By Sarah Barkman
I am a turtle. Not literally, of course, but when it comes to tough stuff my default response is to hide inside my shell. The world is a very tough place, full of hurt, grief, evil, discomfort and conflict. So, I have made a nice home for myself inside my shell. It is comfortable and safe where no one can bother me.
The only problem is that sitting by myself in my safe shell can get rather lonely. When I block out the tough stuff, I also inevitably block out the good stuff. At some point, if I want to find the joy of relationships, I have to poke my head out and face the tough stuff too. Unfortunately, it usually does not take long before I am overwhelmed with the tough stuff and scramble back inside my shell.
Is there any hope for me? Yes, I think there is. How do I know this? Because each time I poke my head out of my shell, I gain a bit more confidence and learn a few new skills to make the tough stuff not quite as tough anymore.
Building strong relationships requires the right tools and the knowledge of how to use those tools effectively; this is the premise of Mike Bechtle’s book You Can’t Text A Tough Conversation (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2015). As a turtle, I know I have a lot to learn about relationships and this book had me intrigued from the start – the blue birds texting on the cover started it but the inside did not disappoint. It was an easy read with plenty of day-to-day illustrations.
Why This Topic?
Communication is one of those topics that usually ends up at the bottom of the list of interests, right next to finances. So, why would anyone want to read a book about it? Healthy communication is important for healthy relationships and when healthy relationships are at the top of the priority list, learning to communicate climbs to the top of the list as well.
Bechtle argues that we pursue effective communication tools and skills because we believe in our relationships and want them to grow. Too often we do not have the tools or skills to deal with the problems in our relationships and rather than attempt to deal with these problems we ignore them, hoping they will go away. Unfortunately, problems tend to grow if they are ignored and become the elephant in the room.
Instead of letting the elephant control the room, Bechtle encourages us to determine what healthy communication tools and skills we need to develop, then pursue and practice them. “We don’t mind investing time and money to improve our golf swing, develop a hobby, or work on our fitness.” Bechtle states, “Isn’t it time to make an investment in our communication skills?” (17).
Technology connects more people than ever before. Technology also disconnects more people than ever before. Bechtle argues that, though technology is a useful tool for building relationships, when electronic communication replaces face-to-face conversation, we have the illusion of being more connected when in fact we are less connected than ever before. This is a problem particularly when we are dealing with tough stuff. In a world full of advancing technology, we need some help.
Six Tools and Skills
In his book, Bechtle outlines six tools and six skills that are needed for healthy relationships, particularly in the face of tough conversations.
Perspective – It is important to attempt to see the problem from the other person’s perspective. They may not be right but they likely see something that you might not have thought about.
Trust – Trust can be broken in a split-second but it takes plenty of time and consistency to build it.
Ownership – Recognize that the only person you can control is yourself.
Emotion: Emotions are not the enemy: it is when they run uncontrolled that they cause trouble for relationships.
Time – There are no instant relationships; they take time and intentionality.
Respect – Show appreciation for a person’s worth; they are human just like you.
Make it Safe – Be intentional in making the other person feel valued, showing your commitment to the relationship.
Eliminate Intimidation – Remember that the other is human like you. Challenge negative feelings for accuracy and focus on the positive perspectives.
Practice Power Listening – Set aside your agenda and simply listen to their story.
Encourage Honest Feedback – Give up the need to be right and explore another’s perspective.
Start with Kindness – Choose to value others with kindness and respect from a place of confidence rather than neediness.
Know Your Purpose – A clear purpose for a relationship will help it keep on track when conversations get tough.
Practice Makes Perfect
To end the book, Bechtle discusses some specifics such as relating to relatives, rusty relationships and using technology to help relationships become stronger. Relationships are important and as Bechtle points out, they “will grow when we use the tools and practice the skills of effective communication face-to-face” (228).
Using many stories and parable-type examples, Bechtle encourages uss to take stock of our relationships, to pour energy into relationships that are important, and to recognize and work on tools and skills that we need to put into our relationship toolboxes and learn how to use.
“My” perspective does not see the whole picture. People’s worth is determined by their being not their doing.
“I” am solely responsible for my own actions and responses. I can influence others but I cannot control or assume responsibility for their actions and reactions.
What About the Church?
While the book is written for individuals and many of the examples are of personal/family relationships, the same principles apply to church and conference relationships. As churches, we need to invest in key relationships, gain good relationship tools and work on the skills to use those tools well. We may not always see eye-to-eye but we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus prayed that his people would be united (John 17). Therefore, relationships with our fellow believers are very important and investing some time and energy into better relationships will make our churches and conference stronger and healthier.
When it comes to conflict in our churches and conference, how do we respond? Do we tend to “text” our conversations – keeping others at an electronic distance rather than building interconnectedness through face-to-face interaction? How important are our relationships with fellow church goers and conference members? Do we take the time to consider their situations and perspectives or are we too focused on our own needs and wants?
I don’t have all the answers. What I do know, is that if we want to do this relationship thing right, we need to work at it together.
Sarah Barkman, BA, works at Steinbach Bible College as the Registration Assistant. She currently attends Blumenort EMC and serves on the Board of Church Ministries.