Three Powerful Truths About Relationships

teamEmotional Intelligence is a highly-desired commodity in any ‘people business.’ The particular filter with which we view our interactions with others will naturally affect the quality of those relationships. Unfortunately (or, sometimes, fortunately!) people who are not especially close will rarely confront problems directly. Calm and candid conversation often gives way to extremes of emotionalism or avoidance as a form of self-protection. Of course, in balance, these are nevertheless important values, so wisdom is needed in navigating this terrain. Cultivating trust that opens the heart and not just the head needs responses that embrace three powerful truths.

1. Compassion trumps Compliance.

Great teams and healthy relationships are based on trust. Compliance might sometimes be mandated, but when it has to be, a relational problem already exists. Hearts and minds need engagement by first breaking down walls of mistrust or suspicion that are often present because of the previous actions of others.

Servant leaders do this by genuinely valuing their people as colleagues or co-partners, not commodities. Character, competence and chemistry as Global Leadership Summit founder, Bill Hybels, suggests.

Of course, teams following leaders, children following parents, and employees following bosses will, at times, need to fall in line when rank is pulled. More urgent or important situations may warrant this, as can greater power gradients on some occasions. Parents will use more command and control measures, for instance, when children are younger.

As relationships mature, though, they become even more important to leverage, value and develop with wise leadership, not mere management.

Compassionate responses to relational difficulties or emotional reactions model the response of Jesus who sought to be a shepherd (Matthew 9:36) and not a schoolteacher. Reflecting the unconditional love of God tends to be easier when we are walking more closely with Him, too.

2. Respect trumps Rightness.

Being right often comes from a fear of how we might look if we are wrong. Sometimes, though, it is simply about desired outcomes, perhaps fulfilling a vision of a preferred future. Relationships of value are worth fighting for, albeit fairly, but not because of protecting our interests. Respecting people honours their intrinsic value, rather than pursuing a win-loss status.

Conflict often exposes a clash of values and therefore offers an opportunity for relational growth (after all, when iron sharpens iron just like people sharpen each other, according to Proverbs 27:17, then sparks will fly!)

Jesus’ approach to managing conflict in Matthew 18:15-20 prioritises relationship. Therefore, when emotions are stirred, we need to appeal to the heart and not just the head, so as to value the person and not just the outcome. Respecting people means accepting them, even if you don’t agree with them. It also needs us to sometimes wink at behaviours we can tolerate (where reasonable) in the interests of getting to the heart of a problem (if not to the heart of a person and, no, they are not the same thing!)

Relationship comes before resolving right versus wrong. This keeps us humble enough to consider other views as we respect those who hold them. It also prevents us from presuming motives that we cannot know, anyway.

3. Responsiveness trumps Rationalism

When people discuss concerns or problems, a response that shuts down transparency and trust is a tendency to intellectualise. Empathy is not identifying a similar situation from your own bank of experiences. It is also not processing and analysing to arrive at solutions, at least not initially. Exploring emotions at a relationally-appropriate level gauges what response is needed.

Without being abrupt or patronising, the sensitive use of questions and active listening will cultivate a sense of care in a way that values the individual and allows them to guide the degree and timing of any next steps.

Responsiveness here assumes a certain kind of conversation and, obviously, the tone would differ depending on the nature of the relationship or the subject under discussion. Rational responses that trivialise emotions or over-analyse circumstances, though, will typically characterise shallow relationships.

This can be especially problematic in relationships of equivalence, such as a marriage in which, say, a logical or intense response might trample on a moment of vulnerability and where each subsequent instance will erode trust and therefore intimacy.

The next time you are involved in a difficult relational situation, you may just have a perfect opportunity to practise better connectedness. The closer the relationship, the more important this skill is. Of course, tensions in some relationships will not be of your making. Reactions based on false facts or premises may make it hard, if not unreasonable, for you to own a piece of a conflict. Your response can, however, maximise the possibility of retrieving the relationship where the person, and not the principle, is pre-eminent.

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