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November 2013

Wake-up call; appreciation; grandchildren


This month has been a wake-up call for me and for anyone who takes their health, well-being and their very life for granted. This month is the tale of two important and significant friends and colleagues in my life; as well it’s also about their contribution and life’s work in the addiction and behavioral health fields. One died suddenly and unexpectedly. And the other, but for the grace of God, easily could have.

I’m talking about David Powell

See more at: 

and Don Kuhl
See more at 


Consider all the meaningful things that you say you will do someday when you have more time.

I still marvel at the impact David Powell has had not only nationally, but also internationally. How can one man do so much to spawn quality addiction and behavioral health services in so many diverse countries and cultures – and to that with such grace and humility? David was the only person I have asked twice to guest write an article for Tips and Topics. I wanted to share his wisdom far and wide.

You can read what he said about “What makes good counseling? Can a Checklist help?” in the December 2010 edition of Tips and Topics

And then just in the June 2013 edition, read his Bio and his wisdom about “Supervising the Culturally Different.”

I can’t believe he is gone. I wish I had had more time with David -to hear even more about his spiritual journey, his path and choices he made through his personal development and life exploration. I know I could have learned much from him. I had looked forward to a more leisurely time when we could have taken a walk and talked “soul talk”.

Now I can’t. That is one thing to learn from this sudden loss: – to not put off the meaningful things we say we will someday do when we have more time. That is so hard when deadlines are pressing and there are so many “important” things to be done. How to make ourselves take the time to re-order priorities and not allow the “heart and soul” priorities to be squeezed aside?

I don’t have the answer to this dilemma, but his death is a wake-up call.

And then there’s Don Kuhl.

A couple of years ago when my sister-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly while snorkeling, I was sharing with Don the sadness and loss we were grappling with. He said: “As you are aware, one can never replace the special relationship one has built over a lifetime, but each of us carry with us the blessings of the time we have spent together. ” I find that now again very comforting, as I have been focused on the hole left behind by David’s untimely and shocking death. Don’s message reminded me we will always have the blessings of the time David spent with us.

So here are some of those blessings that first came to mind about times spent with David:   

  • Years ago, we were at a conference together where David and I both spoke. Since then, I have often used a quote David suggested to say when we are engaging a person after giving them treatment recommendations: “But I don’t know, I could be wrong.” It taught me we can share our expertise with clients, however be quick to empower them to speak up, choose what they want to do, if disagreeing with our “expert” advice.
  • David shared with me how he had re-worked his PowerPoint slides to simplify and make them more impactful. Previously they were too loaded with words and graphics, too busy for the audiences to read and understand. He thanked me for my feedback on his slides which prompted him to change his presentations. He was always gracious to express appreciation. I wish he were here for me to express more clearly what I have learned from him.
  • What a joy and educational experience it was to travel and teach with David in China in 2010. In Beijing I stood beside him and China’s first recovering man in the very room where he introduced Alcoholics Anonymous to China. What a pioneer David has been.
  • It was fun to chuckle about how he and I would both argue with our respective wives, Barbara and Marcia, when they would read and suggest edits to our writing and articles.

So I celebrate the life of David Powell and the impact on my life and on so many others. Like Don said: “we will always have the blessings of the time we have spent together.”

I can’t say that to David Powell, but I sure can to Don Kuhl. So here are just a few blessings of the time spent with Don Kuhl:   

  • When someone is so successful in business, we often conjure up an image of this individual as a hard-nosed, tough minded, go-for-the-jugular, cut-throat negotiator. But……I have learned from Don that business and personal success is based heavily on relationship-building.
  • A few years ago, Don and I were meeting with the American Society of Addiction Medicine. We were exploring a mutually beneficial relationship that would serve the addiction treatment field. We caught a cab; Don gave a generous tip to the driver. I remember asking him if he was going to record the cab ride as a business expense. He didn’t bother to be compulsive to claim everything as a business expense. Don is often generous to express appreciation out of his own personal funds when it would be easy to legitimately make something a business expense.
  • That generosity is also reflected in Don’s verbal expressions of appreciation; he possesses an insightful ability to tune into what is special about the other person he is relating to. He doesn’t just make some generic compliment that could sound like it came from a form letter. He knows what will speak to that individual- to comfort, support, thank and inspire them.

When I was expressing to Don how I regretted not having been more explicit with my appreciation to David Powell for all he did for people and the field, Don said:
I have a hunch he was well aware of your appreciation of his work.  You are one of the few leaders in any industry who are gracious with their recognition of those around them.  It’s one of the traits that makes you special.”

That’s what I mean about words that comfort, support and inspire!

Why do we have to wait until people die to tell them of their impact on our lives? Someone should invent the Pre-funeral Memorial Service.


This is a time of thanksgiving and expressing appreciation when people are alive to hear it. In the March 2010 edition in SKILLS, I introduced the work of Marshall Rosenberg who has written and taught about Non Violent and Compassionate Communication (NVC). He applied his structured process to powerful ways to express appreciation too.  I will recap some of what you can read more about in that 2010 edition.


In resolving conflicts understand the structure of observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

Here is the NVC four-step process:

  1. Observing means to state what you are seeing, hearing, remembering, imagining so that it is clear what issue we are talking about e.g., “When I see you come in late without calling ahead….”
  2. Feeling means to state how you feel in one word about that observation e.g., “When I see you come in late without calling ahead, I feel frustrated….”
  3. Needing means to then state what human need(s) is not being fulfilled by the situation e.g., “When I see you come in late without calling ahead, I feel frustrated because I need consistency and reassurance that we will have staff to cover client needs ….”
  4. Requesting means to end the dialogue with a specific request that the person has a choice to either agree with or not e.g.,  “When I see you come in late without calling ahead, I feel frustrated because I need consistency and reassurance that we will have staff to cover client needs. So would you be willing to call ahead next time if you are going to be late, so that I will have time to arrange for other staff coverage?  

If your current methods for resolving conflicts works well, no need to do this four step process.  But if you are stuck, then the NVC four steps is a good place to start.


Use this structure of observing, feeling, needing to express powerful appreciations.

Marshall Rosenberg points out that expressing appreciation is more meaningful to the person you are recognizing if you use the same principles that work in nonviolent communication about conflicts.  When you tune into your own feelings and needs, it focuses you on what you really appreciate in who the other person is and what they do.

So here is the parallel process if you want to show appreciation that really communicates:

  1. Observing means to state what you are seeing, hearing, experiencing that you appreciate.


         (a) “When I saw how you worked with that angry client….” 

         (b) “When I heard your in-service training….” 

 (c) “When you understood and supported me in the staff meeting when   everyone was criticizing me….”

  1. Feeling means to state how you feel succinctly about that observation

(a) “When I saw how you worked with that angry client, I was so impressed and grateful….”   

(b) “When I heard your in-service training I felt inspired and excited....” 

(c) “When you understood and supported me in the staff meeting when everyone was criticizing me, I felt so touched and reassured….”  

  1. Needing means to then state what human need(s) that was fulfilled by the situation


 (a) “When I saw how you worked with that angry client, I was so     impressed and grateful because you met my need for competence, compassion and safety that your good work guaranteed.” 

(b) “When I heard your in-service training I felt inspired and excited because I really needed relief and new ideas to cope with my frustration and burn-out.” 

c) “When you spoke up and supported me in the staff meeting when everyone was criticizing me, I felt so touched and reassured because I need understanding and appreciation for how hard it is to manage such a tight budget

This may all sound a bit stilted and formulaic;  you may feel heart-felt expressions of appreciation will communicate no matter how you say it.   I’m not suggesting every appreciation has to be a long, drawn-out, deep and meaningful communication.

There’s nothing wrong with:

  • “Nice work”
  • “Great!”
  • “Thanks a lot”
  • “You rocked!”
  • “Good job”
  • “Really appreciate it”
  • “You’re the best”

In summary:
1. Note to yourself which of your feelings and needs were met.   

2. Then share with that person what they did that met those feelings and needs.

3. The appreciation can be so much more powerful if spoken or written in this way.

Give it a try around the Thanksgiving table…..unless you are too busy chomping on your turkey.


If it has been a bit depressing to read about death and near death experiences, I’ll switch it up here. However I needed to work through a bit of the shock of this month’s events. Writing is one useful avenue for me.

So here’s the switch up: My 20-month granddaughter.

Luna is living with us for six weeks while her father works in Hawaii.  Miya, my oldest daughter, and Paulo have created and raised the most engaging grandchild in the world. It is true, I have not met all grandchildren in the world, but I am sure I am correct!

Having raised three children, all of whom were once 20 months old, I know I have seen childhood development up close and personal. But like all grandparents will tell you, it is just way better observing and participating in it the second time round without all the pressures of direct parental responsibilities.

Here are some of the blessings and joy of Luna at 20 months:

  • Calling out loudly my name – the Chinese version for grandfather “Goong Goong!”
  • Waking up to hear her singing clearly the opening lines of “Baa baa blacksheep….and then some garble for “have you any wool?” then a rally to end with a “Yes sir, Yes sir”…and a bit more garble for “three bags full.”
  • Bilingual in English and Portuguese so that she names pictures of eggs in both languages; or asks for “agua” but also responds to “water”
  • Clearly communicating what she wants -or not -without ever stringing together more than two words. Would that some adults could be so clear in expressing themselves!
  • Letting you kiss her all over her face and neck and giving big hugs – can I hug her any harder without squeezing all the air out of her?

The cycle of life begins. Thank-you Luna, for showing us how to be present in the moment, fully expressive of all feelings, clear on what you need and not afraid to assertively ask for it….and showing how to love and be loved.

Can there be any better Thanksgiving gift?

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