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How To Approach Difficult Conversations

December 19, 2017


                     (Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash)


I love the Ender's series. I enjoyed the movie Ender's Game, but the books are something else. In fact I think the depth author Orson Scott Card goes into each character's development was too hard to put onto screen, hence we only have 1 movie out of the four books in the series. The series explores relationships and how people interact, and there is this line that I love. Ender Wiggin's says, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves."


Now Ender was using that understanding to destroy his enemy, but I think there is truth in that statement. When we understand a person's experiences, we often understand their motivations. And I believe that it is extremely rare that a person has truly horrifying motivations in their life. This is something that I learnt, that every person's actions is understandable in the light of what they have gone through. The problem is that we're often on the receiving end of a person's actions and it hurts! Being hurt has a way of shutting down our empathy.


I mean, if the person couldn't empathize with me and so they did something to hurt me, then why should I give them any of my empathy?


This is our natural response. But perhaps if we want to go further in our relationships we need to stop this cycle. If I were to act without empathy, without understanding, I am likely to hurt the person back. The hurt person then hurts me back. Which in turn leads to me... you get the picture.


I believe that this cycle happens subconsciously. We don't even really notice it! But I've learnt that I can ask myself a question that helps me to see where this cycle is at work in my life. So now when I am about to have a difficult conversation with a person who has hurt me, I ask myself, "In what ways am I seeing myself as a victim in this relationship?"


"That person isn't considering my needs."

"That person is being selfish."

"That person acted like a jerk."


When I see myself as victim, my walls go up and I get into fight or flight mode. When I recognise how I see myself as a victim, I can lower my walls and ask, "What is the unmet need in this relationship that I can fulfill?" I've learnt that I can bring understanding instead of a shield. If I'm not a victim, I don't have to go out of my way to protect myself. Then I can look beyond the person's actions and words and see that everything that they have done can be seen through the lens of unmet needs.

As I mentioned on Sunday, Jesus was (and still is!) the master of seeing unmet needs. Think about his interaction with Zacchaeus (Luke 19). He could see that Zacchaeus was starved of human interaction, and that he didn't feel like other people could love him. So instead of addressing his thieving ways, Jesus addressed the unmet need for love. This resulted in a radical change in Zacchaeus' life.


I'm definitely not at Jesus' level yet. Looking back at some interactions I've had over the last year I cringe when I see how big a shield I was carrying to some of them, and how little understanding I brought. If I had asked myself those 2 questions I would have approached those conversations very differently, which might have led to a more positive outcome.


At the same time I've also walked through those questions, lowered my shield and brought understanding and the conversation still didn't go the way I thought it could. In those moments I have to remember that I'm not a victim here, and that's when I leave the outcome in God's hands. I remind myself that God brings me peace and has shown me much grace, and I don't have to walk like a victim.


Our world needs less shields and more empathy. My prayer is that more people will be willing to let go of the victim perspective and bring more understanding into our world.


(Ps Nate's message on Did Jesus Really Say, "Do Not Judge" is available on podcast here http://bit.ly/2CY69p4


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