4 Issues That Block Good Communication

by Alisa on September 16, 2010

I may have written my worst post of all time on the Psychology Today site this week. This is ultra distressing for me because I’ve read Psychology Today since I was a kid (I’m sure that says something about me.) You might say that I revere the brand, so I wanted to make a good first impression.

But I screwed up a few things. For one, I tried to tell a very complicated story in too few words. My editor had suggested I keep my posts to just 500 words. Well, I’m good at writing books (average 75,000 words) and I’m good at writing magazine articles (average 2000 words). I’m not so good at writing short things. Case in point: I’m fairly certain that 98 percent of the posts here at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com are 1000 words or longer. (And this doesn’t bother any of you, does it?)

I also tried to write it too quickly. With my upcoming book release, I’ve got a lot going on. More important, my kid just started public school, which has cut my workday down to just 6 hours. I’m squeezing a lot of writing into a small amount of time.

And, perhaps worst of all, I had no idea of the point I wanted to make when I started writing the post. I thought I had a good story to tell, and I tried to tell it. But I didn’t know what I wanted readers to get out of it, and it shows.

If I had done this during a normal conversation, someone would have interrupted me a few times and asked some follow up questions and all would have been well and good. In a blog post? Not so much. What happened was that hundreds of people read it and jumped to all sorts of false conclusions. For instance, one person alluded that my husband might be a pedophile, and another alluded that he was having an affair.

The comments kind of stung, you know? I mean, even in my worst moments, I don’t think my husband is as bad as the people who commented seem to think he is. (Maybe this says something about me?) And, when I looked over the post, it hurt even more when I realized that people were jumping to these conclusions because I wrote the thing so poorly.

Sigh.

What can I do? I’ll learn from the experience and move on.

That brings me to the point of this post: communication blocks. This is what I wanted to illustrate on the PT blog, but so miserably failed to do. Here are some issues that block good communication.

1.     Lack of time. My husband and I have not seen much of each other lately. As a result, I rarely know his schedule, and he rarely knows mine. With so little face-to-face time, important information like where he is going and what time he will be back is not being communicated. This lack of communication isn’t all his fault, mind you. Last night I reminded him that he needed to pick our daughter up from school on Friday because I would be in Delaware having lunch with a newspaper editor. He gently let me know that I was not reminding him of this because I had never once mentioned it before, but he would be happy to pick our daughter up anyway.

2.     Lack of sleep and rest. In order to squeeze in more work time, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 a.m. I also haven’t been running. And I’ve been occasionally working in the evenings, too. And I’ve been blowing off my daily meditation more than I care to admit. None of this has been good for my mood. On the Saturday I wrote about in the Psychology Today post, my husband got up at the crack of dawn to race his bike. Then he came home at 11 am, took a quick shower, and then took our daughter and spent the entire day with her. By 9 p.m. that night, I was nearly hallucinating from fatigue, and he was worn out from his race and was also on his last nerve, as my mother used to say to us kids, from hours and hours of parenting. Let me tell you: if you happen to be coherent enough to know that you and/or your spouse are in such a state, table all forms of communication until one or both of you has gotten more rest.

3.     Outside forces. I write about my marriage here at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com and in my upcoming book. Several times a month, someone will ask me, “What does your husband think about this?” Several times a month I find myself saying the same thing I always say, “He’s fine with it. That’s how I know he loves me.” Yet, these needling questions have apparently invaded my consciousness and taken up root in that part of my brain that is responsible for worrying. On the night in question, when my husband went to bed without saying Good Night, this is what I got to thinking (and should have probably explained in the post): He’s really not okay with me writing about our marriage, is he? Maybe it bothers him that I am the breadwinner and that I write about it. After all, that must ding up his male ego. And maybe he saw someone today who read something on the blog and said something to him about it and got him all riled up. Maybe this person told him that he would never let his wife write such things and that he should put me in my place or something…. Those thoughts went on and on and on and eventually led me to the conclusion that my husband was sorry he ever met me. The next day, they seemed quite comical. In the moment, though, when fueled by my fatigue, they seemed completely real and plausible.

4.     Anger and fear. I’ve learned from past experience that neither of these emotions breeds good communication. Anger leads to blame—which usually angers the other person and rarely brings the two of you to consensus and understanding. Fear breeds all of those crazy worries that I just mentioned in point #3, and those crazy worries tend to cause one to stop trusting in the stability of the marriage. If you don’t absolutely trust that your partner will stick around—no matter what you say or do—you will have a hard time communicating your most important thoughts and feelings.

Fortunately for us, all of these blocks went away overnight as my husband and I slept. Indeed, in marriage, a spouse nearly always looks better in the morning. This isn’t necessarily true when it comes to dating and one-night-stands, but it’s often true with marriage.

But it would be cavalier of me to say that sleep was all we needed. No, we need to work on our communication—and find ways to communicate important information even when we are short on time. We’re working on that. Stay tuned. If I encounter any revelations along the way, I’ll be sure to write about them.

And just so you all know: this post is more than 1200 words, and I feel good about that. What about you?

What blocks you from communicating at your best? How have you overcome any of the blocks that I’ve mentioned here? Leave a comment.

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren September 16, 2010 at 8:59 am

Aaah! Lack of sleep, lack of time – they’re killers! Lack of time for yourself is way up there at the top of the list of nasty things, too. Stress about finances, the children’s behavior, super-intensive parenting, the ex-wife’s “antics”… there are lot of things that ratchet up the chaos level and make it hard to communicate through the din.

And your 1200 words seem just right. You said what you needed to say – the number of words required is irrelevant.

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Kathy September 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

I’m fine with longer posts. That way I’m not left guessing/wondering what the point is/was.

May I suggest some sort of bulletin board for your family, Alisa. Now that your daughter is getting older and more involved with outside activities, you all are going to need a way to communicate this. A dry erase calendar might work. Use a red marker when your hubby needs to pick up the little person or something.

Nothing worse than not knowing or having that all worked out ahead of time. Take if from a grown woman that fully remembers being left home alone at the age of 3 because her parents didn’t have it worked out who was going to have me for the day. They met up for lunch, each with one of my brothers and realized they didn’t know where I was. (I wonder if this is why I’m so loud now????)

All of your points for blocking/messing up communication are very valid. They have all gotten me in trouble somehow, someway. My husband and I now pretty much don’t discuss important issues until the weekend. It really is a bother in some ways (since I forget my name some days), but it saves on the fights we have.

Sometimes 500 words or 5 minutes just isn’t enough!

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Alexandra September 16, 2010 at 9:56 am

I tend to like short posts because I read so many blogs and only have a certain amount of time every day to read blogs. This being said, I read your posts on a pretty regular basis. When I read the Psychology Today post, I concluded you were really tired when you wrote it, or had been severely edited, but am really surprised to hear you received such negative comments. I think it is best not to take it too personally.

Regarding communication, I find that having suffered bad communication in my first marriage, I have tended to make more of an effort in my second. Fortunately my second husband is good at communicating and is retired, so we do not have the issues you mention about busy lives and schedules. However, as my husband ages, his hearing is failing. This is a huge challenge. I tend to get angry when he does not remember something I said, and have to remind myself that he probably simply did not hear me! Now there’s a new twist for you on what can block communication: aging ears!

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Joanne & Ray September 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

Alisa; You need to pull out your “I Don’t Suck List” and remember what my grandmom always said about opinions, “They are just like a**holes, everyone has them and they all stink.”

OK maybe that was over the top but as you can see I am not deleting it, after all, it is just my opinion!!

Your posts are probably just about the right length to properly get your point across and as previously posts have shown invariably there is always someone that will miss the point.That can’t be your responsibility so you need to do the best you can to make your point and then let it go. I think by and large you do that very well.

Ray and I did an exercise recently where we had to write present and past ways in which we felt loved by the other person. They all had to do with things like my writing a little letter to say I was sorry and that I loved him when I would get unreasonably nasty or angry with him or when I would see that he was overtired and needed some “me time” so I would cuddle and sing to him, little stuff like that. Not one of his “times he felt loved” had anything to do with how well I provided for us as the breadwinner which totally surprised me. They all had to do with me giving pieces of myself which I never felt any value in. My point is that while I have been working so hard to give him everything he could ever want because I love him so much, he felt loved when I would sing him some sappy love song or take a moment to say that I was out of line and he didn’t deserve it. Go figure.

Now I give him specific time that he can count on where he has ME for whatever he needs. I wish I had done more of that while the kids were younger for them also, I might have felt like a better mother.

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Joanne & Ray September 16, 2010 at 11:06 am

By the way, Ray is proud of me and not at all threatened by who brings in more finances because it is only as a team that we have been able to accomplish all in our home that we have. But then I know of no one who can make a better salmon with spinach tortellini than he can make while running a vacuum and getting two loads of laundry done. I am very proud of him too, He is far and away the most incredible man I have ever met.

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Alisa September 16, 2010 at 11:41 am

Joanne–this belongs on a magnet:

Opinions are just like a**holes, everyone has them and they all stink.

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Melissa September 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Also fine with longer posts.

Alisa, if you’re stressing is affecting your work you might benefit from finding a Virtual Assistant or another writer who is willing to just glance over things before you send them out. Then you’ll get some feedback before exposing things to the public – allowing for more peace of mind and less stress. shoot me a note if you’re interested in that type of thing – as a freelancer I have a solid network of writers / editors, and even a virtual assistant friend or two who might be able to help.

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Chelsea September 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

After reading this post, and empathizing with everything you wrote, I just had to stop in here briefly to tell you — I LOVE YOUR POSTS. Seriously, out of all the blogs I subscribe to, and all the other online flotsam (facebook, etc), yours are the posts I most look forward to, and they always leave me feeling more thoughtful and … I can only say “whole,” after reading them. <3

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Melissa September 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Also, in terms of communication issues … my significant other recently joined the navy. He’s going to boot camp in dec. I’m terrified – not because he’ll be in danger. He made it in as a nuclear engineer so he’ll rarely, if ever, be in direct danger. But because he’ll be away – to start, for 2 months at boot camp with limited access to phone, no access to email/internet and our main way to communicate will likely be written letters (he’s shown in the past he hates to write out feelings & it’s hard to get him to communicate much via letter…).

I think though, that getting through those tough times is what makes a relationship truly special…

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Lisa September 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm

wow I read the blog on PT and it is so amazing how people judge. I tend to believe if you wrote the same here we may have had questions but none accusing anyone of anything, That is why I absolutely love this place. I love that it feels safe and non judgemental.
Ron, Just remember this too shall pass. You keep your head up. I am so proud to know a genuinely kind man who would take care of his wife in her most vulnerable state. It really says alot about you.
I am learning that when my hubby is in a mood I just go about and do my own thing, we talk about nothing serious because lets face it when we are tired I would like to avoid what could be a small conflict turning into something huge. Now I just have to learn how to let those obsessive thoughts overcome me when I am angry.

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Joanne & Ray September 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Drummer Guy: I so wish there was more we all could do for you, you sound like you could use some help. I hope your beloved is feeling well enough to catch up on your “zzzzs” soon.

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Drummer Guy September 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Thanks Lisa & Joanne. I so appreciate the kind words, the kind thoughts, the prayers & the positive vibes of everybody here. Tonight is music rehersal with my band. We are doing a show this weekend at a large venue. 15000+ screaming fans. Translation better pay….YEA!!! ….LOL

Also music is my stress relief from all of this. After a few days of this I can go beat the heck out of my poor drumset & nobody gets arrested…LOL

Ron :-)

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Drummer Guy September 16, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Oh & Joanne I am going to try not to fall asleep while playing tonight. It has never happened before but tonight could be a first….HA! Also in good news I have a sitter for tonight who is staying overnight & one for this weekend. So I should be getting some sleep…..YEA!!!!!!

Ron :-)

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Frugal Kiwi September 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Short posts are fine for some things. A quick tech tip. A bit of gossip. But meatier topics won’t work in 500 words! My blog posts are about the same length as yours. I figure if I’m too long winded for some people that is fine, they should move along, but I’m not going to cut things short for that reason.

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Elisa_Croatia September 17, 2010 at 2:54 am

Alissa I haven’t read the article but like you said, you learn from it and move on. I have always wondered how freelancer writers/bloggers manage their time with writing/family/etc.. and it just proves we are all human. I stay at home and not work yet the hours of parenting are exhausting( so glad I can say that aloud, because I feel guilty when I think about it, like this is my job to be a good Mom and I shouldn’t complain to be having this opportunity..but then it proves again we are human.)

personally I enjoy reading ALL your posts and I never think they are LONG. You have a way of expressing what you want to say and I think that’s why I look forward to getting your posts via email. And I will be forwarding this to my sisters as they also enjoying reading your blog.

and I love that statement about opinions!!! LOL yes belongs on a magnet.

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Alisa Bowman September 17, 2010 at 6:14 am

Love you guys. You really picked me up. This whole thing had me down for a bit. But it’s so uplifting to have you all here for me!

Melissa: I’ll be in touch.

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Lydia September 17, 2010 at 6:49 am

Hi, my name is Lydia, I’m 46 and living in UK. I’m new here. I just wanted to say hello and will be looking forward to seeing what I can learn here!

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Weston September 17, 2010 at 7:15 am

If it makes you feel any better I found this blog through your PT postings. If the 500 word limit is ever strictly enforced you can always be mindful of it as just being a taste of your thoughts and the opportunity for the readers to get the full meal here.

Your posting reminded me of what a copywriting expert stated once in response to the question “How long should a sales letter be?” his response was “As long as it takes you to tell your story. No longer and no shorter”

I understand the 500 word guideline since you have to keep in mind that the editor is generally dealing with the writing of experts in psychology not experts in writing. Hopefully they will give you some leeway based upon the fact that you’re a professional writer who knows what it will take to get the story across.

And yes I think your husband behaved badly. I behaved badly to my wife last night. She acted really bitchy towards me last weekend. My bad behavior doesn’t make me a bad husband and her’s doesn’t make her a bad wife. It just makes us human.

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Lisa September 17, 2010 at 7:33 am

To Lydia,
Welcome, I do hope you can learn something here. It is a great blog.

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Joanne & Ray September 17, 2010 at 8:13 am

Lydia- Welcome to the group, fresh insights are always enjoyed and looked forward to.
Weston- I love the appetizer and meal analogy, quite appropriate.

From the sound of the blog responses you could all use your own Forgive Me CD. Here is the final song count:

1. I’m Sorry – Brenda Lee
2. Please Forgive Me – Bryan Adams
3. Down on My Knees – Trisha Yearwood
4. You and Me – Lifehouse
5. I fall to Pieces – Anne Murray
6. Sorry- buckcherry
7. Working My Way Back to You Babe – The Spinners
8. Bless the Broken Road – Rascal Flatts
9. Lonely Alone – Forrester Sisters
10. A Million Years – The casinos
11. Hard to Say I’m Sorry- Chicago
12. After All – Cher
13. I’m Sorry – John Denver
14. I’m Sorry – Hall & Oates
15. Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word – Elton John
16. How Do I Live Without You – Leann Rimes
17. I Cross My Heart – George Straight

#17 isn’t an I’m sorry song. It was our wedding song and I didn’t list it on the jacket cover so it will be a surprise ending. I dare him to stay mad at me after that!!!!!!!

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Joanne & Ray September 17, 2010 at 8:13 am

By the way Lisa and Sabrina thanks so much for the help.

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Lisa September 17, 2010 at 8:17 am

Joanne you are welcome. It sounds like a good playlist of songs. I am sure he will never be able to stay mad at you. LOL!!!

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Sabrina September 17, 2010 at 10:23 am

You are more than welcome :) I am sure he will love the gesture and once he gets to #17, he wont even know why he was mad.

(Mike pulled the wedding song trick once – and it worked, LOL)

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Hailey September 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Ok I haven’t quite read all these comments, but I get the idea pretty much every one agrees: to judge a person you never met before (and seemingly never read before) based on one article is silly. I was getting ticked off just reading the comments. I thought “That’s not Alisa…. these people are taking it ALL wrong.”

Coming from a person who can barely write a sentence correctly, don’t feel bad that your message didn’t make it through to some people. I got it though. I thought it was a good article. :-)

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Gayle September 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I think for for your type of blog you need to have long posts to really explore what you are discussing so it works for me :)

I have been having these communication blocks myself recently and honestly things don’t look better with sleep for me LOL I have to get myself to a rational place to be okay with what ever issue I have mulling around my head about my husband.

As much as I would it to not affect me and we are working at leaving it where it belongs… the past affects our/ my communication. I get all passive aggressive when I should know better.
Oh well it take time right.

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Gayle September 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Ok I read the article… seems fine to me! But I guess having a daughter who can be high strung (not say that your daughter is) my husband has more patience with her… ok he spoils her and she routinely puts him to sleep instead of the other way around.
What got me about the whole exchange though is that he didnt feel the need to call, to explain and was like my husband miffed that you dare to question. Men! oh well happy that you sorted it all out ( read all the comments too)
I wrote a post about just calling for the same reasons.

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Sarah Liz September 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Y’all, I am so sorry I’ve been so absent lately!

I really miss coming here, I do read each and every post, but with work and family stuff and my husband’s recovery…..one thing after another!

Anyway, I wanted to say that I TOTALLY AGREE with this post!

I haven’t read everyone’s comments yet, but….wow…

Lack of sleep, lack of time, outside forces & fear and anger are DEFINITELY roadblockers to communication!

One thing I heard recently is asking the other person “is this a good time?” before you talk about something. It’s hard to do, but so much easier in the long run. That way, the person has a choice whether or not they talk about something at a certain time.

Of course, sometimes, you can’t wait, but still, if you plan a bit,this can totally be done.

Communication is SO KEY is every relationship from marriage to kids to parents and work and so on……..

learning to do so effectively, however, is a LIFE LONG process!

Thanks for this great post, this weekend….my goal is sit down and read all of comments lately, I can’t wait!

Have a great weekend, all!

Many Blessings,
-Sarah Liz:)

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Robert Keteyian September 17, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I was curious, so went to the PT site and read the post, as well as all the comments. Frankly, I didn’t find it hard to get your point. It was a very human story that is easy to identify with. Who hasn’t had an equivalent experience? Of course we are not at our best under stressful circumstances and, therefore, communication breaks down. Tired, hungry, and too busy are the things we look at when our kids melt down, and it’s no different for us adults. Also, I understand that your story was incomplete, but that’s no excuse for people to comment in an edgy/angry/critical way.

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Sarah Liz September 18, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Drummer Guy, I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time right now. I’ve been there, it’s tough. I hope it gets better, and soon. Hang in there, this too shall pass….we are only human and we can only take so much. We need rest, sleep, reprieve and sanity–take care of yourself, sleep when you can and just do your best. Your wife knows you love and care for her and we all know you do everything you can to help her. I’m praying for you, her and your entire marriage–for your strength, faith and courage to just keep on going! God Bless you both.

Peace & Health,
-Sarah Liz :)

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Joanne & Ray September 19, 2010 at 8:30 am

Finally had an opportunity to read the PT article and have to say that some serious conclusion jumping had to go on to get to the pedophile point and where the affair thing would come from is still buried deeply in the pyschy of the accuser I’m afraid. It worries me that we have become so leary of physical affection that fathers can’t hold their little girls through the night and calm their hurts or fears because of how it could be interpreted. Also sad is the idea that anytime a couple has trouble in communicating or lossing a sense of each other it should be cause to worry about infidelity, are we really that shallow as human beings that this is a real concern?
Alisa- Your insights are timely and they are so needed in an obviously jaded world. You are sharing a reconnection to one of the most fundamental needs of a human being to love and be loved in a healthy relationship and in your experience what works to get there. Take as many words as you need to get that across because obviously there is a large audience that needs to hear it.

On a lighter note, the CD was a hugh success and paid some serious dividends thanks for giving me a place to express that happiness.

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MarthaAndMe September 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

I agree that it is so hard to communicate when you’re exhausted and hardly ever see each other. It’s also easy to feel resentful about this and assume things you shouldn’t when it usually turns out you are assuming wrong!

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Jacques September 19, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Next step is to be able to handle the emotional turmoil (lack of sleep, last nerves after children nurturing, etc) as and when it comes (not tabling it for after a good night of sleep), and this for two reasons: (i) it is an opportunity to go deeper and (ii) it is an opportunity to go deeper. No you are not seeing double. Isn’t what relationships are all about? Love. Jacques

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Drummer Guy September 20, 2010 at 8:20 am

Thanks Sara Liz & everybody for all the kind words & encouragement. It was a better weekend. Well in some ways. My beloved is still very ill but she is sleeping much better as the pain has eased. My band did 2 shows which was a nice escape from the stresses for me. I had a sitter for her that allowed me to get out for a few hours on Friday & Saturday. So this week is off to a better start. Thanks again & everybody have a GREAT week.

Ron :-)

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Eric September 21, 2010 at 7:21 am

Google Calendar – Awesome for keeping everybody up to speed on schedules…assuming you take the time to put everything on it. it even sends notifications to your cell phone if you link them together – VERY handy…

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Mrs. Levine September 21, 2010 at 7:31 pm

As a writer, you think that you need to be able to craft something so that everyone will understand it but people always bring their own lives into what they read. If someone thinks “pedophile” or “affair” chances are those words are coming up more in their lives than in yours. You’re a good writer. Try to own that and let all of the opinions go. It’s much easier to criticize someone else than be honest about yourself, and you know which camp you belong in.

Sounds like all you need is some rest and you’ll be good as new again.

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Bern October 10, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Another good topic on human behaviour and a reminder that real life isn’t always easy or perfect. When we’re tired or depressed some people can get into the habit of being too self critical, which really doesn’t help. Some self-reflection is a good idea, and the yardstick I use is that can I look at myself in the mirror and say HONESTLY that could I have done any better given the information I have or the circumstances? Drummer Guy – I hope things are on the improve for you, and I agree with the others – you’re doing a fantastic job. Alisa – personally I like the longer blogs because it does give more insight into the topic and you can explore all the aspects more fully.

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Michael Dundas October 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Great post Alisa. Effective communication when you lack sleep, exercise, and time is difficult. It is good to be reminded so one can be on the lookout.

For what it is worth, I have also read Psychology Today since I was a kid!
-mike.

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