other person’s opinion. In a private situation, I have no-one else to support me, and I might even have to admit I’m wrong in something. It’s easier to keep up a tough image when there’s the pressure of other people.

Thank you for stopping by, feel free to share your opinion in the comments – and keep catching those insightings!



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