Tuesday, April 04, 2017

How to Communicate When In Conflict

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Late 1980s photo on me with our MSU campus ministry theatre group.

One of the blessings Linda and I have had in our life is to know and be taught by David Augsburger. We were in a couples group with David and Nancy for two years. We dog-sat for them (they had Irish Setters). David was one of my seminary professors.  After hanging around him in these contexts, I felt I could be helped by meeting with him. David was kind enough to meet privately with me, and counsel me. At the time I did not understand his counseling approach. Only years later did some of this activate in me.

David is, in my mind, one of Christianity's greatest scholars on understanding anger and conflict, and ways to work through these things. Linda and I still use his book Caring Enough to Confront. David takes Ephesians 4:15 and develops a template that we use to this day. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others when we are in conflict? Ephesians provides two actions we are to take:

1. Speak truthfully

2. Speak lovingly

Both are needed. If we only speak truthfully, we could blow people away. I could tell you the truth in very unloving ways. Speaking truth without love injures people.

If we only speak lovingly, we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.

Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus asserted the truth, always in love.

Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

• I care about our relationship & I feel deeply about the issue at stake

• I want to hear your view & I want to clearly express mine

• I want to respect your insights & I want respect for mine

• I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings & I want you to trust me with yours

• I promise to stay with the discussion until we reach an understanding & I want you to stay with me until we've reached an understanding

• I will not trick, pressure, manipulate, or distort the differences & I want your unpressured, clear, honest views of our differences

• I give you my loving, honest respect & I want your caring-confronting response

When I communicate with Linda, these are the attitudes I have. Linda has the same attitudes with me. We were both blessed to learn these things from David many years ago. These teachings have been so important to us! As a young married couple we saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you are angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another.

That is the way out of what sometimes seem like irreconcilable differences.

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I am now writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017).