Three techniques for better conversations: “ding, dong, later”

Here are three “rules of engagement” that will enhance your conversations. Talk about them with those whom you frequently converse with and incorporate them in your dialogues. They can become “verbal shorthand” to improve communication.


Sometimes a conversation grows stale because we’ve talked too long about one topic.There’s a limit to how long we need to talk about yesterday’s ballgame or the bill the Senate is voting on next week. A conversation often begins to stall but no one takes the initiative to change topics and there’s no mechanism to subtly do so.

Here’s a solution: In our conversations, let’s adopt the term “ding” to indicate a change of topic. It’s reminiscent of clinking the side of a water glass with a spoon; just say, “ding” to let people know you intend to introduce a new topic. If the current conversation is not finished, someone can simply say, “Before we ‘ding’ let me say one more thing…”


Sometimes, in a conversation, I may sense that someone is sharing a strong, heartfelt opinion or thought—there’s a strong emotional element to what he is expressing.

If I immediately counter his thoughts or start to share my perspective, he may feel that I’m not listening and that I’m dismissing his thoughts. So the proper response is for me to be quiet and simply listen.

But if the conversation ends and I’ve not had the opportunity to share my thoughts, he may think I agree with his position and conclusions. (I can imagine him saying at a later time, “You didn’t say anything so I just assumed you agreed with what I said.”)

So, let’s use the term “dong” when we’re having a conversation in which one person is sharing strong convictions and the other person will be passive and not say much. But that doesn’t mean the quiet one agrees with what is being said.

Either person can “dong” the conversation. At the beginning of the conversation, the person who has something strong to express may say “dong” as if to say, “I need to express my thoughts; please hear me out; if you don’t voice your thoughts about the issue I won’t assume you agree with me.”

Or the person who is listening may plead the “dong-rule” during or at the end of the conversation as if to say, “I want to (or did) listen carefully to what you’re saying; I’m not going to share my thoughts about this topic at this time, but don’t assume my silence indicates my agreement.”


Use this cue to suggest that the topic of conversation be postponed to a later time. The topic does need to be discussed but not here and now.

When the “later” gesture is used, it might be helpful to immediately agree on when the delayed conversation will take place. This is particularly helpful if one person repeatedly defers conversations.

In my family we consider these three expressions to be “terms of engagement”; they are useful conversational tools.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Consider: you may be wrong

Only four spots left for the October trip to Europe - see details below

In Leo Tolstoy’s novel The Death of Ivan Ilych, the protagonist, Ivan Ilych, is a smart, competent attorney dying from an unknown cause. Tolstoy describes a scene in which Ivan has a sobering realization while gazing at his sleeping daughter, Gerasim.

“Ivan Ilych’s physical sufferings were terrible, but worse than the physical sufferings were his mental sufferings which were his chief torture.

His mental sufferings were due to the fact that at night, as he looked at Gerasim’s sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?’

It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true.”

What a solemn question. 

I doubt if many of us will get to the end of our lives and wonder, “What if my whole life has been wrong?” But all of us should embrace the fact that there are specific areas of our lives that are probably wrong and need to change.

  • What if you have lived a self-centered life?
  • What if you have neglected your family?
  • What if you have not lived authentically?
  • What if you have pursued the wrong career?

Know this: there are areas of your life in which you are wrong. If you think you’re an exception to this statement, your pushback betrays your naiveté, lack of self-awareness, and error.

The good news is you can change. Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life through conscious endeavor.”

Conscious endeavor can include turning wrong into right.

Take an audit of your life, particularly in the areas in which you have a closed mind – areas that have been unassailable and beyond reproach. Also investigate areas that are part of your cultural heritage – ideologies that you inherited from your family and culture. Consider your blind spot; everyone has one. (You’ll need someone else to help you on this issue, because your are…blinded…to your your blind spot.)

If taken seriously, this exploration could be one of the most significant events of your life.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

In October 2018 I’m hosting a trip to the three great cities of the western world: London, Paris, Rome. (We’ll also visit Lisbon, Barcelona, and Florence.) The trip is limited to 44 guests. Only four slots remain. Click here for more information.


Don’s “Best of 2017” – books, meal, wine, new friend, concert, fun experience, travel moment, new project, self-insight

I am so grateful to God for my life, family, and friends. Looking back on the past 12 months several “best of…” come to mind. Here are a few.

Best novel and non-fiction books read
The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore
The Power of Moments – Chip and Dan Heath

I read a lot; my goal is to read one book a week. Two weeks ago I posted a list of all the books I read in 2017. These were my two favorites.

The Last Days of Night – Historical fiction, it tells the story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse’s epic battle regarding who invented the light bulb, and also includes the colorful Serbian emigrant, Nicola Tesla.

The Power of Moments – I like everything the Heath brothers write. They combine good research with accessible writing. This book unpacks the importance of pivotal moments and how to make them happen.

Best meal
Pot roast with family

When I was a child we had pot roast every Sunday for lunch. Mom put it in the oven before we left for church and it was ready when we returned. So I have a strong emotional/sentimental connection to the dish. Several years ago I experimented with more than 12 different ways to season and cook a chuck roast and I have perfected the genre. So my favorite meal is to sponsor a carnivore night with family; we often stretch the event to two+ hours. Solomon was right when he said the best thing in life is to eat, drink, and spend time with those you love.


Best bottle of wine
2012 Hentley Farm, The Beast, Shiraz

In August I attended the grand tasting at TexSom—a premier conference for sommeliers. Penfold’s (a famous winery in Australia) was pouring samples of their best wine – Grange ($700 per bottle). Then I tasted The Beast from Hentley Farm (a relatively unknown winery from Australia) and liked it better than the Penfold’s. I ordered two bottles from a wine shop in upper state New York. Mary and I shared one bottle with our tablemates on the Queen Mary 2 and we’re saving the other bottle to celebrate a special event.

Best new friend

A couple in my church is training a therapy dog which they bring to worship services. It is a beautiful blonde Golden Retriever. One Sunday I asked where they got their dog and they gave me the name of a local breeder. I called; a new litter had just been born. In October I got a wonderful puppy and named him Buddy. He’s my therapy dog: he’s always happy to see me when I get home; he listens to me intently and doesn’t interrupt; he prefers hamburger over lobster. He gives me joy.


Best musical concert
University of North Texas A Cappella Choir

My church, Stonebriar Community Church, sponsors Center Stage Concerts in which a limited audience (250 people) sit in close proximity to the musicians. In October we hosted the UNT choir, directed by Professor Allen Hightower. It was splendid. Many people have never heard the sounds we were fortunate to hear. Choral singing at its best.

Best fun experience
Chuck Swindoll directing an orchestra

Chuck Swindoll is the senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church. I refer to him as the Pope of the evangelical world. He’s the greatest person I have ever known. At our Christmas Eve service our orchestra director surprised Chuck by handing him the baton to direct the 63 instrumentalists in Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. It brought the house down—unmitigated joy and happiness.

Best travel moment
Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2

This is our third connective year to sail on this mid-December transatlantic cruise from London to New York City. I want to do this trip every year until I die. It is seven days at sea so there’s nothing to do but read, write, think, and attend lectures—but those are my favorite things to do so I’m in nirvana.

Best new project

I’ve always wanted to have my own vineyard. The challenge has been where to plant it. This year my daughter and son-in-law bought a large lot on Cedar Creek Lake and started building a lake house. They have graciously allocated a 50×60 plot for a vineyard. We’ll grow Blanc du Bois, Black Spanish, and Tempranillo.

Best self-insight
For better and for worse—I’m frugal.

Even at 65 I’m still learning more about who I am and how nature and nurture nuanced me. This year I’ve discovered more about my frugality and how it has been a friend and a nuisance.

I grew up poor. Food was rationed, I wore hand-me-down clothes. So I was imprinted with the gift of frugality. Through the years it has prompted me to be careful with money, bargain hard, and save. That’s the good side. The downside is that I often do things to save money that I should pay to have done. I spent four hours changing out my car battery to save $50. My time is more valuable than that.

I hope 2018 will be a good year for all of us.

Question: Please share with your fellow readers, and me, some of your “Best of 2017” experiences. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The power of forgiveness

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. —Lewis Smedes

In her book The Liar’s Club, Mary Kerr tells the true story of a married couple who had a major argument over how much the wife had spent on sugar. Instead of resolving the simple dispute, both husband and wife held on to their grudge and refused to speak to each other for forty years. As if silence wasn’t enough to perpetuate their dispute, one day the husband took a saw and literally cut their frame house in half. They lived the rest of their lives in separate sides of the house.

Granted, this story is rather extreme, but it does illustrate the damaging effects of unforgiveness. In years of counseling, I’ve never known a couple to cut their house in two, but I have seen couples who were emotionally separated from each other, often for decades, because of unresolved offenses.

Forgiving others brings freedom in three areas.

1. The one who has been offended is set free from harmful emotions.

When offended, our natural response is to become angry, and initially, there’s nothing wrong with that; anger is an instinctual and appropriate response to hurt. But unresolved anger can soon escalate to bitterness, hatred, and other toxic emotions.

Notice who is adversely affected by these dangerous emotions—the offended, not the offender. When we refuse to forgive others, it is often we who suffer the most. So we must forgive for our own well-being.

This is why we must forgive even if our offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Our offender may never ask forgiveness so we must choose to forgive, otherwise we will suffer twice: once at the offense and then on a continual basis if we harbor anger or hurt.

Marshall Goldsmith said, “Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past.”

2. Relationships can be healed.

Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, wrote, “Forgiveness offers a way out. It does not settle all questions of blame and fairness—often it pointedly evades those questions—but it does allow a relationship to start over, to begin anew.”

In the early years of our marriage, Mary and I argued often, and sometimes the squabble would become so complex we’d even forget what the initial issue was. In the heat of an argument, we would drag in issues from the past, present, and even the future. We returned insult for insult. We’d dig in our heels, choose our weapons carefully, and engage in mental and emotional battle.

But as we’ve matured we handle disputes differently. We still argue, but it seldom gets out of hand. Moments into the conflict we may say something like, “Sweetheart, I love you. Regardless of what happened to cause this dispute, our relationship is more important. Please forgive me for my part in this misunderstanding.” Are we naively ignoring the issues? No, we’re simply maintaining the integrity of our relationship.

Forgiveness is life-giving water poured upon a parched, dry relationship. Without it, relationships can spiral out of control until they are broken or impaired.

3. Forgiveness offers grace to the offender.

When President Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated, the questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”

When we forgive others we offer them grace and emotional release from feelings of guilt.

It’s important to know that forgiveness is a choice; it’s a function of our wills, not our emotions.

We must choose to forgive because we will seldom feel like forgiving. I often illustrate this by holding a pen in my hand and then, as an act of my will, I drop the pen on the floor. Forgiveness is like that; we must drop the issue and the offense. Just let it go.

Forgiving an offense doesn’t mean we will forget what happened. It may be hard if not impossible to forget the details and memories surrounding an offense. But forgiveness will provide emotional relief, and in time it will ameliorate painful memories.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

6 best books I read in 2017

One of my regrets in life is that for a decade (around age 40-50) I punched pause on my learning and grew intellectually disengaged and stale. During those years I didn’t read one book cover-to-cover.

So I’m making up for lost time. Now, my goal is to read and process one book a week. (Don’t overlook the word process in the previous sentence; it’s the key to learning from reading.) I wrote a post about the benefits of reading along with some suggestions on how to maximize learning from reading – Read.

Here’s a list of the books I read and processed in 2017. At the bottom of this list are my six favorites.

The numbers in brackets represent how I rate each book on a scale from 1 (not good) to 10 (exceptional).


1. Employee Engagement: Lessons From the Mouse House – Pete Blank – 2012, 113 pages, [4] – I am suspect of any book printed in 14pt. type. Purely anecdotal, the book has little to offer.

2. Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way – Developing and Applying a Forward Focused Mindset – Bruce Rosenstein, 2014, 164 pages, [6.5] – Good thoughts about staying fully alive and forward-thinking.

3. The Midnight Palace – Carlos Ruiz Zafon – 2011, 298 pages, [5] – I thoroughly enjoyed Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, but this novel didn’t connect.

4. Night School – Lee Childs – 2016, 359 pages [6.5] – Reading Childs is like watching an action movie, predictable and simple, but at times, that’s what I need, particularly on transatlantic flights.

5. Employee Engagement for Dummies – Bob Kelleher, 2014, 343 pages, [8] – I’ve read seven books on employee engagement and this is the best one.

6. The Book of Joy – Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams – 2016, 348 pages, [8] – Abrams interviewed these two great men to get their thoughts on important issues such as forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, generosity and how to overcome the obstacles of joy.


7. Drive – Daniel Pink – 2009, 230 pages, [8] – Pink clarifies the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation; a must read for managers; the best leadership book I’ve read in six months.

8. Finite and Infinite Games – James Carse – 198, 152 pages [5] – Throughout the book I was begging for some examples of the complex thoughts Carse proffers. Very dense philosophy.
9. Walking the Tightrope of Reason – Robert Fogelin – 2003, 192 pages [5] – A dense book on philosophy. I learned very little.

10. Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – Tony Hsieh, 2010, 244 pages, [5] – An autobiography by the man who created Not my favorite type of book.


11. Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport – 2016, 263 pages, [7] – Newport contrasts deep work with shallow work and gives a sound reason to pursue the former. If you’re addicted to social media, you won’t like what he says.
12. Love and Profit – The Art of Caring Leadership – James Autry, 1991, 220 pages, [7] – 71 short chapters, all anecdotal. An easy read. Some of what he says is important, but not all he says.


13. The One Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – Keller and Papassan, 2012, 223 pages [7] – A lot of good advice but, like so many other self-help books, full of endless bullet-point lists.
14. The Net and the Butterfly – The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking – Cabane and Pollack, 2017, 273 pages [8] – An interesting read sprinkled with supportive research, on how to generate and “catch” good ideas.
15. Black Hole Blues – And Other Songs From Outer Space – Levin, 2016, 241 pages [8] – In 1915 Einstein, using mathematical models, predicted the presence of gravitational waves (sound waves coming from the universe). Fifty years later, scientists from MIT and Caltech started the search. This is the fascinating story of that pursuit.
16. The Map That Changed the World – William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology – Winchester, 2001, 301 pages [8] – There’s a lot to learn from this story: what 18th century England was like, the life of an amazing man, and the birth of a new type of science – geology.


17. Against Empathy – The Case for Rational Compassion – Paul Bloom, 2016, 246 pages [8] – This book changed my mind about empathy (feeling what another person is feeling) because empathy can lead to poor decisions and policies. A better approach is to develop compassion (understanding what another person is feeling but not feeling it).
18. Breaking the Spell – Daniel Dennett, 2006, 386 pages [7] – A philosopher’s perspective on issues of faith. Sometimes he seems to ramble.
19. The Book That Changed America – Randall Fuller, 2017, 250 pages [8] – Gives an interesting context for Darwin’s book and an insightful perspective on what life was like in America in the mid-1800s.
20. World War 2 – A Very Short Introduction – Gerhard Weinberg, 2014, 136 pages [7] – I recently discovered that Oxford Press has a series called “A Very Short Introduction.” These books are concise, well-written summaries of interesting topics (350 different topics).
21. 30-Second Leonardo Da Vinci – Marina Wallace, 153 pages [6] – A nice overview of Da Vinci’s brilliant life. Many pictures and nice explanations.


22. 81 Days Below Zero – Brian Murphy, 2015, 2018 pages [7] – An interesting story of survival that also discusses social and historical issues of the 1940s.
23. In the Beauty of the Lilies – John Updike, 1996, 491 pages [5] – Just not my type of novel. His observations are interesting but the plot moves too slowly.
24. The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore, 2016, 366 pages [8.5] – A work of historical fiction, this book tells the story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse’s epic battle regarding who invented the light bulb, and also includes the colorful Serbian emigrant, Nicola Tesla. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.


25. Business Adventures – John Brooks, 1959, 441 pages [7] – This is Bill Gates’ favorite business book. It’s a history of several significant business events (stock market crash of 1962, the Edsel debacle in the mid-1950s, etc.)
26. The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse, 2017, 274 pages [8.5] – Terrific book on changes we need to make in order to secure America’s future.
27. Order to Kill – Vince Flynn, 2016, 374 pages [6] – I don’t learn much from novels, but they are entertaining. I was amazed at how many typos were in this book; I’m going to contact the publisher just to see how this can happen in a widely published book.
28. Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters – Harold Evans, 2017, 390 pages [7] – A rather wordy book about how to write clearly and cleanly.
29. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman – Adventures of a Curious Character – Richard Feynman, 1985, 391 pages [6.5] – Feynman helped build the atom bomb and later won the Nobel Prize in physics. This autobiography gives interesting insight into his brilliant mind.
30. Innumeracy – Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences – John Paulos, 2001, 180 pages [6.7] – Interesting thoughts on the importance of mathematics and the dangers of mathematical illiteracy. His chapter on statistics and probability is good.


31. Darkness Visible – A Memoir of Madness – William Styron, 1990, 84 pages [7.5] – This should be required reading for anyone who struggles with depression or for the family members and friends of those who struggle with depression. Styron is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who writes about his personal journey with this disease.
32. The Wolves – Alex Berenson, 2016, 389 pages [5] – During the summer, I read more novels than I usually do. I don’t learn much from novels, particularly this genre (CIA/espionage).
33. Platform – Get Noticed In a Noisy World – Michael Hyatt, 2012, 227 pages [7] – This book was a good resource when I started my blog three years ago. I reread it.
34. Fairness Is Overrated – Tim Stevens, 2015, 224 pages [7] – Stevens served as executive pastor at a large church. He shares 52 leadership tips. No new thoughts but a lot of good reminders.


35. 301 Ways to Use Social Media to Boost Your Marketing – Catherine Parker, 2011, 316 pages [6] – Gives a good overview of social media options. Written in 2011 so a lot of information was outdated.
36. I Am Not Sick; I Don’t Need HelpHow to help someone with mental illness accept treatment – Xavier Amador, 2012, 249 pages [6.5] – A helpful resource for those who need this message, though the message could have been said in 100 pages instead of 249.
37. Resonate – Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences – Nancy Duarte, 2010, 228 pages [7.5] – Good information on how to communicate well with presentations.
38. The Stranger – Albert Camus, [6.5] Camus won the Pulitzer Prize. He was a leading voice of the absurdist movement. This novel is thought-provoking.


39. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery – Garr Reynolds, 2012, 296 pages [7.5] – A must read book for those who make presentations, especially if you use Keynote or Powerpoint.
40. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson, 2017, 208 pages [7] – Tyson has a gift for making difficult topics easier to understand. This book takes you to a wonderful state of wonder about our cosmos.
41. Writing with style: Conversations on the art of writing – John Trimble, 1985, 143 pages [7.5] – This is a terrific book on writing. Accessible, helpful, and pleasant to read.


42. Letters to a Young Contrarian – Christopher Hitchens, 2001, 141 pages [7] – A good conversation on the advantages of free-thinking.
43. How We Die – Sherwin Nuland, 1993, 269 pages [8] – A physician’s insight into the the medical causes of death. A deeply informative and moving read.
44. If You Want to Write – Brenda Ueland, 2014, 127 pages [4] – Cotton candy for the brain.
45. Change or Die – Alan Deutschman, 2007, 218 pages [7] – An interesting approach to lasting change.


46. Originals – Adam Grant, 2016, 257 pages [8.5] – A terrific book on creativity, non-conformist, and disruptive innovation. A nice blend of academic and anecdotal discussion.
47. Growing Grapes in Texas – Jim Kamas, 2014, 239 pages [7] – The definitive book on this topic. I’m planting a vineyard in east Texas so this book was very informative.
48. How We Live – Sherwin Nuland, 1997, 369 pages [8] – The sequel to How We Die. He’s a master writer and the subject matter is engaging, delving into the intricacies of medical science.
49. The Big Pivot – Andrew Winston, 2014, 292 pages [6] – I had difficulty in understanding the purpose of this book. Lot’s of facts and statistics but it didn’t take me anywhere.

6  best books I read in 2016

These books are not listed in order of preference. I chose one book from six different categories so you, the reader, might benefit from choosing a category that you like.

FictionThe Last Days of Night – Graham Moore – Historical fiction, this book tells the story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse’s epic battle regarding who invented the light bulb. It also includes the colorful Serbian emigrant, Nicola Tesla.

HistoryThe Map That Changed the World – William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology – Winchester – There’s a lot to learn from this story: what 18th century England was like, the life of an amazing man, and the birth of a new area of science – geology.

General interestThe Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse – Terrific book on changes we need to make in order to secure America’s future.

Self-improvementThe Net and the Butterfly – The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking – Cabane and Pollack – An interesting read sprinkled with supportive research, on how to generate and “catch” good ideas.

LeadershipOriginals – Adam Grant – A terrific book on creativity, non-conformist, and disruptive innovation. A nice blend of academic and anecdotal discussion.

ScienceAstrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson – Tyson has a gift for making difficult topics easier to understand. This book takes you to a wonderful state of wonder about our cosmos.

Do you need more evidence that reading will enhance your life?

Want to live longer? Read a book. That’s the contention of Yale University researchers in a study of 3,635 people published in the September 2016 issue of Social Science & Medicine. They concluded that as little as 30 minutes of book reading a day will extend your life, and that, on average, book readers were found to live more than two years longer than non-readers.

Question: What are your thoughts about these thoughts? You can leave a comment by clicking here.