relationships

Our Culture, and How It Colors Our Communication

Using Stories to Uncover Our Deeper Connections

ZachCulturePodcast

We know innately that when we find things in common with each other, we forge deeper connections, but how do we do that with intention and true curiosity? And how do we make this the first part of communication, the priority, so our discussions don’t immediately devolve into defensiveness and hostility?

Zach and I believe that if we understand our own perspectives, where they come from, what we’re reading to bring us to certain conclusions, and why we trust the resources we trust, we could make a start toward better understanding and appreciation for others’ perspectives.

One key to starting those conversations is simply finding common ground, and that can be found in culture. During our conversation in this podcast, we discuss a less traditional definition of culture; lifestyle culture. Are you a dog person? A cat person? Are you part of the mountain biking culture? Each of us can live in many different lifestyle cultures, which makes it much easier to find common ground.

Zach Messler knows a lot about communication strategy, and he uses own cultural commonalities to strengthen his work.

Connect with Zach on LinkedIn, and be sure to check out his website to learn more about how he can help you develop your messages, your content, to be clear and compelling!

From Zach’s website:

I help entrepreneurs know what to say and how to say it so they make a bigger impact on the world…and their wallets.

So, yeah. I’m on a mission to help entrepreneurs find relevance…and revenue.

Stories of Outdoor Adventures Color Our Lives with Gratitude

Returning From an Adventure with No Toilet Paper Makes You Grateful for the Little Things

Stories of Outdoor Adventures Color Our Lives with Gratitude.png

Kevin Strauss wasn't born into a family that was outdoorsy. He didn't grow up in a place where it was common to hike for miles, or to go camping in the wilderness over the summer. But at some point in his life, he realized he wanted to reconnect with nature, to explore his adventurous nature and stretch out of his comfort zone. He did something he never thought he'd do, and that experience set him up for a future full of extreme outdoor adventures.

Your Comfort Zone-2.png

When we think about our lives and how we live each day, we have three concentric circles of our activities and behaviors. The innermost, smallest circle is our comfort zone, and most of us stay in there in the majority of our daily activities. The next circle is about double the size of the comfort zone, and that's our stretch zone. The majority of us spend about 5 percent of our time there on a daily basis. And then there's the huge, outermost circle - our "oh shit" zone. That's the place we avoid as much as possible, totally out of our control and beyond our imagination of our own capacity and drive.

When we take a leap like Kevin did, we stretch that comfort zone out a bit, but more importantly, we stretch our stretch zone out dramatically. What we thought we'd never do, suddenly becomes an option, a possibility.

Being in nature, really out there, beyond easy access to an escape route, we realize a) how little control we really have, and b) how little, in terms of "stuff" we need to survive. Being out there with no toilet, no toilet paper, and no access to prepared food leaves us with a complete understanding of exactly what is a necessity, and what is simply luxury.

Mount Helena City Park, Helena, Montana

Mount Helena City Park, Helena, Montana

That's when we can connect deeply with ourselves and the world around us. The best part of this kind of adventure is the return to "real" life, when we get to apply the lessons we learn on our adventures. We realize that gratitude changes our lives, improves our relationship with ourselves and others, and helps push us to try new things and set our priorities.

As promised in the podcast, here are a few resources for you, just in case you are inspired to step out of your comfort zone in an outdoor adventure:

  • Local REI and MeetUps often have trips for beginners, as well as classes

  • Backpacker.com is a great magazine to get you started and thinking about trips and gear

  • Backpackinglight.com has a plethora of articles, webinars, podcasts, etc.

  • Cottage shops for gear often have great articles and resources on their websites, as well as “real life” experiences. Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs, ULA, Mountain Laurel Designs, Zpacks. You won’t find this gear at REI or other major sporting goods stores, but you’ll learn about real gear that works.

And here's the other promised link to Kevin's blog post about toilet paper.

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Kevin Strauss is a 17-year, injury-free Ironman Triathlete and Coach. If you have any question or need help with your endurance events, including backpacking, or if you want to get started and run your first 5K and do it right, visit his website. Learn more about Kevin and his products, Family eJournal and Corporate eJournal, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Avoiding the After Conference Hangover

Create Memorable Stories and Relationships to Keep Your Momentum and Inspiration

No Longer Virtual, Denver 2018

No Longer Virtual, Denver 2018

I was so excited to start working on some of the ideas I had, and to apply what I had learned, I actually arrived early to work the morning I returned from the conference. That's a big deal for me; I love to sleep and rarely choose to get up any earlier than I have to. But that morning was different. That week would be different. My JOB would be different. I was on fire.

The conference had been full of great topics, from sales to leadership, from marketing to financial analysis. The keynote session and the breakout session hosted by the keynote speaker were my favorites. The topics were marketing, and he drilled down in the breakout session to help us work through some his strategies to apply them to our specific goals. He reminded me why I loved that class when I was going through my undergraduate business program. His excitement for the planning process, implementation, and follow up analysis was contagious; I couldn't wait to get back to work and start my own projects!

That Monday, I sat down at my desk and penciled in time on my busy calendar to work on a formal marketing plan. When I started that job just four months before, I dove right in and didn’t give myself any opportunity to think through a strategy to market the hotel. It’s as if I had forgotten all of what I had learned in school.

I thought that giving myself a set amount of time, maybe 30 minutes each day would get me to where I wanted to be. I started first thing that morning by looking at available online templates for a marketing plan that would fit the needs of the hotel, and selected a simple but solid format to download. My boss walked in as I was saving it; he was surprised to see me already settled into my day, earlier than usual. In an uneasy, suspicious, fake-happy tone, he asked me:

“What are you so happily working on first thing this morning?”

"You know that break-out session I went to at the conference last week? The one on marketing plans and implementation? I'm working on a marketing plan for us, to formalize some of what I've been doing, to make it easier to budget and measure the success of what we're doing here. We can’t possibly analyze whether what we’re spending money on in advertisement is working unless we find a way to measure it, right? I've been so busy since I started my job here, trying to make sales and get people in the door, I completely forgot how important this tool can be!"

He had no idea what I was talking about, and erupted at me: “Why do we need a marketing plan? You should be pounding the pavement. Didn't we have this conversation, that you need to spend less time onsite and more time selling?”

In less than ten seconds, my boss had me nearly deflated. I didn't give up, though, because I knew I was on the right track. Every time I had 15 minutes alone in the office, I worked on that marketing plan. I knew I needed the document to help me stay on track and see the results of my efforts at that job. In my optimistic mind, when I presented the finished product to my boss, he'd appreciate it -- he'd realized why we needed it.

I'll save the results of that work for another blog post; let's just say it wasn't pretty.

I tried to keep my enthusiasm that week and the next. Interactions with staff included some discussion of things I learned and ideas I wanted to share; some were motivated to work on them. Most just nodded and smiled, assuming the ideas would go away and they could get back to their routines without having to work too hard.

Within two weeks, I may as well have not gone to that conference at all. I had an after-conference hangover.

I had been all excited, full of motivation and ambition for my job when I returned from the conference, but because my boss didn’t understand the “why” behind my project ideas, my colleagues hadn’t been to the conference and hadn’t experienced the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the other participants and the speakers, and because I had zero support at work for implementation of new ideas, all of that excitement and motivation just *poof* disappeared.

What a waste of time, money, and, well, ME.

Granted, my boss wasn’t great at his job and it wasn’t a good work environment in general, but aren’t there things I could have done to prevent the deflation of my enthusiasm, if I knew in advance it was likely to happen?

I am a big believer in attending face-to-face conferences and events, especially when you’re particular about the types of events you attend. There is nothing like that face-to-face learning and interaction with others in your industry or simply with people who have similar motivation and ambition - regardless of industry.

Every event is an opportunity to improve yourself, and not just to gain skills for your current job, so how do we make the most of these conferences? And, more importantly, how do we keep our enthusiasm when we’re faced with little to no support and encouragement when we go home and back to our routines?

I have a few strategies that I’ve used in recent years and have found them to be effective when I’m consistent with them:

First - During a conference, I don’t try to meet as many people as possible - I try to meet a handful of people and get to know them well. Believe it or not, I am actually kind of shy, so this isn’t as easy as it sounds!

I make sure to attend meals and sit at tables with people I don’t know. There are a few good stories I know I can share to make people laugh, especially when I’m in a big city outside of Montana. People are always curious about Montana, so that’s a great topic to start with. And then I simply ask people questions like:

Where do you live?

Did you grow up there?

Do you have pets, kids?

Did you get any good nuggets in the morning sessions you attended, anything you’re thinking of working through when you get home?

Being a bit shy doesn’t mean I don’t like to talk to people, it just means it’s not easy for me to walk into a roomful of strangers and start talking to them. The one thing that always works for me is curiosity. When I’m genuinely curious about people, they feel it and respond to that curiosity.

When I’m asking questions, I’m looking right at the person answering, making sure I catch their name, and if they have a name tag on, looking at the written letters and then at his or her face, and creating a mental image of the name with the face. That helps me remember names and some details about the conversation.

Asking those questions is a great way to know whether this person is enthusiastic and motivated by what they do. Those are the people I make special efforts to connect more deeply with.

When I attended the Government Social Media Conference in Dallas, I met dozens of really motivated, ambitious people that I liked a lot. I connected deeply with about 6 of them. More than a year later, I’m still in touch with 4 of those people and we connect periodically to catch up. Those four people continue to motivate me!

On our last day, four of us checked out of the hotel and shared a ride to a Vietnamese restaurant across town, and three of us shared a ride to the airport after that. The experience of sharing the ride, sharing food, and then enjoying a cocktail together at the airport made the connections even more sticky, more real.

Why do I pick just a handful of people to get to know well?

Because these are the people who help me avoid that after-conference hangover, that’s the other half of my strategy - to keep in contact with that handful of people.

When I return from a conference, I go straight to my calendar and schedule follow up calls with the people I connected with. I also schedule time each week to work on whatever really excited me at the conference, even if those were not directly related to my current job.

It was when I was planning the first No Longer Virtual conference in Atlanta in 2017 that this concept, the After Conference Hangover, really took shape in my mind. After many years of attending conferences and planning events, I had a lot of ideas about what I didn’t want for No Longer Virtual, and one major component was to include strategies throughout the conference to help participants avoid that after-conference hangover. That included making sure that everyone in the room had contact information for each other, and specific communication plans following the event.

Because participation is limited to 50 people, every person had the opportunity to meet the facilitators and other participants, to truly connect with each person. Think about the value of that roomful of advocates for you, your career, and your business, when you keep in contact following an event. Not only was there learning and motivation from the event itself; the relationships that were built in those 48 hours created a sustainable energy well beyond the last session.

The next time you’re investing time and money to attend a conference, think about how you’ll be able to sustain that motivation and inspiration after you get home.

If you’re intrigued by my description of No Longer Virtual events, visit my website, elkinsconsulting.com for more information.

Desperate for Real Connection

Confirmation? Another suicide in our small town.

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We’re reeling from another teenage suicide in our little town. That’s the second in as many months, and they were friends. I saw a picture of the two high school juniors together, taken just a few days before the first decided to end her life.

Teens have always faced an especially rough emotional time, but what has changed in our communities to explain the huge rise in suicides and clinical depression? It’s not just teenagers, either.

There’s no simple answer; it’s a complex problem, and it will take complex strategies to change this dynamic. But there are reasons for the increase, and there are things we can do, as individuals and as communities, to make a difference every day.

We are forgetting how to connect in person, and we’re not teaching that to our children.

That means that when we are in face-to-face situations, we don’t know how to share important feelings and concerns.

It’s easier to share those concerns online, behind a screen and keyboard, and not have to be accountable for our words.

Sharing things online that you wouldn’t share in person makes it easier for you to pretend like you’ve addressed your loneliness and fears. But you haven’t, if you’re not dealing with them in real life, in person.

Here’s my observation: Though we feel connected to our contacts on social media and through our devices, we are missing key contact points. I have very close connections with people I’ve never met in person, I love them, and I believe in those relationships. We can get a lot out of our virtual connections, and I’m grateful for the incredible encouragement, kindness, and genuine care I’ve received over the years through those online friendships.

There are details, small, subtle details that come with a face-to-face conversation that are impossible to compare to our online discussions. There is a limit to what online relationships can provide in real life. Without a hug, a pat on the back, a handshake, we are missing the humanity in our relationships.

When we are face-to-face with another being, we are not only seeing the fine lines in their faces, their smiles, assessing whether they are being genuine. We are not only sensing their feelings toward us, the eye contact, and the body language.

There are many cues we receive subconsciously when we are face-to-face, including scent, micro-expressions, and more.

We are getting closer, every day, to having AI emulate almost all aspects of our human relationships. So what is the difference between us and machines, if we feel like our online relationships are enough for us?

People are desperate for real connections with real people, and most of us don’t even know it. Some people believe that their online relationships are enough, until they just aren’t. Our online relationships can only go so far, and can only make us feel alive and connected for a brief period of time.

Eventually, loneliness sets in.

As human beings, we are designed to touch, to sense with our fingers and skin. We are designed for real contact through touch of hands, hugs, sight, and scent. Ask anyone who has studied this aspect of our brain activity; read Happy Hour with Einstein by Melissa Hughes for a basic understanding of the impact of touch on our neural pathways.

Or just search online with keywords brain, touch, science.

Where we’re seeing this play out is in our children. Thanks to what they’re seeing on social media feeds, they are experiencing more polarization among us, and less real contact, fewer effective, interactive conversations.

When I was a teenager, I spent hours on the phone with friends, and… boys. We would whisper into our phones until the middle of the night when one parent or another would pick up and say: “GET OFF THE PHONE! IT’S 2AM!” Those were not face-to-face, but they were real connections, hearing a real voice on the other end of the line. Those late-night phone calls have been replaced with late-night texts.

Why is that a bad thing? Because we all know how difficult it can be to read and write tone into a message. We’ve experienced miscommunication face-to-face, imagine how far this can go in text messages!

The Disconnect Between Us and Our Human Nature

If you read articles or books about brain activity, human development, and about human connection, you’ve seen references to Harlow’s Monkeys, a study done on infant monkeys and the strong need they demonstrated for life-like touch as nourishment. It was a horrible experiment, devastating to anyone who has a heart that beats for love of other beings. It was also an important study that acknowledged the need for warm, physical contact among living creatures, particularly infants.

On my previous post, Desperate for Real Connection, my friend Donna-Luisa wrote about her relationship with her teenage children:

As a person who grew up without all the technological interfacing it seemed hard to understand and appreciate how ‘young people’ socialize. I decided to change the view from the outside looking in and step into their ‘imaginary world’ as I called it then. From the inside looking out I saw the changing times and understood my parenting perspective needed to change.

She’s right, communication has changed. I get frustrated when hear generalizations about generations, but there are some stark differences between the digital native generations and those that came before. My son eloquently argued his case that gaming designers are artists. He reminded me that at one time, digital art and digital design weren’t considered art, and that even film making was, at one time, dismissed as an art form.

We need to change how we teach and model our behavior, based on the differences in how our children communicate.

Digital natives communicate differently, and we must respect those differences. Just like every generation before us, each thinks they’re unique, and each older generation makes judgments about the younger ones.

But there are also similarities. The human need for physical touch and experiences in nature have not changed.

I miss talking to him on the phone, but I miss being near him more.

As parents, educators, and humans, tolerate the chipping away at availability of human contact and experiences in the natural world, we risk more than losing people to loneliness, depression and suicide, we risk losing our humanity.

I live in Montana, which is probably one of the best places to live in terms of access to nature. That’s why I’m often surprised to hear about people, particularly children and teens, who don’t walk on the mountain trails so accessible in our town. We have more open space and parks in our little town than we do buildings, and yet, when I asked our teenagers if they think their friends and peers spend enough time outside, they describe many of their friends as “gamers who don’t see sunlight for days at a time.”

Introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, our humanity depends on our relationships with others.

That includes physical proximity and interaction. If we don’t prioritize our relationships through listening, sharing our vulnerability, and yes, hugging, we will find our isolation and loneliness increasing. If you’re wondering about the impact of artificial intelligence on our humanity, that’s where you’ll see it, in increasing loneliness because of our reliance on technology for our human relationships.

Tell me this commercial isn’t frightening:

Verizon 5GB Plan TV Commercial, '5GB for $55'
Chances are people often pay for data they never use. Recognizing how expensive unlimited plans can be, Verizon is…ispot.tv

Not only is it dangerous to walk your dog along a waterway while staring deeply into your phone, your relationship with your dog is pathetic.

If you think I’m over-reacting, watch people walking around town. Go to a playground, the local library, the airport, restaurants, and watch people with their families, children, and colleagues. This is really scary, if you’re paying attention. I once had to yell at a father with his toddler, because he was watching his phone as his toddler nearly walked into a busy street.

Being online all the time poses real, physical risk; it also poses real risk in our relationships with each other. When parents and other adults are deeply engrossed in their digital lives, they are not modeling conversation and face-to-face interaction for children and other people around them.

Where will children and teens learn how to interact with people, if not from their parents and other adults in their lives?

There is hope. In an article by Neil Hughes, I was reminded that there are times that technology can be used to strengthen our face-to-face relationships.

My challenge to our digital native generations: Develop tools to leverage technology to improve our face-to-face, in-person interactions. I’ll bet we can find ways to gamify this. Like Pokemon Go, but with encouragement to actually talk to people and to “look up”.

What can we do about this? How do we change this trajectory? I have a few ideas, and I’d love to hear from you.

First things first, put down the device you’re reading this on, and go talk to your children/friends/partner. Focus on the conversation to listen, not to respond, and make sure you have a plan for more of this kind of interaction every single day.

Time in nature is healing and refreshing. Schedule outdoor adventures.

Next? Find ways to meet up with those people you connect with online. I’m challenging you to reach out of your comfort zone and remember how to connect face-to-face. If you are afraid that your real-life personality and image won’t match up to the expectations of your online friendships, you’re probably talking to the wrong people.

Take the risk, enjoy the benefits of either a true friendship, or the lessons learned from a mismatch.

Believing our online relationships are enough for us is like believing we can gain weight by smelling the desserts in the bakery case.


If you write on topics related to suicide, there are great resources available to make sure you are doing more good than harm. As a relatively uninformed professional on this topic, I use this website, ReportingSuicide.Org as a resource.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - Call 1–800–273–8255
Available 24 hours everyday

Expectations: Fuel for Resentment, or Critical Growth Factor?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Others Can Wreak Havoc in Relationships

When Melissa Hughes talks about expectations, she puts them into four categories:

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  1. Expectations of yourself
  2. Expectations for yourself
  3. Expectations of others
  4. Expectations for others

As an educator, she knows that students will be more successful when a teacher has high expectations of them. She also knows that expectations, when not managed and understood, can fuel resentment in a relationship.

What's really fascinating is that when an expectation isn't met, it can have devastating effects, so devastating that our brain reacts in the same way as when we feel physical pain.

Feel good neural transmitters are released when our expectations are met - and they drop dramatically when our expectations are NOT met, especially when it is a surprise to us.

We tell ourselves stories of the people around us, stories of what we believe they will do, no matter what evidence we have about our past experience with them. Listen to the conversation to learn more.


Melissa Hughes is a talented speaker, and author of Happy Hour with Einstein. To learn more about her talents with every different kind of audience, visit her website. And be sure to connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on YouTube to be notified of her upcoming engagements, blog and video posts, and book releases.