This is one of those lessons that seem like a no-brainer. To be honest, this is one that needs reminding in the lives of all of us. Margie really helped me master this concept. It is also one of the most difficult to remember in the heat of an emotional disagreement. The question is how can we change from having arguments to having discussions? I think there is a two-fold answer to this and it begins as soon as the situations comes up.

When we are hurt/sad/upset/angry with something that someone else did or said, or maybe even something we think they did or said, it is important we bring that feeling into light. The reason it is important is because repression grows into resentment. You might want to read that last part again. When we repress our emotions, the other person may continue to do the very thing that angered us in the first place again and again. Not because they are trying to make our life some living hell, but because they are ignorant to the fact we are upset in the first place. That is our fault and our problem to address.

Here is where it gets a little tricky. Before we begin to convey our feelings, we should take a second to ask ourselves some very important questions. The first question I would ask myself is, “If I was in their place, how would I want this brought to my attention?” Nobody likes to hear they upset someone or hurt their feelings. It can feel like they failed. It is also important to not place them on the defensive. Saying things like “You really hurt me” and “You did this just to make me mad!” Can place people on the defensive. Even if they did do something malicious on purpose, you will only compound the issue by attacking them. Remember to ask yourself how you would like to be approached. A more positive approach, and one I recommend very highly, is to ask them for help. Nobody likes to be reprimanded, but everyone likes to feel like they helped. An example could be, “I was wondering if you could help me with something. When you said _____ it really hurt my feelings. I know that wasn’t what you meant to do, but is there a way we could word this differently?” You notice you are asking for their assistance in discovering a solution? You also give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their intent, which we can never truly know anyway. How would you respond if someone approached you that way?

The second, and just as important, thing to ask ourselves is “What is the desired outcome?” Seldom is the answer “I want to make them feel bad because they hurt my feelings.” It may feel like that at the time, but if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is completely different. We usually want to create a mutual understanding that what was said or done caused some emotional distress. It is important to do that with eloquence. Once it is said and understood, immediately switch to working to create a plan to avoid the same situation from happening in the future. I actually ask myself that several times in my head in the course of a discussion. “What is my end goal?” Again, ask for help. “How can we work together to make this work in the future?” stands a far greater chance of success than, “You better not do that again!”

Remember, in any relationship, when there is a disagreement, a discussion is a far better result than an argument. Focus on how you would want to be talked to and realize the other party would probably like to be talked to in the same manner. Stay focused on a solution and not dishing out blame. In fact, blame does little or nothing to create solution. Ask for help. involve the other party and you will have many more productive discussions.


This is a great litmus test to put our words through. How many times a day do we let something escape our lips that we shouldn’t? Having these 3 questions in mind would help prevent that from happening. Remember you cannot unsay something.

How do we keep these questions front and center? Use this picture as your screensaver, pertain jot them down on an index card you carry with you. Then, put it into practice. Try doing this just for a conversation here and there. Eventually, it well become a way of not only speaking, but thinking as well.

So you don’t feel too down on yourself when you first try this, allow me to share my experience. I tried this at work and all I can say is “wow!” I never realized how many useless negative things I say there! Even someone who writes positivity for a living! Although a bit taken aback, I was excited. There is so much room for me to improve my conversation skills.

Try this yourself. I’m about to meet a friend for coffee and am going to try again. I think you will notice different people bring out different conversations. I would love to hear your experience as well!


Valentine’s day is coming up and if you are anything like me you find yourself trying to think of the perfect gift. Who doesn’t want to get a gift we know the receiver will just love? It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s day. It can be a birthday or any other special holiday. What if I told you one word can help you find the perfect gift? It doesn’t matter who you are buying the gift for, or what the occasion is. Would you like to know what one word this is?

One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the gift of happiness. To do and say things that not only bring joy to spouses, friends, family and coworkers, but quite often truly touch their heart. What if I told you this magic word would allow you to know just the right things to say and do, and perhaps just as important, what things to avoid saying and doing, would you be interested?

How can one word unlock the key to making people happy as well as avoiding making them upset? How can that same one word help us pick out the perfect gift that we will know that they will love? This word can do all that and more! It can also show this person their feelings are important to us. It can show them we pay attention to what they say and we value them as a part of our life.

“Wait a minute Neil! You are telling me one word can do all of this?” Yes it can. I personally use this word daily in all of my relationships. I have to thank Margie. It was a trip to the grocery store that began my use of this powerful word. I was at a local co-op shopping for produce and other such fun things. At the time Margie was at home creating one of those cakes that look so good you cannot believe it is edible. Considering how hard she was working and how much I was loving her, I wanted to bring her home something to surprise her and let her know how much I love her and was thinking about her. Then it hit me, I had no clue what that was. I began to push the shopping cart up and down the aisles one by one. My head was spinning. To be honest, I cannot even remember what I settled on that day.

Fast forward a few weeks later. Both of us were at this same store and I was about to tell her how frustrated I was last time I was here looking for that little surprise for her. (Men if you know something you could bring your lady home from the grocery store that makes her feel loved, you are far ahead of most) Right before the words were going to leave my lips a voice in my head spoke to me. Generally these consist of urging me to do things I shouldn’t like eat another slice of pizza or hit the snooze one more time. This time was different, it was a eureka moment. I discovered the magic word and since then I have used it to not only transform my relationship with my beautiful Margie, but virtually everyone in my life and now you can use it too.

What is this magic word? Before I share it with you, a few words of caution, do not dismiss this word based on its simplicity. I promise if you utilize this word in the way described in this post you too will experience a great increase in the quality of your relationships. The word is LISTEN.

When we say listen we mean active listening. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines active listening as “It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.” Read that definition once more slowly. Read it out loud. You may even wish to write that down somewhere. Active listening is most commonly used in conflict resolution. Can you imagine how much difference your disagreements would be if you used active listening? If we are completely honest, we often listen with the intent of responding and not understanding. This is especially true during a disagreement. As the other party is explaining why they are upset we are already busy in our minds composing our rebuttal or how we can prove their point wrong. Changing that to concentrating, understanding and maybe repeating what they said to make sure it is understood as well as remembering what they said to avoid the disagreement in the future would certainly improve your relationship.

Although helpful, so much so I thought I should include it, this is not about disagreements. Let us go back to that day in the grocery store. Instead of sharing my previous frustration with Margie, I decided to watch and listen to her very carefully that day, making mental notes of items she looked at and what she said she liked and did not like. Yes, this kind of listening requires both your ears and your eyes. Up to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Watching her eyes light up with this product, or wrinkling her nose at that product helped me learn a lot more about the wonderful woman I share my life with. I learned more about Margie in that one grocery shopping trip than I normally learn in a month.

The next time I found myself at that grocery store I gleefully picked out several items (little oatie, peach rose) and was confident they would bring her joy when I returned home. I was correct and it filled me with a sense of confidence and accomplishment. I made the woman I love truly happy. It also showed Margie I had listened and paid attention to what she enjoyed. It showed her that her, and her likes and dislikes were very important to me. I began to practice this kind of listening with her more often. I watched and listened to what made her smile, what made her laugh. Even when I make mistakes, I notice what makes her upset. I do my best to practice the active listening mentioned above.

If this sounds like a lot of work, or that you may freak out the one you love by watching their every move, rest assured this is not what we are talking about. Try doing this a couple of times a week. If you are out to dinner notice what sides she likes, how she orders her steak. This is not just about food or even picking out gifts you know they will love.

If we listen long enough people will share with us what makes them happy as well as what makes them unhappy. They will tell us what they enjoy and what they do not. Next time you are out having coffee with a friend, notice what they like to talk about. Notice what interests them. Do they like to talk about history? Maybe a book on Ancient Egypt would make a good birthday gift.

This takes a little effort, but the returns are worth their weight in gold. Do this long enough and you will be the best spouse, friend, or coworker. Picking out gifts will be easier than ever and they will be received with more joy than ever before. The conflicts in your life will be reduced. You will find people will want to spend time around you and enjoy doing so. So remember the magic word LISTEN. Use it daily and your relationships will be better than ever.


Today is valentine’s day. Some call it a hallmark holiday and in many ways I do suppose it is. Much like Christmas,Easter and several other holidays the true meaning makes way for commercial interests. Just like the aforementioned holidays, we do not have to fall victim to this mentality and can focus on the meaning behind the day. 

In the case of today it is love. The cynical may say it is foolish and you should love everyday. This is one time I may be inclined to partially agree with the cynic. While it is true you should celebrate love each and every day (and I am sure that those of you that know my lady Margie and I realize we do) but having a day specifically set aside to remind us of the important role love plays in all of our lives can be very healthy. 

Above is a picture of the couple my lady and I are going to spend the evening with,  our friends Heidi and Bret. This couple, like all couples, have had their share of challenges. Still here they are back, and dare I say, better than they were a year ago. 

What is their secret to love? Well as we all know love is a very complex subject that has filled countless books and inspired even more movies and songs. To say there is one key to love would be selling ourselves short. 

However, because this is a blog and we should be brief i am going to share a secret Heidi and Bret, Margie and myself and countless other couples use to grow their love. Not in a relationship? That’s fine this one thing can unlock the secrets to capturing the heart of anyone you are interested in. 

These are all big claims but can all be achieved by doing one simple thing – listening. Before you dismiss this idea let’s take a look. The kind of listening I am talking about involves listening to learn. 

Let’s take a look at disagreements. When passions run high we can all too often listen just to contradict what our partner is saying. Come on, we have all done it. I know I have. Have you ever found yourself in this situation, you are arguing so intensely and for so long you actually forget what the argument is about? Even worse have you been in a disagreement only to discover you and the other party were totally disagreeing about two different things? These are all things that can happen when we don’t listen to understand what is upsetting our partner. 

When we actively listen which includes asking questions such as “what is truly upsetting you?” And “what can I do to make it better?” can shorten the duration and lessen the intensity of any disagreement. It will also show your partner you can and want to find a solution and not just who is to blame. 

Let’s not be all doom and gloom here. Listening has a very fun and exciting side. Don’t you wish you could always give the one you love the perfect gift or situation to light up their heart regardless of the funds you have available? Listening to the rescue! When I shop with Margie I listen closely  (ok most of the time). This has allowed me to learn what her favorite flowers are, what meat she likes the best, her taste in fashion. Even the conversations we have while doing the simplest things have given me clues as to what she likes and also what she dislikes. By paying attention and taking mental notes it has kept me in the first category. 

So this valentine’s day give your spouse the gift of truly listening to them. It can not only be a great gift for them  (who doesn’t enjoy really being heard and feeling important) and you (they will tell you lots of secrets if you pay attention) but also a great gift for your relationship (it will give you opportunities to grow love and limit upsets). 

*the author would also like to note listening will work in any relationship, friend coworker and clients. 


Here is something that can greatly improve your relationship. It’s a singles ad. Before you assume i have completely lost my mind (a fact that remains questioned by many) please allow me to explain.

 A lady approached me earlier this week and began to regale me with all the issues she was having with her husband. She went on to list a host of things the gentleman happened to be doing wrong in her eyes. After several minutes of this not so glowing review of her gentleman suitor she asked me a very direct question “what do you think I should do?”. I was tempted to ask her if there were any transgressions she left out. Perhaps he had colored outside the lines when he was young? It had me realizing how easy it is to stack things. 

What is stacking things? When we get emotional we tend to limit our focus. When someone hurts us, especially someone close to us we tend to recall other hurtful things they may have done and begin to stack them on to of one another, which only proves to increase our discontent. 

So i told this lady a simple answer, “write a singles ad”. She informed me although she was upset with him she didn’t want to cheat it leave him. What i told her next really confused her and may do the same for you, but stay with me and I believe you will see the value in this.  

I told her not to write the ad for herself, but for him. “I don’t want him to cheat either!”. She made very clear. Aside from the fact that her assertion of him early left room for doubt, i assured her that was not what this was about. “Humor me” i urged her. “What would an ad for your husband read? What qualities make him an excellent catch?”. She went on to say he was compassionate, funny had a great smile. After about 2 minutes she began to get tears in eyes. She began to realize the man she had spent time berating might be one amazing catch. 

So that is what I’m urging all of us to do. Write a singles ad for your significant other. I wouldn’t suggest waiting for a disagreement, do it while the fabulous things they do are fresh in your mind. Taking time to write all of this down will serve to remind us what a great person we have chosen. You might want to keep it around in case there are moments that cause us to forget. 

What if you don’t have that special person? Write an ad for the exact person you would like to meet.  It will then help you get clear on what you are looking for and help engage your subconscious mind to assist you. 

Feel free to share some of the things in your ad in the comments below.