Communication’s Magic Wand

Communication’s Magic Wand

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[Vizzini has tried cutting the rope to kill the Man in Black, but he clings to a rock] Vizzini: He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable! Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Definitions simply matter. When you notice what happens in conflict and difficulties, that is when you begin to understand communication issues. Conflicts are always about a couple of things… There is a battle over opinion and fact, and there’s a conflict over definitions. Have you not experienced the problem of being in a disagreement until the words come forth that, “Oh, I thought you meant…”  It happens all the time, but it is only one new habit away from annihilation.  As it were, there is a ‘magic wand’ in terms of a couple of questions which can change everything.

“I’m going to use them to track him down and thwart him.” “Thwart?” Sarissa asked. “Thwart.” I said. “To prevent someone from accomplishing something by means of visiting gratuitous violence upon his smarmy person.” “I’m pretty sure that isn’t the definition,” Sarissa said. “It is today.” ― Jim Butcher, Cold Days

Every single day we all are busy getting offended, irritated, depressed, and surly; all because we are starting-and-failing at the simplest place.  We aren’t getting the definitions clear.  In the now most famous of all exchanges regarding definitions, Alice and Humpty Dumpty go at it this way,

‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’ `I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘ `But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected. `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ `The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that’s all.’

Words, of course, don’t mean what we choose them to mean; however, that is exactly how we should function with others.  The way to go is NOT to quibble over words, but rather to find out what they think they are saying.  We all can get sloppy and confused. If we are arguing against what the other person thinks she is saying…well, good luck with that! Best to wave the magic wand. THE MAGIC WAND Here’s the new habit, the magic wand, in a couple of questions. Here’s all you need to say, “What do you mean by………?”   Now, keep saying that for all the words you need to until you get all the meaning; that is, all the meaning the other person is holding onto.  The next wave of the wand works by asking, “So, you are saying that………., true?” When they say, “Yes,” then 90% of the conflict is gone.  Now you can get down to the real issue, not the squabbling and tension over the other person being a JERK.  The real problem is they aren’t a dictionary…and…they don’t get the definitions clear! Go try it! Fred Ray Lybrand



A few years ago I had a passing conversation with a lady in a hallway. I shared a secret with her in a short two-minute conversation… After which she sent me a Starbucks card as a ‘thank you’ every month or so for some time.

I shared with her something I had learned from others which I call, “The easy way to conquer fear.”

Here are the simple keys –

1. Conclude Fear is the Enemy – fear doesn’t give good advice

If you study the nature of fear you will find that fear never gives good advice. If it does give good advice, it’s not often enough to matter. Of course, the basic nature of fear is that of panic and fright and flight. In these modes the brain is not busy thinking, rather it is busy reacting. The advice fear gives, therefore, is always designed to serve the fear (it lacks perspective). If we think of fear as a person, then we can realize that fear’s goal is survival. Why would fear possibly give you advice that would make it go away?

2. Understand Fear’s Lifeline – the imagined future

Fear is always built on an imagined future that is negative or horrible. One of my mentors, Robert Fritz, used to tell us that some people tend to “FOINC” (which said stood for, “The fear of imaginary negative consequences.” This simply means that some people run ahead into the future and conclude that some terrible and negative thing is going to happen, which then makes them dash back to the present to control the first ‘domino’ in the series so the imagined bad thing can’t happen. This activity compels a lot of people to do a lot of things they’d probably rather not do. Of course it makes sense, if you knew for a fact that you would died this afternoon if you got in your car… Well, we couldn’t get you in your car. The truth is, however, that you actually MAY die in your car today. Not knowing for sure the future allows you to operate with some measure of wisdom as you drive your car. Thinking you know the future for sure will keep you from getting into your car. This is exactly why the imagined future is fear’s lifeline.

3. Conquer Fear with Honesty – you know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know

Credit here too goes to Robert Fritz ( You know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know – simply means that you would be well served to notice that you do not know the future. Hardly any of us are prophets anymore. Fear controls us when we know the future is going to be bad; telling ourselves the truth that we do not know the future (you know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know) means that we CAN’T be afraid of the future because we are sure about it.

Please watch the video below for my full explanation of the easy way to conquer fear…Especially learn the lesson from the man, the son, the horse, and a lot of stupid friends. 

-Fred Ray Lybrand

Did you know you can help your child write better in less than 10 minutes a day?

“I know what I mean, but I just don’t know how to say it?”

“I know what I mean, but I just don’t know how to say it?”

Are people right when they say, “I know what I mean, but I just don’t know how to say it?”

Frankly, I’m going to have to say, “NO, with a maybe.”

Here’s what I’m getting at— First, when talking about emotions, then YES, one can definitely not know how to say it. Love is like a red, red, rose is about the best we can do. Emotions are given to the vagaries of feelings, not the specifics of language. Love is not a thought, therefore it can’t be described in words.

Thoughts, in fact any thought, can absolutely be conveyed with words.

Here’s a little Your Brain 101:

* We have two basic processing systems in our cerebral cortex:

1.  We process or think in pictures.

2.  We process or think in words.

It is helpful to know this because we can use our brains properly. If you are trying to understand anything structurally (or something given to being pictured in any way), then using the canvas of your mind is huge. In fact, in recalling information nothing is more helpful. A picture is indeed worth a thousand (or ten thousand) words.

Thoughts themselves, however, are really for the domain of words.  Verba Sunt Indices Animi, which means “words are the indicators of the mind or thought.”  This points out that we basically think in words…and that…words tell us what we are thinking.

Words are the stuff thoughts are made of.  The common chatter is that we think in pictures…but the chatter is a myth because it is clearly half false.

All you need to do to appreciate this point is to speak to someone who has been blind since birth.  I’m sure they can picture something, somehow; but, really it is words they use to form their thoughts and communicate their understanding and insights.


What this comes down to is that it is really not possible to have clear thoughts and poor communication.  Since the thoughts themselves are dependent on words, the thoughts must be clear enough (in words) in our own heads.  I know this sounds mildly complex, but consider it this way—

When someone communicates and doesn’t make sense, you are most likely seeing a very clear communication of muddle thoughts, rather than a muddle communication of clear thoughts.

I mean really—How can someone have crystal clear thoughts, but have no ability to share outwardly the same words she thinks these thoughts with?


If you grasp this distinction in a deeper way, you will see the clear implication that you need only clear up your thoughts to become a far more effective communicator.  If people aren’t quickly grasping what you are saying, the FIRST place to look is your own mind.  It’s easy enough just to ask a couple of questions:

1.  Is my audience (or the other person) getting what I’m saying?

2.  Can I explain it to myself in a way that is crystal clear?

That get’s you a long way down the road as a communicator.


Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

Mental Models and Creativity

Mental Models and Creativity

“I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company. The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating.  When I got the chance to come back to Apple, I realized that I would be useless without the company, and that’s why I decided to stay and rebuild it.”

-Steve Jobs  (from Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs)


Can You Really Think Crooked and Walk Straight?

The above question is about the most fundamental and transformational tool we humans have discovered for creating results—Knowledge + Communication…often seen in the Mental Models we use in our creating.  Too often we make the great mistake of attempting to deal with behavior before we sort out the thinking.  Frankly, if we still thought the earth was the center of the solar system, we wouldn’t have made it to the moon.

I’m confident your challenges are just a clear thought or two away from a fresh step towards a solution.

I am Dr. Fred Lybrand, a co-founder of TrimTab Solutions (a Coaching and Consulting firm, especially in the Energy Leadership sector and have been speaking publicly since I was 14 years old…stumping for my dad who was a State Senator in Alabama during the George Wallace era.
My background in law, business, education, systems dynamics, and non-profit organizational leadership uniquely qualifies me to address the challenges and opportunities most organizations and individuals in the midst of change consistently face.

I’ve lived in Texas since 1983, and as an entrepreneur, private school co-founder, author, and a father of five (still married after 29 years :-), I am pretty sure I can address the audience with Southern humor, values, and vision.

In Coaching I have three forte’s that seem to consistently help others:

1.  Getting Unstuck (unraveling your mis-beliefs)

2.  Becoming Clear & Confident about an Important Decision

3.  Fresh Solutions to Stale Problems

…BUT…Fundamentally these issues are about Communication.  They are about communication with yourself.  It is quite a curiousity to see people admit that they are not great talking with others, or are worse talking with audiences…but they assume talking to themselves is easy!

THE SOLUTION: Play the game of looking at your problem / challenge as someone else.  How would Rocky Balboa solve your problem?  What about Steve Jobs?  What would Madonna suggest?  How about Einstein?  I find that the most powerful thing to do for someone else is to simply share my thoughts from where our sit…it’s like it shakes up the world and allows a new way to think.  Seriously, a quick path to the mental models we use in creating is to ask and answer the following:

What’s Your Problem?

What would your hero when you were growing up tell you about it?

My recent focus is in unravelling the challenges related to implementing a High Performance Management System (see Richard Palermo, HPMS, Do the Right Things Right, Strategic Triangle).  I’m also convinced that we have consistently missed the ball in dividing Managers from Leaders.  Please accept this gift of an interview my partner (Hermann Eben) and I just completed (Click):

How to Grow a Manager into a Leader

Fred Ray Lybrand
P.S. This video below isn’t perfect quality, but it does underscore our challenge with how we think about things.  This was at a large high school assembly talking to kids about what makes real relationships work.  Relationships are not much different than anything else… they are all about how we think and the systems we employ.

Wake Up Leroy

Communication as Water in the Aquarium

Communication as Water in the Aquarium

In learning to be effective as a communicator, no matter if it is with others or yourself, it is vital to understand the essence behind this saying.

What do I mean by, “Communication is the Water in the Aquarium?”

Well, think about an aquarium.  It’s loaded with life.  The more exotic ones have corals and sponges and starfish and crabs, not to mention the great variety of neon-colored fish.  In fact, just adding clean water can help the whole tank get healthy:


Change 20% of the water daily for a week. Make this part of your weekly routine, don’t skip weeks. Your fishes health depends on it. Most tap water is safe to use. If you have a marine tank, obviously this doesn’t apply to you. Continually adding new water and removing water will improve your water quality and in turn your fish’s health.

Communication is like the water in the aquarium is a way to realized that we often look at ‘sick fish’ and want to treat them directly…when it is the water that is making them sick.

Healthy water usually means healthy fish.  It is really the same with communication.  Adding a little improved communication every ‘week’ can change everything!

Healthy communication means healthy relationships and more productivity.  But, here’s the rub — you are IMMERSED in the water communication!  It is all around you and constantly affecting everything.

Immersion means that you are unaware, which means you have very little control.

Can you see it?  Isn’t this exactly what communication is about? We are immersed in it & it creates significant harm or health.  The difference is that we aren’t fish, we can do something about the water.

This is the power of communication and why we can be so helpful.  Just like a decent counselor or psychologist, a decent communication catalyst can make all the difference in the world.

We will help you, just stay in touch.

Fred Ray Lybrand

How to Get People to Quit Arguing With You

How to Get People to Quit Arguing With You


The reason people keep arguing with you is that they don’t agree.  Bit of a duh, huh?

The reason you keep arguing is that you don’t agree with them.  In both cases, you may be more innocent than you think.  It may be that you took a wrong turn in your communication because of the common ways we think about communication.


Steven Covey, while no longer with us, has an enduring legacy in bringing ethics and common sense to the realm of professional success.  One of his 7 Habits deals with communication.  He was almost right.  Covey stated it as Habit 5,stephen_covey_picture

Seek first to understand and then to be understood

Of course, it makes good sense when you think about it.  How much can be saved in terms of turmoil and trauma borne from failing to understand!  And yet, there are a couple of points to ponder as to whether or not this is the best communication advice:

    1. If I’m seeking to be understood, can’t I accidentally force my view on an unwilling soul?
    2. Can we ever arrive if we think understand = agree?

On both counts there are genuine issues that may (I said may) arise from this habit.  The most powerful deterrent to communication is manipulation.  No one seems to respond well to manipulation.  And yet, when we force another to ‘get’ what we are talking about we are running perilously close to the canyon of manipulation.  Covey never meant anything like this to happen, but I can tell you from my own 30+ years in the communication field, it happens all the time.   Well meaning people keep forcing their views down other people’s throats.  The habit doesn’t quite help us avoid this temptation.

The second point is subtle but powerful.  Think about it— If you are communicating with someone who thinks agreeing is the same as understanding, then what is the predictable result?  Won’t they keep explaining and explaining until you agree?  In fact, if you don’t agree with them, they just think you don’t understand them yet.

Here’s a a proposed alternative:

First Understand, then Disagree

While there is more to the story because the speaker and listener are mildly different, we have seen powerful results with this slight distinction.  Imagine getting involved at work (or home) in a conversation with the simple rule of “First Understand, then Disagree.”  Won’t the conversation be focused on really understanding because you have separated the two?  Also, how will there be manipulation since the nature of disagreeing is out there in the open?  Honestly, 95% of day-to-day arguments will disappear if you understand before you disagree.

Here’s the challenge:  Go try it with someone (yes, tell them openly this is an experiment in communication).  Say, “Let’s First Understand each other, then let’s see where we disagree.”  After the discussion, come back here and post your results…even if it doesn’t help, we will all benefit.  And yet, I bet you will be surprised!

 “Nothing is as frustrating as arguing with someone who knows what he’s talking about.” -Sam Ewing

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand (Your Friendly Neighborhood Communicologist)

(c) Fred Ray Lybrand, 2013

3 Ways to Communicate

It is curious how much of this world breaks down into threes. Not only are there the three little pigs, the three stooges, and the three tenors; there are also the triangle, the three act play, the three wise men, and the Holy Trinity.

Communication is easily understood with a particular three-fold division that turns out to be rather helpful:

Intra-personal Communication
Inter-personal Communication
Extra-personal Communication

Inter-personal Communication is the best known.  It is the communication that occurs between two people.  This is where fights and romance and productivity lives.   It is the area in which we both experience the most frustration and also show the most skill.  We practice inter-personal communication a lot, but if practice was always the means of improving we would all type better.

Extra-personal Communication is the domain of public communication, both verbal and written.  Speeches and essays fit here and are marked by the more-or-less lack of interaction.  Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a great example of this outward communication toward others.

Intra-personal Communication is basically about talking to ourselves.  We use phrases like “telling ourselves the truth” or “admitting the truth to ourselves.”  These phrases capture an odd reality about human self awareness…we functionally can step out of ourselves and talk to ourselves.  In this same way, we also lie to ourselves as well.  In any direction, there is a kind of communication in play that is important to our health and our productivity.

We have a way of defining communication that looks like this:


When you put these categories together with the definition, some pretty interesting things appear.  In particular, you can begin to think about what you are trying to do when you are in any of these frames of communication.

Interpersonal Communication: Your efforts here are directed at helping someone see what you see…and…to see what they see.  Often people spend their time trying to convince the other person, and that WAY BEFORE they even understand the other side.  Camper’s tip here: stop it!

Extra-personal Communication: Your efforts here are directed at helping your audience understand how you think about a particular subject.  Even on the level of humor this holds up.  The most humorous people are those who share with others what they themselves find funny.  If someone sees what you see is funny, there’s a chance that they will laugh as well…if they don’t, well that’s what the other two kinds of communication are about!  Try communicating what you think is hilarious and see what happens.

Intra-personal Communication: Your efforts here are the most profound.  Whether or not we ever own up to it (or know how it all works), the truth is that what we believe and what we perceive has a profound influence on our actions, reactions, and life in general.  The definition helps here because it encourages us to aim for congruence in our thinking.  We need to know what is real and we need to frankly and honestly admit it to ourselves.  If you are overweight it means seeing it and admitting it to yourself.  If you don’t like the way your boss interacts, then you can talk with yourself about it (and maybe to her as well … see Inter-personal Communication above).  If you need to forgive someone, you’ll have to talk to yourself about it first.

Finally, consider how the sequence may best work:

Intra-personal >>>>> Inter-personal >>>>>Extra-personal

Learning to communicate effectively with yourself, with others, and to others is one of the great challenges and great treats in this life.  Stay tuned…we plan to help you learn how.

Peace to you,

Fred Ray Lybrand

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