Archive for the ‘Communication’ category

Through The Earth

May 19, 2021

May 2021 – I’ve just taken part in a “Writing Through The Earth” course with the esteemed Lightweaver, Bhavana Nissima.

Hers is as much a personal development workshop as a writing workshop. Bhavana puts our attention on what she calls ‘de-colonizing’ our writing – letting go of the ‘shoulds’ and even of the audience. She elicits our own reactions to our own writing. Her metaphor of the process of writing is: a tilling of the soil, and then a planting of seeds for the next cycle.

I’ve so enjoyed being with 11 other AMAZING women writers – all in India – who also are seeking their own next growth edge.

The assignments were word count restricted and the in-class ones were time boxed to 10 or 15 minutes. The constraints were so useful to get the unedited thinking on paper.


That act of recovery, the walking, it helps in so many ways. Today you took that walk to see what you could see about grief in nature :  the trunk choked up by the invasive ivy, the tree branch that was barren of leaves, and seemingly dead.  But you kept on walking and looking, past those reminders.  And then you recalled that you don’t need reminders, that the grief bits are as much part of you as the sap of the tree is the life of the tree.  And you realized that its okay to feel your blood flow again, to acknowledge your aliveness rather than bury your grief where no one can see it – which you had done.

Oh yes, the positive you on the outside, showing all the progress, while hiding the reality in replies to the comments, that many fewer people would see.  


You wrapped the gift of yourself in 58 years of courageous toil and birthing. That energy bundled, that time spent unseen: now look, see, and jump for joy with your newly signed and stamped lease. You can dance and tango with all your energy released – that ribbon untied. 

Lift yourself out of your limits; rise up that inch and a half taller that you are. And…  bend down to your grand-nephew – to see him where he is.  Hone now the skill of connection, in your late years glory and new-found peace.

Glow in all that the sun grants you. Soak in your vitamins, hydrate your soul, bathe in the smells of the spices you now have at hand.  Love all humbly, yourself mostly.

At My Birth (In My Mother’s Voice)

I looked up and saw the doctor there – that white coat (aging, I thought) and hadn’t I just been about to give birth?
And his advice, I later conveyed to my over-the-ocean needy parents – needlessly needing to know everything – was that: This nut-infested-loony-old-school-unshaven-squirrel – darting in and out of hospital rooms – as he talked-at-me-through-me and drowned-out-my-gut-instinct: “That I should not breast feed. It would be too hard on me after the C-Section.”

Generation 0 – Immigration

Wiping, vacuuming – and this: identically uniformed 
To – what – take away their uniqueness?
Make them unidentifiable for the tips?
Shining car tires, back breaking work
Yet, TipCash into the communal tip jar  – who divvies it up? The owners?

Then there is Kim’s.  Kim’s Tailor.
That’s what the sign says and the Yelp reviews are stellar
Like the car wash, efficient, designed to please the tech-politician-lobbyist-monied.
On the wall: famous politicians. Mr. Kim wears dress trousers, perfectly starched shirt.
Whirring, clicking, stopping, whoosh –  sewing-machine-workers laboring.
How long to build a reputation, put kids through college?


I got up to leave. The shoes first.  Then my little tote backpack.
What did I need – well that’s the wallet, the journal, the glasses, maybe water. It depends.
Glancing outside – what weather? Opens the Juliet balcony slider door and senses…

Ah that’s a wear-layers-weather.  Got me the layers.  Then the what ifs… what if I want to read along the way?
Where will I go? The mask, the keys, and then out the door, glancing back at the un-soaked beans. Goes back in, soaks them.

Down, down down, step by step, thinking of backtracking my thoughts – so many – flowing all morning.
Not flowing, bumbling about – the plant lights, the bean soak, the tweet about spatial data cubes of the future affecting the way we live, drive, see each other – down the road, yes, but still. I decided walking down, that yes, I would try to remember my thoughts as they come, and not let them flee. For if I had them, I had a reason for them, and if I let them go without being intentional about it, then I was not a good thought keeper….  Not even a housekeeper keeps everything, but surely they keep what they keep with a purpose.


Is aliveness
Is breath
Is eating
Is holding
Is feeling
Is listening
Is resting
Is beholding
Is praising
Is praying

Beyond the sleep
Beyond the dreams
Beyond the fields
Beyond the conscious
Beyond the sensory

In the heart
In the gut
In the mind
Out of one’s skin
Out in the world
Out to serve

A millisecond nod
A wink
A hope, and maybe a rope
A devotion
A lifetime connection
A weight lifted
A gift received
A hammock
A meal cooked
A celebration
A rite of passage
A letter received
A thank you
An effort seen

Sisters Care (or Sisters’ Care, or Sister’s Care)

That early morning plane ride, the last time she would ever be here. The goodbyes to my kids, the cajoling to get her up and into the car. This, until then, the hardest moment of my life.

Like a yank or a push – a different kind of birthing – birthing to give up – to un-shoulder my mother’s late life care – not autonomic like that strongest muscle of the human body – the uterus – but forced by some other mechanism I didn’t understand – guilt, shame, inadequacy, lack of support -some web of this culture which doesn’t allow for all the things we wish for but that somehow gets us to wish for everything.  I drove with an incredibly heavy heart, flew with anxiety tightly holding my sadness, sitting next to her, smelling her, listening to her repeat herself about going home, asking about the clouds. The clouds held us lightly as we navigated the unknown, alone together.

I could more easily get out the snarled tangled mess in my daughter’s long hair day after day than figure out the right way to support my mother in her state, my state, our state.   My mother’s Alzheimer was too far advanced – on the flight back I cried again that I couldn’t, uncontrollably.

My sister had said: bring her to me. You’ve done your part for years.
Let me take over now.

Ambiguity in Communication

November 21, 2020
What is obscured ?

Communication can cause a bit of fog. I live high enough up on the 10th floor of my apartment building that my view is usually clear even when there is fog.  I can see the tops of trees and buildings but not everything. The mist turns to blue sky while many shapes on the ground remain unidentifiable – ambiguous.  The fog created from misheard or misunderstood words, ideas, and intentions requires hard to work to ‘dissipate’ than fog droplets on a sunny day.

Ambiguity in Communication

Some people associate the word ambiguity with that which is ‘unknown’ or ‘unknowable’. Others associate the word with ‘double meanings’ or unclear meanings. Let’s explore some examples of ambiguities like these in communication.

Can I hear what you are saying?

This may sound obvious, the first step in communication after one person says something is the ‘intake’ and for that to happen well, the listener has to hear all the words as they were spoken or intended. Here’s a story from my past.

When my grandfather accompanied my family on an international trip – a first for us together – we became stranded for hours on an Indian country road with a broken down car.  As we waited for hours for help, my grandfather engaged the youth that were walking alongside the road in conversation. He was intent on helping them with their English. That day in India – when I was just 12 years old, I stood nearby watching him, and wondered why he worked so hard to get his roadside ‘students’ to pronounce each word very clearly, over and over.  It wasn’t until years later that I understood that the first step in ensuring understanding is that you have to have ‘heard’ the words accurately. 

Jerry Weinberg, one of my mentors on topics of interpersonal communication, spoke in a very soft voice which made it hard for me to hear him in a big conference room. Ambient noise, distance between people, the speaker’s position and speed all have an impact on what you hear. I sometimes cannot understand the words of native English speakers because of varying accents. You can be a guru in communication, and still have difficulty at this step, whether listening or speaking.

Tuning In To the Person you are Speaking To

To go along with speaking and enunciating clearly is the idea of tuning in to your audience. If you are the speaker, are you seeking to notice that folks listening to you are paying attention to what you are saying? Are they engaged? Do you know what their ‘perspective’ or ‘vantage point’ is?  Virginia Satir, a famous family therapist, liked to point out that when a child is being spoken to by a tall parent, they may feel very intimidated by their relative size. I wish I had known to kneel down or set my kids on a chair or table when I told them important things. That way, I would have more likely seen their expression, and held their attention – showing them the importance of what I was saying.

No matter how old your audience, knowing that they appear to be responding in some fashion is key to knowing if they’ve gotten what you’ve said.  It is your job to make sure your words are clearly spoken and your listeners are engaged. Alan Alda, in his post acting career, has helped thousands of scientists and engineers to communicate well by learning to attend to their audience. Here he was less concerned about their ‘physical’ vantage point, but rather their cognitive and emotional context. What a worthy cause.

Do I understand what you said in the same way you intended?

The next issue is that one person’s meaning can be different from what the message sender intended to convey. Here are a few examples:

“Can you please trim the tree?” uttered at Christmas time might mean decorating the tree, but it could mean you are being asked to cut off some of the branches. 

When I was thrown into a French school in Burundi in 1974 with just a few weeks of French tutoring behind me – I remember the teacher asking if anyone knew anything about ‘lion’.  We had just driven through France prior to catching our flights to our new home, and I remembered having travelled through the city called ‘Lyon’ (a homonym to the animal: lion).  I blurted out “It is a city” in French.   Apparently I had missed some context, and the class burst out laughing. The instructor started drawing a lion on the chalkboard. How embarrassing!  And I still remember this to this day. Some learning has to happen via mishaps – the question is how do we get better at communicating so as to minimize the damage!

Know your audience, choose your words wisely, provide supporting context, speak clearly and you’ll find these improvements take you a long way.

Tone of voice and gesture

Another area of ambiguity in communication arises because a person’s words are mismatched to other aspects of their communication. 

If someone says: “Did you eat the rest of the cookies?” in a curious or neutral tone, this won’t likely cause defensiveness. Uttered in a suspicious, accusatory or angry tone, it will.  Most people remember the tone over the content. Stand in front of a mirror and pretend the last cookie is gone.  Practice asking this question with angry, suspicious, curious, and neutral tones.  Practice emphasizing different words as you do so. 

A sulking posture and lowered head accompanied by a ‘Yes, I’ll do it” with ‘air quotes’ around the ‘do it’ might mean your child or co-worker isn’t quite aligned with the task assignment. Spend some time noticing the gestures other people use.  First do you know what the gesture means? Is there a mismatch between the message and their hand gestures or posture?

When you notice a mismatch, where do you store that information? How does it affect you? What, if anything, do you do about it? I’ll never forget the IBM manager who was asking his teams to ‘follow the process’, but he was carrying a gun mounted to a portable piece of wood and was waving it around the all-hands meeting. Needless to say, that may have ‘matched’ what he intended, but I was not going to stick around to find out. I soon left.

Must I Read Your Mind (or How Did You Forget to Mention …) ?

Sometimes communication fails because of what’s not said or conveyed.

“Let’s watch a movie” as a suggestion is harmless (it seems), but if you, the recipient, are currently heads down studying, wound up about some deadlines, or needing some quiet time, you might expect that your partner should know movies are the farthest thing on your mind. This suggestion may trigger you to blurt out something you’ll regret, such as: ‘Are you kidding, you should know I have exams tomorrow – can’t you see I’m studying?’ This will only thicken the fog in your communication, because you never actually told your partner about the exam, the deadline, or your need for quiet.  This sort of situation happens often with people who are close to each other. They subconsciously expect their partners to have read their minds – under the illusion they had already communicated their needs.

Ambiguity frequently occurs where people’s tasks or even their roles and expectations are not well communicated. ‘I thought you were testing that feature’ or ‘I thought you were buying those groceries’. These can often be alleviated by frequently sharing intentions and checking in with each other.

If you’re interested in exploring better ways of communicating, whether for you or for your team, you can schedule a free 1/2 hour time slot for exploration here or simply send me an email me at