By Mary Byers
I recently listened as a friend expressed her frustration about someone she worked with in ministry. As the litany of complaints grew, I wondered why she endured the frustration. So I asked, "Have you talked to him about this? He's not a mind reader."
"No," she replied. "He'd never change."
"How do you know?"
"I just do." And that was the end of the conversation, which I've thought about many times since.
Why is it that we expect others to know what we're thinking? I've fallen into this trap myself many, many times. Frustrated in a working relationship with someone, I opt to complain and live in that frustration rather than approach the source. But what if leaders took a different tack? What if we looked at a conversation as "research" instead of "confrontation?" And what if the reason for the research was simply to find out if someone was receptive to what we were saying and whether or not they were able and willing to change? Is it possible that a different approach-rather than living frustrated-could change what leadership and ministry looks like in the areas where it's not working well for us?
Here's a conversational tool that I've found particularly helpful when having a tough dialogue:
I feel _________(emotion)
Let's say you're working with someone in ministry who is always late to team meetings. Here's how this might sound in real life:
"I feel frustrated when we are not able to start our meetings on time because not everyone is punctual."
(Notice that that word "you" never appears in the sentence. That's to keep the person you're talking with from feeling defensive and it's also recognition that the only person we can control is our self. The power in this is to remember to always use the word "I" and never "you.")
Susie: "What are you saying?"
You: "I've been holding up the meetings until you arrive but I'd be more comfortable if we started on time. I just want to make sure it's okay."
Susie: "It's not okay. I'm an important part of this team, too, and I don't want any decisions being made without me."
You: "Is there something I don't know about what's holding you up on meeting nights?"
Susie: "No. I just have an unpredictable job and don't always get out on time."
You: "That must be frustrating and I understand your desire not to miss any of the meeting. Next time, we'll start with what's least important or something that doesn't directly involve you. That way I can be sensitive to your wishes and courteous regarding other people's time."
Now that Susie knows you're frustrated-and what you plan to do about it-she can make an informed decision about how she'll respond. Chances are, now that you've gently called this to her attention, she'll be more prompt in the future.
Problem solved (hopefully!) and no mind reading was necessary.
Mary Byers is the author of How to Say No...And Live to Tell About It and is the managing editor of FullFill.