Monthly Archives: February 2009

Trust By Association


I’m just emerging from a very difficult year and some months of adjustment.  I joined a ministry in August, 2007, in a vaguely defined role that wasn’t really wanted or appreciated by those who it was created to serve.  It was really important that my role not be forced upon them, because the organization was/is making a genuine effort to empower our field offices.   They had to want what I had to offer.  Unfortunately, they made it clear that I had little to nothing that would benefit them.

I moved my family overseas to get closer to my customers, but that didn’t convince them to call on me.  I visited all our field offices with my team members several times to build relationships, but the phone didn’t ring.  I made lists of the things we could do to help their ministries, but they weren’t interested.  It was a very humbling, frustrating, confidence-shaking experience.

But then a change happened organizationally, and I began reporting to a new boss.  One of the first things he did was take me on trips with him to visit each of the offices.  In meetings, he would give me pieces to present.  In discussions, he would hold his opinion until after I had a chance to give mine.  When I finally found something that a field office wanted that I was able to deliver, he gave me the freedom to follow-through even though it wasn’t specifically part of my role.  At conferences, he let me lead most of the sessions.  Before long, I had more requests for my services than I was able to fulfill.

What happened?  As I’ve tried to unpack the transition over the past few months, I’m reminded of Barnabas from the Bible.  His real name is Joseph, but he was such an encourager that the apostles named him Barnabas (“Son of Encouragement”).  In Acts 4, we learn that he sold a field he owned and brought all the money to the apostles’ to help them with meeting the needs of the growing Church.  This was a man that almost everyone had to have liked.

In Acts 9, we hear about Saul’s (Paul’s) miraculous conversion.  After the scales of blindness dropped from his eyes, Paul began to preach in Damascus, but it wasn’t long before the Jews in that town wanted to kill him for what he was saying about Jesus.  Paul left and went to Jerusalem, but no one wanted him there, either, because he had persecuted the Christians so vigorously before his conversion.  Because of his reputation, they doubted that he could be a genuine follower of Christ.

Then Barnabas did something unexpected.  He vouched for Paul.  He brought Paul before the apostles and introduced him.  He told Paul’s story and showed through his actions that he believed it.  Barnabas had trust and credibility with the apostles and other believers, and he lent some of it to Paul.  Everyone knew Barnabas’ character, so if he was willing to put his trust into Paul, Paul must be trustworthy.

This is exactly what my new boss did for me.  I had no trust deposits in the emotional bank accounts of the field leadership, so my boss gave me his on credit until I could earn my own.  I became trustworthy by association with him, and it opened closed doors so that I could show what I could do.  

I’ve since learned that this is hugely important in Asian cultures, but I think it happens in other groups, too.  No one will talk to the new kid at school until one of the popular people sits down with him at lunch.  The new couple can’t seem to fit in at the church until a trusted member invites them to come to a potluck.  The new guy at the office is given the cold shoulder until one of the long-timers takes him around to make introductions.

Are you a Barnabas?  Are you already accepted in a group and notice someone new that’s struggling to join the ranks?  Reach out to him or her.  It’s terribly lonely being a “Saul of Tarsus.”  Don’t you remember what it was like when you were new?  …that terrible feeling of un-acceptance?  It’s unkind to leave someone shivering in the cold outside the warmth of your group.  Be bold!  Have courage, and introduce yourself!  Take a risk!  Welcome them into the fold.  You’ve got credibility to spare, and they could use some.  By giving what you can afford to lose, you might be just the catalyst that a “Saul of Tarsus” needs to become the “Saint Paul” that God intends for him to be.

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Filed under acceptance, agape love, barnabas, Change, christianity, comfort zone, forgiveness, Interpersonal, paul

No Need to Rush…You’ve Got Some Time


Visit Bangladesh

Poster seen in my hotel in Dhaka – 090214.

(My apologies to my Bangladeshi brothers and sisters.  I mean no disrespect…just think this is a unique and somewhat odd marketing campaign.  But you’ve got to hand it to them…they are working whatever angles they have at the moment.)

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Filed under communication, culture, Culture Shock, funny, humor, Just for fun, Marketing, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, worth

Matching Emotion with Concern


While sitting in one of the most boring seminars of my life, I was surprised to learn something that has added years (maybe decades) to my marriage.  It’s the principle of matching emotion with concern.

You see, for much of my early marriage, I had it all wrong.  When my wife and I would get into arguments, there would be lots of emotion.  Lots of yelling.  Lots of slamming things.  I hated it.  My teenage, drug-using years were full of these types of conflicts with my mom, and I learned that matching emotion with emotion just gets you more emotion.  Each person tries to increase their volume to get up and over the other person, and when yelling stops working, some people resort to physical displays and violence to make their points.  If they start at a “Level 6 Anger” on a ten-point scale, they will soon be at Level 8, 9 or 10 as they try to outdo the other person.  This is called “Escalation.”

 

Escalation

Matching emotion with emotion doesn’t work, so I learned over time to match emotion with lack of emotion.  Someone had to keep their head in an argument.  Emotional people say bizarre, exaggerated, unrealistic things.  Someone had to maintain logic and good sense.  That was the way to keep things safe, I reckoned.  For years, I tried this approach with my wife.  When she would get angry and emotional, I would take the “high road.”  Nothing she could say would bother me.  I stayed calm and rational during the entire argument.  But it didn’t work.

Emotion is about volume.  People use it because they want the other person(s) to recognize how important something is to them.  When I tried to match my wife’s emotion with my lack of emotion, she felt that I wasn’t hearing her…that I didn’t understand how crucial the issue was.  So in order to get her point across, she would increase her volume by getting even more emotional.  This is called “One-Sided Escalation.”

One-Sided Escalation

During one extended argument, I was proud of myself for keeping my cool during the entire ordeal, but I was tired and had lost hope of finding an easy end to our disagreement.  When my wife took a breath, I stepped in and said, “I’m tired and going to bed.  When you are ready to talk like adults, come and get me.”  Condescending, controlling, unfair.  Just because I was in control of my emotions didn’t mean I was above getting my shots in.

I headed off to bed and was in the early stages of sleep when I heard, “Thump! THump! THUmp! THUMp! THUMP!”  Suddenly, my wife, who had been stewing over my arrogant dismissal, came sprinting down the hallway to our room, leapt up on top of the bed and began to jump – up and down, up and down…narrowly missing my head with each landing.  This was a level of escalation I had never seen before.  In a panic, I remembered stories I had heard of wives who had been pushed too far and the things they had done to their husbands while they slept.  

Obviously, my calm, cool and collected approach was no better than matching emotions with emotion.  In fact, it was worse.  Unless they are willing to go to extreme lengths, emotional people are no match for logical people in an argument.  Emotional people say things they wouldn’t say during calmer circumstances.  It’s easy for logical people to identify exaggerations and discrepancies, and this often leaves the emotional person feeling frustrated and embarrassed.  A logical person can easily out-maneuver and even humiliate an emotional person (which tends to make emotional people even more emotional).  In short, matching logic with emotion isn’t a fair fight.

So, what’s the right answer?  It doesn’t work to match emotion with emotion, and it doesn’t work to match emotion with lack of emotion or logic.  Here’s what I learned in that boring seminar: You’ve got to match emotion with sincere concern.  It’s brilliant!  It’s simple!  But it’s not easy.  

When someone is emotional, the best way to respond is to show genuine concern.  If they are “Level 6 – Anger,” you’ve got to try to match it with a “Level 6 – Concern.”  It might sound like this:

My Wife: “I hate it that you are always coming home so late from work!  You’re never here for dinner!  I always have to take care of the kids all by myself, and I’m tired.  I never get anytime for myself!”

Me: “I’m very sorry, Sweetheart…I didn’t realize how difficult this has been for you.  I can tell you’re very upset.  Can we sit down and talk about it?”

Chances are, my response didn’t hit a “Level 6” for Concern.  Depending upon my tone and my body language (they have to match my words for my words to be believable), I may have only reached a Level 3 with this response.  But I shouldn’t give up.  This is a skill that takes patience and practice to learn.

My Wife: “Yes, this has been difficult for me!  And I’m not just upset….I’m exhausted!  You should try taking care of the kids for days on end without any help!  I need a break!”

Me: “Okay, I hear you.  This has been a lousy situation with my work, and it’s gone on longer than I thought it would.  You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.   Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”

As I’m expressing concern, I’m using other tools to help my wife see that I understand.  I’m trying to reflect her emotions (i.e., “I can tell you’re upset.”), and I’m trying to summarize what I’m hearing, seeing and reading between the lines (i.e., “You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.”)  I’m asking clarifying statements (i.e., “Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”)  

I have to be completely sincere at all times, or I’ll just make things worse.  But if I’m patient and keep trying, a wonderful thing happens.  When my wife feels like I have honestly heard and understood how important this issue is to her, she begins to let the steam out of her emotion.  It will typically take several attempts of matching emotion with concern at different levels, but if she believes me, she can lower the volume bit by bit.  There’s no need to continue to be emotional when the other person really understands what you are saying and how you are feeling.  Before too long, we will be able to have a rational discussion about the problem without the exaggeration and without the strong emotions.  This is called, “De-Escalation.”

De-Escalation

At the foundation of using this method for dealing with conflict are two essential practices: patience and kindness.  It won’t work unless you care enough about the other person to set aside your own personal agenda.  In short, it’s an act of love.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

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Filed under agape love, communication, conflict, emotions, grace, Interpersonal, love, marriage, Relationships, unconditional love

Unforgiveness


The letter that Paul wrote to Philemon is a strange inclusion in the New Testament.  It’s short.  Just one chapter and 25 verses.  It seems to simply be Paul intervening on behalf of a new friend who has had a conflict with his master (Onesimus was Philemon’s slave).

But try reading it as if it were Jesus’ letter to you personally, and it takes on new meaning:

Therefore, although in I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.  I appeal to you for my son/daughter who became my child as a result of their trust in my death and resurrection. Formerly (s)he was not much use to you, but now (s)he has become useful both to you and to me.

So if you consider me as a partner, welcome him/her as you would welcome me.  If (s)he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart as you show your faith in me.  Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

I think Philemon was included in the Bible to remind us of our need to forgive our Christian brothers and sisters.  Jesus is reminding us that we have been forgiven of so much more than we will ever need to forgive someone else.  He admonishes us that we owe Him our very lives and suggests that until we forgive, we are not much benefit to Him.  The parable of the unmerciful servant comes to mind.

Unforgiveness breaks our fellowship with God.  At the end of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), the man who wouldn’t forgive is released to the jailers (tormentors) to be tortured until he has paid back everything he owed.  That sounds like hell, but it can’t be, because the unmerciful servant is a picture of a believer, who has been forgiven for all his sins.

The torture that Jesus is talking about in this parable is the torture we go through when we have unforgiveness in our hearts.  We are separated from God and lack His protection and His favor.  We suffer from stewing anger and resentment, jealousy and sometimes hatred.  The good news is that it’s so easy to pay back everything we owe and get out of this prison.  All we have to do is forgive.  That’s what we were given.  That’s what we owe.

Jesus ends his letter to us in Philemon asking us to prepare a room for Him (in our hearts).  He wants to restore the relationship we’ve lost in our unforgiveness.  He’s ready to return His protection and His favor to our lives.  All we have to do is pay what we owe, and it’s no more than we’ve been given.  

Remember when Peter was asked about paying the temple tax?  He didn’t have the money to pay, but when he went to Jesus about it, Jesus sent him fishing.  The first fish Peter caught had a four-drachma coin inside – enough to pay the tax for both of them.  God won’t ask us to give more than we have.  He will supply everything we need.  We just have to be willing to be obedient.  If you are struggling to forgive someone, don’t try to find it in yourself.  Ask God to supply what you need.  You are just moments away from restoration.

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Filed under agape love, blame, christianity, forgiveness, grace, mercy, obedience, Relationships, Suffering, Unforgiveness

R.U.T.S.


R.U.T.S.   The grooves that wear into relationships.  The kind of grooves that lock us into destructive patterns of behavior with those around us.

R.U.T.S. are related to the stories we tell ourselves about other people.  They are S.I.F.T. stories, not S.W.I.F.T. stories, and they are powerful.  R.U.T.S. are why you always end up in a fight with your teenager, why certain topics are off-limits with your spouse, why you get irritated when your that certain person calls, why you avoid your neighbor (or your parent, or your boss, or your relatives…), and why you will never be able to trust your sister again.  R.U.T.S. stands for:

Repeating

Unproductive

Time-trapped

Stories

R.U.T.S. are stories written in the past.  They may have been true stories, or they may have been stories where we filled in most of the information gaps ourselves.  But whether or not they are true is less important than the fact that they are old.  They were created to help us understand a particular situation or pattern or behaviors that happened once upon a time.  Unfortunately, once we wrote the story, we never took the time to update it.  It’s trapped in time.

It’s possible that the other person has changed or that we have changed or that the situation has changed, but we never go digging for new information.  In fact, we practice a thing called “selective perception,” where we only allow in new data that agrees with our old data.  New data that disagrees with the old data is quickly discounted and discarded.

R.U.T.S. are unproductive stories.  They don’t move the realtionship forward; they hold it back or even force it back.  They create self-fulfilling prophesies, where the other person inevitably lives down to our expectations because we can’t see them with new eyes no matter what efforts they make to change.  Eventually they give up trying to be different with us and either end the relationship or settle into “role-playing” when we’re around.  R.U.T.S. on our end about them beget R.U.T.S. on their end about us, and a crazy cycle of stressful, frustrating, relationship-killing exchanges begin.

Eliza Doolittle understood R.U.T.S.  In George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, (also the musical and movie, My Fair Lady), Professor Henry Higgins takes Eliza off the street to show that he can turn a flowergirl into a duchess.  He succeeds, but he takes too much credit for the metamorphisis and can never see Eliza as anything more than what she was.  Eliza can see and understand the R.U.T.S. Higgins tells himself about her.  She says to his friend,

You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will, but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.

If your relationships are stuck in the R.U.T.S., you’ve got to start telling a new story.  You’ve got to look for evidence of change in the other person and acknowledge it.  You’ve got to forgive the past and move on.  And you’ve got to forgive the present, too, because even after you change your R.U.T.S. about them, it will take some time for them to change theirs about you.   They may be stuck in the dance that the two of you have been dancing for years, and old rhythms die hard.

It’s hard to get out of the R.U.T.S.  They are destructive, but they are comfortable.  As soon as you think you’ve reached the top of one, you might slip back down to the bottom, but keep trying.  Eventually your efforts will pay off, your relationships will improve, and you’ll have new, productive stories to tell about each other.

The only person who behaves sensibly is my tailor.  He takes new measurements every time he sees me.  All the rest go on with their old measurement.

~ George Bernard Shaw


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Filed under comfort zone, family, Interpersonal, leadership, management, mentoring, paradigm shift, parenting, Serving Others