From the book
“CARING ENOUGH TO CONFRONT”
[In the family and outside the family - Keith Hunt]
by DAVID AUGSBURGER
Care-fronting: The Creative Way ThroughConflict
A good word: Caring. A bad word: Confronting.
Together they provide the balance of love and power which lead to effective human relationships.
The more common practice is to keep these distinct and separate.
There is a time for caring.
There is a time for confronting.
Each in its own time.
Care when caring is called for, confront when confrontation is required.
Each in its own right. Caring dare not be contradicted by any mixture of confrontation. And confronting must not be contaminated by any admixture of caring. Each weakens the other. To confront powerfully, lay care aside. To care genuinely, candor and confrontation must be forgotten, for the moment at least.
When I'm angry, I confront. To talk of caring at a moment like that would be false. When I care deeply about another, I cannot confront because hurting another is the very last thing I want.
A third word: Care-fronting. A good word.
Care-fronting is offering genuine caring that bids another grow. (To care is to welcome, invite and support growth in another.)
Care-fronting is offering real confrontation that calls out new insight and understanding. (To confront effectively is to offer the maximum of useful information with the minimum of threat and stress.)
Care-fronting unites love and power. Care-fronting unifies concern for relationship with concerns for goals. So one can have something to stand for (goals) as well as someone to stand with (relationship) without sacrificing one for the other, or collapsing one into another. Thus one can love powerfully and be powerfully loving. These are not contradictory. They are complementary.
“That was a tasteless thing to do, just like your mother. . .” your husband mutters over dinner. You swallow twice at food gone flat, freeze into angry silence, get up from the table. (Familiar routine. He cuts. You retreat to lick the wound.)
You see in his eyes that he knows your next move— retreat to the bedroom, an evening and night of cold, withdrawn anger. When you feel rejected, you reject. (So? He cuts you off, off you go to sulk.)
"What's the point in running?" you ask yourself. "The longer I brood, the more I hurt. One of these times I'll tell him just how I feel." (Good! Say what you feel, say what you want, say where you are!)
Now is the time, you decide. Your feelings rush out. "When you criticize me like that, I feel rejected. I hurt. I usually run. But what I really want is to get around the wall between us and be able to feel close to you again. And I want you to respect me as me. I am not my mother. I am who I am." He's looking surprised. He's not used to hearing you describe your feelings so clearly. He's seldom heard you say what you really want.
When cut by another's sharp words, you decide, silent withdrawal is self-defeating. What matters most is getting in touch again. I can confront by saying what I really want. I care enough to say what I really feel.
Care-fronting is the way to communicate with both impact and respect, with truth and love.
"Speaking the truth in love" is the way to mature right relationships.
Care-fronting has a unique view of conflict. Conflict is natural, normal, neutral, and sometimes even delightful. It can turn into painful or disastrous ends, but it doesn't need to. Conflict is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Conflict simply is. How we view, approach and work through our differences does—to a large extent—determine our whole life pattern. There are multiple views.
I might view conflict as a given, as a fixed matter of fate, explaining, "We just can't get along—we're incompatible— we'll never understand each other—that's all there is to it," then my life pattern would be one of avoiding threat and going my own safe, secure, well-armored way.
I could see conflict as crushing, "If we clash, I'll be judged—I'll be rejected—our friendship will fall through," then my life pattern would be acting the nice guy, quickly giving in to keep things comfortable.
I could view conflict as an inevitable issue of right and wrong, "I owe it to you, to me, to others, to God, to defend my truth and show you your error." Then my life would be rigid, perhaps perfectionistic, and judgmental.
I might begin to see conflict as a mutual difference to be resolved by meeting each other half way. "I'll come part way, you come part way. Let's cooperate, compromise or put our heads together in some joint way." Then my life pattern will be a mediating, meet-me-in-the-middle style of one-for-me-and-one-for-you cooperation.
I can come to see conflict as natural, neutral, normal. I may then be able to see the difficulties we experience as tensions in relationships and honest differences in perspective that can be worked through by caring about each other and each confronting the other with truth expressed by love.
Each of these life patterns, or a combination of two, three or four of the five, characterizes the conflict styles of most adults in your life. If you have them in the order listed, you are frequently frustrated, misunderstood, alienated or just painfully confused about yourself and others. If your views are in reverse order, you're already chuckling and feeling good about the skills you either inherited or learned for resolving conflict. New skills can be learned. You'll add at least one by the end of this chapter.
"He's stealing me blind," you say, numb with anger. “Over $300 must have come in across the counter today, and his cash register ticket shows $175. Of all the stupid blunders, going into a partnership with my brother-in-law has got to be the all-time winner,” you say. Opening your pharmacy together had seemed so right. But in the first nine months you've barely turned a profit.
"The rat. He's been pocketing the cash, ringing up no-sales, or avoiding the register altogether." Whatever the system, he's picking you clean.
"I'll get him. I'll fix his wagon good, the embezzler." Oh, but you can't. It'll hurt your sister more man him, and she's just pulling away from a long depression.
“I’ll shut up and get out. He can buy my half and have the whole thing—debt, mortgage and all—right in his inadequate lap.” Not so easy. Your home was mortgaged too for the operating capital. You're in all the way. To get out, you'll have to let him know you know.
"I'll give in and just sit on it for the time being. I'll wait for the auditor to catch it, or for him to hang himself by getting even more greedy. (Maybe if I give him a bonus, or commend him more for his work it will make him unbearably guilty.) "I'll go halfway, I'll go along with him for a while, not say a thing, just stick so close he'll have to play fair." But breathing down his neck as you peer over his shoulder is a temporary compromise solution. You can't be there all the time. "I've got to confront him with the goods. There's no other way out of the mess. But how do I do it?''
The five options: (1) I'll get him, (2) I'll get out, (3) I'll give in, (4) I'll meet you halfway, or (5) I care enough to confront, are the basic alternatives open in most conflict situations.
1. “I’ll get him” is the I-win-you-lose-because-I'm-right-you're-wrong position in conflict. From this viewpoint, the attitude toward conflict is that the issues are all quite clear—and simple. Someone is right—totally right, and someone is wrong—completely wrong. Fortunately, I'm right (as usual) and you're wrong. (Except, in this case, it could prove to be someone else besides or instead of truth— on my side. It's my duty to put you right. This "win-lose" stance uses all power and little or no love. Goal is valued above relationship. "My way is the only way," the person feels.
2. “I’ll get out” is the I'm-uncomfortable-so-I'll-withdraw stance toward conflict. The viewpoint here is that conflicts are hopeless, people cannot be changed; we either overlook them or withdraw. Conflicts are to be avoided at all costs. When they threaten, get out of their way.
Withdrawal has its advantages if instant safety is the all-important thing. But it is a way out of conflict, not a way through. And a way out is no way at all.
In this lose-lose stance everyone loses. There is no risk of power, no trusting love. "Show me to the nearest exit," the person requests over the shoulder. It's a no-way or any way response of flight.
3. “I’ll give in” is the I’ll-yield-to-be-nice-since-I-need-your-friendship approach. This perspective on conflict says that differences are disastrous. If they come out into the open, anything can happen. Anything evil, that is. It's far better to be nice, to submit, to go along with the other's demands and stay friends.
Yielding to keep contact will serve you well in many situations. But as a rule, it falls short. You become a doormat. A nice guy or gal. Frustrated. Yet smiling. The more tense and tight on the inside, the more generous and submissive on the outside.
4. "I'll meet you halfway" is the I-have-only-half-the-truth-and-I-need-your-half position. The attitude is one of creative compromise. Conflict is natural, and everyone should be willing to come part way in an attempt to resolve things. A willingness to give a little will lead to a working solution which is satisfactory to everyone.
Compromise is a gift to human relationships. We move forward on the basis of thoughtful, careful consensus and compromise in most decisions in conflict. But it calls for at least a partial sacrifice of deeply held views and goals which may cost all of us the loss of the best to reach the good of agreement.
When we begin with a decision to compromise, we run the risk that my half of the truth added to your half may not give us the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We may have two half-truths. Or the combination may produce a whole untruth. Only when we care enough to tussle with truth can we test, retest, refine and perhaps find more of it through our working at it seriously.
5. "I care enough to confront" is the I-want-relationship-and-I-also-want-honest-integrity position. Conflict is viewed as neutral (neither good nor bad) and natural (neither to be avoided nor short-circuited). Working through differences by giving clear messages of “I care” and "I want,'' which both care and confront, is most helpful.
This is interpersonal communication at its best. Caring— I want to stay in respectful relationships with you, and confronting—I want you to know where I stand and what I'm feeling, needing, valuing and wanting.
I care about our
I want to hear your
I want to respect your
I trust you to be able to
handle my honest feelings.
I promise to stay with
the discussion until
we've reached an
I will not trick, pressure,
manipulate, or distort
I give you my loving,
I feel deeply about the issue at stake.
I want to clearly express
I want respect for
I want you to trust me
I want you to keep working with me until we've reached a new understanding.
I want your unpressured, clear, honest view of our differences.
I want your caring-confronting response.
The "I-leave-I-lose" quadrant has little commitment to being either assertive or affirmative (thus measured on the one-to-nine scales it is called a 1/1 stance).
The “I-yield-to-win-acceptance” quadrant shows high commitment to maintaining or deepening relationships of approval but little to expressing a personal commitment to any threatening goal (thus it is high on affirmation, but is non-assertive in a 1/9 stance).
The "I-win-you-lose" quadrant is all assertiveness, often pure aggressiveness with little affirmation of the personal elements which prize relationships (thus 9/1).
The center of the diagram is the cooperative or compromising "Let's-each-come-halfway, meet-me-in-the-middle" stance (thus 5/5).
The “I-can-care-and-confront” quadrant is the caring and confronting stance which places high value on both personal relationships and personal goals by seeking to create mutual relationships which work out joint goals (thus 9/9).
Each of these responses has its place in life. Each style of behavior has its appropriate time, situation and use.
The most effective usages are to begin insistently by (1) caring and confronting. If this is not effective in calling out a joint effort at reaching a mutually satisfactory solution, then (2) movement to a cooperative-compromise stance is well advised. This is hopefully a temporary solution which will open the opportunity to move toward enhanced caring and increased candor. If this fails, (3) it is wise to move toward a yield-to-maintain-relationship stance. Not as an end state, but as an intermediate commitment to build relationship so that more effective conversations and negotiations may follow. Only if this is rejected is it wise to move to (4) a win-lose stance of affirming goals even at the cost of sacrificing relationships. The hope, even in taking this assertive stance, is that one will be able to clarify the situation sufficiently to return to an equally affirmative and assertive relationship. If all of these prove ineffective, last choice (5) is a leave-and-lose move of withdrawal. Regretfully, one respects the other's right to refuse, reject, or withdraw for a period of separate growth and discovery. Hopefully, the conflict is alleviated by this, but the story has not reached the end.
Of the five options in conflict situations—(1) I win—you lose, (2) I want out, I'll withdraw, (3) I'll give in for good relations, (4) I'll meet you halfway, (5) I can care and confront—the last is the most effective, the most truly loving, the most growth-promoting for human relationships. But often it will be not the starting point but the long term goal.
When another comes on all “I win—you lose,” it may be appropriate to respond with an "I'll give in for good relations'' until the immediate storm is past. Then you can move back to an “I can care and confront" discussion.
When another responds immediately with an "I want out—I withdraw" attitude, choosing to work toward a compromise or a temporary focus on relationships can be appropriate for the moment to affirm your deep interest in continuing friendship.
But moving back to care-confront openness as soon as possible is important to you both.
Rigid fixation in any one style or exaggerated dependence on any one behavior will seldom be effective. The ability to respond in varied ways and the flexibility to match one's response to the shape a conflict is taking, are crucial skills to be added to year by year.
As a model of the ability to respond genuinely and appropriately with both love and power in balance, two millennia of Christians have looked to the confrontive, caring and creative relationships modeled by Jesus of Nazareth. When examining His responses to various situations by using the language of conflict styles, one is immediately struck by His willingness to use any and all of the five as appropriate to His goals of redemptive compassion.
When the less-than-friendly hometown people of Nazareth rejected His message of confronting love, He chose to withdraw (see Luke 4:14-30). He cut off conversation and debate with the Pharisees when the point of clear rejection had arrived (see John 11:45-57).
Jesus was also free to act in an "I win—you lose" manner when this was the way to clearest understanding. He confronted the hucksters and hustlers in the Temple on win-lose terms (see Mark 11:11-19). Or read His clear statements to the religious leaders in Matthew 23, given after they had willed and arranged for His death.
At His arrest, during His interrogation, throughout His trial, in His unjust beating, and even through His execution, Jesus chose to submit to the anger of others, absorb it, and speak back the word of forgiveness, grace and acceptance.
But no one has cared—and confronted—with greater effectiveness or more simple clarity than did Jesus.
To the would-be executioners of an accused adulteress, Jesus listened, waiting to hear their persistent questioning, to record all charges in the dust. Caring. Then He said, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.” Confrontation.
To the woman, He said, “Where are they all—did no one condemn you?” …. “No one, sir,” “Neither do I condemn you.” Warm, understandable care. "Go away now and do not sin again." Clear, unmistakable confrontation (John 8:7,10,11, Phillips).
To the rich, vain, conceited young ruler, Jesus listened, responded clearly, then looked at him and loved him. Then Jesus confronted. "Go, sell all, give to die poor, and come follow me." Clear enough (see Mark 10).
To Nicodemus (see John 3), to the outcast minority-group woman at the public watering place (see John 4), to the mayor of Capernaum whose son is at the point of death (see John 4) Jesus cared and confronted. He spoke truth in love. He was truth. He was love.
In his letter to Christians at Ephesus, Paul described the nature of Christian maturity as modeled in Jesus' own integration of truth and love:
So shall we all at last attain to the unity inherent in our faith and our knowledge of the Son of God - to mature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ…. Let us speak the truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ (Eph.4:l3,15, NEB).
John summarized the presence of God among us in Jesus with these same words:
So the Word became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw his glory, . . .full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NEB).
Truth with love brings healing.
Truth told in love enables us to grow.
Truth in love produces change.
Truth and love are the two necessary ingredients for any relationship with integrity. Love—because all positive relationships begin with friendship, appreciation, respect. And truth—because no relationship of trust can long grow from dishonesty, deceit, betrayal; it springs up from the solid stuff of integrity.
"Confrontation plus caring brings growth just as judgment plus grace brings salvation," says Howard Clinebell, Jr., a well-known pastoral counselor.
These are the two arms of genuine relationship: Confrontation with truth; affirmation with love.
I grow most rapidly when supported with the arm of loving respect, then confronted with the arm of clear honesty. Confronting and caring stimulate growth.
This is how God relates to us. When we speak of God's relationship with man we have historically used other words.
Judgment and grace lead to salvation.
God's judgment—radical honesty about truth—confronts us with the demands of disciplined maturity.
God's grace—undeserved love—reaches out to accept and affirm us at the point we know ourselves to be unacceptable.
Judgment cuts, even kills. If God dealt with us only in judgment, who could stand? If God reached out to us only in love, it would be a cheap grace without integrity. Mere divine permissiveness. "Anything goes" as far as heaven is concerned. Not so!
Judgment blended with grace.
Confrontation matched with caring. Truth spoken in love.
Honesty, truth, trust, and love. These all interlock and intertwine in the biblical statements on relationships.
Love in all sincerity. . . .Care as much about each other as about yourselves (Rom. 12:9,16, NEB).
Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men's sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance (1 Cor. 13:5-7, NEB).
"Love your neighbor as yourself." But if you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction (Gal. 5:14,15, NEB).
No, let us speak the truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ. . .Bonded and knit together by every constituent joint, the whole frame grows through the due activity of each part, and builds itself up in love (Eph.4:l5,16, NEB).
For Further Experience
1. Do a mental rehearsal of both caring and confronting in conflicts you experienced today or anticipate tomorrow. Place the other person in a chair in front of you and hold out your left hand saying, "I do care, I want to respect you, I want your respect." Alternate by reaching out with the right hand to say, "But I want you to know how I feel. I want to tell you where I am. I have this goal in our relationship." Work both sides of yourself. Become aware of which is more difficult. In which are you least practiced? Stay with it until feelings of caring and statements of goal both become cleaR.
2. Check back through your relationship of the past week. Fill in appropriate situations.
I win, you lose stance:
I want out, I withdraw attitude:
I'll give in for good relations:
I'll meet you halfway:
I can care and confront:
Which was effective? Which was most comfortable? Which was used most frequently? Which do you want to use more often?
I want to hear you, see what you see, feel what you feel
I want to be heard. Hear me as I hear you, Listen, I'm listening to you.
So I will speak simply with clear word windows that let you see all the way in to where I live, laugh, and cry.
A Simplified Speech Style
"It's been months since I really talked with my husband; we've grown so far apart. He has his life; I have mine. We see each other often but we rarely meet."
Your husband's job demands long hours. He has no time to hear you. Your job takes a lot of you. You're too tired to reach out to him. Now there's not even the old noise level of conflicts.
"Five years without conversation," you say. "We need to reshuffle our cue cards and deal each other a new hand. If I only had the courage to suggest that tonight, suggest we try to find out what each of us expects from the other now. If I could listen well enough to invite him to start talking. Or better, I could ask about his needs, find out what he's wanting from me. Then perhaps we could begin to hear each other without fear."
Good relationship is two-way communication. When one side of the conversation is lost the relationship is dying. To the degree that equal responsiveness is lost, to that extent the relationship ceases to exist.
To love another is to invite, support, protect that person's equal right to hear and be heard.
When I listen: I want to hear you. To hear deeply. To hear openly. To attend to what is said, how it is said, what feeling is conveyed, and what is wanted. I want to hear you with the inner ear that is attuned to the feelings, the joys, the hurts, the angers, the demands of another.
I want to hear you, by going beyond just hearing myself interpreting you. I am aware of two strong tendencies: (1) to "read in" my interpretations as I listen and miss what you are wanting to tell me; and (2) to "read out" and totally miss what I don't want to hear from you because it threatens, confronts, rejects, ignores me and my viewpoint.
I want to hear you accurately, so I'll need to check out what I hear at crucial points to be as certain as possible that my meanings match your meanings. I get an inkling of what your meanings are from your words, your tone of voice, your face, gestures, and body movements. But it is only an inkling. I must check it out at times by replaying what I heard for your approval, until you agree that you have been heard. I want to hear deeply, clearly, accurately enough that I am able—to some real extent—to feel what you feel, hurt where you hurt, and want for you the freedom to be all you are becoming.
When I speak: I want to speak simply. To say what I mean in the clearest, shortest, frankest words I know. I want to reach out with my meanings to meet your meanings. (Communication is a meeting of meaning.) Knowing that meanings are in people, not in words, I want to be as clear and open about my meanings as I can. (Words don't mean. People mean.)
I want to speak personally. Since I can speak only from my experience, I want to say, "I think. . . ," "I feel. . . ," "I want. . . ," instead of "People think. . ." or "You get the feeling. . ." To declare my personal feelings and convictions calls for courage. There is no risk in saying, "Most people," "it seems," "sometimes feel," "to some extent. . ." I will risk; I will reveal my true self; I will be increasingly vulnerable to you by respecting your perceptions equally with my own.
I want to speak for myself, not for others. I will not say, "We think. . ." "they say. . ." "people feel. . ."or "it's often said. . ."
I will not try to speak for you. I will not say, "I think you think I think. . ." I will not try to second guess your feelings, thoughts, attitudes. I do not care for mind reading or mind readers. I want to listen as you speak to me, and respond.
I want to speak honestly. Truthing it is trusting others with my actual feelings and viewpoints. Avoiding honest statements of real feelings and viewpoints is often considered kindness, thoughtfulness, or generosity. More often it is the most cruel thing I can do to others. It is a kind of benevolent lying.
Selective honesty is not honesty at all. I find myself using it (1) to avoid real relationships with others when I'm too rushed or bushed to give them my time; (2) to avoid clear confrontation with others; (3) to manipulate situations or facts to protect myself or others. I don't like such defense systems, no matter how comfortable they may seem. I want to be truthful in all situations. I want to pay others the compliment of believing they can handle honest feelings. I want to put out what I feel, where I am, how I think. I want to speak directly. I do not want to talk about people when it is possible to talk to them. Whatever I have to say to you, I want you to hear first from me.
I want to negotiate differences with others in clear, respectful, truthful ways of speaking and acting. I want conflict to call out the best in myself and others. I want both the truth as I see it and respect for the other to be clear in my responses, verbal and nonverbal.
When situations of conflict become difficult, I want to speak clearly, honestly, personally, directly, in simple statements. This provides the greatest impact with the least confusion or distortion. I may or may not be able to break through the conflict to understanding, but I can express both love and truth best by refusing the "whys" and the "it's your faults."
"It's okay, Honey, no problem," you say to your husband on the phone. It's the fourth night in a row he's chosen to work late and called you with last-minute apologies. It's not really okay with you, even though you keep saying it is. But that's always been your style. Be agreeable, give in to others, say everything's okay, bottle your feelings until finally you explode over some stupidly simple thing and say things you hate as soon as you hear them.
Always giving in is no good. Accumulating grievances is even less helpful. Dishonest statements to cover it all is even worse. And when the anger eruption comes, it's totally ineffectual.
“I’ve got to start dealing with things as they come up, not just postpone my feelings and let them simmer,” you say. "Like that phone call right now. I could have said, 'No, it's not okay. I have special things planned. I am irritated at your being out the last three nights. I want to be with you tonight.' I could have said it straight and simply."
What stops you from leveling like that? You stop yourself. "It's not too late," you tell yourself, "I can still ring him back.'' You pick up the phone and begin dialing. I'll say, "I want to be with you tonight. Try to change things. Come home on time. ..."
"I can keep short books with my feelings. Stay up-to-date. Find ways of reporting feelings as they occur. Experiment in saying both what I feel and what I really want. "I do care about you. I want to be close. I want more time together. I need to tell you when I'm angry. Love me enough to listen to me."
"It is certain that a relationship will be only as good as its communication. If you and I can honestly tell each other who we are, that is, what we think, judge, feel, value, love, honor and esteem, hate, fear, desire, hope for, believe in and are committed to, then and then only can each of us grow. Then and then alone can each of us be what he really is, say what he really thinks, tell what he really feels, express what he really loves. This is the real meaning of authenticity as a person: that my exterior truly reflects my interior. It means I can be honest in the communication of my person to others. And this I cannot do unless you help me. Unless you help me, I cannot grow or be happy or really come alive.
"I have to be free and able to say my thoughts to you—to tell you about my judgments and values, to expose to you my fears and frustrations, to admit to you my failures and shames, to share my triumphs—before I can really be sure what it is that I am and can become. I must be able to tell you who I am before I can know who I am. And I must know who I am before I can act truly, that is, in accordance with my true self.
"Why do you always leave your things lying all over the
house?" you ask.
"Why can't you pick up after yourselves?'' "Why don't you show a little interest in things?" No one answers you. It's like your questions go
"Why can't I get a little cooperation?”
Your son looks up at you. “Why does everything you say begin with the word 'why’?” he asks.
"Why shouldn't it?" you snap.
"I don't know," he says, "but it feels like a trap. If we say why, you can shout us down, say our reasons are no good."
"What do you want me to say?" you ask. (First question without a "why.")
“Just tell us what you want,” he replies. “Like I'm doing to you now. Don't bear-trap us. Just be honest with us.”
To communicate a message, make a statement. To ask for a message, use a question. Simplicity in speech is to state what should be stated, ask what needs to be asked, and to refuse to confuse the two. When questions are used as concealed ways to make statements, or statements are made as concealed questions, nonconstructive confusion results.
The most frequently misused communication pattern is the question.
Questions can be clever, coercive, or concealed ways of either offering opinions or manipulating others. Six of the most commonly used pseudo-questions are:
The leading question: "Don't you feel that. . .?"; "Wouldn't you rather. . .?" This limits or restricts the range of possible responses and leads the witness down the primrose path to make an admission or commitment that the questioner wishes, not what the responder wants. Q. "Don't you think that. . . ?" A: "No, I don't think that…. If you think that, I invite you to say it by speaking for yourself.''
The punishing question: "Why did you say (do, try) that?" This punishes by seeking to arouse conflicts in the other or define the other person in such a way that infers there is inconsistency, contradiction or dishonesty between intention and action. Q: "Why did you do such a. . . ?" A: "I'll tell you what I want."
The demanding question: "When are you going to do something about . ?" This actually makes a demand or sneaks in a hidden command under the guise of an innocent request for innocuous information. Q: "When are you going to get started on . . . ?" A: “Tell me when you want it.”
The dreaming question: “If you were in charge here, would you rather . . . ?” This asks for hypothetical answers. The function is to criticize, to call a point of view impractical or irrelevant but to do it as a harmless fantasy. Q: "If you had the say around here, wouldn't you . . . ?" A: "I'd like to work with what is, now."
The needling question: "What are you waiting for?" or "What did you mean by that?" This multi-level question has a multiple choice of meanings: (1) Tell your meaning again, I'm listening. (2) What are you implying about me? (3) How dare you say that to me? (4) Can't you speak simple English, you clod. (5) You're attacking me. The needling question has as many levels as the listener may choose and it has no one-level. No matter which level the listener chooses to answer the questioner can say, "You misunderstood me."
The setting-up question: "Didn't you once say that. . . ?" This maneuvers the other into a vulnerable position, ready for the hatchet. Q: “Isn't it true that you once ... ?” A: "Ask me about the here and now, I'm present.''
I can do with a lot fewer questions. Especially those beginning with "why." "Why" questions are most often covert ways of attempted control. I want to eliminate "why" from my relationships. I will ask "what" and "how." These offer all the information I need to know to relate effectively. "Why" questions, evaluates, judges motives and intentions. "What" or "how" deal with what is wanted in our relationship and how we can get it.
I want to give statements instead of asking questions. Those questions which are simple requests for clarification or information are useful. But hit and run questions are double-talk. They are ways of making comments, criticisms, or attacks while avoiding the full responsibility for what is said. They are ways of giving multi-level messages that leave the listener with a multiple choice test with every interaction. These, I can do without.
Love gives up the concealed weapons called questions and makes clear statements like: I care about you. I need you. I want your help. I want your respect. Love is honestly open in conversation. Love sets no traps.
"Why did you take the car last night when you knew I'd be needing it?'' your husband says to your son—to your son's indifferent back. He shrugs his shoulders as a reply. "I want to know why you deliberately defy me."
"Man, I'm just doing my thing," your son replies. "You're free to do yours."
They're talking past each other again. Do you want to intervene? "I want to know why you try to spite me," your husband is saying. The boy's ignoring him. To answer is to walk into a bear trap. If he answers, his dad will say, “That's stupid.” It's like a cycle of move and countermove that you do your best to avoid.
“Count me out of their fights,” you say. But maybe you could referee. Get them to agree to some simple ground rules. Maybe they could learn to fight a little more fairly?
A few simple guidelines for cleaning up fights are:
The person who has a complaint should make the first move to discuss it; one complaint to a session; no trapping questions, just clear statements. Try giving honest, clean "beefs" (sharply pointed complaints or criticisms) like, "The behavior you do is. . ."; “When you do it I feel. . .” “What I really want is. . .” Have the other repeat the beef. Then respond with a clear yes, no, or compromise offer.
Simple rules—but they're the way of truthing it in love through conflict.
Clear communication is giving clean, simple yes and no responses.
"Whatever you have to say," Jesus counseled, "let your 'yell be a plain 'yes' and your 'no' be a plain 'no'—anything more than this has a taint of evil" (Matt. 5:37, Phillips).
Love is giving clear yes's and no's.
"Sure, count me in. I'll be glad to help," you say into the telephone receiver. "I like working with boys. Coaching Little League sounds fun. Right, I'll be at the meeting.'' You turn from the phone to face your wife's questioning eyes.
"It's just Monday and Thursday nights," you explain. "It's important for the community. I can't say no."
"If we had a boy in Little League, it'd be different," your wife says. "But, Joe, you don't have the time."
"I can make time for it," you say. "I just can't say no to things that oughta be done."
"But when you accept that," your wife replies, "you're saying no to having time with me and our girls, you're saying no to having time for yourself.''
"Yeah, you're right. I've already got the club on Tuesdays, night school Wednesdays, bowling on Fridays, not to mention all the extras."
"When do you start saying no?" your wife asks. "With no time together, we're becoming strangers. And what time we do have we spend on working out our differences. There's no time just to be together."
"I can't say no," you begin again.
"Won't say 'no,'" your wife corrects.
"Yeah, that's it. I'm afraid they'll quit asking me in on things if I cut out once. I don't want to be passed by. But I want time with my family too. Maybe I can say no. I think I will."
When I decide, I want to give clear "yes-signals" or "no-signals." Yes signals come easy. No signals often come hard. "No" is one of the hardest words to pronounce—face to face.
“I can't say no to the boss,'' a young man tried to explain to me last night. "I've got to do what he asks. It's the only way open to me. I have no choice.'' I doubt it.
“I can't say no to Ted, I just can’t.” The young wife who gave that excuse for indecision over a growing friendship with her employer can't say no because she won't say no.
To say “I can’t” is seldom true. More often it's a way of avoiding responsibility for making a decision. "I won't say no," would be more accurate. "I refuse to take responsibility for myself and say no."
You can say no—if you will. You can say no if you've first said a bigger yes to time for your family, time for close relationships, time to be human, time for personhood, time for your true self.
Say yes to your values. Guard that yes with your carendar.
You feel the stiffness around your mouth as you walk away from the boss. You know you must have had your perma-smile pasted on. Funny, you weren't smiling inside. Now you're going to rush through lunch so you can run an errand for the guy at the next bench. "No bother at all," you insisted. But it is. . .
"I'm a nice guy," you say to yourself. "I'm just too nice to people. I smile, I say yes—yes—yes, and yet inside I feel tired. I wish they'd lean on somebody else for a change. When they ask for something, I say, 'Anything for a friend.' If they impose, I say, 'What's a friend for?' If they get angry, I say, 'Come on, let's be friends.' I'm an insufferably nice guy. Except inside. There I'm like anybody else. What I'd like is to be able to say no. What I want is to be free to choose for myself, to really be me."
Speak the truth, be truthful, act truly. As Jesus said, "Let your yes be a clear yes and your no, no. Anything more has the taint of evil."
For Further Experience
1. Practice listening skills to learn new ways of hearing, feeling with, caring for others.
a. Sit at eye level with a child. Let your own inner child come out and play with the little boy or girl who is talking to you. Listen with your eyes. Check out what you're hearing. Find some way to affirm his or her preciousness.
b. Listen to a friend. Communicate love without putting it in words. Avoid asking any questions, prompting or completing his sentences.
c. Listen to someone you rather dislike. Try to really hear him or her, for a change. Become aware of your own resistance to getting close. Extend some word of understanding, appreciation, or simple joy.
d. Listen to God. With pencil in hand. Take notes on new awarenesses. Let your mind flow freely, but keep things open by being aware that He is communicating love to you.
2. Practice simple, clear, single-level speech.
a. Drop all exaggeration or additional coloring of language for effect; use fewer adjectives.
b. Refuse all pretenses—of knowing things you only guess, of being better informed or more certain of facts than you are.
c. Live for a day without questions. If you need information, say "I'm wondering if. . ." or "I'm wanting to know. . ."
d. Find fresh clear ways of saying yes and no without dishonesty. Instead of "I'm sorry but I can't," try "No, thank you. I'm wanting that time for my family.''
I am not angry!
(I'm just concerned.)
I don't get angry! (I just feel hurt.)
See? You made me angry! (It's all your fault.)
See? You burn me up! (It's you in the wrong.)
Let Both Your Faces Show
Your wife made a cutting remark two days ago, and still no apology. Your daughter didn't thank you for the little gift you bought her. Your son forgot to put the tools back in their place in your shop. And you're feeling angry at all of them, at everything!
Anger is a demand.
Like, "I demand an apology from you—an apology that suits me."
"I demand you show appreciation for my gifts—in a way that pleases me."
"I demand that you return my tools—perfectly—just the way I keep them,"
That's the real thrust of anger. A demand that also demands others meet your demands.
Even though you seldom put the demands into words, they are mere inside the feelings, energizing the resentment.
"What if I said what I feel, if I really made my demands clear? Then I could either stick to them, or cancel them, laugh at them and forget them. . ."
Freedom from being dominated by anger begins by tracking down the demands made on others. Recognizing them, admitting them out loud speeds up the process of owning the anger. Then one has a choice: (1) to negotiate the demands that matter, or (2) to cancel the ones that don't.
Freedom comes as one is candid and open in facing the demands made on others. Wisdom comes as one is willing to cancel unfair demands. Maturity comes through freeing others to live and grow without the imposition of controlling demands.
Underneath my feelings of anger —there are concealed expectations.
(I may not yet be aware of them myself.)
Inside my angry statements —there are hidden demands.
(I may not yet be able to put them into words.)
Recognized or unrecognized, the demands are there. Anger is a demand. It may be a demand that you hear me. Or that you recognize my worth. Or that you see me as precious and worthy to be loved. Or that you respect me. Or let go of my arm. Or quit trying to take control of my life.
The demands emerge whenever I see you as rejecting me or foresee you as about to reject me as a person of worth……
"Experience seems to indicate that harmonious relations are possible only when that attitude is maintained. This universal law has been stated in many ways—by the Jews as a simple and direct command of God, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The clause, 'as thyself,' correctly implies that love of self is innate. Every person senses instinctively the priceless nature of his own being, and reacts reflexivety to preserve it against any threat.
"More specifically, each of us is automatically 'defensive' in the face of perceived rejection. To be ignored as though I did not exist, or to be treated as though I were worthless, is repulsive. Instinctively, spontaneously I react to affirm the priceless nature of my own being by becoming angry and lashing back or, feeling very hurt, by withdrawing within some protective shell to safeguard as best I can the treasured 'me' I know I am.
"But my reaction to being ignored or rejected has also a second purpose: to demand by angry words or pouting that others recognize the preciousness of the self I am, and respond accordingly. Such demands fail because in making my demand I reject and ignore the very persons I want to love me; and once horns are locked in that way, the only solution is for one or the other of us (or both) to adopt an attitude of love—to see and affirm the other to be as precious as I am, no matter what his performance.
"I have never met a human being who did not have similar spiritual reflexes. Because to love one's self is a 'built-in reflex.' Each of us was created that way."2
Anger is a demand "that you recognize my worth." When I feel that another person is about to engulf or incorporate me (assuming ownership of me, taking me for granted, using me, absorbing me into his or her life-program), I feel angry.
Actually, I first feel anxious. "Anxiety is a sign that one's self-esteem, one's self-regard is endangered," as Harry Stack Sullivan expressed it.3 When my freedom to be me is threatened, I become anxious, tense, ready for some action.
Escape? Anger? Or work out an agreement?
Escape may be neither possible nor practical. Agreement seems far away since I see you as ignoring my freedom, devaluing my worth, and attempting to use me. Anger is the most available option.
Anger is "the curse of interpersonal relations," Sullivan well said. A curse, because it is so instantly effective as a way of relieving anxiety. When a person flashes to anger, the anger clouds his recall of what just happened to spark the anger, confuses his awareness of what he is really demanding, and restricts his ability to work toward a new agreement. But we chose—consciously or unconsciously—to become angry because:
"Anger is much more pleasant to experience than anxiety. The brute facts are that it is much more comfortable to feel angry than anxious. Admitting that neither is too delightful, there is everything in favor of anger. Anger often leaves one sort of worn out…. and very often makes things worse in the long run, but there is a curious feeling of power when one is angry.”4
Check the pattern: (1) I feel keen frustration in my relationship with another, (2) I see the other person as rejecting me—my worth, my needs, my freedom, my request; (3) I become suddenly and intensely anxious; (4) I blow away my anxiety with anger which confuses things even further; (5) I may then feel guilty for my behavior and resentful of the other's part in the painful experience.
Anxiety is the primary emotion. If signals that a threat is received, a danger is perceived, or a devaluation has been "subceived" (subconsciously received) in another's response to me.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It signals that demands are being expressed toward the source of pain, hurt, frustration.
If I own my anxiety and deal constructively with my demands, my anxious arousal and my angry appraisal of the situation can be used to renegotiate relationships until they are mutually satisfactory.
You're standing in the living room, looking out the window at your son's back. You're replaying the last moment's conversation. "How stupid can you get?" you'd said. "You blew it again like a no-good kid. That's what you are and you better shape up or you're shipping out."
There he goes, anger and rejection showing in the slump of his shoulders. "He blew it?" you ask yourself. "Well, I blew it even worse. I get angry, I attack him personally, I put him down, I chop away at his self-esteem. I'm getting nowhere. What else can we do? If I could just deal with what he's doing without attacking him. Maybe that would make a difference. I could try it."
When on the receiving end of another's anger, I want to hear the anger-messages the other gives to me and check out what I am picking up as a demand. Careful listening can discern what the other is demanding, clarify it in clear statements, and lead to clean confrontation. Then I have the choice of saying yes to the other's demands or saying no. I may feel angry in return, but I want to experience my anger with honest "I statements," not with explosive "you statements."
Explosive anger is powerless to effect change in relationships. It dissipates needed energies, stimulates increased negative feelings, irritates the other persons in the transaction and offers nothing but momentary discharge. Vented anger may ventilate feelings and provide instant though temporary release for tortured emotions, but it does little for relationships.
Clearly expressed anger is something different. Clear statements of anger feelings and angry demands can slice through emotional barriers or communications tangles and establish contact.
When angry, I want to give clear, simple "I messages."
“You messages” are most often attacks, criticisms, devaluations of the other person, labels, or ways of fixing blame.
"I messages" are honest, clear, confessional. "I messages" own my anger, my responsibility, my demands without placing blame. Note the contrast between honest confession and distorted rejection.
I am angry.
I feel rejected.
I don't like the wall between us.
I don't like blaming or being blamed.
I want the freedom to say yes or no.
I want respectful friendship with you again.
You make me angry.
You're judging and rejecting me.
You're building a wall between us.
You're blaming everything on me.
You're trying to run my life.
You've got to respect me or you're not my friend.
Anger is a positive emotion, a self-affirming emotion which responds reflexively to the threat of rejection or devaluation with the messages (1) I am a person, a precious person and (2) I demand that you recognize and respect me.
The energies of anger can flow in self-affirming ways when directed by love—the awareness of the other person's equal preciousness.
Anger energies become a creative force when they are employed (1) to change my own behavior which ignored the other's preciousness and (2) to confront the other with his or her need to change unloving behavior. Anger energy can be directed at the cause of the anger to get at the demands I am making, to own them, and then either correct my demanding self by canceling the demand or call on the other to hear my demand and respond to how I see our relationship and what I want.
Focusing anger on the person's behavior frees one to stand with the other even as you stand up for your demands. The freedom to express appreciation for the other as a person, even as you explain your anger at his or her way of behaving, lets you stay in touch while getting at what you are angry about. You can be both angry (at behaviors) and loving (toward persons) at the same time.
Anger erupted in a place of worship, the synagogue.
A handicapped man with paralysis of the hand came asking Jesus for healing. The religious leaders are (1) looking on with malice, (2) anticipating that Jesus may break their ceremonial blue laws against doing a service for another on the Sabbath, (3) hoping for some such infraction of the law so they can charge Him with illegal, irreligious, irresponsible action.
Jesus avoids neither the man in need nor His own critics.
"Stand up and come out here in front,'' He says to the man. Then He turns to the Pharisees. He is aware of their demands—demands characteristic of many religious leaders through the centuries—(1) that principles come before the pain of persons, (2) that religious piety be honored above the needs of a brother, (3) that legalistic obedience is more important than human life and love for others. Jesus focuses their demands in the kind of question-statements they were so fond of debating. "What is truly right, just, good? To do good or to do evil on the Sabbath? To save life or to destroy it?" But in acting so, He is clearly confronting and refusing their demands.
There is silence. (As an answer, silence is often violence.)
Jesus is deeply hurt at their inhumanity.
He looks at them in anger. His look sweeps from one face to another. His demand is clear. Be human. Be loving. Care about people. Respect this man's needs. See him as precious.
Then Jesus does the responsible, loving, caring thing. "Stretch out your hand," He says to the man. He stretches it out, and it is as sound as the other (Mark 3:1-6, paraphrased from Phillips).
That is clear, focused, creative, controlled, dynamic anger.
Hate is sin——Love is virtue
Anger is evil—— Affection is good
Confronting is brutal—— Caring is wonderful
Openness is questionable——Diplomacy is wise
Do you find yourself thinking in such clearly defined categories? Rejecting hate, anger, honest awareness, and expression of your true feelings and perspectives and clear confrontation with others? To cut off one-half of your emotional spectrum and reject all negative feelings is to refuse to be a whole person. To deny and repress everything on the negative side is to also stifle and crush the full expression of your positive side.
There is danger in abusing and misusing others with our positive emotions and actions—love, kindness, gentleness, tolerance, sweetness—just as there is the threat of cutting and destroying others with our negative responses—anger, harshness, criticism, irritation. To be engulfed and incorporated by a smothering love, all sweet gentleness, and I’m-only-trying-to-help-you-it's-for-your-own-good kindness, is more treacherous than harsh, crisp frankness. You can at least reject frankness without fighting an affectionate sticky mass of divinity-candy love.
To be a whole person in relationships, risk sharing both sides of yourself. Be open with both your negatives (honest anger) and your positives (affirming love). Let both your faces show. There are two sides in everyone. Both sides are important. Both are acceptable. Both are precious. Both can beloved.
We prefer to think that God wants our very best and only our best; that God will have nothing to do with weakness, timidity, or fears.
Not so. God accepts weakness as well as strength, fear as well as confidence, anger as well as gentleness.
God loves whole persons.
Such love makes wholeness possible in its most complete form. As we know and experience the love of God, acceptance reaches out to include both sides of us. "God knows the best and worst about us; and what do you know? God loves us anyway."
I can be aware of my feelings of anger. (I am accepted.)
I can own my resentments, my hate, my hostility. (I am loved.)
I can discover new ways of experiencing my negative and my positive feelings. (I am free to grow.)
I can be angry in creative, loving, caring ways. (I see it modeled in Jesus.)
Harry's been your friend for years. You could always count on him. Now you hurt him. He's turned against you. Last month it was Steve. You cut him off in an angry moment; it hasn't been the same. People you've been close to for years now hold you at a distance.
"So what. If they want to let me down, who needs them," you tell yourself. But inside you say, "I need them. I want their friendship. But I drive them away from me. It's like I've been carrying an overload of anger in my gut. I've got to talk it out with someone,'' you tell yourself. But where do you turn? "I need to talk to someone about who to talk to," you say. "Maybe my minister would listen to me and suggest where I could find out what's bugging me."
(When you find yourself carrying an overload of anger as extra baggage, talk it out with someone you trust—a friend, your minister, your doctor. And reach out to others for new ways of respectful behaving that you get where you really want to be with your friends.)
"I just can't help it. It makes me angry. It just gets to me and touches off my temper.''
"It's like something comes over me and I can't do a thing about it."
"It's other people, that's what it is. They know I've got a quick temper and they're out to get me."
"It" is the problem. "It" causes untold irritation, anger, frustration, embarrassment, pain, guilt, and misery. "It" is not me. "It" is this something, or someone, or some situation.
When you find yourself using "it" as an explanation or as a scapegoat, stop. Listen to yourself. Recognize what you're doing; avoiding responsibility; sidestepping the real problem; denying ownership of your feelings, responses, and actions.
Release comes not from denying but from owning who— what—and where I am in my relationships.
I want to own what goes on in me and accept total responsibility for it. I discover that as I own it, accepting full responsibility, I am then able to respond in new ways. I become responsible.
A great freedom comes as I own my thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions:
(1) I become free to choose my actions; (2) I become free to choose my reactions.
My actions are mine. Your actions are yours. I am responsible for my behavior. You are responsible for yours.
I also accept responsibility for my actions.
"You make me angry," I used to say. Untrue. No one can make another angry. If I become angry at you I am responsible for that reaction. (I am not saying that anger is wrong. It may well be the most appropriate and loving response that I am aware of at that moment.)
But you do not make me angry. I make me angry at you. It is not the only behavior open to me.
There is no situation in which anger is the only possible response. If I become angry (and I may, it's acceptable) it's because I choose to respond with anger. I might have chosen kindness, irritation, humor, or many other alternatives (if I had been aware of these choices). There is no situation which commands us absolutely. For example, I have the choice to respond to another's threat with blind obedience, with silent passivity, with vocal refusal, with firm resistance, or with anger, if that seems appropriate.
When childhood experiences are limited, a person may mature with a limited set of behaviors open to him or her. Some have only two ways of coping with another's attack— anger or submission. If these are the only ways modeled by the parents or the family, they may be the only aware-choices in the person's behavioral repertoire.
If I have grown enough in life so that more than one pattern of behavior is available to me, then I can freely select the responses which seem most appropriate to the situation.
I want to be aware of a wealth of responses and to have them available to me. Anger or patience. Toughness or gentleness. Clear confrontation or warm, caring support. I want to be able-to-respond in any of these.
I am responsible for choosing my responses to you.
I am responsible for the way I react to you.
I am responsible for how I see you. And from the way I see you—as either friendly or hostile, accepting or rejecting, welcoming or threatening—emerge my feelings. Feelings are the energies that power the way I choose to see you or to perceive you.
I am responsible for how I see you—and from that for the way I feel about you.
You cannot make me angry. Unless I choose to be angry.
You cannot make me discouraged or disgusted or depressed. These are choices.
You cannot make me hate. I must choose to hate.
You cannot make me jealous. I must choose envy.
I experience all these and more on all too many occasions, but I am responsible for those actions or reactions. I make the choice.
And I am free to choose loving responses. I am free to choose trusting replies. I am free to react in concerned, understanding ways if I choose to see the other person as precious, as valuable, as worthy of love because he or she is equally loved of God.
I love me——I also love you.
I love my freedom to be who I am——I respect your freedom to be who you are.
I love my drive to be all I can be——I admire your drive to be all you can be.
I love my right to be different from you——I recognize your right to be different from me.
I love my need to be related to you——I appreciate your need to be related to me.
The thoughts I think——The thoughts you think.
The words I speak——The words you speak.
The actions I take——The actions you take.
The emotions I feel; they are mine. For them I am fully responsible—— The emotions you feel; they are yours. For them I am in no way responsible.
I am free, to accept or to refuse your wants——You are free to accept or to refuse my wants.
your requests——my requests.
your expectations——my expectations.
your demands——my demands.
I can say yes——You can say yes.
I can say no——You can say no.
I am not in this world to live as you prescribe——You are not in this world
to live as I prescribe.
I am not responsible for you——You are not responsible for me.
I will not be responsible to you——You need not be responsible to me.
I want to be responsible with you——You can be responsible with me.
For Further Experience
1. Read Psalm 40, and notice David's frank honesty with God as the feelings flow out. List the feelings from depression, to release, to elation, to fear, to joy in helping others, to anger, to resentment, to trust and final impatience.
2. To put your negative feelings into words and own them as a part of the you God loves, complete the phrases in at least five ways:
I get angry when:
And my behavior is:
And afterward I feel:
What I really want is:
3. To get in touch with the demands inside your anger, end this sentence in five ways:
When I become angry, my demands are:
4. To explore new behaviors in conflict situations, finish this line as a creative rehearsal of new ways of responding to others:
When I am angry, I want to try:
I differ from you.
(To differ is not to reject.)
I disagree with you.
(To disagree is not to attack.)
I will confront you.
(To confront is to complement.)
I will invite change.
(To change is to grow.)
Inviting Change: Careful Confrontation
Life without confrontation is directionless, aimless, passive. When unchallenged, human beings tend to drift, to wander or to stagnate.
Confrontation is a gift.
Confrontation is a necessary stimulation to jog one out of mediocrity or to prod one back from extremes.
Confrontation is an art to be learned.
To affront is easy. Examples for being caustic, critical, cutting are available in abundance. "I don't need any lessons to learn how to tell people off. I do it in my sleep."
To confront is hard. Models for being candid, clear, confrontive without being uncaring are unusual if not truly rare. "I could use some help in learning how to confront in a way that doesn't frustrate or alienate.''
The ability to offer another a maximum amount of information about their part in relationship with a minimum amount of threat to that relationship is a skill to be learned bit upon bit, new response added to old response.
Giving another feedback on how he or she is coming on can be surprisingly simple when it is offered in a context of caring, supportive acceptance; it can be astoundingly difficult when interpreted as insensitive, non-supportive rejection.
Hearing confrontation from another is no problem when one is certain that the other respects, values, cares in spite of all differences; but when respect is unclear and caring is unexpressed, one can feel fed up with another's feedback before it even begins.
Caring comes first, confrontation follows. A context of caring can be created when a person is truly for another, genuinely concerned about another, authentically related to another. The content of such caring is, however, not a blank check approval of the other. The core of true caring is a clear invitation to grow, to become what he or she truly is and can be, to move toward maturity. Accepting, appreciating, valuing another is an important part of relationship, but these attitudes may or may not be caring. The crucial element is—does it foster growth? Does it invite maturing? Does it set another more free to be?
A context of caring must come before confrontation.
A sense of support must be present before criticism.
An experience of empathy must precede evaluation.
A basis of trust must be laid before one risks advising.
A floor of affirmation must undergird any assertiveness.
A gift of understanding opens the way to disagreeing.
An awareness of love sets us free to level with each other.
Building solidarity in relationships with others—through caring, support, empathy, trust, affirmation, understanding and love—provides a foundation for the more powerful actions of confrontation, criticism, evaluation, counsel, assertiveness, disagreement and open leveling with each other.
Leading with power violates love. Leading with love humanizes power. Power without love is ruthless. Love without power is helpless. Power grounded in and shaped by love strengthens both giver and receiver. Loving power is the heart of authentic relating.
"Is this guy going to talk forever?" you wonder as the committee meeting drags on past the normal adjournment time. The chairman has ignored three suggestions that you deal with the group's stated agenda and is going on and on with one of his personal concerns. If this were his first filibuster you might overlook it as you've done several times already. You check your watch. "I'll sit this one out, you decide, and then find a good reason to drop this committee in the future."
Or you could plead ill, you are feeling sick of it all, excuse yourself and leave.
The impulse to be suddenly frank rises within you. "You've told us everything we didn't want to know about X and would not have asked. I move we adjourn," you're tempted to say, but you care a bit too much to put him down.
"I'm not sure I was aware how important this issue is to you," you say gently. "We are out of time this evening. I believe we could finish our work in the last ten minutes if we focus carefully. Let's give it a try."
Confrontation invites another to change but does not demand it. The confronter does not make the continuation of the friendship hang on a change of life in the confrontee. Acceptance of the other person is not connected to agreement or disagreement. Acceptance does not exclude differing; it frees us to differ more fully, frankly, effectively.
Wholesale approval of another suggests that one is either totally unconcerned or radically uninvolved with the other. Cheap approval can be lavished on anyone at any time to any extent. But caring requires that one get interested in the direction the other's life is taking and offer real immediate involvement.
If you love, you level. If you value another, you volunteer the truth.
Confrontation is not a matter of tact, diplomacy, and smoothness of tongue. It is basically simplicity of speech, empathy in attitude and honesty in response (to sum up the guidelines for giving effective feedback into one line).
The following skills for offering clear confrontation are given as basic guidelines. They are ways of practicing simplicity, honesty and empathy. To be free to value another equally as oneself, to seek to see from the other's point of view, is to offer confrontation in a way that is immediately useful without being stressful.
When confronting, focus your feedback NOT on the actor BUT on the action.
Comment not on the person but on the behavior but on the behavior in question. To criticize the one behaving in a less than desirable way stimulates feelings of rejection. To critique the behavior affirms the other's freedom to change, encourages the person to disconnect from the behavior in question, and invites him to consider another option in future situations. "When someone criticizes people not present, as you were doing a moment ago, I get uptight. I'd encourage you to say what you have to say to the person.''
When confronting, focus your feedback NOT on your conclusions BUT on your observations. Comment not on what you think, imagine or infer, but on what you have actually seen or heard. Statements of observation (fact) can be made only after observing, must be limited to what one has observed, and can be made only by the observer. Statements of inference (conclusions or rumor) can go beyond observation, can be made by anyone, anytime to anyone. These involve only degrees of probability, evoke immediate defensiveness in the receiver, and offer more confusion than clarification, even when the content is accurate. "You're not looking at me and not answering when I speak. Please give me both attention and an answer."
When confronting, focus your feedback NOT on judgments BUT on descriptions. Comment not on how you would label the other's behavior as nice or rude, right or wrong, good or bad, but on clear accurate description in as neutral language as possible. When a value judgment is received there is a momentary break in contact. A slow motion replay of a videotape will show that the recipient's eyes close at the instant the loaded words are received, a frown creases the forehead. For a moment communication is broken. Description offers no such effect. "I'm aware that you reply to my requests for information with silence. Please tell me what this means."
When confronting, focus your feedback NOT on quality BUT on quantity. Comment not on the character, trait, or classification (qualities) of the other person, but on the amount of the feeling, expression or action (quantity). Use adverbs (which tell how much) rather than adjectives (which tell what kind of). Use terms denoting "more-or-less" (quantity) rather than "either-or" categories (quality). "You talked considerably more than others," not "You were a loudmouth." "You have asked for and received more of my time than any other student," not “You are clinging, dependent and always demanding time.”
When confronting, focus your feedback NOT on advice and answers BUT on ideas, information and alternatives. Comment not with instructions on what to do with the data you have to offer but with the data, the facts, the additional options. To increase another's alternatives is to enrich another. The more open possibilities available, the less likely one is to move to a premature solution. "I've several other options I want to report which you may have thought about, but let me run them by once again.''
When confronting, focus your feedback NOT on the amount available within you as giver BUT on the amount useful to the receiver. Comment not to ventilate and get release from your pent-up feelings but to give something of worth to the other, something helpful to another. Offer it, do not seek to force it on the other. Report what the receiver can best use rather than all you would like to say. If you overload the other's channels you only block, frustrate and may do more harm than good.
When confronting, focus feedback NOT on the easiest time and place to suit your own schedule BUT on the best time and the optimal situation for the receiver. We schedule all conflicts either by conscious choice or unconscious hunch. To choose time and place purposefully allows us to have the best interests of the other truly in the foreground. "I'd like a few minutes for conversation after dinner. Shall we go for a short walk?"
When confronting, focus feedback NOT on "why" BUT on "what" and "how." "Why" critiques values, motives, intents. "Why" sits in judgment. "What" and "how" relate to observable actions, behaviors, words and tone of voice.
''Why'' gets into trying to decipher cause and effect. ''Why" starts with being historical and ends in becoming hysterical. "Here is where we are. Let's examine it. Now is when we are meeting, let's encounter each other.''
To develop the ability to use eight out of eight in offering another confrontive feedback is not so hard as it may seem at first survey.
Focus on the action, on observations, on description, on quantity, on information, on alternatives, on the amount useful, on the best time and place dealing with what and how in the here and now.
Do not focus on the actor, on conclusions, on judgments, on qualities, on advice, on the amount available, on the easiest time and place, or on why, why, why.
Simple, honest, empathic speech can achieve most of these positive goals, eliminate many of the pitfalls.
It's the end of a usual evening. You're stretched out in your favorite chair when your wife pulls up beside you, pad and pencil in hand.
"May I read you the collected sayings of Chairman You-know-who from the moment you got home until now?" (focus on behavior.)
"Yeah, if it's all that good," you say.
"Okay. 5:35, 'Hi, I'm home.' 6:20, 'Hamburger again? That’s all we can afford?' 7:14, 'How come the paper's wet?' 8:30, 'Switch the channel. That's a lousy show.'" (Clear reporting of observations.)
"Look," you say, "you wanted talk? Why didn't you many a minister?"
"All I want is a little companionship," she says. "You walk in the door, say 'Hi,' then take a vow of silence." (Clear description.)
"No, you missed something," you reply. "I walk in, say 'Hi.' You give me that I'm-burned-up-that-you're-late-again look and I know that silence is my only safety, so I shut up."
"When you withdraw, I want some response out of you so I do a little prodding."
The honesty hits you. The two of you are saying the same thing. But each is saying the other starts it. Maybe it's one continuous cycle. I nag, you withdraw, I nag, you withdraw, I nag, you withdraw.
"Honey," you say, "who cares which came first—your prodding or my silence. We're stuck in this cycle. How can we break it?"
''I guess I could say something warm instead of digging at you."
"Okay, and I'll say what I really want instead of withdrawing."
* Clear description of what is happening between two people can often clarify a confusing routine or blow the cover on an old game.
* Clear observation of what we are doing to each other and how we are doing it can free us to see an old situation with new eyes.
* Clear expression of what is thought and felt by each person can clear the air and free us both, to zero in on what is needed for more harmonious relating.
* Clear negotiation of what each wants of the relationship can correct past injustices and choose ways of responding to each other that are mutually satisfactory.
The central goal in all of these is to care, to manifest concern for the other and to deepen the involvement each has in the other.
Caring confrontation is characterized by this constant concern for the other's self-respect as well as for asserting one's own needs for greater respect. When the other's emotional safety and security are as important to me as my own, caring will be unquestionably present.
Out of both good and bad experiences of giving and receiving confrontation, I offer the following five guidelines:
Confront caringly; only after experiencing real care for the other; confront primarily to express real concern for another.
Confront gently; do not offer more than the relationship can bear. Do not draw out more than you have put into the friendship.
Confront constructively; take into consideration any possible interpretations of blaming, shaming, punishing. These are the negative side effects of most confrontation unless one's intentions are clearly expressed in credible ways.
Confront acceptably; respect the other's intentions as always good. For the average person, motives are inevitably mixed and the conscious intention is invariably good when rightly understood. Little is to be gained in impugning motives or evaluating another's hopes, wishes, goals.
Confront clearly; report what is fact (observation), what is feeling (emotion), what is hypothesis (conclusion). Sharpen your skills of differentiating between facts and their interpretations. Do not confuse them. Do not state an interpretation as though it were a fact.
But do confront. It is not a matter of “if I can afford to be real with you,’’ but "when."
To care is to be there for another. Care enough and you will confront.
For Further Experience
Your task is to mentally construct the five alternative responses to the following episode.
Case: For years you have been unable to say no to the heavy demands on your time from a charitable organization which you have gladly supported. Now the chairperson is calling on you again to attempt to pressure you into heading up the annual fund drive, even though this is one of your least favorite tasks. When you refuse, she only redoubles her efforts to persuade you. You feel like saying:
"How can you ask me to do this again after all the time I donated last year. Quit twisting my arm. Can't you be more considerate? I'm so tired of all this load of jobs, deadlines and obligations. Count me out, mark me off your list and get someone who has nothing better to do."
But you reflect a moment and try other options.
1. Confront caringly:
(Try: I’ve been concerned about your organization as my last year’s schedule will show. This year I’m guarding my time carefully and will not be available.)
2. Confront gently:
(Try: I do appreciate your thinking of me in choosing someone for the assignment, however I'm reserving that block of time for myself and my family this year.)
3. Confront constructively:
(Try: I'm not available this year; I hope you have persons on your list who will be eager to help this year.)
4. Confront acceptantly:
(Try: I can hear how much you are needing volunteers this year. I won' t be helping on this round. I hope you are able to gather a staff to help.)
5. Confront clearly:
(Try: I have already said no in four clear ways. I think I'm able to continue to do that under any persuasion or pressure. I can appreciate how much you want to find volunteers, however I am not volunteering.)
TO BE CONTINUED