"When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly." Proverbs 31:26 (MSG)
It was like we were speaking two different languages. Even though my friend and I were both talking in English, we couldn't seem to understand each other. I started the conversation with the assumption we would see things the same way, but emotions rose, opinions conflicted, and wounds were inflicted. How did we get to that frustrated place?
After cooling off, I called a wise, truth-telling friend. I told her the basic outline of the conversation, trying to keep it neutral. Finally I asked, "What do you think went wrong?"
She astutely turned the question back to me. "What could you have done differently?"
Initially, I couldn't think of one thing. After all, the conflict wasn't my fault! But then I took some time to reflect, and God began to soften my heart, revealing my part in the conflict.
I had called my friend during an extremely busy time in her life with a suggestion that would have added to her overloaded schedule. Instead of being sensitive, I pushed and pushed my own agenda. As our emotions escalated, my defensiveness increased, making my responses sharp.
The friend I had called for advice gently prodded, "How could you have listened more carefully? Would truly listening have made you more compassionate? How could you have responded with more grace?"
For the rest of the afternoon, God etched a new way of interacting in hard situations on my heart. This is the truth He carved: Listen with compassion. Speak with grace.
Listen with Compassion. Years ago my pastor shared an invaluable method for re-adjusting his attitude when dealing with conflict. He asks, is this behavior consistent with the person's general character?
Wow! If I had applied that question in the conversation with my friend, I would have remembered her kindness, her servant’s heart, and her calm nature. Then, I might have wondered what was changing her normal response. Compassion would have flooded my heart toward her and the stress she was under. My heart would have been positioned to serve her, rather than insisting on my own way.
At its core, listening with compassion is simply obeying the biblical commands to die to ourselves (John 12:24-25) and to consider others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Speak with Grace. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (NIV). There is no downside to a gentle, grace-filled answer. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've often viewed responding this way as losing or giving in. That's simply not true. Needed truths can be told in kind and gentle ways. Just think about how my wise friend treated me when I sought her advice.
Before I called my friend to ask for forgiveness and clear up the misunderstanding, I prayed for a Jesus-sized dose of compassion and grace.
Since then, I've been rehearsing "Listen with Compassion - Speak with Grace" over and over in my mind. Last week I had a chance to put it into practice when I received a difficult email. My first response was defensiveness, but then I started to repeat my new way of processing until I could hear the needs in the email with compassion and respond with grace.
I love how God gave me the chance to practice what He had taught me after I had time to take a breath, pause, rehearse my new motto and then respond. Life and relationships are filled with conflict, so I have no doubt I'll have a chance to practice again. Next time, I'm praying I'll be ready!
Dear Lord, sometimes it seems like conflict pops up out of nowhere. One minute the conversation is going fine and before I know it, hurtful words are being said. Please help me listen and respond as You would. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond:
Who are you focused on during a hard conversation? Are you trying to understand the person speaking or already working on your defense?
If you feel yourself becoming defensive, make yourself pause and put yourself in the other person's shoes.
Proverbs 17:27, "A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered." (NLT)
Proverbs 18:15, "The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; for the ears of the wise seek it out." (NIV)
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Proverbs 31 Ministries
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Matthews, NC 28105