Feedback is Good, Appreciation is Better

How many times do we get feedback when we don’t want it and don’t receive appreciation when we crave it?

There is a subtle but important difference between feedback and appreciation. At a personal level, feedback, is predominately focussed on what someone is doing and whilst aimed at improving performance can be positive or negative. Appreciation on the other hand is focussed on the person, who they are, who they are being, and is always positive.

We are quick to give negative feedback, less so the positive. Sadly, it is unusual to give appreciation.

There is plenty written about how to give and receive feedback, so let’s focus primarily on the art of giving and receiving appreciation.

In the workplace, many employees report that feeling appreciated by their employer and/or co-workers promotes their sense o self-worth, greater emotional investment in their work and fosters a more trusting environment.

For some of us, giving and even receiving appreciation is not easy….

We asked workshop participants, who all worked in the same department, to pair up and offer a word or two of appreciation to each other. For most of them this was extremely difficult to do, both as the speaker and as the receiver.

Part of the reason it feels difficult is firstly, it is unusual, and secondly, it requires us to tune in and sense the other person, and then allow a word or two to arise from within. It is not something to think about, the words come from our heart.

However, offering appreciation itself is straightforward….

The speaker looks at the recipient, pauses and allows a word or two of appreciation to arise, not to overthink it, and simply trust that the words will come. The receiver looks at the speaker, listens closely to the words and feels the emotion behind what they were saying, takes it in and says, “Thank you”. Swap over and repeat.

When working in groups, at the end of a meeting, invite everyone to offer a word of appreciation to the group and then to the person on their left or right.

Try it with your partner or child tonight, and watch them taking it in….after, of course, they ask, “What do you want?

We crave being appreciated as it helps us to feel seen and heard, to feel valued, and to know that we matter.

Colin Smith, more often known as The Listener.

Helping individuals to feel heard, think better and to learn how to listen.

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Mind the gap

Why do we get distracted when we are listening to someone speaking?

Why are we so quick to respond to a question or to offer our opinion? When, on reflection wish we had said it more clearly, added more detail and depth, or just remained silent and thought about our response before speaking?

We can speak at around 125 words per minute. We hear and understand words at around 450 words per minute. (Hence why we can listen to podcasts or videos at up to twice the normal speed.)

This means that even when we are focussed on listening to the speaker, we can get easily distracted. They say a word that triggers our distraction, e.g. ‘cinema’ or ‘football’. Or a thought that enters our head, e.g. ‘What shall I have for dinner tonight?’ or ‘I need to remember to call my boss’. Whatever it is, we have stopped listening and we need to get back to what the speaker is saying.

One way to return to the speaker is to focus on our breath. As we return, begin to notice the person speaking, their facial features, their eyes, if they are relaxed, uncomfortable, where are they looking, etc. All of these small pieces of information, added to their words, help us to form a more intimate picture of the person in front of us. Whilst we are listening with our ears, we are also seeing them with our eyes, sensing them with our intuition, connecting to their heart, and so much more. We may be fully ‘seeing’ this person for the very first time, even though we have ‘known’ them for many years. (This happened during one of my workshops, with two very colourful people, resulting in them both shedding a few tears together and finishing the exercise with a wholehearted hug.)

Recently though, I realised that there is an even more profound angle on the speed of speaking and understanding, this time how it relates to the speaker.

Typically, in a society that values the speaker and talking, there exists an unsaid competition for speaking first, most and longest. In order to compete, we need to learn to compose our thoughts, wait for the speaker to draw breath or sort of finish, all at the expense of our fully listening. (I say sort of, because it is very rare for a person to be given the time to actually finish speaking) The moment they stop speaking, we immediately speak, unless of course someone else is even faster than us!

Quite often, sadly, we will assume that we know what the other person is going to say, and we interrupt them with our point. As we are speaking, someone then interrupts us. The stress in the room rises, as it would do in competition, and so it goes on. Because we are stressed we experience the fight or flight response, at which point the quality of our thinking diminishes.

In much the same way as the listener is able to listen and understand at c450 words per minute, the speaker also thinks at the same rate. However, they are only able to speak at c125 words per minute. This means there are probably another c325 words that have been thought, but not fully expressed at that time.

Could we give them more time to think and to speak?

When the speaker is stressed, as in a ‘competition’, the words that are said are likely to be those words that are the simplest and quickest to formulate, a sort of path of least resistance. “I need to get my words out fast and out now, as I am almost certainly going to be interrupted or my moment taken away when I draw breath or finish a sentence”. In that stressful situation, speaking without real thinking is all we are capable of doing.

Now imagine an environment that is supportive of people being heard, through individuals actively listening to the speaker, things would change dramatically. When the speaker reaches the end of a sentence, pauses for breath or even stops for a moment to think, if they are not interrupted and instead encouraged to continue speaking, there is a good chance the remaining c325 words will be spoken.

Even better, when it is your turn to speak, imagine how you might feel if you too were given time to think before speaking, and know you will not be interrupted.

In my experience when people are first learning the above approach, they expect it to take too long for everyone to think, speak, and fully listen. Whilst I agree that in the early stages of breaking these old patterns, time taken in conversation is longer. However, very quickly the quality and depth of the conversation improves, the time taken reduces, which makes the effort all worthwhile. All involved in the conversation begin to feel heard, feel valued and feel that they matter. And we would all like that, wouldn’t we?

“To be interrupted is not good. To get lucky and not be interrupted is better.  But to know you will not be interrupted allows you truly to think for yourself’.  Nancy Kline Author of Time to Think and More Time to Think

My special thanks to Nancy Kline and her fellow Time to Think facilitators, whose thinking has been fundamental to many aspects of my own thinking and way of being.

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Hear from or Listen to….So what?

“Raise your arm if you believe you are a better than average listener?”

“Keep your arm raised if anyone has said, “Thank you for listening”, in the last two weeks.

I ask these two questions at the beginning of my workshops and usually everyone raises their arm to the first question, and the majority of attendees take them down in response to the second question.

Why might this be?

Primarily, we make the mistake of believing that listening and hearing is the same thing. In addition, living in a fast paced, multi distracting society, we feel we have little or no time to be fully present enough to deeply listen to another person.

A typical response is that listening and hearing is the same thing.

Unless you are audibly impaired we can all hear, yet only a few choose to listen.

Hearing is passive, it is an ability, it happens without our thinking. For example, someone calls your name out across a noisy room, you hear it, a train passes whilst you are sleeping, you hear it, until you get used to it. We hear everything

Listening is active, it is a skill, even though it looks like you’re not doing anything. You have to decide to listen, to pay attention; you have to be a listener. Research shows that when speakers feel they are being heard, they are more likely to like and trust them.

One of the simple ways I choose to remember the difference is, “We hear from”, and, “We listen to”.

“We hear from”, means we don’t have to do anything to hear them.

“We listen to”, means we have to choose to listen to the person speaking.


Next time you are walking in the park, stop and intend to notice the various sounds coming at you, maybe an aeroplane, children laughing, people talking, cars passing by, road works, music playing, and so on. Then, notice that you had not taken any notice of these sounds until you turned your attention to them. Yet they were always there, our brain had filtered them out as not important. Now, whilst paying these sounds your full attention, try and send someone a text message. Notice how your mind has to focus on one or the other, and how difficult it is to focus on both things at the same time.

How many times do we tune out, barely even hearing, let alone listening, to our work colleague, our partner, and our children? How many times do we try and listen on more than one thing or person?

Take this new awareness into the workplace and your home life, and set your intention to focus on being more fully present, noticing more sounds, remaining silent and letting the other person talk.

“His gestures were few. But the attention he gave me, his appreciation of what I said, even when I said it badly, was extraordinary. You’ve no idea what it meant to be listened to like that.”  Dale Carnegie, Author of How to Win Friends and Influence People

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Why Bother Listening?

What difference could better listening skills make to you and your people?

What impact could better listening have on your business?

What value would you put on improving your connections with your clients?

Imagine the benefits if all your people fell in love with listening, listening more actively and deeply to your clients and to each other.

Imagine if this resulted in everyone feeling really heard and valued?


Listening is my passion and I offer people and teams the opportunity to feel heard and to find out how to more actively listen.

I am curious to know your thoughts and observations on the above.

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What does the Tour de France have to do with active listening?


Way back in the nineties I became aware of the Tour de France. It looked interesting, lots of action, amazing feats of riding and endurance, and the likes of Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich and the now-deposed Lance Armstrong making the headlines. For me, though it was just a bike race, and a bike race simply meant the fastest cyclist winning.

Fortunately, I knew someone who understood about cycling and he was able to explain that it was far more than just a bike race. I quizzically looked at him, ‘What more is there to know about a bike race, surely I know all there is to know.  I have been riding since my Dad taught me and I can see it is a bike race with my own two eyes”. Oh, how wrong I was….

He explained to me about the teams, the way they are set up, i.e. sprinters, climbers, time trialists, and the domestiques, (riders who serve others in the team). He coached me on the meaning of GC (Grand Classification), King of the Mountains, the various coloured jerseys, the tactics, etc.

Patiently, he listened to all my questions, “Why does the leader let another rider go off ahead and win a stage? Why does nobody attack the race leader on the last day”, and so many more?

Turns out that the Tour de France is far more than just a bike race. I learned how to watch it actively, rather than passively. What a difference this has made to my enjoyment and understanding of the race.

So what has this all to do with active listening?

Only 6% of us are actually active listeners, yet the majority of us believe we are good listeners. What more is there to know about listening, surely I know all there is to know, I have been doing it all my life, I can hear well enough with my own two ears”.

The reality is that listening is passive, active listening is, well, active.

So what does active listening entail that makes it so different to just listening.

  1. Attention – giving the person who is speaking your full attention. If there is anything more important to you at the time the person is speaking, stop the conversation and go and do it. Attention is the greatest gift you can give to another person, be it a work colleague, your partner or your children.
  2. Eye contact – looking the speaker in the eyes, and continuing to do so even when they look away to think. The quality of their thinking will increase when they return to looking at you and notice that you are still looking.
  3. Silence – not speaking, or even looking like you want to speak. Even when it feels or looks like they have finished, wait longer. More often the best thinking happens in that moment of silence.
  4. No interrupting – do not say anything, as doing so interrupts their thinking. Ideally, do not take notes.
  5. Be curious – intend to be open-minded and interested about whatever they may say to you,
  6. Body Language – sit facing the speaker, lean forwards, unfold your arms, be still, relax and breathe deeply and quietly.
  7. No fixing – you are here to listen, not to fix them or to solve their problem. In listening they will more often than not arrive at a solution without you saying anything.
  8. Equality – see the person in front of you as an equal, fellow human being, who needs to talk or think.
  9. No judging – difficult as it may be, this is not about right or wrong, just an opportunity for them to speak and to think.
  10. Appreciation – once the conversation is over, offer one specific thing that you appreciate about them, and do so whilst looking them in the eye.

If you wish to be heard, think better or to learn how to actively listen please call me – 07939-013651

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Eric Clapton told to wait for 10 years for his guitar to be made

Curious how three emails I received this week all fitted so well together.

The first to land was a blog post from Seth Godin.  Seth sees the world differently to most commentators, and his writing is so spot on it can stop me in my tracks.

In his post the message was simple. “Most of us are not in the business of being perfect (i.e. we are not all Doctors, airline pilots, etc.), so stop behaving as though you are!”

The need to be perfect can hide a multitude of excuses for me, such as procrastination, lack of confidence, fear of rejection, not being wanted or liked and so many more.  Yet, in reality, we have no real need to be perfect.  Having said that, it is not an excuse for doing poor, shoddy work.  It also brings to mind a belief that failure is a bad thing and that successful people do not fail.  Brene Brown once commented about failure at a TED conference, by observing that everyone who spoke had failed, not once but many times during their careers.  Yet all those watching would consider the speakers to be successful.

The second message to land was from Danielle LaPorte.  Whilst not as well known as Seth, this lady writes dramatically yet with very few words, and inspirationally yet in a way very different to most ‘inspirers’.

In this post she proposed that, “We show up, be human, be honest and be real”, in all that we say and do.  She also said that, “We need to show our vibe, to create our tribe”.

How many of us live our lives for the benefit of others, maybe out of fear, lack of confidence, fear of rejection…sounding familiar?  It is almost that to show up and be human, honest and real is a bad thing, and if we decide to behave that way, people would laugh at us, not like us, and not take us seriously.  Yet those who have shown their real selves to the world, have not only been applauded for their courage, but the connection that was there before with their tribe is now even stronger and deeper.  Furthermore, that one person’s willingness to do so, gives others permission to do the same, thus sharing their vulnerability too.  Brene Brown’s TED talks on shame and vulnerability explains this in more detail.

Finally, Jonathan Fields’ message.  Jonathan is the founder of the Good Life Project.  Here Jonathan interviews well know people, including Seth Godin and Brene Brown, coincidently.  He was also behind a great resource called The Art of Revolution, aimed at business owners who are seeking to build their business based on what they love and are passionate about.  Again, a very similar theme to what Seth offers in his book, The Icarus Deception.

In this ‘sound riff’, as Jonathan calls them, he references the work of Wayne Henderson, a legendary US guitar maker, who once told Eric Clapton that he would be happy to make him a guitar, but he would have to wait for about ten years for him to do so.  Jonathan says that, “Greatness is not just about skills it is about your essence, it is not just about your experience (as in Wayne’s case making guitars), but the sum of all your experiences (that go into making each guitar)”.  What’s important is the state of mind of the person building the guitar”.  He goes on “If you want to make better stuff, be a better person”.

We all know the old story of the two bricklayers being asking what they were doing, one replying, “Building a wall”, and the other replying, “Building a Cathedral”.  So, not needing to be perfect aligns nicely to what Danielle is saying, if we show up, be human, be honest and be real, it shows up in what we produce, be it a product or a service.  The energy in which we build and deliver our offering gets carried by that offering to our Client who will notice, albeit at a subconscious level, the difference.  Indeed, seeking to make something perfect, could take away the human element.  Eric Clapton certainly noticed this all when he picked up and played one of Wayne’s guitars.

So, how are you showing up now, or going to show up tomorrow?

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Could a Piano Concert Change the Way we Listen?

I invite you to imagine that you have purchased tickets for a concert given by a world famous pianist.  As the day arrives you are filled with excitement, looking forward to finally being able to hear her live for the first time.

You arrive at the concert hall and notice the hubbub of expectation. The lights are dimmed, the spotlight falling on the piano as the curtains are pulled back.  The pianist is announced and she comes on stage, smiling at the audience, before sitting in front of the piano.  Total quiet descends, you could hear a pin drop.  The pianist takes a deep breath to compose themselves and becomes present….

Where is the pianist’s focus now?

As she is about to start playing, a member of the audience stands up as he wants to raise something about what is going to be played.  He apologises for not reading the programme notes, but would really like to know what is going to be played, as he has heard many of these pieces before.

What is now going through the pianist’s mind?

Another audience member responds and agrees, another disagrees, the pianist, although startled starts to play, another person speaks and another, she briefly stops playing, but regains her composure and starts to play again.

How are all these interruptions impacting her performance?

About five minutes in, the doors at the rear bang open, everyone turns around and looks, the pianist stops playing and looks, “Sorry I am late, the audience is told loudly, there were problems with my train”.  Looking now her, he says, “Sorry, please continue”.

How easy will it be for her to pick up from where she stopped playing, how quickly can she get back into the flow?

Midway through the piece the pianist looks up (as they do) and notices some of the audience either whispering to the person next to them, many others are on their mobiles.

What does she think now?

A little later someone else stands up, interrupts by asking how long this performance is going on for as they have a train to catch.

Another stands up, interrupts the pianist, and without asking, offers their version of how this particular piece will end.

During a deep and meaningful part of the performance, a mobile goes off, the pianist stops and looks, so does everyone else, apologies all round, the pianist starts to play again but her performance sounds and feels different now.

What is happening to the pianist?  How is she feeling?  What is she thinking?

How would you be feeling?

We have all been to concerts, and apart from the mobile phone going off, the others never really happen.

Why not?

  • Is it about respect for the pianist?
  • It is not the ‘done’ thing?
  • I could be interested and curious as to what they are going to play?
  • Possibly attention, at this moment the concert is the most important thing on my mind for the next two hours?
  • Maybe it is a chance for me to just stop, be present, be in the moment and truly listen?

Yet all of the above ‘interruptions’ happen each and every day in our conversations and meetings at work, in conversations with our partners and especially with our children!

Research has shown that 60% of all management problems are related to inadequate listening, and in addition, we misinterpret, misunderstand or change 70-90% of what we hear.  Yet out of the four modes of communication, Writing, Listening, Reading and Speaking, Listening receives the least amount of formal training (zero to a few hours only) and is the highest percentage of time used (45%)

Returning to the pianist.  They will have invested significant time and resource in their work.  They love what they do, and they know how to get into the flow.  They know that of the million or more notes they play if they get right more than 75% of the notes, it will have been a good evening.  A great pianist plays from their heart, and we as the audience will feel the difference when they do, it will connect with us.  When they are at one with the piano, in the flow, in the moment, etc., we feel that too.

When we are interrupted, our flow is halted, our concentration stopped.  Of course, great pianists can pick things up very quickly, but something, however small, has changed and it will probably be noticed.

When we notice our audience not listening, such as through whispering to another, looking at their watch or mobile, not looking at us, etc., we feel it.  We also feel it if their attention has shifted away, even if visually it all looks the same.  Children pick this up even faster!

Ideas for being a better listener

  1. Face the speaker.
  2. Look into their eyes, even when their eyes move away to think, be there when their eyes return to yours.
  3. Be present and give them your full attention. Focus on your breath if you find your attention wandering.
  4. Be interested and curious about what they may say….you will be surprised when you do!
  5. Do not interrupt.
  6. Let them finish. Even when you think they have finished, remain silent for a little longer.  What comes out next could be so profound it will change everything.
  7. When listening is done well the speaker will feel heard, will feel valued and will feel that they matter.
  8. Great listening comes with practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Happy listening.

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Listening Better at Christmas, or Anytime

Spending time with my family and loved ones”, is what most people will say if you ask them what they will be doing this Christmas.

I also believe, sadly, that in most households there will be far more arguing and upsets than at any other time of the year.  So what is going wrong?

One thing I am certain of is that it would be a far happier and more peaceful atmosphere if we simply listened better to each other.

Stephen Covey (7 Habits) rightly says, “Seek first to understand”, he then goes on, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply”.

 My top tips for listening better

  1. Stop everything that you are doing and face the speaker.
  2. Make eye contact and just listen, remaining curious about what they may say.
  3. Do not interrupt….unless there is an emergency, everything else is secondary to what they are saying!
  4. When they have stopped speaking, remain silent a little longer, they will probably say more.
  5. When they have really finished, pause for a moment before you reply.
  6. Tell them one thing you appreciate about them.

“The only thing the human mind seems unable to multi-task is attention.  It can do lots of other things at the same time, but not if one of them is attention.  We cannot do other things and listen at the same time.  Our children, of all ages and until they or we die, need us to listen to them.  Listening is right up there with food and air, and love.  Actually, it is love.” Nancy Kline (Author of Time to Think)

Two short videos on listening   Tips for Listening   Symptoms of not being heard

Colin D Smith – The Listener



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The Gifts of Listening – being heard and thinking better Part 1 – Background to listening

The Listener’s Way

The first of six on listening and being heard.


Tom Peters (Author of many books including In Search of Excellence), believes that seven out of every eight managers are 18 second managers, i.e. they interrupt on average 18 seconds after the speaker starts speaking, with comments like, “I have seen this before, the answer is, you should do….”

Tom says, “I have come to the conclusion that the single most significant strategic strength of an organisation can have is not a good strategic plan but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organisation.  Strategic listening to front line employees, vendors, customers, etc.”

He goes on, “The number one core course on Tom’s MBA programme is going to be a two part, six month programme called Strategic Listening One and Strategic Listening Two.  The reality is that you can teach listening, you can get better at listening, there is no issue about that.  But guess what, it is like playing the piano, becoming an actor, becoming an artist, it is a profession that has to be learned.  It is my opinion as a leader or as a team member that to a significant degree your profession is listening.  So think about it, are you an 18 second Manager?  I bet you are!”

Otto Sharmer (Author of Theory U and Presence) said that, “Listening is recognised as an important leadership capability.  It is at the root of everything, without it there is no mastery.  He also proposed that there are four types of listening.  The first two are familiar, the second two and unfamiliar or less so, yet are most needed by all of us, and especially by those in a position of leading.”

  1. Downloading, listening to that which we already know, a sort of “Yep, I already know that”.
  2. Object focused or factual, focus on what differs from what we already know.  Interesting, we learn something new.
  3. Empathic, activate the open heart, capacity to connect directly to another person.  Profound shift beyond the boundaries of our mental-cognitive state.  To be able to listen as though you are in another’s shoes.
  4. Generative, to see another in terms of past, present and future possibilities, being open to all possibilities of what may come up from them.


Of the four modes of communication, listening is the mode we use most of the time, yet the one in which we are least formally trained or skilled at doing?

Mode of Communication

Formal Years of Training

Percentage of Time Used

Writing 12 years 9 %
Reading 6-8 years 16 %
Speaking 1-2 years 30 %
Listening 0 – few hours 45 %
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On Death and Dying

“In this world, nothing can be said that is certain, except death and taxes” Benjamin Franklin

I am inspired to write this piece, by a friend of mine who recently announced on Facebook to all his friends, that the cancer had returned.  He said that “…it has spread radically over the past few weeks and it appears I have no hope of recovery from this relapse and little time left with you”.

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with him and a few of his friends.

It turned out to be one of loveliest yet most profound of occasions.  We all go to occasions where we know the reason for being there, christening, weddings, funerals, etc., but to be at one where the reason was to meet a friend who knows he is close to dying, was very different.

I learned a lot from the whole experience, and in doing so also left me with many questions….

On my way there, I paused to reflect.  Each and everyone one of us is actually in the same position as my friend, something which Pink Floyd captures so well, “one day closer to death”.  The only difference is that we have no idea when ours will be.  So instead of embracing each day as my friend is doing, we push it away, not talk about it, and allow our lives to be filled with ‘stuff’ that at the end of the day does not really matter.  We live our lives as though we have all the time in the world, yet sadly we do not.

As he said, it was only when he walked through the door of the pub did he realise, and appreciate, that he had actually got there (the previous weekend’s gathering had to be cancelled as he had been rushed into Hospital, and at that time he had no idea if he would be able to get down again).  How much of our life do we take for granted?

My friend shared that he has experienced more joy and more calmness in the last two years since he was first diagnosed with cancer, then he had done in the whole of his life.  He now feels so grateful each day for his life but in particular four things, which unsurprisingly, turn out not to be things or possessions, after all, i.e. family, friends, meaning (as in what you love or can get engrossed in for hours) and legacy.

He shared that when he first told people that he had cancer it made a noticeable difference to the way people reacted and talked to him, or rather found it difficult to talk to him.  Some changed because they felt they did not know what to say, some found it easier for them to keep away.  My friend’s reaction to it was so simple, why not just ask me.  If I had broken my leg and I was in plaster or I had been off work with the flu, you would ask me about it, how was I doing, was it painful, yet because it was cancer, we find it awkward.  Why is that?  What is it like to be the person with cancer when their friends stay away?  How might that feel?

In those situations, just listening to what is present for them is often all that is needed.  Compassionate, empathic, deep, attentive listening, for them, will be more comforting than any amount of questions.  Likewise sitting with them in the silence, however awkward we may feel, is for them nourishing beyond words.  Whilst we may not want to hear about their pending death, they may want to, maybe really want to, talk about it.

He also shared something very beautiful and moving.  He said that he had asked all his questions, spoken to all of the people he needed to, and in doing so felt at peace, nothing more needs to be said.  How many of us have unresolved relationships, questions that need asking, words that need saying?  Could we make that re-connection today?

I admire and acknowledge my friend’s courage and authenticity to be the man that he is truly.

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