The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode

Sometimes I talk in bulldoze mode. It’s not something I want to do. It’s something I can do without thinking. It’s something I want to change.

What is bulldoze mode? It’s a way of trying to force your opinion through. You get in a mode of talking where you make it clear to people that if they contradict you or even try to nuance what you are saying, they are going to have a fight on their hands. You may start interrupting. You may speak more loudly. You may just say something in a way that warns people against any challenge.

Bulldoze mode is connected with anxiety. You may feel anxiety that something you feel is important won’t be heard. You may feel like you are no longer safe to share your opinion or that you are not respected. When anxiety goes up, people can either become completely silent, withdraw, talk to someone else, try to fix it, act helpless, or seek to bulldoze an opinion through.

The advantage of going into bulldoze mode is that it does release some anxiety. When you prepare yourself to fight, you feel like you are doing something productive. There is a payback of some sort, or no one would do it.

The problem is that people may not feel safe talking to you. They may not want to be with you or work with you. They may feel more comfortable talking behind your back. Continue reading “The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode”

4 Tools to Help People Move Forward (Part 2)

Sometimes people won’t take the steps that they are capable of taking. I had a friend who was considering serving as a deacon in his church. I thought he was very capable of doing it. However, he didn’t think that he could. He was afraid to take that step. We had a conversation, and I asked him, “In the Bible, what does God say every time He calls someone to do something?”

He answered, “Get at it?”

I said, “No. He says, ‘I will be with you.'”

That’s what God does. He encourages those who have fear to take the steps they can take and promises them help on the way. That’s also what He told the leaders of the church in Thessalonica to do for others. “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14).

Last time, we looked at the last two phrases, which I call the first two tools. The first is patience. We need to remember that leadership is a process. People need time to get moving in a particular direction and to grow. The second tool is giving people steps. The goal often seems too daunting. They need steps that will help them get there.

Encourage Them to Take Steps
However, what if people won’t take the steps they can take? We need to encourage their steps. “Encourage the disheartened,” as Paul says. But how do we do it?

1. Remind people of things that they have already done. When my son was 12 and my daughter 9, we hiked Mount LeConte. Mount LeConte is the big mountain that you can see from almost everywhere in our county. We actually ended up hiking about 14 miles that day. They did it, and they did it well. If I had asked them, though, “Can you hike 14 miles?” They probably would have said, “No.” But this showed them that they had more in them than they thought. From time to time thereafter, they would think they couldn’t do something that I knew they could. I would point to Mount LeConte, “Remember hiking Mount LeConte? You’ve got more in you than you think.” Continue reading “4 Tools to Help People Move Forward (Part 2)”

How to Talk About Anything at Any Time to Anyone (Full Version)

Americans struggle with having difficult conversations. Americans talk to each other about other people, but they don’t talk to the person with whom they disagree very often (see the statistics on this in David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons, Good Faith).

When you read the Bible, you find a totally different perspective. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Mt. 18:15). In other words, if you see that someone has an issue with you, go talk to that person.

Yet we don’t do that. We talk around the issue and to everybody else about the issue, but we don’t talk to the person with whom we have an issue.

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler in their book Crucial Conversations see the same problem. In fact, they suggest, “At the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organizations, our teams, and our relationships lie crucial conversations–ones that we’re not holding or not holding well.”

In Crucial Conversations, Patterson et al. suggest practical skills that can empower us to have these conversations and talk to anyone, any time, anywhere, about anything. Their conclusions arose from years of researching people who were able to have these crucial conversations and have them well.

So, what do they suggest? The metaphor they use for a conversation is a pool. Imagine the people who are having a conversation sitting around a pool. As long as people are able to put into the pool any of their thoughts, facts, or feelings, the conversation will keep going well.

Think about an issue of what a couple wants to do on the weekend. As long as they can share their feelings and allow the other person to share their thoughts and ideas, the conversation will progress well. It’s a relatively simple issue. If one spouse wants rest and the other wants activity, they can simply divide the weekend between the two.

But what often happens? When the person who wants to rest hears about the big, bold plans of their partner, they fear that they won’t get rest. This makes them tense. Instead of sharing their own feelings, they lash out with a strong “no” or suggest that the person doesn’t care about them. The proposer of the idea then feels rejected and disrespected. They either retreat and sulk in anger or lash out. Either way, the odds of a good conversation are low.

This shows that there are two aspects of the conversation. There are the words themselves and there is the context. The context is how people feel about communicating with that particular person.

What Patterson, et al. suggest is that the proper context for good conversations is a context of safety and respect. In my view, this is what the Bible calls “gentleness and respect” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).

The authors suggest that once safety or respect is broken down, it is futile to continue the conversation until we repair the context of safety and respect. As long as people do not feel safe or respected, they will not be able to put their thoughts into the pool of meaning.

So, how do we establish safety and respect? Hearing that we should respect certain people can make us cringe. For the Christian, however, the Bible is clear. We are in humility to regard others as better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). We are called to communicate with patience, gentleness, and respect (1 Thess. 5:14, Titus 3:2).

If the Bible is not an authority of you, consider the advice of Patterson, et al., who suggest that our common humanity should be enough to merit our respect.

Sometimes we do have respect. We just don’t know how to communicate it. Let me suggest a few tools based on the book:

1. Mutual purpose. We can create safety by seeing our mutual purpose. At first, mutual purpose may seem hard to find. For example, a pastor and a church member may disagree on the music. I remember this happening to me. As I listened to this person, I realized we had more common purpose than I realized. We both agreed that we wanted content-rich music that was singable and relatively familiar to the congregation. Once we agreed on that, we could safely discuss whether particular songs fit into that category or not. We didn’t come to agreement on all the songs that day, but we walked away from the conversation with much more respect.

2. Be tentative. To understand this, recognize that most of our disagreements generally don’t come from the facts but from the conclusion that we draw from them. For example, an employee doesn’t do a certain task that they were supposed to do. You can tell yourself a lot of stories about this: “They’re lazy.” “They’re evil.” “They don’t respect me.” But why not hold off on these? Instead, have a conversation.

An employer might begin a conversation, “Hey, I just want to be clear on this. Is that task part of your duties?” If the employee responds, “yes,” then you can further ask if they did the task. That may be enough. They will give a quick explanation. If they don’t, then you can follow up in asking them without sounding judgmental what they think about doing the task. What you will find is that generally there is a good reason for not doing it, the employee just made a mistake, or that they’re actually not sure how to do it. All three are helpful things to know before we tell ourselves a story about the facts.

3. Use contrasting. This means that you tell people what you mean and what you don’t mean. A lot of conversations break down because we assume what is meant. We can help other people avoid this by saying what we mean and what we don’t mean.

For example, I can ask my daughter when she is planning on getting her haircut. She could take this to mean that I don’t like her hair or that I’m demanding she get her hair cut. What you can say is this, “Honey, I’m not saying this because I think you need a haircut. I just remember that you said you were going to get a haircut. I’d like to make sure you have the car available, if you need it. So, was I right in that, and do you have a sense of what time you might do that?” You’ve cut off several wrong conclusions that could break down the conversation. That’s contrasting.

There are two particular cases that require extra care. One is where people feel particularly unsafe about putting their thoughts into the pool of meaning. The other is when a person does things that make other people afraid to put their thoughts in the pool.

In the case of those who feel unsafe, we have to be particularly cautious. We might want to ask them directly what they think. We can assure them that we value their opinion. The important thing is to give special effort to listen and not respond too quickly. They are going to interpret any strong response as rejection, and so we have to use the tools listed above more carefully and extensively than we otherwise might do. “Comfort the fainthearted, strengthen the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Another difficult case is those who make others feel unsafe to talk. First, we need to show such people respect and not assume the worst about them. Many people who behave this way are not really aware of the effect that their manner and words have on people. When someone responds in a strong way, we can say this: “I don’t think this is what you are intending to do. However, when you do or say x, I don’t feel like you want to hear my viewpoint. I don’t think this is true, and so I would just suggest that it would be helpful to me, if we could do x.” The point is that we will not have a real conversation while we feel attacked, threatened, or disrespected, and we have to talk about what is going on inside us in order to get to good conversation.

The challenge to all this is that it takes a willingness to swallow some of our feelings of disrespect and lack of safety in order to move forward and engage. The rewards are significant. But how can we do it?

I believe that the central problem is that we are often looking to receive love and respect from humans that only God can give. We have to recognize that ultimately our self-worth is founded on God’s love for us and on how God values us. Once we can take this in deeply, we won’t be nearly as worried when we feel disrespected or unloved by other human beings. It won’t be nothing, but it will give us greater stability.

That’s the one major point I would add to Patterson et al.’s book. We need a better foundation for self-worth than what we can offer ourselves or to one another. The Gospel of the good news of God’s love for offers us a perfect foundation for this approach.

I believe that the author’s insights are available in the Scripture. However, I don’t think I would have seen clearly what was in Scripture without their insights. I also do not at all believe that I would have been able to come up with the practical wisdom on how to apply it without their observations of human behavior. So, I’m extremely thankful for the work of these folks.

I’ve just touched the surface of the insights in this book. I would highly recommend that you read the full book and see how they applied it and make use of the other tools they suggest in the book.

Gossip: The Best Way Not to Help Your Marriage (Or Any Relationship)

How important are conversations? Here’s one claim: “At the heart of almost all chronic problems in our organizations, our teams, and our relationships lie crucial conversations–ones that we’re either not holding or not holding well.” That’s what the research of Kerry Patterson et al. suggests. You can read about their research in the very helpful book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, (Chicago: McGraw Hill, 2012).

Think about your own life. It’s ironic how many of us have things in our families, workplace, and relationships that we feel are off limits for conversation. How long would your list of conversations be that you would like to have but feel that you can’t?

Looking at our broader society, there is more talk than ever before, but so much of it is tribal, just talking to people with whom we agree. When it comes to talking one-on-one with people on the other side of the political or ecclesiastical or familial aisle, there is much less talk. These are conversations we’re not having.

One interesting thing about the Bible is that it has a very different perspective on conversations. If we have a problem with someone, we should talk to them. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). This doesn’t mean we’re just letting off steam. It tells us everywhere in Scripture that we should do this in the right way: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Gal. 6:1).

If we should talk to people directly about even moral failings, how much more in matters of wisdom or strategy or finances or political views? We should be able to talk about these things openly and reasonably.

But that’s not what most of us do. Instead, we use what I call the best way not to help our relationships: gossip. Gossip is talking about difficulties you have others to someone other than that person. According to Merriam-Webster, a gossip is “a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others.”

Why is gossip the best way not to deal with things? Because it feels good to gossip. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” Gossip is like McDonald’s French Fries.

Why does it feel good? It builds a sort of intimacy with the person with whom you share the gossip. We like that feeling. It also provides some relief. When you are struggling with a difficult relationship, it feels good to let off steam. It also gets the focus off our own issues.

So, if it feels so good, why not do it?

  1. It doesn’t solve anything. Letting off steam freezes an issue in place by relieving the pressure without doing anything to make it better.
  2. People feel betrayed. How do you feel when you find out that two of your best friends are talking about the problems they have with you? The Proverbs tell us: “a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28).
  3. It’s generally unjust. The Proverbs warn: “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines” (Prov. 18:17). How many times have we heard one side of the story, and thought we had the whole story, only to find upon hearing the other side that there were things we had totally missed? It’s not fair to make a judgment based on hearing one side, however plausible it may seem and however much the person sharing the gossip may want us to take their side (cf. John 7:51).
  4. For the Christian, it is forbidden. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people . . . I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:16)

The best case scenario is that it doesn’t solve the problem. Worst case scenario is that it inflames it.

So, how do we get the strength to talk to people about difficult issues? In the weeks to come, I plan to write more on the items below, but here is a summary.

  1. Drink deeply of God’s love for you. People are important, but sometimes we make them more important than they are. God’s love is the ultimate source of love. People will disappoint us, but God is faithful. His love will never fail. The more we live out of God’s love, the less we will be reactive to how people respond to us.
  2. Learn to listen. Don’t start a conversation trying to prove your point. Ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers. James, the brother of Jesus, advised the church: “Let every person be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
  3. Show gentleness and respect. Learn to make things safe for people to share their opinion, and show that you honor them, even if you disagree with their particular perspective or action.
  4. Connect with people in an encouraging way. Our inclination should be to see the best in others and to view others as better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3–4). If we connect with people when the heat is off and take an encouraging stance, it’s much easier to talk about hard things when we need to.

One final warning here. I would encourage you to take this simply as advice for yourself. Don’t send it to someone whom you think is a gossip. King Solomon gave this very sound advice: “Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you—for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:22–23).

I challenge you for the rest of the week not to talk to anyone about problems you have with other people. Try it, and just see what happens. I think you will find it an interesting experiment. And if during that week, you really feel the need to talk about others, talk about them to God in prayer. Silent prayer.