Crucial Conversations – Maintaining Your Honor Through Difficult Times

Crucial Conversations – Maintaining Your Honor Through Difficult Times

Last time, I wrote about honor and its importance. In a world where shallow self-centeredness and broken promises are commonplace, those who manage to act with honor will shine through; especially if they can maintain that honor through difficult circumstances long-term. I have had reason to think on this recently, due to an unconscious breach of my own honor. A promise I had made was forgotten, and through that neglect I caused a significant amount of strife.

It is inevitable that we will break promises, miss deadlines, and fail to meet expectations 100% of the time. Nobody is perfect. So, how do we maintain our honor in such circumstances?

In the past, I have found helpful advice in a lovely little book by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler called Crucial Conversations. The book talks about what a crucial conversation is and provides some methods for handling them well. Per the definition in the book:

Crucial Conversation – A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.

Many of us dislike confrontation in any form, especially if the confrontation occurs between us and someone we hold a high opinion of. But truly impactful conversations often tend to happen in concordance with an element of confrontation. In these situations, we all have our own coping mechanisms: the silent treatment, sarcasm, anger, etc. But really, everyone involved in the conversation has a desire to be heard, not attacked, for their differing opinions. If we utilize some simple tools (and a whole lot of patience and empathy), everybody can walk away from a crucial conversation better off.

A central concept of the book is called the “Pool of Shared Meaning,” which contains the ideas, theories, feelings, thoughts, and opinions that have been openly shared. The more people contribute to the pool, the more information there is to work with, which can lead to new insights. As you can guess, these insights can be much more useful in finding a well-rounded and effective solution than by jumping to conclusions. The more time we take to add to the pool, the better the result for everyone involved.

Next, we need to ask ourselves what we really want. Taking a moment to pause and reflect on why we feel hurt or disappointed (or otherwise) can be very enlightening as we hone in on specifics that will be our guide throughout a conversation. Once we have a “North star,” so to speak, we can keep our proverbial eye on that as the discussion progresses and more information gets added to the Pool of Shared Meaning.

The last element I will mention here is safety. How many times have you been in a dialogue where you felt attacked, belittled, or otherwise put out? There are two elements that need to be universally established in any crucial conversation in order for it to bear good results: mutual respect and caring. Once everyone feels respected and that their best interests are at the heart of others in the conversations, the tension in the room will go down drastically. Then we can actually have a good conversation!

If you start your tough conversations with these elements, you will be well along the path to a successful resolution to whatever conflict that has cast its shadow on your life. There are only a handful more concepts outlined in the book that further enhance the foundation I have provided for you here. If you would like to understand a bit more before picking up the book, you can read an excellent summary on

And, as always, we here at Protagonist are dedicated to helping you through difficult life circumstances. If you should ever desire our assistance our simply need someone to listen, let us know at hello(at)

Posted by Curious in Reflections, 0 comments
Modern Knight: It is Your Duty to Have Honor

Modern Knight: It is Your Duty to Have Honor

There is considerably less honor in the world now than in ages past. The other day I mentioned to Calligraphie that I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong time period. I am drawn to tales of knights and chivalry like a moth to flame. Now, I’m not talking about the misconstrued concept of chivalry that some people think means “women are lesser than men.” Heavens, no! I am talking about chivalry as a code of honor, as in the definition from the Oxford dictionary:

The combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, namely courage, honour, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.

I think those virtues are the basics of how to lead a good life and how to be an overall good person. The world does not give much credence to honor anymore, which is a shame. We get buried in legal documents and jargon (that few ever bother to read) and rarely ever take anyone at their word. I mean, what have I ever done to the people with whom I conduct business? I’m don’t mean the big corporations that never give you an individual to talk to; there is good reason for the legal jargon in their case. The folks who interact with you face-to-face, however, are a different story.

Society has instilled within us an innate distrust of humanity.

This is why I wanted to touch on honor, and specifically the need to have one’s own code. As I have mentioned before, doing anything without some kind of organization or goal in mind leads to less than desirable results. Think of your code of honor as a foundation for how you view and react to the outside world. For example, a code of honor could be something short and to the point like the Cadet Code of Honor from the US Military Academy: “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.” Otherwise, if you have more specific points to cover, it could be as long as you like (for a very in-depth example, check out this article by Tori, a Washington & Lee University grad).

At the end of the day, your code of honor should define your values, what you stand for, and possibly how you intend to move forward in life. As I work on building (or, rather, re-building) my code of honor, I would love to hear about yours. How do you intend to live with honor?

Posted by Curious in Reflections, 0 comments
Jude: The Key to Your Relationships Is Your Communication

Jude: The Key to Your Relationships Is Your Communication

We’ve all heard that communication in relationships is the key to a happy, successful relationship. How many of us have actually put that to the test? I am not just talking about romantic relationships, but also relationships with parents, friends, or even co-workers. Take it from someone who never liked to talk to anyone about anything: it actually really does help.  

Why don’t you really ask yourself these questions: How do you expect to solve a problem or express your feelings if you don’t talk about what’s bothering you? Or, what your problem is. Now I know communication may be sort of terrifying. If you find it overwhelming, I suggest doing something really subtle to start. For example, I would always write notes to my parents when I was little. I wanted to tell the people close to me how I felt about something but was always to ashamed or afraid of how they would react. This may have been a little life foreshadowing for how my future would play out. When I have an issue with someone I care about and I need to talk about it with them, I am so afraid of hurting them and seeing that hurt in their eyes that I chicken out. Then I am left with more pent-up feelings of all sorts—anger, guilt, resentment—towards the person I am trying to communicate with, and toward myself. I guess sometimes we don’t really realize how not communicating can cause so many problems.

Let’s take personal aspect of the relationship out of it for a moment. Think of a scenario at work. You have a team that needs to work on a big project with each other, but no one communicates. Instead of talking and brainstorming together, you are all left with half-finished projects and one or all of you could be affected by the consequences. Or you simply cannot do your best work because you need someone in another department to finish a task. Instead of asking them for their assistance, maybe you decide to take matters into your own hands. But that could only just cause more problems. Suppose the other person had not finished their task because there was an underlying issue they needed to resolve first. Now you have just created more work, and caused some tension between you and your co-worker all because you didn’t want to try and communicate with them.  Why would you want to risk that over something as small as a fear of communicating? 

There are some easy things you can keep in mind when you are trying to communicate better at work. You want to be sure that you are very clear in what you are trying to get across. Always re-read an email at the least twice before sending it. If it is a longer one, maybe have someone else look it over for you. Being concrete is important, because you want to make sure there is a clear picture of what you are saying. Confusion often leads to frustration and more problems. Also, make sure you are being courteous; I myself will often re-read my emails and find a line that may sound as if I have an inappropriate attitude towards the person I am writing to. It’s important to remember there is no contextual tone in an email as there is when you are talking over the phone or in person. Keep these things in mind and you may be surprised to see how much better your work week can be.

Let’s go back to communicating with a significant other. Here’s an example from my personal experience: I had a few months when things with my now-fiancé and I were not golden. It was very obvious that we had issues and they were not being worked on. Months went by and nothing was getting better; things between us were only getting worse. The main issue? We were not communicating about what was going on with us personally, as well with us as a couple. I really didn’t want to give up on so many years together, or on all that we had been through. I felt deep down we could get through this. So we slowly began to talk, and I realized I had a lot more that needed to be said if our relationship was going to work. Still terrified that I might hurt him, I decided to start small, and would either send a text to express my immediate emotions for something, or hand write a letter to him. I know that as an adult in a serious relationship, that can seem childish, but as I said earlier I can’t stand to see the hurt in someone’s eyes, even if it’s for a greater good. The writing became less and less necessary as verbal communication became more frequent. Turns out, a big root issue was that we weren’t talking. We left each other to our wildest imaginations on what the other was thinking and feeling. More often than not, we were both VERY wrong.

You cannot let your fears of hurting someone stop you from expressing your feelings. Try all you can to start small and get your point across. Remind yourself to keep calm, but get your point out. Give time for the other person to also respond. Do your very best to not let emotions get the better of you, because no one needs to get hurt. Starting an argument is not the result you want here. Remember, the point of communication is to resolve an issue, or express how something may have made you feel. Anger may lead you to say something you don’t really mean, or which won’t help your situation get any better. If you’re like me and still find talking face to face uncomfortable, try to find something to do while you talk. Maybe go for a walk, or clean the house. I find if I am able to keep myself moving or a little busy it is easier for me to communicate calmly and not get angry as easily.

Trying something new is always a little scary and nerve racking. Let my experience and advice help you to start your own understanding to becoming a better communicator.


Posted by Jude in Hey Jude, Reflections, 0 comments
Why Being Passionate About What You Do Can Change Your Life

Why Being Passionate About What You Do Can Change Your Life

Lately I have discovered Ikigai, a Japanese concept for one’s “purpose in life,” which argues that having the four elements of passion, mission, vocation, and profession in balance will lead to fulfillment and possibly even longer life. I will touch on each of these in a four-part series of posts in the coming months. First, let’s begin with passion.

Are you fueled by passion for what you do? Do you wake up excited for the day and full of energy, or groggy and hankering for your first full pot of espresso? I’ve been on both sides of that equation (sans espresso; I prefer to enjoy a cup of coffee now and again, rather than relying on it to live) and the groggy side kinda sucks, doesn’t it? Up until the last year or two, I regularly woke up in various states of exhaustion and dread. And for what? Supposedly, because I was building a business I felt passionately about. In February of 2017 I sold that five-year-old IT business…

…and after all was said and done, I felt happier than I had in a long time.

Let me touch on a bit of the history of that turning point. I started my previous business in 2012 after having spent a couple years working in a corporate IT role which was merely “okay.” It provided a regular paycheck, but also brought me stress at the cost of freedom. I didn’t realize that fact until I left the job to go full time in my business, at which point I felt the rush of possibilities and the true flexibility that I would never have had in an office. (Disclaimer: this is not a push to get you to start your own business, simply a recap of my own path. It is a big decision that I will leave up to you to make.) Fast forward five years, and I was even more stressed than I had felt while working my office job. Go figure! In my efforts to build a business, I had built myself into a corner. I barely had enough money coming in and I didn’t use my time wisely because I was so frantic. In short, I was a mess.

At that point, a colleague urged me to take a trip out of town to disconnect and breathe, even if only for a couple days. So, the next week, I threw together a suitcase and took a road trip up to Duluth for a few days. I didn’t check my email, didn’t answer my phone, didn’t correspond at all outside of some texts with a friend who lived up there to coordinate a meetup. I truly removed myself from my life for almost three days and discovered I was not as passionate about technology as I thought. Yeah, I can troubleshoot and configure technology better than most, but it had become a chore to keep up with the skills and smarts needed to to the job. I learned an important lesson in passion.

We can force ourselves to do things we find uncomfortable, but if we have an imbalance in our lives, or in our Ikigai, ultimately something is going to give. Recently I listened to a Success podcast about the effects of gratitude. According to research, our emotions and psychological outlook can have long term physiological effects. The longer you feel stressed, the longer your body stays in ‘fight or flight’ mode; the longer you feel content and happy, the more endorphins and good hormones populate your system. I don’t have a doctorate in science, but those concepts make sense to me.

Long story short: now that I am more aligned with my passion of guiding others, I more frequently do wake up excited for the day. I sleep much better and I am able to function more capably in everything I do. Now, that’s not to say I have “found my center,” as so many Hollywood zen master types would say, but I do feel a lot closer to it. And being in that space makes a huge difference.

Think on those questions from the second paragraph. Try to understand the reasons behind your answers and do some reflection. Then give yourself a pat on the back, because you’ve already started down the road to your own Ikigai.

Posted by Curious in Reflections, 0 comments
Why Personal Reflection Is Worth the Discomfort

Why Personal Reflection Is Worth the Discomfort

The beginning of a new year often brings ample opportunity for reflection on the previous year and one’s goals for the upcoming year. But how many of us actively take that opportunity when it’s presented?

Between the New Year, the beginning of a new quarter for Protagonist, and the start of my final semester in college, I’ve been given the opportunity this year to take a restock of where my life is at. Previously, I’ve been content to watch such opportunities sail by—if I even noticed them at all. This year, I won’t have that option. I’ve already spent some time creating the outline of a vision for the upcoming year, à la Andy Drish, but that’s only the beginning. Both my courses this semester focus on reflection: a philosophy course on the meaning of life, and my capstone for my major, in which I will reflect on my education, my place in the world, and my future goals.

Normally I’m the sort to shy away from all this new-agey, introspective, reflecting-and-visioning stuff. It’s uncomfortable. If I start reflecting on the past, that means looking back not only on my successes, but also on my mistakes and my low points—and as someone who struggles with depression and PTSD, I find that frankly a bit scary. It’s so much easier to let sleeping dogs lie, and keep plugging along as usual. So what makes the reflection worth the discomfort?

As my philosophy professor put it, “A good life doesn’t happen by accident.” Any sort of meaning in life must be intentional, or else it isn’t meaningful. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Live like there’s no tomorrow.” It’s inspirational, and it sounds great, but few of us immediately quit our jobs and start knocking things off our bucket lists.

No, the harder part is to live like you have forever. What if you knew for a fact you were going to live to be over a hundred years old? How would you want to spend all that time? You have the option to tread water, going through life just keeping your head above water without going anywhere, or you can pick a direction and start swimming. And to pick the best direction, to figure out where you want to go, you must first recognize where you came from and where you currently are.

Thanks to Mr. Drish, I have the beginnings of a plan for 2018 that, if I follow it to its conclusion, will help me establish myself in a place where I want to be, pursuing a career and lifestyle that will bring me pleasure and pride. With the help of my two classes, and with continued reflection, I hope to flesh out that plan and make my dream even more achievable.

Learning can be uncomfortable; learning about ourselves, doubly so. To learn more about ourselves, we have to confront our fears and insecurities, but we can’t learn from our past if we don’t tackle that discomfort. And once we have, we are empowered to create a meaningful, good future.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
     — The Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune

Posted by Calligraphie in Reflections, 0 comments