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Words of Wisdom

52 cards and 15 activities to spark conversations and make sense of learning.
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The Firefly Group helps people make sense of what they learn and experience.

Whether facilitating a group for better decision-making, keynoting a conference, leading a training, or writing an instructional design, we use novel methods that engage, spark creativity, and produce memorable results.

If this sounds like a good direction for your organization, let's talk about how we might collaborate! Please give me a call (802.257.7247) or send an . - Brian

Your ETR (Estimated Time to Read): 10 minutes
Your ETII (Estimated Time to Implement Ideas):
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Read my book
Say It Quick!

What can you teach with a eight washers tethered to a string?
Watch my video
in the Activity below and find out!

September 2017
Trouble Talking: Brain science for better communication

Say It Quick
a thoughtful message in exactly 99 words

bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today

Effective Discipline - Respect and engagement

Harmful Communication - Words that cause physical injury

Tough Issues, Kind Words - Keeping the dialogue open

Keep 'Em Separate - Practicing observation without evaluation

Say It Quick

Better communication is a common topic for training among business professionals and emerging leaders. But now we have scientific evidence that the wrong kind of talking can be bad for your health. Learn about new brain science supporting this claim beginning with this story in exactly 99 Words.

Effective Discipline
Liz, master instructor at the outdoor adventure course, had just explained that no one should get on the challenge elements without permission. Just then, Phillip jumped up and danced a jig across the low balance beam.

Liz called him aside and said, "I want your group to learn how to deliver the safest, most effective program back at your school and I need your support. Are you with me?" Phillip agreed.

Later he said to Liz, "As the principal, I reprimand kids all day. But you disciplined me and I felt good about it. Teach me how."




Harmful Communication
You've heard it ever since you were very young: "Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Perhaps it was even your own best defense against bullies and bigger brothers and sisters. But inside, you probably realized it wasn't true. Words do hurt - more than we may realize.

It turns out that when words hurt, it's not just our feelings that are damaged. An article in the NYTimes, July 14, 2017, with the title, "When is Speech Violence? Brain science distinguishes verbal abusiveness from mere offensiveness", had this to say:

"Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain - even kill neurons - and shorten your life.

"Your body's immune system includes little proteins called proinflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation when you're physically injured. Under certain conditions, however, these cytokines themselves can cause physical illness. What are those conditions? One of them is chronic stress."

Stress which is from, I would add, things like verbal abuse, put downs, and bullying.

In his book, Nonviolent Communication, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg recommends that we learn to separate our observations from our feelings. This means being specific about what we see that we don't like, then naming the emotion it produces for us. Thus, saying, "You are selfish," becomes, "When I see you take a large piece of cake, I feel worried and embarrassed because I think there won't be enough for all our guests."

The basic concept of Nonviolent Communication is to reduce judgements about other people by focusing on specific actions and feelings. (In the previous example, I'm not accusing you of selfishness. Instead, I observed that you took a big piece of cake. Then I told you how it affected me.) Without judgement, no one has to be defensive. Without judgement, words are less hurtful. Without judgement, we can talk about important issues and resolve differences with a lot less hurt.

More Information:
"When is Speech Violence? Brain science distinguishes verbal abusiveness from mere offensiveness" The New York Times, July 14, 2017.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, PuddleDancer Press, Del Mar, CA, © 1999.



Tough Issues, Kind Words
At this point, you might be thinking that it's unrealistic for everyone to be politically correct or "nice" all the time. Certainly we should speak out against injustice, defend ourselves when hurt, or say what's on our mind, right?

Yet even a casual consideration of our social discourse shows that all our tough talk is not helping us solve the tough issues. Instead, people have become more defensive and less likely to share their opinions. We have to keep the dialogue open because we certainly can't solve our problems if we stop talking!

What would it be like if you could talk about a hot issue, or give someone tough advice, or critical feedback, or even a reprimand in such a way that they thanked you for it afterward? That's exactly what Liz did in the 99-Word Story. With a commitment of deep respect for everyone in her group, she was able to separate her judgments of someone's actions from her resulting emotions. By doing so, she described one specific incident that was a problem and invited Phillip to be the solution.

Think about it, Phillip actually felt better after being disciplined. Imagine how the lesson this Principal learned could change the lives of all the students in his school!

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words
will never hurt me?

How about we change it to…

Sticks and stones may break my bones but good words
will surely heal me!



Keep 'Em Separate
Practicing Observation without Evaluation

The first component of Nonviolent Communication is the separation of observation from evaluation. Evaluation leads to judgement and when another person feels judged, they will likely become defensive. We can avoid this if we begin by stating what we observe about the person's behavior. Connect this to our own emotions and we can talk objectively about what we need from the other person.

This activity is intended to help participants recognize the everyday judgements they make and to practice sharing responses that reduce defensiveness and increase dialogue.

Keep 'Em Separate

Goal: to practice basic techniques of Nonviolent Communication
Materials: Statement Cards (see below), one set of ten for each pair of participants, paper, pens
Time: 45 minutes Participants: Any number working in pairs

Share with participants that we typically and habitually make evaluations about what other people say and do. In our minds, we attribute a person's actions to their character and make judgments about whether or not they are a good person. These judgments in turn influence our subsequent interactions with them.

Ask everyone to choose a partner and give each pair a set of ten Statement Cards. Pairs should deal the ten cards evenly between them.

Explain that partners will alternate turns reading aloud the top half of a card which has an Observation mixed with an Evaluation. The partner who is listening has the task of inventing an alternative statement that separates Observation from Evaluation.

It is the job of the reader of the card to determine how well Observation was separated from Evaluation. They can use the statement on the bottom half of the card as a guide. A successful statement receives one point. A statement that also mentions feelings or needs would receive an additional point. Write each successful statement on a separate piece of paper.

Players keep track of their own points.

After about 20 minutes of play, lead a discussion with the whole group using some of the following questions.


Copy the statements from each row onto one card to make ten cards. Print the "Mixed" observation above the "Separate" observation.

Observation Mixed with Evaluation
Observation Separate from Evaluation
1. You are selfish. When I see you take a large piece of cake, I feel worried and embarrassed because I think there won't be enough for all our guests.
2. You make stupid decisions. When I look at your decision on the Smith account last week, I think you are not keeping the best interests of our client in mind.
3. Alejandra is always late. Alejandra came late to a meeting twice this week.
4. Teenagers are just looking for trouble. A few of the boys I've seen outside the convenience store appear to be at loose ends with nothing to do.
5. Immigrants are taking over our neighborhood. In the past few months, I have noticed more people in our neighborhood who might be immigrants.
6. Everybody's health care is going up. My health care insurance has increased 12% over the past year.
7. Jobs are just flying out of the country. I know three people who lost their job this month because their employer opened a branch in another country.
8. The North Koreans must be crazy. The president of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, has made some very provocative statements.
9. If you eat that, you'll have a heart attack. It makes me really worried when I see you eat that whole bowl of French fries because I know you have high cholesterol and you could have a heart attack.
10. You'll put out your eye if you play with that BB gun. It scares me to death to see you use that BB gun without eye protection. I need you to take proper precautions to keep yourself and others safe.


Please give this activity a trial with your group then your experience!



If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.

Whether you need a keynote speaker, or help with strategic planning, performance improvement, or training facilitators and trainers in your organization, I look forward to your call (802.380.4360) or .

-- Brian

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