Posts Tagged ‘conflict’


Understanding Layered Communication

March 22, 2014

Years ago, a man who had been married many more years than I told me some advice about wives.

He said: “If she says ‘Go ahead’ in response to something you want to do–and you notice she isn’t smiling and her arms are crossed in front of her–it isn’t permission, it’s a dare”.

Funny. Wise. Layered.

I owe much of my understanding of the dynamics of interpersonal communication to one of the greatest psychoanalysts of the 20th Century: Dr. William Glasser. What made Dr. Glasser so helpful to our society is he could take complicated subjects and make them so obvious and simple to understand.

Perhaps he is best known for his definition of communication. He defined all communication between two people as this: “It is only information. If you think it is more than that, you are self-deceived.”

Since marriage represents the most intimate dynamics of communication, they are also the most dangerous. If I misunderstand something a stranger says to me, it doesn’t matter that much. But if I make the same error with my life partner, it can be devastating. And after 30-plus years of doing counseling, I can attest that most marriage problems are communication difficulties.

We need to understand three things in order to make all communication easier.

First, what you are hearing is just information.
Second, if you believe otherwise, it is your problem, not the other person
Third, the main difficulty we have with what we hear other people say is that they have layered their communication and we often do not know it.

Let’s look at a standard marital conflict that illustrates all three parts.

Let’s say Jim has had a hard day at work. He was given an impossible task by his boss and it wasn’t going well. He is tired, frustrated, feeling abused and disrespected, and needing to rest and recuperate.

However, as soon as he comes through the door, his wife tells him all about how bad their two boys behaved at the grocery store after work. She never asks about his day, never notices the look of exasperation on his face.

Jim honestly can see that his wife is frustrated. At the same time, he needs support and rest. So, he tries to communicate all of this to Tonya his wife and says, “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” She is hurt by this and storms off to make dinner, slamming cupboards and huffing.

She assumed something Jim was communicating. She assumed wrongly. He was giving information about his desire to avoid more drama and the need to rest. She assumed he was communicating something about their relationship and his lack of caring for her. He gave her information. The rest of what happened was hers.

Taken at face value, his statement is fairly simple. He doesn’t want to talk about the kids at that moment. He didn’t say he would never talk about it. He didn’t say that he couldn’t care less about her feelings. His communication was a case of simple information. Tonya did not understand this or accept it.

This leads us to the second truth about communication. Her emotional reaction was her problem. Any time we react to information being given to us we are responsible completely for our reaction. The other person is only responsible for the information they gave us. In Tonya’s case, she carried the frustration of being the only care-giver that day in the household. She was angry that Jim seemed to be reticent to help her. She assumed his motivations. All of these assumptions and reactions are her responsibility. If she had been wise–and we will talk about how to use this approach with any other person–she would have asked Jim why he didn’t want to talk about it at that moment. She chose to be hurt and that was her choice. Jim did not make her do that.

Now for the most complicated part of this scenario: Tonya reacted to Jim’s dual layers of information with a multi-layered communication response. I define multi-layered communication as any information which is layered with one or more of the following:

1. Emotions
2. Bitterness or resentment
3. Sarcasm
4. Physical body language instead of words
5. Unspoken assumptions
6. False beliefs
7. Distraction
8. Revenge or hatred

Let’s analyze Jim and Tonya.

Jim had two distinct layers of information:

1. He didn’t want to talk about the current situation at that moment
2. He was angry and tired and did not state this up front.

Jim made the situation a degree harder by not giving the second piece of information before the first one.

Tonya had several layers of communication which she put across using passive-aggressive behavior:

1. Anger at the boys
2. Frustration that she was the primary care-giver and Jim did not seem to be interested
3. A desire to hurt Jim for the perceived hurt Jim had laid on her.
4. Perhaps a deep-seated belief that people would not assist her when she needed it.

Tonya only expressed the first layer and let Jim assume the existence of the other layers. Because neither of them had carefully dissected their own layers before communicating, they could not connect with each other mentally or emotionally. This is the type of fight that can linger for weeks, months or even years if not corrected.

In the next article, we’ll dissect the 8 layers and examine how to attempt to give other people information about each one.


Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 5: Find Gentle Friends

December 26, 2013

Finding Healthy Friends

I have known Lisa for ten years now. Last week, Lisa re-invented herself online. So far, this is the fourth time she has developed a completely new Facebook page. I was her counselor for two of those years, so she always adds me back on her page when it is reconstructed under a different profile. Therefore, I have a front-row seat for the continuing soap opera that is Lisa’s life.

(Just so you don’t hang in suspense, I have Lisa’s permission to share her story. Her name isn’t Lisa. But you already figured that one out.)

Lisa changes her Facebook identity to escape people she used to call friends. I don’t know if she sees it or not, but her friendships often go the same way each time. At first, she and the other person are doing everything together. They go clubbing together, take 100 selfies together, and work out together. They hit “like” for every single status update and remark constantly at how beautiful the other looks in every picture: You get the idea.

Then, after about a year, Lisa treats her BFF like a pariah. She publicly criticizes her for drunken texting, stealing her boyfriend, her car and her money.

Next, she enlists other friends to completely destroy this person’s character. Then, when the other person strikes back–quel surprise!–she goes all paranoid and retreats into her “safe” world. This always ends up with a few weeks of whining at how no one in this world ever treats anyone nicely. That’s when she changes her Facebook page and starts the entire cycle over again.

Lisa doesn’t know how to pick friends. Her 8,000 pictures of drunken escapades with her “friends” and the inevitable complaints of how the world has “done her wrong” bears testimony to this. But I can say with a lot of confidence that Lisa isn’t the only one. Most people have a lot in common with Lisa–she’s just the extreme.

I’ve often taught my counselees that healthy people attract healthy friends and unhealthy people attract unhealthy friends. But these days, I’m not sure which comes first. Do we get healthier with healthier friends or do we choose better because we are becoming better at spotting the healthy ones? It’s probably a little of both.

Have you ever wondered why there is so much drama among your closest friends? If you wonder that, you are not choosing your friends as wisely as you could. Just assuming you want to get healthier and desire to have healthier friends, this essay focuses on how to pick them.

The Standard

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter Ten, Jesus sends out his twelve closest friends and tells them to announce he is going to be visiting the towns surrouding the Sea of Galilee. They are his advance party. Then, he gives them a clue into one of the most difficult skills–how to find out if people are safe to be around. Here’s what he advises the disciples about coming into a new town: (Matthew 10:11-13)

11 “Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town. 12 When you enter the home, give it your blessing. 13 If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing.

They were told to “search around” for a worthy person. What this implies is it is not always that easy to find new friends, and we all need to take our time to do so. I speak accurately when I say that the people we make friends with quickly often turn out to be less than desirable. Truly healthy people are mildly skeptical of bringing new people into their life. They like to take their time to choose close friends. Those who do it quickly will probably be gone just as quickly.

Then we see Jesus advising to look for a “worthy” person. The Greek word translated “worthy” truly means “balanced”. These are the people with many interests, not focusing exclusively on one path or idea. Hyperfocused people do not make great friends. If they are totally obsessed with a habit, sport, lifestyle or job you will never be able to compete with it. Worthy friends are those who know they cannot have a lot of friends, but neither can they allow themselves to have too few. They strike a good balance between work and fun, spiritual and physical, family and friends.

Well, all that sounds wonderful, spiritual and godly. But how does  it work in real life? What would a healthy friend look like in my real world situation? Here are four things I would look for in a ‘worthy’ person:

1. Good Reputation: When you introduce this person to your other close friends and family members they are in general agreement this is a good person to have in your life. If all your significant people warn you that there is something wrong with the person–assuming you have people in your life who occasionally tell you the whole truth–you should probably sit up and take notice. Unless you are starting over from scratch with a whole new set of friends, those who know you best can spot the problem people long before you will. That’s why Jesus says to search around for them. The Greek word for “search” means to ask questions and inquire of others.  If people you respect don’t like the person, it’s a good chance they are dangerous for you.

In this article in Psychology Today, the author warns that if friends bring out the worst in you it means you are mirroring the main features of their life. If you find you act better and healthier around someone, most likely they are healthy themselves.

2. They respect boundaries and encourage you to have other friends: If a person is healthy, they do not get jealous easily. They already know they are only a part of your life. Unhealthy people tend to become possessive and controlling when they feel their hold on others is slipping. An unhealthy person calls at all hours of the day or night. They tell stories about you that are inappropriate. By contrast, healthy people are glad that you are spending time with other friends and truly like to see you have your own personal space. When they do call, they often ask permission to speak to you for awhile.

3. How they deal with conflict determines how good a friend they can be. This is the high-water mark for friendships: How you handle conflict reveals how healthy you are. If they are a person who tells you–and only you–how they feel about things you have said or done, then you know they have learned how to do conflict properly. If they listen to your side of the disagreement, take time to understand your point of view and apologize when they are wrong, keep that friend for life. Obviously, the opposite is also true.

Lisa had one “friend” who slashed her tires because she called her a “drunken whore” in a bar one night. Now, I don’t think either of them handled things better than a five-year-old, but when someone resorts to felonies to get their point across, they are toxic.

4. They don’t have a lot of drama in their life. When you talk with them, a worthy friend is more interested in hearing about your life than constantly talking about theirs. Oh, they will eventually reveal lots of stuff from their inner world and will invite you to share in their private life. But they aren’t dealing with four exes who all want to kill them, three friends who have stolen from them, ex drug-dealers who want their money back etc. To some, they may seem boring, but they seem that way because they are careful with their friendships and don’t hitch themselves to losers. If you are their friend, count yourself fortunate.

Lisa and I have talked for hours lately on this issue of healthy friendships. She honestly told me she doesn’t think anyone she knows is healthy. I asked her if she knew what that meant. What she told me was both revealing and insightful.

“I am probably someone who is not healthy enough yet for healthy people to hang with.”

She’s right. But we’re working on it.



How to Do Inductive Bible Study #2: Special Observations

December 13, 2011

 With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. This is different than other methods of studying the Bible that people use where they go looking for verses that back up what they already believe. So how do you do Inductive Bible Study?

When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.

In the first lesson, we saw how you can use your basic observation skills and the “reporter’s questions” to milk meaning out of the Bible section you are studying. But sometimes, just looking at the words will not give you enough of the meaning to build an interpretation. There are four special observations that also need to be made and in this lesson we’ll go through all four using a parable from Luke chapter 11:5–8:  The parable of the Friend at Night.

 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

From this passage, let’s see the four special observations that we need to make while studying a passage.

1. Contrasts: The easiest way to begin building meaning and interpretation out of any story or teaching is to look at the elements that contrast. There are easy contrasts to spot that use language (eg. “Not this…but that” and “He said…but she said”). However, sometimes the contrasts are not all that easy to spot at first glance. In this passage, there are several contrasts:

  • A friend has come…I have no food
  • Don’t bother me…I can’t get up
  • Lend me three loaves…a friend of mine has come on a journey (a contrast of roles: one supplies food, the other is traveling)
  • My children and I are in bed…you go to him at midnight
  • even though…yet because of the shameless audacity he will get up

The purpose of the contrast is to show the flow of ideas, action, character and plot. If you can spot where there is a contrast, you will know where the critical points of meaning are found.

2. Conflict: Conflict is a contrast where two things are actively ( or in some cases, passively) opposing one another. In this scene, there is the conflict between the friend at the door and the man in the bed. There is the conflict between the friendship and the audacity. There is the conflict between the need to eat and the need to stay in bed and sleep. Conflict often tells us what we are supposed to be watching for. They are like beacons telling us that something needs to be changed, or needs to be addressed, or needs to be heeded.

3. Repetitive Words: Often this is an observation made more easily in a longer passage of Scripture. For instance, it is often necessary when studying an entire book of the Bible inductively to see the key words that flow all through the book. But in this passage, we see a couple of words that repeat. Obviously the word “friend” is mentioned numerous times. When we come back to interpretation keys later in our lessons, we’ll return to this passage and we’ll see the word “friend” is the key to a proper interpretation of this parable. “Bread” is mentioned a couple of times, as is the phrase “get up”. These are also key ideas that will come out in the interpretation.

4. Unusual Concepts: This passage contains a concept which at first glance may not seem obvious. But when you are asking questions of the passage (as we did in lesson #1), you often make observations that raise other questions. For instance, in this passage we read about a man traveling at night. Was this a practice they did a lot in those days? Was it safe to do so? Why did this guy need to be fed in the middle of the night? Asking questions like this will go a long way in solving the meaning of the Scripture you are studying. If you don’t ask those questions, you may find that the Bible is just a collection of sentences that don’t form any real ideas in your mind. Or, you may have wondered why it is significant that they guy can’t get up because of his children. Is he afraid of waking them up? What were the houses like back then? How would the father getting up affect the children? These questions form a great backbone in the future interpretation.

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