But What If I Am Right?

It’s a question that is often posed when I teach on conflict resolution. In truth, we all have the tendency to think WE are!

Recently a friend and I were discussing a matter and I felt myself getting tense. He wasn’t getting it! I knew what I had to say was “right.” The problem was he didn’t. So obviously I had to convince him. The harder I tried however, the more frustrated I became. He still wasn’t getting it! My friend was getting increasingly flustered, appearing unsure how to explain his side any more clearly than he already had. A kettle like conflict was brewing, and the whistle was about to blow.

When I teach the PLEDGEtalk principles, I speak of the occurrence of conflict being like that of a collision between two vehicles at a crossroads. Besides the immediate concern of everyone being ok, questions loom: what happened? Who was at fault? And who had the right of way?

None of us like to be wrong, let alone admit when we are. We want to be right – and see to it that others agree. That’s a problem, especially when it comes to resolving conflict.

When assessing who is at fault in an accident, Insurance adjusters use a term called “comparative negligence.” Through their investigation, adjusters determine the degree to which each driver was wrong. For example, one driver might have been 80% at fault, and the other 20%. Though clearly different in this case, both were still at fault to some degree. In most cases of conflict between two people, it is very similar. Both are to blame, at least to some degree or another. Maintaining the posture of being right will never lead to resolve. Instead, both must be willing to examine their part in the conflict and admit their wrong, regardless of the percent of the “wrongness.”

Examine with me, an age old illustration to practice what I just wrote. It is the illustration of the glass half full. Or is it half empty? Which is it? How often have you answered that with a bit of laughter saying: “well of course, it is ____________” And everyone laughs with you, even those who claim to know otherwise, claiming it is just the opposite of what you purport.

Here is my question: are you sure the glass is half full or half empty? Do you KNOW you are right? How strongly would you hold to your position?

Now I ask – what if I were to say that both of you are wrong? Well, I tell you in this case–as in most cases of conflict–it is true. You are both wrong! There is another answer I will share in a moment.

First, back to the conversation with my friend. As the tension grew and I became more insistent on what I had to say, I finally remembered what I have spent the better part of my life teaching others to do when in conflict…listen to understand. Not until I began to put that into practice did the conversation begin to change for the good — starting with my frustration level decreasing. This happened in part because I was no longer focused on getting my friend to see my viewpoint. Instead my focus shifted as I sought to understand his. When that happened, I began to see there were things right and good in both of our perspectives. I wasn’t all right or all wrong. Neither was he. We both began to relax as we came to see and appreciate both sides of the story.

Later I pondered, what’s more important: being right or loving right? (Tweet this!)

I hope you know that wasn’t a hard question for me to answer. Loving the right way especially when in conflict, is challenging to put into practice at times but worth it every time.

Oh–and back to the glass illustration. Is it half full–or half empty? The truth is this. Are you ready?

It is BOTH!

The glass is truly half full of water AND half empty. It is both at the same time! This is the case with our conflict the vast majority of the time. Both sides have it right to a degree and wrong to a degree, or at least incomplete. Both have much to learn from the other–and they will–if they take turns to listen well and understand what the other is saying.

Here’s my challenge: this weekend, catch yourself whenever you think “you are right” and go back to your spouse, your child, or a friend and ask them to tell you more what they were thinking or feeling over a matter. Listen well. Seek to understand them. Watch the difference it will make in your relationship. THEN come back here and post to tell me one thing you learned from doing this!!

Conflict – What Good is It?

Most people don’t like conflict, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, there is much good that can come out of conflict if you know a healthy process to work through it like PLEDGEtalk and keep the following three opportunities in mind:

1. Conflict is an opportunity to grow in your understanding of others.

Saying we all want to be understood is like saying we all need air to breathe. Every time we speak, we’re looking for those who will listen and understand us. But how often are we sure to return the favor when listening to someone who wants us to understand them? Listening to understand is even more rare for us to practice when we are in conflict.

Think of the last time you experienced tension with someone you care about. There was a reason he or she was upset. Do you know the reason? Or let me say it this way: are you ONE HUNDRED PERCENT sure you know the reason? If not, then there is more to learn and more to understand. Position yourself to remain in the listening mode, and ask the person you are speaking with to explain their perspective on what happened. Beware of your eagerness to share rather than listen. Work hard at staying focused on what the other is saying. Take time to draw them out even further, by using phrases like: “Can you tell more more?” or “Help me understand what you mean by ______”

When you make time to focus on the other, you will learn and discover more about them and what took place causing the tension. This will go a long way in helping to resolve any conflict AND prevent it from starting up again.

2. Conflict is an opportunity for personal refinement – becoming a better person.

If there is one thing I know about me, it’s that I haven’t arrived yet. If I live until I am 99, I have no doubt I will still have room to grow. Daily I see areas in my life I would like to see changed. When in a conflict with my wife or children, those areas come to light even more.

My daughter asks if I would stop what I am doing when she is talking to me so she knows I am listening. I chide myself for her having to ask. I know better. It is the very thing I teach others to do!

My son challenges me to think through the fears I experience when he and I talk about stressful subjects. Ugh! Why am I afraid? I help people to work through their fears, and here I am held up by mine.

My wife is trying to help me on a project and I get short with her because she keeps interrupting my work on a separate project. Why am I am so impatient at times like these?

Rarely am I in tension with another where I don’t also experience an opportunity for personal refinement. Will you keep in mind until you die, that there are still areas in your life that need to change so you become a better spouse, parent, or friend? Will you take time to reflect on where you might be wrong, and what areas of change God might want to be revealing to you? Will I do the same?

3. Conflict is an opportunity to practice respect and love for others.

There is a proverb that says: “Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out” Proverbs 17:14 (NIV). The next time you find yourself at odds with your spouse or a friend, STOP!

Now think: do you really want to talk to them in a hurtful way like that? Do you really want to scorn and shame them with your tone? Doing so may feel good at the moment, but will only lead to damaging your relationship.

You stand at a crossroads. You can default back to how you normally handle conflict, or you can do something different and show respect and love in how you relate. That “something” will look different in each situation. Start with working on your listening skills as previously mentioned. Maybe you need to humble yourself and apologize for the way you were speaking or what you said. Maybe you need to let go of something and forgive. Perhaps you both need to take some time apart to cool down and pray, asking God to show you your part in what went wrong. I know that’s not easy – but it is right and good. Ask God to change your heart and bring it in line with His.

Seize the opportunity to practice respect and love by choosing to do what is right rather than just what feels good. It is a must for growing healthy relationships.

What else would be helpful to keep in mind when we find ourselves at odds with our spouse or friend? Leave a comment below:

4 Things to Remember When Someone Shuts Down, Shuts Up, or Shuts You Out.

Twice recently I have been asked: “What do you do when your spouse won’t talk?” Good question. No doubt most all of us have faced that at some time or another. We want connection with others. Two-way connection. But what about when your child or teenager isn’t talking? Or a friend suddenly stops talking? What do you do?

Those are all important questions – at least if relationships matter to you. And honestly – I know that is all of us. Sometimes we tell ourselves, I don’t need her or him, but the truth is relationships DO matter to all of us. There is something in our design as humans, that we need relationships.

So what do we do when someone that matters to us, shuts down, shuts up, or shuts us out?

First, be aware of your own frustration when it happens.

Giving way to your own frustrations will only exacerbate the situation. Resist the temptation. Temporarily walk away if necessary, rather than giving in to the urge to express your anger to feel better. You will both be happier you did.

Second, keep in mind there is always a reason why a husband, a child, or a friend isn’t talking.

Be intrigued. Wonder to yourself, why aren’t they talking? Consider ideas like the following:

  • Did something negative happen between you and them recently?
  • Could you have said or done something that caused hurt or shame, resulting in them shutting down?
  • If this is a person you used to get along with fine, when did things change? Wonder why.
  • Perhaps something difficult happened that day and they have pulled inside their shell. What happened?
  • What have the important relationships been like in their life? Angry? Shaming? Hurtful? Maybe they are hesitant to open up with others as a result.
  • Do they not see or understand the importance of talking? Do they feel like they have anything valuable to say?
  • Do they talk much with anyone? If so, who and what about?

Reflecting on questions like these can yield valuable insights.

As a science teacher for nearly 300 children, my wife sees children with a wide array of behaviors. Often she wonders what is happening with little Johnnie or Suzie when they act the way they do. Regularly, when she takes time to focus on the child, she learns of a difficulty in their home or how they were hurt by another child. Valuable data.

We all get quiet at times. Just remember: there is a reason why. As a teacher or parent, spouse or friend, we must patiently seek to discover the why, rather than impatiently telling them to shape up or shrugging it off with a whatever attitude.

Third, note out loud what you see happening.

Say for example, “I realized just now that you shut down – you stopped talking.” Then ask if they are willing to talk about why. If not, let them know you will be willing to listen and talk about it whenever they are ready. Then get up and get back with your day so they don’t feel pressured right there and then to start talking. A word of caution: if they do come back to talk, take great care to listen well. If you are defensive, they may never come back to talk again.

Fourth, be ok with silence.

Sometimes a person simply will not speak, no matter what you say or do. You need to be ok with that. While you might wish they would open up and talk to you, you must love them as they are. Think about it: none of us have it all together in life. If we are honest we know areas in our lives that we would like to change but don’t know how or seem to have the courage or motivation to do so. Whereas we need encouragement from others to spur us on, we also appreciate their patience. We want to know we are still ok in their book right now, and all throughout the process of change.

I remember a time when my son was having a huge meltdown as an 8 year old. I wasn’t sure at all how to help him. I prayed and sensed God reminding me of what He does with me when I am a mess. He remains present and loves me. With that, I was prodded to do the same with my son. I went into his room and sat at the foot of his bed, quietly waiting, reaching out with a touch on occasion, until he finally calmed down and laid quietly on his bed.

Sometimes our quiet, assuring presence is the best part of us we can give to another. (Tweet this)

One final point–to the non-talker: your voice matters!

It took me years to figure this out, and to be honest, I am still learning. You see, my nature is to be much more of a listener than a talker. Growing up I often felt that what I had to say wasn’t good enough. I remember times of great shame when I did speak up. As a result, I kept much of what I thought inside.

I didn’t understand that each of our voices, including mine, is important. But they are. What you and I have to say in conversations matter. It may appear that others don’t think so, but it does. Take courage and speak. You will have to learn how to do so without demanding that others listen, and without cowering like a mouse. That will come in time as you work at it. But you must begin to speak.

In summary, to the one who wishes others would talk:

  • Don’t let your frustration make things worse.
  • Keep in mind, there is always a reason why they are not talking.
  • Note out loud what you see happening.
  • Be ok with silence.

Your assignment this week: take time to wonder about those around you who may rarely share what they think.

To the one who is quiet:

  • Your voice matters.
  • Take courage; you will learn as you go.
  • Begin to speak.

Your assignment this week: dare to speak what is on your mind and make a difference.

Then leave a comment below about your experience!

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The One Thing To Say When You Hear “You ALWAYS..!”

You’ve done it, I’ve done it, and you’ve had someone do it to you. They used ALWAYS or NEVER. It’s never a good experience when someone uses those words as they point their finger at you in anger. It always feels unfair and wrong when they do. We think, they should never use those words like that! It always causes us to react.

I remember being on a walk with my wife one day and she did it. And I reacted. And while telling her how wrong she was for using the ALWAYS word, without realizing it, I used the NEVER word! We are all guilty!

So what do you do? What do you say when someone is angry, points their finger and says “You NEVER _________ !” (Fill in the blank.)

After hundreds of hours of helping couples through these very emotional moments, and examining this over and over in my own relationships, I can tell you there is only one thing to say:

Nothing! Say absolutely nothing – at least at first.

And you know why.

Everything inside of you – just like everything inside of me is already experiencing a nuclear reaction and it’s about to explode.

“That’s not true!!!”

And that is not going to help matters.

Instead try this.

Keep your mouth shut and think:

He or she is obviously feeling quite strongly about what they just said. They may or may not have really meant always or never. But that is beside the point, really. I have to let that word fly by as I focus instead on what they are trying to communicate – even if I think they are doing a poor job at it.

Why are they so mad or hurt?

Why are they using such strong language?

There has to be a reason, and I must make it my goal to find out. I have to get to the root of what they are saying so I can understand them.

THEN say something like:

“When you use the word ALWAYS or NEVER I find myself reacting inside, but I don’t want to do that. I want to understand instead why you said what you did. Help me understand why you sound so angry or hurt?”

Let’s think that through.

By saying the first part–about them using ALWAYS or NEVER–you are acknowledging that you heard what they said. That’s important. We all want to be heard.

You are also revealing something about yourself: you are reacting to their words internally but trying not to externally. That shows you are thinking and actually working at the conversation–and that’s a good thing. Furthermore, by saying you really want to understand them, you indicate that this person matters.

Having mutual regard for each other and what they have to say is critical to resolving the conflict.

I know some of you might say: “I already know they are mad. Why would I ask them to tell me more?”

It has to do with story.

The person is upset about something. Love dares to go where it is risky–even when it might get hurt. (Tweet this) If there is every any hope to resolve the conflict, you have to listen to each other’s stories without defensively reacting.

You must listen to understand.

Only then will you learn about each other as well as yourself. Only then will you gain the vantage point necessary to appreciate each other’s perspective leading to a resolve in your differences.

So the next time someone accuses you of an ALWAYS or NEVER, don’t say a word – at least at first. When you have your emotions under control, tell them you want to understand why they said that – you want to hear their story. Then remind yourself that your goal is to hear and appreciate their perspective.

So what advice would you give the rest of us when someone shouts at you:

“You ALWAYS…” ??