I’ve shared with you before about how I have seen a professional counselor a few times in my life. As I look back on the patterns of when I have sought this kind of help, they seem to have occurred particularly in seasons of transition or change, times when I have felt like the things that anchor me (relationships, locations, rhythms, school/work, church) became precisely the spaces in which I have felt unmoored. These times of counseling have been incredibly formative, teaching me a great deal about myself and how I have and should participate within the relationships I value most.
One such lesson is about how to have conversations with family and friends in the midst of the change and disruption. You and I both know that change inevitably produces some form of conflict, and conflict often stymies meaningful conversation, and the absence of that meaningful conversation leads to fractured relationships, and that which often remains is that which none of us desire: anger, hurt, indifference, absence.
I think about the importance of conversation a great deal, as my days are filled in dialogue with people I love. I see our culture moving at such a rapid pace, where slow, open dialogue between people of difference is increasingly rare at the expense of quick reaction, hot outrage, and rash opinions. And just like the seasons of life amidst change where I sought counseling, our church too is going through unprecedented change. This Sunday, we will vote to unmoor ourselves from some physical space and anchor ourselves more firmly to one house in which to worship, fellowship, and grow. Should the recommendations for Phase One be affirmed, soon thereafter Sunday School classes will relocate, offices will move, and we will rethink the shape of our fellowship gatherings in different space. Now more than ever, clear and open conversation with one another within our beloved community is of highest priority.
Because they have been helpful for me as I grow and deepen in my commitment to open dialogue, let me share with you some helpful tips for meaningful conversation between two people. Please hear these in the spirit of encouragement as you seek these out with one another! These stem from John Gottman’s work, and you can engage at a deeper level with his work and research at The Gottman Institute’s website here: http://gottman.com.
1. Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You.” When you start sentences with “I” you are less likely to seem (or be!) critical, and you’re less likely to receive a defensive response. Instead of saying “You are not listening to me,” you can say, “I don’t feel like you are listening right now.”
2. Repeat back to each other what you’re hearing. This effective tool of summarizing someone else’s words for them and repeating them back ensures that what you’re hearing matches what the other person is saying.
3. Do all things in love. Assume the best intention of the one with whom you are dialoguing. Practice the vulnerability that you hope to receive. Be kind!
Entering into holy conversation is transformative for both parties, and by extension, for our church. And if we listen closely, we might just hear the voice of God. May it be so!
Together in the work of Love,