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Listening: Seven Tools For Doing It Well

Listening involves more than you think! It takes work, focus, time, and energy. Are you up for the task? How important is it really? Learn seven critical tools for good listening!

Here is a scenario I see play out in my office over and over again: one spouse wishes the other would speak up more. They are frustrated thinking that the other doesn’t really care to make the relationship work because they won’t talk. I have seen wives who wish their husbands would talk more and husbands who wished the same of their wives. I have seen parents who wish their teens would talk more or team leaders who are frustrated because they can only get a few of their group members to share their ideas. What’s wrong? Why does this happen?

I can tell you one of THE biggest factors has to do with listening.

I shared a PLEDGEtalk Facebook post this week, that said: “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters. Think about it.”

The person in front of you–whether it is your spouse, your daughter, or the team–won’t believe you are ready and willing to listen unless you are silent.

That means:

  1. you are looking intently at them.
  2. you will be sure not to have a frown on your face but an expression that portrays the idea that you care what they have to say.
  3. you will be patient, for as long as it takes for them to gather their thoughts. And when they do begin talking, you will do everything you can to make sure you don’t interrupt or interject. Instead, you will work hard to stay focused on each word and sentence that comes out of their mouth.
  4. you will wonder and maybe ask why they chose the words they did to describe how they are feeling or to explain their perspective on a matter.
  5. you will be intrigued with what they are saying while at the same time actively putting your own thoughts and reactions up on a shelf in your mind. Note I did not say put them under a rug to be buried, but up on a shelf for later. Your ideas, your reactions can’t be your focus–not if you are listening. Makes sense?
  6. you will keep working at putting your reactions on the shelf while staying SILENT and listening.
  7. And the only time you will speak is for the purpose of clarifying what the other has said or echoing back to make sure you heard correctly.

THAT is real listening!

When a person finally gets the experience of someone genuinely listening, they believe they matter and find their voice!

Now a few words of caution:

  • You may try using the seven tools above and not see the same intended results as I get. Don’t despair or give up. Remember I have been doing this for years as my profession! Go back through the list above to see if you missed anything and keep working at it. It also might take the quiet person awhile to believe that you really are sincere.
  • You may use any or all of the above tools and see quick results. Beware. If these tools are not already part of who you are, you will quickly forget them, fall into old patterns, and watch the person in front of you once again fade away into silence. If this happens, take note, admit what you just did (i.e. interrupted, or reacted, or grew impatient, etc.) and ask them if they would continue to share while you work once again at listening well.
  • You may grow weary or discouraged when you see how much work it takes to really listen well. You may even be tempted to think “if I have to go through all of that and more just to find out what another person is thinking, it’s not worth it. What they have to say must not be all that important.” You couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rather, they are like a mine full of precious jewels just waiting to be discovered!

Most of the breakthroughs I see in my office between spouses, or between parents and a child come when they learn to really listen. When truly listening, we give the gift of being heard. It’s when tears are most apt to appear, and real connection begins!

Think of the last time you felt really heard by someone. What was it they did to make you feel that way?  Let me know below!! I always appreciate your comments–it is encouraging to me as I feel like I am being heard!  :)

(Thanks to www.123rf.com for picture: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_iqoncept’>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

Focus on THIS and Have Better Holidays!

This week I was invited to be a guest lecturer at Oral Robert’s University by my daughter who is a Professor in their Social Work department. I taught the students in her Intro To Counseling class about the deepest longings of the human soul: significance and security. It’s a teaching that has absolutely changed the course of my life and all my relationships.

There is a story where Jesus is speaking to a woman who is clearly broken in life. She is seeking to be loved but instead, finds herself being used by one man after another. Jesus meets her while getting water at a well and He says something that at first might seem very strange. He says: “you know if you drink from Me you will never thirst again!”

Huh?  Jesus is making reference to an idea that is true of all of us.

We are thirsty people and we move from one person or thing to another, to fill ourselves up and quench that thirst.

But what is it we are thirsty for? What is it that resides at the deepest levels of you and I that drives everything we do and say?

If you stop long enough and think, you would begin to say it is a desire for things like:









To know that you matter

To have impact


To know you have value

If I could boil them all down into two ideas, I would use the words: significance and security.

You and I desire to experience both. In reality, however, desire is not a strong enough word. It would be more accurate to use Jesus’ metaphor—that we thirst. We are in such great need of experiencing significance and security that we thirst for them. It is as if we need and require them to such a degree that we will do virtually anything to get those needs met.

When a man faces questions he doesn’t have answers to as a husband and father, he turns more to his work—which is easier to master—because he is so thirsty for significance. When a woman struggles in her connection with her husband, it is often more tempting to let down her guard and enjoy the perceived love from another man—because she is so thirsty for security. Often as we learn the history of killers and abusers in our country, it is not uncommon to hear of them having been abused and abandoned as children. In their emptiness, they strike out in an effort to feel significant and secure—albeit in the worst of ways.

When Jesus said to the woman “if you drink from me, you will never thirst again,” he was saying: “in your attempts to find love and security, you have had one failed relationship after another. I am asking you to follow me where you will experience a relationship like none other. I will love you unconditionally. My love will NEVER change, and therefore you will always be secure. Add to that, I am willing to give my life for you because of your supreme value. Yes, you are that significant in my eyes!”

Every one of us is in need of significance and security—just like this woman in the story. And Jesus offers each of us the same invitation as he did the woman when he says “follow me!”

How does this relate to communication and family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Great question!

Most of us are around more people than usual at the holidays. That time spent can be wonderful; it can also be hard and stressful. But if you remember what I have shared, you can make the upcoming holidays the best ones yet. Here’s how: keep in mind—EVERYONE wants to know they are significant and secure, right?

In your interactions with them, you have a choice: you can spend the bulk of your time seeking to meet YOUR NEEDS for significance and security by doing things like:

  • controlling the conversations to feel important;
  • or telling the best joke to have an impact;
  • OR by doing whatever you can to keep people at a distance, keep conversations shallow, or simply avoid interactions altogether to keep yourself secure.

On the other hand, you could stay focused on the idea that everyone around you is in need of feeling significant and secure like you and help meet that need in them. For instance, you could:

  • seek out that one who is quiet and engage her or him in conversation so they feel like they matter;
  • help out more with the cooking and cleaning so no one feels alone;
  • tell a young person or child you are proud of them for what they have accomplished or tell them of a character quality in them you appreciate, so they feel significant;
  • remember the PLEDGEtalk principles of listening well in conversation, echoing back what was said, and acknowledging your appreciation for them sharing—so they feel validated and genuinely cared for.

In short—you and I can focus more on getting own needs met during the Holidays or focus more on meeting the needs of others.

Adults and children alike, all long to know they are significant—that they matter; and they all long to know they are secure—that they are loved and wanted. Do what you can during the upcoming holidays to show those around you that they matter and you care for them. It just might make this season the best one yet!

Share this with one friend or family member to help them during their time with family too!

(Picture taken from: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_rawpixel’>rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo</a>)

Alex Smith and A Critical Lesson On Communication–From a Quarterback!

Last weekend I took my daughter Taya to see Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs play the Philadelphia Eagles. It was awesome! Now I have to be honest, being at Arrowhead, and watching the Chief’s win was great, but connecting with my daughter was the best part of the whole experience!

We had so much fun!

We laughed. And Taya was goofy. Ok, we both were! And when the big Tron put us right in the middle of its screen, we danced…and laughed all the more. Yes–we were on the big screen–just the two of us. It was Totes awes!  (A new abrev I made up and hope goes viral! Meaning: “totally awesome!”)

We stood more than we sat. And we enjoyed a classic jumbo hotdog with all the fixings (including onions!) and chips. Throughout the game, we yelled and screamed like everyone else–in the loudest stadium in the world! I noted to Taya, how all the fans made as much noise as possible when the opposing team had the ball–to make it difficult for the line to hear the quarterback’s call. And then of course when we had the ball, the stadium grew quiet so our team could listen well. (A plug for the importance of listening!!)

It was during an officials’ timeout in the fourth quarter because of an injured player on the field, I noticed something that really caught my attention.

Alex Smith was on the sideline practicing with the center. Did you catch it? (No pun intended!) Our quarterback was on the sideline practicing hiking the ball with the center. What? I pointed it out to my daughter and said: “how many times do you think he has done that?” She answered: “thousands of times!” And I agreed. No doubt he has stood in that position and received the ball from the center thousands upon thousands of time in his career even stemming back to his childhood.

So why would he keep practicing?

Maybe in the last snap, something went wrong and he wanted to figure it out. Maybe it was a new center. Perhaps he simply wanted to keep his fingers nimble and that was the best way he knew how. It’s also quite possible he knew that every play he executed began with the snap–and he couldn’t afford for that to ever go wrong. Maybe he was thinking “practice makes…PERMANENT!”

For whatever reason, Alex Smith was still practicing the basics!

If that was the case for Alex Smith to be successful in the game, how much more do you and I need to keep practicing the basics of communication like PLEDGEtalk to be successful in our relationships? Time and again I see people having a difficult time talking with a spouse, a family member, a boss, or an employee. I even see people who have attended our PLEDGEtalk conference and the next day struggling big time in their communication with others. And I ask: are you pausing before you speak? Are you listening–really listening to understand what they are saying? How do you know for sure if you understood them correctly–have you echoed back to check? And are you validating their perspective? THESE ARE THE BASICS! Are you practicing them day in and day out? If not, you are likely to fumble the moment the conversation is snapped into play and quite possibly lose the game.


Practice every day what makes for successful communication!  And enjoy your relationships to the fullest!

Can’t wait till the next time I get to spend more time with my daughter. It will be “totes awes!”

(Laugh and learn as you watch on our PLEDGEtalk Facebook page, the video of Taya and I discussing this post on our way home from the game.  And Like our page while you are there!)

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My Personal Struggle When I Am In Conflict

There’s a reason why most people struggle to have only a few solid relationships. They are hard and take a lot of work!

My wife and I just spent two weeks in Asia. We taught on principles of healthy communication and conflict resolution. Besides my counseling, this is what I do best and I am most passionate about. And guess what? On the last night of our trip, my wife and I had a conflict!  Ugh!

It happens to all of us!

When I teach the PLEDGEtalk process, I don’t promise it will keep you from having conflict, though it can decrease and minimize it. I do promise however, you will know what to do when conflict happens.

Often times I share openly about conflicts I have had. This one however, is just a little too fresh for me to share at this time. Suffice it to say, it was over finances.

Following is my own internal struggle when the conflict happened, and looking back–four MUSTS my wife and I had to do in order for us to come back to peace and love each other once again.

No doubt you have heard me say that we rarely just decide to have a conflict. Instead, it just happens. It usually takes us by surprise. This case was no different for us.

We had just completed 30 plus hours of training on communication and conflict resolving and there we were–in a struggle with conflict ourselves! Even though I teach this stuff all the time, I am always caught off guard how difficult it is even for me to use the principles we teach when conflict actually happens. I don’t mean difficult because they are hard to understand. In fact, I think what I teach is quite clear (see HERE for a brief refresher OR HERE to get the full Infographic!) What I mean by difficult is this: when I find myself in the midst of a conflict I struggle to will myself to do what I know and teach is right. But I must! Let’s make that the first of the four MUSTS!

MUST # 1:  When conflict happens we must will ourselves to do what is right and good, regardless of how difficult it is to do.

Quite honestly, when conflict happens, I often don’t want to do what is good. I just want to do what is best for me and make my case. I want to make sure they see how they are wrong and that they get it right hereafter. It’s not a helpful mindset, I know. I am just telling you what often goes on inside of me and where I was that night. Repeatedly I had to check that part of me, get it under control, and move onto the next MUST.

MUST # 2: When we struggle with conflict, we must remind ourselves of what we value.

I value relationships and speaking with love and respect. My daughter is a Kindergarten teacher and is writing curriculum for her classroom, calling it the PLEDGE of Friendship. She teaches her children that when they are mad at each other, they have to remind themselves of the value of friendship. She teaches them to remember that the person they are mad at is their friend. I had to remind myself I was speaking with my wife whom I love dearly. Whether it is your spouse, your child, your friend, your co-worker or your boss–remind yourself to value the person in front of you. It was and is a must for me if I want to build my relationships. And there is nothing I value more.

MUST # 3: When conflict happens we must refuse to give in to the impulse to interrupt or make unkind comments.

Even when we remind ourselves of what we value, we have to monitor ourselves very carefully when talking with others. This is especially true when in the midst of a conflict. The struggle is controlling the impulses to interrupt and argue our own point of view, to tell the other where they are wrong, or to use hurtful words–all of which is terribly destructive to our relationships. I am painfully aware that I am very capable of doing everything of which I just spoke. I had to monitor myself carefully to not harm my wife as we discussed our frustrations with each other. It is hard, but worth it to us both.

MUST # 4: When conflict happens, we must be deliberate to use the principles of PLEDGEtalk.

I apologize if in any way that sounds arrogant. I sometimes fear that it does. But here is what I know. As I counselor, I have observed the way people communicate for hundreds if not thousands of hours and can tell you without hesitation what they are missing. It is found in PLEDGEtalk. In the conflict with my wife, I knew I had to listen to understand her perspective even when I didn’t want to. I needed to echo back what she said to make sure I understood correctly and we were on the same page. It was then crucial that I acknowledged that I understood her. And we both needed to take turns sharing our thoughts and feelings. Thankfully by doing so, we came back to peace.

Two additional thoughts I wrote en route to the USA via our connecting flight from Tokyo:

First, we received a testimony with the following story from one of the leaders where we just completed the PLEDGEtalk training on our trip:

“This morning we talked with Mary (not her real name) who shared how she used PLEDGEtalk in her communication with her husband. For years she has wanted out of her marriage but felt she could not leave. Both spouses felt trapped. This past week they had a huge conflict and could not talk to each other. Finally, when they had gotten to the point where they were not highly emotional, they had the longest conversation they had ever had. They were able to listen to each other, understand each other, hear each other’s concerns, and figure out the root of their issues! Mary said she has never felt freer. Since then this past week they have been able to communicate every time a conflict comes up and resolve it almost immediately using the PLEDGEtalk steps! The huge wall that had been built up over the past few years was taken down. They literally feel like they have put down their weapons finally!”

The principles of PLEDGEtalk work, when you work the principles!

Second, I just watched a commercial on our plane–presumably selling the idea of how wonderful air travel can be because we can stay in touch with those we love the most. It was a story of a little boy who ran to his dad just coming off the plane. They embraced and then walked down the corridor hand in hand. In the next scene, the dad was holding one of the son’s hands while the mom was holding the other as they were running through a field of tall wistful grass and spring flowers. A beautiful moment. And I thought to myself: it’s what we all want. Everyone on earth deeply longs to be loved and in relationships!   BUT–it takes work to make it happen.

Will you do the work? Will I?

In summary, remember these four MUSTS the next time you find yourself in the midst of a conflict:

  1. We must will ourselves to do what is right and good.
  2. We must remind ourselves of what we value most.
  3. We must refuse to give in to any impulse to interrupt or be unkind.
  4. We must be deliberate to use the principles of PLEDGEtalk.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about what I have written. Leave them below. Thanks!

(Photo Source)


Do You Avoid Someone If They Are Mad? There’s A Better Way…

Your boss is mad. Your friend is really hurt. Or your spouse is going to chew you out. And you don’t want to hear it.

What do you do?

Good question – most of us don’t know what to do.

Read more

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Running again? Do This Instead:

Ok, straight up. I am not talking about literal running–like when you put those colorful shoes on. I am talking about running from disappointment in life.

Recently when experiencing some hurt in a relationship, I suddenly became aware of something interesting that happened in me: I could feel my mind turning to other matters–almost as if it had to for some reason. I wondered why and then understood: I was shifting my focus. I was turning my attention from that which was causing the pain, to more pleasant matters so I would no longer hurt.

And at that moment I caught a glimpse of the answer to a question I have had time and again as I have worked with couples where one spouse or the other simply walked away. Oh, I know it is never that they “simply” walked away. I know there is much anger, pain, and despair. But still, I have always wondered–especially when kids are involved–how do they walk out and run from the situation? How do they deal with their pain by running?

They do what I did on only on a much greater scale. In running as fast and as hard as they can, they turn their focus to other matters, to deaden the pain.

It makes sense.

I understand.

No one likes pain.  Selah (often meaning, “pause and think of that.”) Sadly, however, that’s not the end of the story.

When running to avoid pain, we end up pushing away those whom we love the most.

We push them out of our minds; we push them away from our presence as we busy ourselves with other concerns. It is a very subtle step taken in the direction of self-preservation, often something we don’t even realize we are doing. The more it happens, the more distance it creates in the relationship, until there is a great chasm that seems impossible to ever cross again.

At this point, things often go from bad to worse. The disappointment in our relationships surfaces again and again in spite of our greatest efforts to keep our minds focused on other matters. The temptation to run to even stronger distractions seems completely justifiable. Even a must. The stronger distractions–working longer hours, drinking, sex, eating, gambling, spending money–become addictive. They are relied upon again and again as seemingly the only way to dull the pain. Ultimately they destroy, the person and their relationships.

I am reminded of the truth, “whoever seeks to save his life (by running) will lose it.” (Luke 17:33)

The solution?

We must face the disappointment, hurt, and pain in our relationships at every level.

We must learn to stay engaged without reacting or running away to other distractions. We must discover how to relate throughout our conflict in good, strong, and healthy ways to those around us even when hurt. As my son wrote in the Foreword of my book,  “…people most effectively resolve conflict when they become strong communicators.”

Understand my son is NOT saying strong in the sense of standing up for our rights and telling others where they are wrong. No, he is saying strong in the sense of not giving in to fear, but learning instead how to speak the truth with love and respect. We must be strong in the sense of not giving way to our reactive tendencies, but rather mastering the ability to listen well and learn what we might be missing in any given conversation.

This is not an easy task. It will take much work, and require much learning. But it is good, right, and God-honoring.

It is why we created PLEDGEtalk–to train people how to use principles that are vital to our everyday interactions and to guide us through the most difficult moments in conversation.

If you are reading this and have not already signed up for my PLEDGEtalk blog, you can do so at  https://pledgetalk.com and download a FREE and complete overview of the PLEDGEtalk process to healthy communication and conflict resolution guide. (And if you do get my blog but did not get the PLEDGEtalk Guide and want a copy, email me for your FREE copy:  mark@pledgetalk.com)

Don’t run or even walk from your pain. Learn from it. Learn in the midst of it. You will grow stronger when you do and discover more of what it takes to build strong relationships. Recognizing I was running from the pain in my relationship enabled me to stop in my tracks. It helped me to see that I had and always have a choice–to stay and love well even when it hurts or to run. Staying is harder at the moment, but leads to joy later; running is easier at the moment, but leads to sorrow later. We either must choose to endure whatever pain we are experiencing in a relationship as we seek to lovingly work it out, OR we become someone who now inflicts pain on others through reacting or pushing them away.

Ouch! That’s something to really consider.

If you have found this blog post or the PLEDGEtalk process helpful, would you share this with one friend today?

Thank you!


Is This Your Story? Here’s what to do…

I remember being disappointed over an incident with a friend and decided to talk with him about it. Before I got even two paragraphs out of my mouth, he jumped in telling me how he saw things from a different angle.


A Crucial Help For Our Divided Nation

It was a very historic week with the election – one in which has revealed a deep divide in our country.

Many are rejoicing. Many are hurting. Many feel numb.

I know and have people that I love in each of the above three camps. You may also. What do we do? How do we walk this out in a good, healthy, even God-honoring manner?

We just might find some answers by looking at a method of conflict resolving known as PLEDGEtalk.

But let me start by asking some questions:

  • What should I say to my very good friend who is a part of the hispanic community who tells me he is terrified over what happens next when our new President takes office come January?
  • What should I say to several people I know who are either involved in the LGBTQ community or friends with those who are, and who also speak of loving God as I do?
  • How do I respond to friends who are exuberant over the results?
  • What should I say to my African American brothers and sisters who themselves have strong and varying opinions to the election results?

Someone else might ask:

  • How do I respond to a co-worker who says to me: “just because your people didn’t get who you wanted in the election, quit acting like little babies and help make our country strong again.”
  • How do I talk to my neighbor tomorrow who I know is excited over Trump winning?
  • What do I say to a friend who says to me: “This is one of the reasons the Liberals lost, violence is their answer when they don’t get their own way.”


There are a lot of them these days.

How do these reactionary answers sound from those in Trump’s camp:

  • “Look, you need to get over it. This is how democracy played out this time. It is what it is.” Or…
  • “Sorry you feel the way you do, but there is a right and a wrong in each of these issues – and the right has prevailed.” Or…
  • “I know. Ain’t it great? Finally, right? Or…
  • “We didn’t like the last President – but we sucked it up, now you need to do the same!”

And how do these sound from those in the Clinton camp:

  • “Americans have blundered big time on this one!” Or…
  • “Impeach Trump. He’s not my president!” Or…
  • “I am moving to Canada.”

I hope you hear how poor each of these responses are from both camps. None of them will bring about the healing of our nation. Reactionary responses are never helpful – yet we are all guilty of them whether it was this past week because of the election results, or in everyday communication with those around us.

So I am back to my original question.

How do we respond to those who may have a very different reaction to the outcome of this Presidential election than we do?

How can any of us on either side of the fence communicate with each other in a way that is good, healthy, even God-honoring? And specifically with some of the issues that might divide us the most, how do we answer?

Can I tell you how I think we ought to answer?


I don’t know how to respond. Oh I have ideas and thoughts, but I don’t really know exactly what to say. And other than giving trite, pat, or defensive answers, I would venture to say that very few of you know exactly what to say either.

So what do we do?

The first step of the PLEDGEtalk process is to Pause.

I suggest we all need to pause.

In fact one of the best things we could do as a nation right now is to pause. We need to stop what we are doing or saying in response to what has happened and get quiet.


First, we all need to let our emotions dial down.

Research shows that when our emotions are high, the rational part of our brain shuts down – and we literally can’t think straight. Right now, there are a lot of people – dare I say even most of us to some degree – that aren’t thinking straight. Rioting and violence are evidence of this. So are defensive comments. We aren’t thinking clearly as a nation. We need to pause what we are doing and saying to give time for our emotions to dial down so the rational part of our brain can come back online.

Second, we need to shift our focus.

I like what President Obama said in his response, that “we are not Democrats first, we are not Republicans first, we are Americans first–and all on the same team.” Obama and Donald Trump have very significant different political views. And yet President Obama said we are all on the same team. Why did he say that? What is he doing? He is seeking to shift the focus of each of us who live in this nation. Living in America is not about me; it is not about you. It is about all of us together who are “…ONE NATION, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

Our focus must shift so that each of us might regard one another as more important than ourselves; so that we might each put the good of our nation above our own specific interests. That’s a very tall order, but we must begin somewhere and with something other than violence and defensive comments from either side.

The third reason we need to pause as a nation is to prepare us to speak and listen well to one another.

This is the second step of the PLEDGEtalk process and applicable so that we might actually learn how to become and live out the idea of one nation under God that is indivisible.

We must humble ourselves and be willing to admit that none of us sees the whole picture of any matter that divides us. And then, we must sit back and listen–really listen–to understand each other’s perspective. There is story, and history, and reason why each person believes the way they do.

In the same way we must learn to listen well to each other as friends and family, we must learn to do so as a nation. Only then will we gain the necessary understanding to know more clearly how to communicate in a good, healthy, and God-honoring way to each other. And might I add, only when we have paused and quieted our souls long enough, will we be in a position to listen and actually hear from our God, whom we are all under as one nation.

So to everyone in our nation I say, can we have some time of silence, please? Can we all collectively pause? Will you refrain from reactivity, or violence of any kind in action or words?

And will you join me, in taking some time to let our emotions dial down, to shift our focus to give greater consideration to our brothers and sisters, and finally to prepare our hearts to really listen – so that we might begin to understand each other on a deeper level than perhaps ever before, and learn how to become that indivisible one nation under God?

My challenge to you is this:

After some time of silence, pick one person this next week and show him/her this post. Then ask if they would be willing to share with you why they believe what they believe – in an area that is different than you. What is the reason or story behind what they think? Be careful to keep one thing in mind however: do not respond with your thoughts about theirs – unless they drag it out of you! Instead, just listen. Your goal is to understand them in a new and deeper way. If you say anything, do so only to clarify what you hear them saying. Be intrigued and ask as many questions that you can think of to learn all that you can.

Then, respond to this post, or email me at: Mark@pledgetalk.com and let me know what you learned from the experience.

If you were helped by this article in any way or provoked to deeper thought, would you share this with others?

I welcome your thoughts and ideas below. Thank you for reflecting on what I have written.

Click here to learn more and download the entire PLEDGEtalk process of conflict resolution.


How To Start That Difficult Conversation

No doubt you’ve been there – thinking you need to address an issue in a relationship with a spouse, a child, a friend, or a boss. You have been putting it off for as long as you can. Peace is what you really want, but you can’t find it. Your only options are to bury the problem and move on or bring it up for discussion. The first idea seems the easiest, but only in the short run. You know eventually it will surface again, and when it does, it will only make matters worse. You hate to admit it but talking about it is what needs to happen.

The problem? Starting that difficult conversation is not something you look forward to. It will be quite uncomfortable, and you fear it will lead to great tension if not conflict. What can you do? Is there a way to start the conversation that is better than others? The answer is YES! Absolutely!

Here are 5 ideas to consider:

First, what other people feel is very important.

Some people don’t seem to consider what others might feel when bringing up a concern. They just want to get matters out on the table. They either don’t understand the importance of valuing what others feel, or they are simply unaware of the emotional side of life. There are a couple of problems with this: whereas one person may not have a value for feelings, others might be the complete opposite. To love well, we must take others into consideration more than ourselves.

The second problem with this is that the Bible has a high value for the emotional side of life. We were made in God’s image to be like Him in many aspects, one of those being that He feels. We see throughout the Bible that God as Father and Jesus experienced all kinds of emotions: anger (Mark 3:5), compassion (Matthew 9:36), grief (John 11:35), joy (Hebrews 1:9), stress (Luke 22:44), forsaken (Matthew 27:46). If God feels, and made us to feel, it stands to reason that emotions are an important part of who we are and not to be dismissed. This leads to the next consideration about starting that difficult conversation.

Second, HOW you bring something up is critical.

Think of how you would like someone to bring up a difficult topic with you. Would you like them to dump it on you, yell at you with a pointed finger, or talk civilly with you? Would you like them to email or text something to you ahead of time about wanting to talk about a concern or just spring it on you? Whether you are conscious of it or not, you appreciate how people speak to you about their frustrations. Now put yourself in the shoes of the person you are going to speak to. How do you think THEY would like you to begin the conversation? You can be sure it will matter to them just like it does you.

Thirdly, don’t assume you know their response.

You probably have in your mind a picture of how the other will respond. Most of us do. Sometimes it is correct. Other times it is not. Assuming that we know often keeps us from having the conversation in the first place. We might think for instance that we “know” they won’t listen so why bring it up. Assuming we know their response can also put us be on the defensive which all but guarantees the conversation won’t go well. If we give proper thought of how to start the conversation in the first place, it might go quite differently than we fear.

Fourthly, talk about what you felt when an event occurred, NOT how the other person “made you feel!”

The latter is experienced as attacking and will almost surely put the other person on the defensive. It is very easy for someone to come back and argue, “I didn’t cause that. I didn’t make you feel that way.” Far better to say, “here’s what I felt or what happened inside me when ___________ happened.” And then get quiet.

No one can legitimately tell you how a certain event did or did not affect you or make you feel. Starting the conversation this way, and getting quiet after you make your opening statement demonstrates that you are not here to fight but to talk about what happened. It is a huge difference!

Fifthly, at the risk of sounding spiritually cliche, pray.

This is for the person who claims to believe. But what do we pray–for the outcome to go our way? That might be our tendency. Far better to ask God to open all of our eyes to what is true and right in the discussion. No doubt there are things both parties need to see and learn.

When people genuinely pray, it greatly enhances the likelihood of a better outcome. The Bible makes it clear that there is a battle being waged around us and that prayer (Ephesians 6: 18) is one of our primary weapons.

Prayer also has a way of molding us into the best posture for talking: a position of humility (none of us have it all figured out), patience (we are all in process and need grace from each other), and kindness (a way of acting towards others that not only demonstrates that others have value, but models a way of peace).

So the next time you are going to begin a difficult conversation, remember:

  1. What others feel is important.
  2. HOW you bring up a concern is critical.
  3. Don’t assume you know their response.
  4. Talk about what you felt when an event occurred, NOT how the other person “made you feel!”
  5. Pray

What am I missing? I’d love to hear your comments below!

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!!