August McLaughlin

Three Tips for Better Listening

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If you’ve ever been in any sort of relationship, you’ve probably heard the accusation “You’re not listening to me.”

Recently, August McLaughlin, one of my favorite bloggers, nominated me for the Reader Appreciation Award in her post on Thoughtful Blog Reading: Habits and Perks. This award honors faithful readers for the friendship and encouragement they give bloggers.

Before I pass along this award to some of the readers who’ve uplifted me with their thoughtful comments, I wanted to first give something to you. Because I think being a thoughtful blog reader is a lot like being a good listener…

Three Tips for Better Listening

Reader Appreciation Award

#1 – Be In the Moment

Admit it. You’ve talked on the phone while answering email. Or you’re having a conversation with your spouse or friend while playing on your phone.

Human beings can’t multi-task, so if we’re doing two things at once, our brain is switching back and forth between them as quickly as possible. In other words, we’re bound to miss something while it switches. Additionally, when we’re on one thing, our brain has to “hold our place” in the other thing so that we have less capacity to devote to the thing we’re supposed to be focusing on.

To truly listen to what the other person is saying we need to focus 100% on them. Put away our phones. Close our laptops. Turn off the TV.

The second part to being in the moment is to pay attention to what the other person is saying rather than daydreaming, letting your mind wander to other topics, or forming your response.

Both of these show respect for the person you’re talking to and let them know you value what they’re saying.

#2 – Let the Person Finish

I’m sorry to say that this is not an area where my mom or I excel. We tend to cut people off. We don’t mean to be rude. We just get so involved in what the other person is saying that we want to take part.

But we shouldn’t. We should allow them to finish speaking before we jump in.

Sometimes people just want to be heard. Sometimes people don’t know what they’re feeling until they talk it through. By cutting them off before they’ve clearly finished, we don’t allow them to fulfill their need.

Worse, when we don’t let them finish, we’re assuming we know what they’re trying to say and where the conversation is going. I’ve watched my mom do this multiple times in a conversation. She’ll jump in with a guess about where the person is going, be wrong, and guess again before the person even has a chance to say more than “no.”

I do this as well with my husband, and it makes him feel like I don’t think he’s smart enough to have already thought of what I jumped in to say. When he’s telling me something, he wants to actually have the chance to tell it. He doesn’t want me to finish for him.

Jumping in can also come off as rushed, as if we have something more important to be doing and we want to wrap the conversation up as quickly as possible.

#3 – Employ RASA

I learned this concept from Julian Treasure’s TEDTalk on sound.

Rasa is the Sanskrit word for “juice” or “essence,” and the acronym stands for receive, appreciate, summarize, ask.

Tips #1 and #2 cover how we can best receive—pay attention.

Appreciating what the other person said doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them. Julian Treasure describes it as making little noises like “uh huh” and “mmm” or nodding our heads. The best way I can think of to look at it big-picture is that we want to let the other person know that we respect their opinion and their right to voice it (even if we don’t share that opinion).

The point of summarizing is to ensure you know what the other person is actually saying by putting what they’ve just said into your own words and repeating it back to them. “So what you’re saying is…” The other person can then respond with yes, no, or not quite.

In a marriage especially, we too often assume we know what the other person is saying. We take offense where none was intended. We jump to the conclusion that they agree entirely with us when they’re trying to tell us they don’t. A lot of fights and miscommunications could be avoided by simply summarizing more often.

Finally, we need to ask questions. The biggest problem with listening, if you haven’t guessed it already, is the human tendency to fill in the blanks on their own rather than trying to fill them in the way the other person intended. We should always ask questions if there’s something we don’t understand.

We should also ask questions to help take the conversation deeper. Questions are a great way to let the other person know you’re invested in the conversation. It helps them open up and feel safer in sharing with you.

Passing the Award Along

I wish I could pass this award along to so many of you for being faithful commenters and making blogging fun for me, but I can only pick a few, so I’ve chosen to nominate the following people.

Kristy K. James – Romance on the Cheap

Emma Burcart – Occasional Epiphanies

Stacy Green – Twisted Minds and Dark Places

Gloria Richard

Debra Kristi – Sparks in the Fire

What other tips do you have for being a better listener?

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Cinderella Strong – Guest Post by August McLaughlin

Last April, I read a post on the Cinderella fairy tale that made me see it in a completely new light. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I asked the author, August McLaughlin, if she’d allow me to re-post it here today. If you’re not already a regular reader of August’s blog, make sure you go there after. It’s my favorite place to get well-being tips–from healthy eating, to inspiration, to resolutions that could save our lives.


Cinderella Strong

By August McLaughlin

August McLaughlin Dolly Cotour Alice Hu 2011Taken literally, one could argue—and numerous have—that Disney’s Cinderella is a passive woman who does nothing to improve her dismal situation.

Rather than stand up to her evil step-family or step out on her own, she relies on others—singsong mice, her fairy godmother, and a handsome prince. She makes wishes, and they do the dirty work. Her prize? A beauty makeover and happily ever after with Bachelor #1.

In the 1980s, psychologist Colette Dowling presented similar views in her best-selling book, Cinderella Complex: Woman’s Hidden Fear of Independence. (It’s a fascinating read, if you’re interested.)

But what if Cinderella is entirely metaphorical? Here’s what I see:

Cinderella’s mice represent her spirit, prodding her to believe in “the dreams [her] heart makes?” Our hearts recognize our dreams before we can pursue them.

The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.

The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s muse—the inner voice that prompts us to step out of our comfort zones and toward our passion.

The glowing gown she wears reflects how she feels once she begins honing in on her dreams. Once we find the “shoe” (life path) that fits, we stands a bit taller, and our inner-beauty shines outward.

Reverting to her “raggedy” self at midnight represents the time, rest and self-care personal growth requires. There are no quick fixes. We all face risks and challenges along the way. If we embrace them, they can help make us strong.

And speaking of passion, the hunky prince represents the handsome life Cinderella eventually obtains, and the chivalry she finally shows herself. Once that happens, the world is her stage to dance on. Sure, we might get blisters now and then, and every step won’t be graceful, but we’re free to live happy, authentic lives.

Ever seen bits of Cinderella in yourself? When have you felt Cinderella-like? What did the experience teach you?

August McLaughlin Thriller AuthorAugust McLaughlin is a thriller author, health writer and freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter: @AugstMcLaughlin.

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The Lie of Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy for BOAW Blogfest by Marcy KennedyThe dental hygienist peered into my mouth at the gap where my front tooth used to be. “How did it happen?” she asked. “Did you fall?”

“I bit a piece of soft caraway-rye bread.”


It started when a previous dentist botched a simple filling. I returned to him four times to have it fixed, and on the final visit, he hit my root, so I needed a root canal. During the root canal, he compromised the integrity of my tooth enough that I had to have my tooth ground down to a peg and a cap placed on. No surprise that, instead of lasting ten years, the peg snapped after three, breaking off at the gum line.

And so there I sat in the office of my new dentist, a hole in my mouth, with two important flute performances (one of which was my brother’s wedding) scheduled, and my own wedding day less than six months away, and asked, “What are my options?”

My dentist adjusted my x-rays on the 8”-by-11” illuminated screen. “You could have a bridge put in, but that would mean destroying the healthy teeth on the sides.”

Ruining two more teeth? No thanks. “What else?”

“We could try to drive a peg into what remains of the tooth pulp, but there’s not much left and we can’t guarantee how long it’ll last.”

“So I’d lose my tooth again at some undefined time in the future?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Are there any other options?”

“An implant.”

“How long does that take?”

“Usually eight months to a year.”

And my wedding was in . . .

That night, when I got onto webcams with my fiancé (now my husband), I didn’t even want to look at my image on the screen. Not only did I have no front tooth, but my eyes were puffy from crying and ringed in black from a lack of sleep.

And maybe that shouldn’t have mattered. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so devastated. It was just a tooth.

But I’d bought into the Helen of Troy lie. In Greek mythology, Helen was a demigod, the daughter of Zeus and the queen of Sparta. When Helen reached marriageable age, anywhere from 11 to 36 suitors (depending on the source you read) competed for her hand because she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Reports differ on how Helen later ended up with the Trojan prince Paris, but the Greek poet Sappo says she simply deserted her husband and nine-year-old daughter to go with him to Troy. Her husband wanted her back, and put together an army to attack Troy. Unfortunately, the ships they were to travel on couldn’t sail because there wasn’t any wind.

Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to get wind. For Helen.

Iphigenia’s mother (who was also Helen’s sister) argued with Agamemnon, telling him he was “buying what we most detest with what we hold most dear” (Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, 1170). She called her sister a “wicked woman,” but to no avail. Iphigenia died. Troy fell. Helen abandoned Paris and later betrayed to death the man she took as a lover after him. When her husband went to kill her for her infidelity, she dropped her robe and her beauty stayed his hand.

They didn’t compete for her, fight for her, kill and die for her because she was loyal or intelligent or brave. They did it because she was beautiful. Her beauty made her the most desirable and valued woman in the Greek world.

The lie of Helen of Troy is that beauty is purely physical and that it matters more than character, more than honor, more than intelligence. The lie of Helen of Troy drove me to starve myself and work out for four hours or more a day to try to become beautiful.

The lie of Helen of Troy made me actually worry that my fiancé might stop loving me if I wasn’t pretty on the outside.

But he knew that without me ever having to tell him because he knew me. When our webcams turned on, he called me beautiful, but then told me what made me beautiful to him.

It wasn’t my eyes. It was the things we had in common. It wasn’t whether or not I had wrinkles (or a tooth). It was my brain. It wasn’t anything physical at all. What I looked like was just a bonus, he said. What made me beautiful was who I was inside and the things I did.

I’ve never felt more beautiful than when I saw myself through his eyes. And thanks to him, I’m starting to see the lie of Helen of Troy for what it is—just a lie.

When have you bought into the lie of Helen of Troy? What helped you see it for a lie?

This post was written as part of the Beauty of a Woman blogfest being hosted by the truly beautiful August McLaughlin. Visit her blog tomorrow (Friday, February 10th) to read a bunch of inspiring stories and for chances to win awesome prizes, including a Kindle Touch or a $99 Amazon gift card, body image coaching, BOAW mugs, and more.

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Saturday Grab Bag

Because it’s tricky to keep up on all the great posts out there, I’ve collected some of my favorites in a Saturday mash-up. Enjoy 🙂

Links for Writers

Getting Primal and Staying Simple with Your Plot – Bestselling author Kristen Lamb gives priceless tips on how to get a visceral reaction from your readers with a plot that’s both complex yet simple.

Writing A Series: 7 Continuation Issues to Avoid – From covers to character histories, Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn points out what you need to watch for when writing a series.

On Your Mark: Marketing Your Novel (Part 1) & (Part 2) – Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse hosts Janice Hardy, author of three novels, in this series of guest posts full of tested advice on how to market your novel. These tips are as valid for traditionally published authors as they are for indie authors.

Links for Speculative Fiction Lovers

The Immortals Are Coming – Debra Kristi of Sparks in the Fire asks, “Would you want to be immortal if it meant continuing to grow old and watching everyone you love pass away?”

Why Sliders May Be Possible: The Science of Multi-Universes – Alexia Reed of Danger Begins with a Kiss asks “what if” while looking at some interesting scientific studies.

Current Events

A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney – Coleen Patrick looks at the snippets of wisdom Andy Rooney gave to the world in his many essays on 60 Minutes.

Five Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs – Michael Hyatt calls these leadership lessons, but they’re actually just good life lessons for all of us.

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Lessons from Steve Jobs – Diane Capri on her blog Licensed to Thrill gives a lovely summary of what Steve Jobs did right in his life, as well as links to the 60 Minutes special and his biography.

The Meaning of Life

Grumpy to Gracious – When you feel grumpy but you don’t know why (or even if you do), August McLaughlin’s blog Savor the Page gives some simple ways to practice gratitude. Her tips help chase the grumpies away.

Beer Can Barriers – Are your problems actually impossible to fix or are they only beer can barriers? Myndi Shafer’s Silly Soapbox takes a new look at our perspective about our problems.

This Week from My Co-Writer Lisa Hall-Wilson

Check out her tribute to Canadian veterans in I Am Not American.