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Friday, February 27, 2009

Conflict Resolution

This week we have seen truly historic events in the stock market causing everyone from wealthy Wall-Street types to those of us with more modest means no small amount of concern over where our economy is headed. I should state at the outset that I am not, nor do I wish to be, an expert in either economics or financial planning; however, I wish to pass on some tips to help families get closer and maybe save a little money at the same time.
Until the 1950’s, entertainment in the family was largely of our own making. Many people played musical instruments or sang, and parlor games of all types were popular. In the 50’s movies became much more affordable to most people and of course TVs found their way into every home. From the 1990’s until now, the number of electronic devices in our homes and the amount of extracurricular events for school-agers has increased exponentially. These have had the effect of greatly diminishing the amount of time families spend together.
The economy, for all the negative effect people have seen and are likely to see, may have the positive effect of bringing us all closer to home for a time. I suggest we use this time wisely, but if we are to do that please keep these things in mind:
1. The stress you are feeling is felt by everyone in your family and is best dealt with by getting plenty of rest, eating healthy, and getting more exercise, but mainly talking about the challenges you face as a family.
2. There are inexpensive alternatives to going to the latest blockbuster, TV, and the Internet; such as popping popcorn and watching a movie at home, doing a family art project or just looking over old family pictures and telling the stories that go with those pictures.
3. If that is not enough interaction for you, then how about picking a classic play by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller or any other favorite play that has a few parts. You can simply read the play with everyone taking a part or you can actually act it out.
4. I have suggested you hold family meetings every week or so, and during difficult times these meetings are even more helpful. I am not suggesting unloading parental budgetary problems on the elementary age kids with the admonishment, “Sell more pencils on your corners kids!” However, an age appropriate conversation about national economics or even scaling back on family spending and reassuring your kids that finances have been tough before but everything will be fine can certainly be helpful.
Crisis tend to either pull us apart or pull us together no matter what organization we are in; work, family, community, etc. One of the biggest factors in the direction we go is how directly, how honestly, and how compassionately we talk to each other. Make this a time all of you look back and remember a time when your family pulled together and became closer.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Friday, February 20, 2009

Birthdays in the Age of Facebook

My 44th birthday was last week and I received over 100 well wishes and birthday cards. Some of these kindnesses came from relatives, friends, old Army buddies and former high school classmates I haven’t seen in 25 years. I am grateful to each of them for remembering me in their busy lives. I will say this task is made a good bit easier for all of us, now that the social networking sites are all the rage.
A quick word of caution is in order: I realize these sites have a downside, especially for kids who are allowed unsupervised access to them. I would no more suggest unsupervised Internet access to kids, than I would suggest handing a teenager car keys without providing Driver’s Ed and a lot of supervision. On the upside, you can share everything from new baby pictures, family vacation videos to an electronic birthday card, which brings me back to the point of my column for the week.
As I mentioned, my birthday was last week; and while my birthday has never caused me any consternation, I do enjoy hearing well wishes from family members and friends, new and old. Having birthday cake and ice cream around the house for a few days is certainly welcome as well. While we haven’t figured out how to send each other cake and ice cream over the Internet, social networking sites are a great way to pass on, as well as receive, greetings and updates.
In our current society, there are very few of us who have both our immediate and extended families close by, and when you include close friends accumulated over the years, the chances really go down. Because of my military career and extensive travelling, I have friends on every continent except the Arctic and Antarctica, so keeping up with them has become much easier thanks to the networking sites. In addition, as a speaker and consultant I keep in touch with business contacts on these sites as well.
Of course, you may find a downside in that you can never live down throwing up in science class in high school, too much partying in college, or any number of other minor transgressions and embarrassing moments. The upside is these stories, told in and outside our families, serve to provide a backdrop for our story in relationship with each other.
On the whole, I have tried diligently to address the shortcomings I perceived in my character while I was growing up, especially in high school. However, over the week leading up to my birthday I was very pleasantly surprised to find that a few times I managed to rise above the all too often immature, selfish person I was, to actually have a positive impact on the life of a friend or family member. It is unlikely any of these people would have told me in any media other than a message over the Internet.
Our lives, individually and sociologically, are changing at an ever-increasing pace; and while raging against the storm has its own virtue, I maintain technology is a tool that can benefit us or hurt us depending upon how skillfully the tool is used. I encourage you to view these sites as a wonderful tool to cut the time and distance that societal demands too often necessitate. Besides, the website’s calendar feature will earn you brownie points with your Mom when you remember not just her birthday, but Aunt Agnes’ birthday as well.
Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, February 9, 2009

Valentine's Day- Cupid's Second Arrow

“Love may make the world go round, but it is romantic love that makes the ride worthwhile.” – Gary Godeck

With Mr. Godeck’s encouragement, we begin. As I pointed out last week, according to Dr. Chapman, there are five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gift giving. This week I am going to provide some ideas for each gender for each of the love languages, but before we go further, it is important to figure out which love language your lover hears.

One way to figure that out would be to do the questionnaire in Dr. Chapman’s book, but if that isn’t possible on such short notice, then you can think back to the reactions you might have received in the past with other romantic gestures. In the event you have do not have experience to rely on, then use that as an excuse to try one idea from each category.

The first love language we will look at is the one most of us think of at Valentine’s Day: gift giving. You could just give flowers or candy, but let’s borrow a line from Emeril Lagasse and “Kick it up a notch”, not in terms of cost but merely in thought. So instead of just buying flowers, buy an assortment of specialty teas or coffee to warm her tummy the way she warms your heart. Buying him something for a hobby and arranging for him to have the time to use the new thing you bought is always a winner.

The next love language is words of affirmation, meaning say nice things to and about your partner. In this case, find one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and copy it in your own hand with a note at the bottom. Or write a letter patterned after the Civil War letter by Sullivan Ballou; easily one of the most romantic letters ever penned.

Physical touch is often mistakenly limited to sexual intimacy. My example here, for him or her, is to arrange an evening of soft music, low light, a platter of fruit, wine if you like (and are of legal drinking age), and a warm bottle of massage oil.

Acts of service usually are the easiest to come up with, but are sometimes the hardest to actually pull off. If you perform an act of service, it ceases to be service if you demand, or even ask for, something in return. Especially if you have children, preparing your wife a relaxing bath with scented candlelight and a favorite book or music while you take care of the evening’s chores such as post dinner kitchen cleanup is always a hit. Ancient wisdom says, “The way to a man’s heart is his stomach” (or six inches lower), so servicing either or both of those desires fits the bill. Of course, this is assuming whatever you do isn’t at the expense of your responsibilities, you do not ask for anything in return, and it is done in a loving and cheerful spirit. See, it’s harder than it seems!

Last, but certainly not least, is quality time. This is spending time with your beloved, doing something they like to do, without answering a cell phone, email or watching TV (unless your partner wishes to watch something together, such as a movie). A better Texas answer is to roam the streets of Old Town Spring or Fredericksburg, or a weekend at a bed and breakfast. There are several local places you can do this quite reasonably.

Eloquence in the love languages and being romantic, come through practice and asking for kind feedback on your efforts. You won’t hit a homerun every time, but you will get better and it will be easier to identify romantic opportunities. “There isn’t any formula or method. You learn to love by loving.”- Aldous Huxley

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cupid's Friend

“Any time not spent on love is wasted”- Torquato Tasso

We have once again come to that time of year that causes sweaty palms and makes men quail at the daunting task before them, and no, I’m not talking about figuring out what to do on a weekend without either hunting or football. I’m referring to what might be the most feared holiday of them all: Valentine’s Day.

I am going to write this week and next about this holiday and provide some help for those of you who either don’t observe Valentine’s Day, or those who every hope for that magical reaction when they hit their partner’s heart with Cupid’s arrow, only to find every year they are wide of their mark. For most of us, initially our crazy lives trump our desire to be more romantic, then over time we get out of practice and become embarrassed of our failure to treat our beloved the way we should. Instead of correcting our behavior, we attempt to convince ourselves the holiday, and its trappings don’t matter, eventually coming to believe that romance itself is unimportant.

Valentine’s Day has become a huge moneymaker for card companies, florists, and undergarment companies, to the tune of 17 billion dollars. For this reason many people are soured on this wonderful holiday much in the way we lament the commercialization of Christmas. I argue we shouldn’t throw Cupid out with the bathwater so to speak. Just because others commercialize the holiday is no reason we can’t use the day as an excuse to show our beloved how much we love and regard them.

The day used to be one primarily of men giving women cards and little gifts but with greater equality for women in society, a greater percentage of women give the object of their affection gifts as well. In keeping with this change in society, I will offer some thoughts for both men and women.

In many ways, Valentine’s Day is not so much about love as it is about romance. Romance may best be thought of as love in action, so Valentine’s Day is a day to EXPRESS your love. By now you are thinking, “But I don’t write well or speak eloquently like you do Mark”. Hey cut me some slack, there could be someone, somewhere, thinking it. On the off chance you are one of those people, let me provide some help.

Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The Five Love Languages, and in this book he proposes there are five ways each of us “speak” and “hear” love. These love languages are (in no particular order): physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gift giving. You will notice that only one of the love languages, gift giving, costs money. If you are on a budget, or you are conducting a one person protest against commercialization, then speak one of the other love languages.

The point for this week is not which love language you speak, but the importance of speaking one or more of them. Valentine’s Day is both an excuse and a reminder to do something nice for someone that does nice things for us. Next week we will explore the love languages and I will provide some suggestions for each language on the big day. Stay tuned!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at