Have you ever been driving with someone, a spouse let’s say, and you offered up driving directions only to hear a sharp response like, “I know how to get there!” Statements like this are often followed by awkward silences and feelings of contention in the heart for both parties. Years ago my husband used to react to my driving suggestions in this way too. After such reactions I would feel unappreciated and hostile. My mind would go through mean justifications and accusations; many of which if released from my lips would have had the appearance of actual darts.
For a number of years of marriage I put up with these situations, and feelings. Actually, most of the time, I chose not to tell my driving direction ideas and sat in silence thinking how he was wasting so much time and how I knew a better way. Unfortunately, these kinds of experiences are all too common in relationships. All people in relationships need to correct each other from time to time and should be able to do so in a comfortable loving way. If a person masters the skill of lovingly correcting others, all relationships improve; from your spouse and children to the people you work with and associate with daily.
I don’t know if you noticed in the story at the beginning that I said my husband “reacted” in a certain way. I also “reacted” in a particular way to his “reaction” as well. The whole experience was about reacting. Contrary to popular opinion, reactions can be chosen. And, if chosen, the outcome of any situation can be better controlled. When I teach my Teaching Self-Government seminars and classes, parents gain skills to stay calm by learning how to bring up a situation for discussion and how to look deeper.
Even though my husband and I usually teach about the parent/child and husband/wife relationships, the skills we teach can be applied to any relationship. There are three steps to improving communication in any relationship; look deeper, describe and testify, and trust.
2 Cor. 4:18 says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
In relationships there are always the things which are easily seen, such as that a person is grumpy, whiny, or angry. These things are easily noticed by all people who associate with them. However, all three of these responses are reactions.’ They are not anything that can be corrected by another person who is not the parent of the person. The only person who can correct a reaction is the person choosing to react.
To fix a situation, whether with my children or with an angry co-worker, I always follow the scripture, by focusing on the things which are not seen. Those are the things that matter; they are the eternal. The thing that is not as easily seen, that needs to capture most of our attention, is the condition of the person’s heart, or the feeling of the person’s soul. The heart, or soul of a person is where the person chooses to make changes, so that is the place I focus on touching most. To see what is not seen requires looking deeper.
For instance, is the reason my husband is so angry when I offer driving directions because he senses I don’t trust his ability to problem solve? Then I have to ask myself, do I feel superior in problem solving? If the answer is yes then the problem isn’t with my husband at all; it is with me. He senses my judgment toward him and feels that he needs to defend himself. Don’t ever under-estimate the power your soul has to radiate your feelings.
To look deeper into the reason my husband is offended by my criticism of his driving, I have to ask myself why he would not appreciate my helpful advice. Then I should probably ask myself how often I offer up helpful advice and if the advice is always appropriate to offer up to another person or if it is just being overly critical of another.
I might also ask myself if my husband has ever really learned to accept criticism. Maybe he has learned along the journey of his life that if someone corrects you then it is appropriate to be offended whether the offense is justified or not. He could have just learned this behavior. Or, could I be criticizing my husband only because I feel stress?
As you can see, there are many questions I could ask myself about this situation, as well as a lot of questions about my own behaviors and feelings which might also be appropriate to look deeper into. Warning, to ask yourself these kinds of questions, it requires a humble, honest, teachable heart. Pride and justification will not find truth.
While the type of questioning above is encouraged and very useful, the most valuable question, is how would I feel if someone corrected my driving when I felt I knew where I was going and was trying to perform a service? In essence, how would I feel if I were in the exact same situation? What would I be thinking about before the criticism was extended and what would I think about after?
There is an old Indian saying that says, “Never judge a man until you have walked in his moccasins for three days.” This statement is true. Years ago I got the opportunity to walk in my husband’s driving moccasins and I didn’t like it one bit.
I was driving with a lady friend of mine on a rather long road trip. This friend became really stressed that we wouldn’t make our destination on time. She started watching everything I did in the car. She kept making order after order and became frustrated if I wasn’t driving up to speed or if I made a wrong turn. It was horrible. I couldn’t wait to get my friend out of the car and on to another topic. But, as soon as I got her out of the car and to the destination, she began talking about my driving to other people and how I was the reason we were late.
In good humor I took responsibility and acted unaffected, but in reality it bothered me that my service in offering to drive was treated so rudely. I finally knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the criticism. I was wearing my husband’s moccasins. After that day, I made a conscious effort not to ever waist my time criticizing something as trivial as driving again.
If you want to encourage change in someone, first put yourself in their shoes. Really seek to understand how they feel and why they make the choices they do. By looking deeper for what is not seen you will feel them. Only when you feel another person can you begin to change them.
Describe and Testify
Once you have gained understanding, show your understanding by not reacting. Instead of reacting I always teach to describe. The only way to stop yourself from that natural tendency to react according to your feelings is to teach yourself to use the feeling that you want to react to remind you to start describing instead.
I teach parents about the four basic skills all people need to learn to know how to self govern themselves. The fourth of these skills is called, “Disagreeing Appropriately.” The steps to disagreeing appropriately are:
1. Look at the person
2. Keep a calm voice and calm face
3. Say that you understand what they are thinking or why they are doing something
4. Share your ideas or concerns about the topic being discussed and propose a solution
Respect their decision
By describing what you understand about the person’s feelings and concerns, you are showing that you want to work with the person, not against them. They will especially feel this desire for cooperation if your heart is in it. This is describing.
The second part of this step is to testify. Often times people think of testifying only as something done in regards to religious material and gospel content. However, if properly put into perspective, all topics have gospel content or truth which can be declared so testifying is for all topics. For that matter, all people are spiritual beings, not merely people. Taking that into account the act of conversing and developing any relationship is spiritual by nature.
When talking to our Heavenly Father in prayer we act and speak by the Spirit. Likewise, when talking to another spiritual being, or person, we should also speak the language of truth, even the language of the Spirit. If you have the right Spirit with you when you are speaking then even the touchiest subject can be talked about and important truths can be shared.
Just as your soul feels the sincerity of other people’s souls, likewise the person you are talking to and attempting to correct will also feel the condition of your soul. That feeling in your soul is the most important element of the speaking part’ of your attempt to inspire another person to correct a behavior.
Step number one is to Look Deeper. This is a thinking step’ which very rarely involves talking. Step number two for communicating a change of heart is Describe and Testify. This step is the talking step’ of the interaction and the part where the Spirit of truth must be present. Step number three is Trust. This is the action step,’ and also the hardest part of the attempt to inspire another to make changes or correction in their life.
For such a simple word as trust, a heavy, often difficult action is required. Every person came to this earth with a desire to do good. We absolutely must trust in that divine make up of all people!
After you have explained that you understand why your neighbor’s dog likes to come to your lawn for his daily potty breaks and calmly suggested a remedy for the situation possibly even soliciting further suggestions from the neighbor, and decided upon a plan or both made new commitments, then the only thing left to do is trust that the goodness that was born in the person will prevail and that the person will choose to make a behavior change based on a change of heart and further understanding of you.
Trust is the hardest thing to do for many people. In order to trust you cannot judge or gossip about the situation afterward. You have to stop talking about whatever it is and choose to let the person handle their own behaviors. You have to be supportive, and kind. You have to accept the person for being human and expect that perfection will take time. And above all, you have to love the person. Your love will be the very thing which encourages a permanent change of heart and love of you. To really trust you have to do all these things.
There are two great positive consequences from choosing to do the action of trusting in another person’s desire and ability to change. First, the person will trust you too. If the person feels your faith in him to do good then he will know that your advice, and correction can be trusted and should be followed. So, in essence showing and voicing your trust offers you more opportunities to inspire change in the person. You have given the person safety in your relationship.
Second, if you choose to trust someone’s ability to change and choose good, then you are empowering them. You are taking the responsibility and stress off of yourself to change another person and giving it to the person who really always had the responsibility anyway, the person himself. With the added feeling of trust comes security, courage, vision and the power to change one’s self. Empowering another person is always a good idea because it makes permanent change.
The Three Steps and Parenting
Look Deeper, Describe and Testify, and Trust are all essential steps to parenting as well as the non parent/child relationships which have been described above and can be applied just as effectively. However, with children is it really important to describe more things and in more detail.
For instance if a child chooses not to make his bed in the morning, that needs to be discussed. If your room mate, or mother-in-law chooses not to make her bed in the morning, it probably isn’t a topic for your concern.
Once you assess that the situation with your child needs to be discussed go through the three steps: Look Deeper……..really understand their intentions, concerns, and their soul, Describe and Testify……… calmly show you understand and share your opinions and ideas in a non threatening way, and Trust………believe in the good within them and they will more likely believe in themselves and find more strength to conquer other hard behaviors too.
For families I also suggest having a system of checking up on the family and individual’s progress, and strongly recommend teaching the other three of the four basic skills as well. More on principles of Teaching Self-Government and effective parenting can be found on Nicholeen’s blog, http://teachingselfgovernment.com