RLL 62: Choose to Believe the Best

Real Life Leading 62:

Choose to Believe the Best in Blended Families

We’ve all had situations in which we’ve been misunderstood: you say one thing, but the message somehow got lost, and the reaction you got was not at all what you expected or intended. This is true in traditional nuclear families, it’s true in friendships and dating relationships, and it’s exceedingly true in blended families. The reason is because so much of our communication is non-verbal. In fact, according to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, only 7% of what we communicate comes through the actual words we use. Now, even if his number is low and the actual percentage of verbal communication is 5x that high, that still means that only about a third of what we communicate comes through our words.

Why is this important in blended families (and other relationships)? Because once we’re aware of it, we can do something that is extremely important and powerful:

Whenever there is doubt about the message being communicated, we can choose to believe the best possible interpretation of the message.

Speaking at the NHSA Conference about Blended Family Life was a great honor!

Speaking at the NHSA Conference about Blended Family Life was a great honor!

Don’t miss the import here: we can choose to believe in the best interpretation of the words. That means we have tremendous control over how we interpret messages, and thus how we respond to them. We don’t have to get offended or angry. We don’t have to assume the other party is trying to hurt us or make us upset.

Think of the last time you had a misunderstanding: how long did it take to clear it up, and how much extra effort was it? Now, imagine how differently that might have gone if each party had shown grace and understanding, choosing to believe the best. How might that look?

One suggestion to clear up miscommunications would be to simply ask (in a kind tone of voice) for clarification. Another would be to say something like, “I’m not sure I’m entirely following, and I want to make sure I understand you correctly.” However you phrase it, show that your intent is to receive the message as it was intended, giving the other person a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.

Will this always clear up every communication issue? Of course not. But, if you make it a habit to choose to believe the best, I can guarantee one thing: you will feel better about your interactions. I can also almost (though not 100%) guarantee one other thing: over the long-term, this will pay dividends in your relationship with the other adults involved. When they see you consistently showing them grace, trying to understand, and looking to be helpful instead of hurtful, they are more likely to respond in kind. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. Remember, though, that the point is not to change them; the point is to change yourself. Whether the other party ever does respond well or not, you’ll find that you will be more patient, kinder, and more willing to think positively about others. This is the goal.

Also, ask yourself this question, which takes us back to the Golden Rule of our childhood: how would you want them to respond to you? Don’t we want people to believe the best about our intentions and actions, rather than assuming malicious or harmful intent? Then begin by showing that type of grace to others, and see where it takes you.

Action Step: This week, believe the best in all of your blended family interactions, and see how it transforms you and your heart toward the other adults involved.

For more info on this and other blended family topics, come visit me at

RLL 51: What's Your Story?

Real Life Leading #51: What’s Your Story?

A gift I received after coaching my younger daughter’s soccer team this fall.

A gift I received after coaching my younger daughter’s soccer team this fall.

When I was in 8th grade, I played varsity soccer for a man named Ken McIntosh, and at the end of the season Coach Mac said to me, "You really should think about pursuing soccer as a career." I thought he meant as a professional player, so I really focused on soccer in high school and even played in college. But when I stopped playing midway through college, Coach Mac's words came back to me. I realized he was right: I should pursue soccer as a career, but not as a player; as a coach. I began as a student assistant at Covenant College while I was still a student there, and I've been coaching ever since (a total of 15 + years now).

Coaching soccer has opened up doors I never imagined, from jobs at high schools to getting to coach at camps at Duke University. It's allowed me to work with athletes and players from all areas of the country and of all different ages. And it's also continued to bring me a specific type of joy that I don't find anywhere else. Most importantly, coaching soccer has allowed me to spend many extra hours with my children, coaching them at different levels.


Why do I share this? Because that one comment changed my life, and the stories and comments that you remember and focus on have the power to change yours too. Stories can serve many purposes: transmit information (‘how to’ stories), stir the emotions (every Nicholas Sparks and John Green novel ever written), rally support to a cause (Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle was written with this in mind), create an identity (think family histories told around the dinner table), and to reinforce beliefs (every religion in the world has sacred texts full of stories and history). But for our purposes, the power of a story is in its power to change your life.

Here’s the key today: the stories we tell ourselves shape who we become.

Many books have been written on this topic, from the Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s classic The Power of Positive Thinking to the more recent Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. Going back even further, the Bible is very clear about this in many different places. Philippians 4:8 reminds us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, knew that how we think, the stories we tell, what we focus on, has an incredible impact on who we are and what we do.

So the question is, what stories are we telling? Do you tell yourself you’re not smart enough? Not good enough? Don’t have the right skills? Or do you tell yourself that you can, you’re capable, and you will succeed? As Henry Ford said many years ago, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” This has been true throughout all of history, and it remains true today. If you want to change your world, you first need to start by changing your thinking.


To help people think better and change their lives is the major goal of the BeliefHacker project, recently created by a friend of mine named Dr. Bill Findley (this is not an advertisement, and I don’t get compensated, but I would recommend you check out his work at The premise is simple: “Think better. Live better.” Again, the Bible is also very clear on this when Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

My favorite story of all time is The Lord of the Rings. I never tire of reading it or of reading other books about it; I even listen to podcasts and belong to discussion groups devoted to LOTR. The reason is because that story is so powerful to me, with themes of good vs. evil, the possibility of redemption, the necessity of perseverance even against overwhelming odds. I even quoted LOTR in my own book. This story has helped shape who I am, just as the stories you involve yourself in help shape who you are.

One last word, this from the excellent and generous Dondi Scumaci (international business speaker and consultant, and author of Career Moves, and Ready, Set…Grow). She says, “It’s how we tell the story (to ourselves and others) that will ultimately determine how we move forward. How we frame those events—what we pull from those experiences—will shape who we become in the future.”

Action Step: Take a few minutes today to write down the stories that you consistently tell yourself and determine if they are helping you move forward or just holding you back.