Let’s Talk

Talking About Difficult Subjects
With Loved Ones

Q.  What are some ways to discuss difficult subjects with my family and friends?

A. Let’s Talk! We always want to share truth with others, but that is often challenging to do, to hear and receive at times. But, there is a mental outline I’d love to share with you as you make that brave choice.

Like many things, we learn best from mistakes. I had a doozie of a mistake years ago, but the outcome was The Sandwich outline the Lord gave me that I shall gladly pass along to you. The doozie was a parent-teacher conference that went south. Caving to time pressure, I shared with a mother the concerns I had for her child at a high rate of speed. Her response was, “Doesn’t he do anything right?” I was halted in my tracks, deeply grieved for my speedy delivery void of empathy. I knew better and apologized profusely to this mother. That night I cried out for God to show me a way to better share difficult material. The mental download was The Sandwich.

Picture a big burger. Let’s say the meat itself is the challenging message we want to give, but we first start the conversation with the top bun—sprinkled with as many sesame seeds (or honest kudos) as possible. Top bun language yields sincere sentences in soft words that will preface the difficult message. In the example of the parent-teacher conference, I should have said: “Your son has brought much joy to the classroom and is strong in these ways . . . and I also need to share a behavior of concern.”

Then, you slide down to the bottom bun and say something soft like, “but I know we can work together to make things better.” Then I should have asked if I could share the concern with her. Yes, that was the purpose for the meeting, but it is more respectful to ask. I have never had anyone refuse my sharing a “concern” when I asked if I could share it. That’s when you share the concern, or the meat of the sandwich, after which you can reiterate the bottom bun message.

This is just one way to share a hard comment in a loving but firm way. Said another way: tell the absolute truth in loving-kindness. The message is hard enough, but a smooth delivery helps it go down better!

 

For Deeper Reflection

Ephesians 4:15  “. . . but, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow in all aspects of
Him into Him . . . .”

1 Corinthians 13:1 – 7  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

 

 

Let’s Talk

Harmony vs. Discord

Q. How can we get along better in our families and close friendships regardless of differences? I long for harmony, but discord is more prevalent because of our differences.

 

 A. Let’s Talk! Our hearts were built to love harmony, but we do live among others with great diversity of thought and life choices. Let’s explore how we can navigate that kind of music playing in our immediate surroundings!

Of course, we want people to think like we think. It’s undeniably more comfortable, but it is not realistic. What if differences among family members and friends help prepare us to love those outside our circle? If we can live well with those we know well—we can handle bigger differences at work, school, in our neighborhoods, etc.

So, how can we be okay with differences in our family or close circle? First, let’s go back a few columns. Remember we talked about how we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. If we try to change others, it is called control. Ugh. It’s an awful feeling to be either the controller or the controlled one. You can only control your side of a difference of opinion. With that out of the way, you are then in a neutral place to ask for clarification, just so you know for sure the other person’s stand on issues. Then you can ask if you can share your views, not to change your loved one’s views, but just so your position is heard and understood.

Next you are in the classic place where you can ask if you can “agree to disagree.” It is even helpful to say, “I am sharing my beliefs so you will know where I stand, but my purpose is not to persuade you to share my position.” That eases the control tension. “Healthy” families should be able to disagree and be okay. If we can’t disagree openly, then we are stuffing and that is unhealthy. Many families even have family meetings deciding on language to use to respectfully disagree.

Unconditional love is choosing to love someone REGARDLESS of differences or blemishes others may have. Jesus is about the only example of this in its truest form, but He compels us to choose it as a way to live among imperfect humans. Isn’t it totally refreshing when we know that someone cares for us whether we mess up or not? It is a great gift one can give to one’s children, spouse, friends, or world.

I can hear you asking, “But what if I am ‘right?’” My answer is: So, you believe that being right is bigger or more important than the relationship? Is that the message you believe and are sending to your family or, is the relationship more important? Can we love them anyway, even if we believe they are “wrong?” Are you miserable because of these people in your life? A peaceful heart has everything to do with choosing harmony in spite of differences. Does it mean we have given up our principles? No, it means we are choosing to be gracious. Do you hear a new harmony possibly? I sure welcome your thoughts on this discord vs. harmony topic.

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.

 

For Deeper Reflection

 Proverbs 15: 16-17 “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

Proverbs 17:1 “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.”

Proverbs 25:24 “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

 

 

Let’s Talk

Bravery in Today’s Culture – Part 5

What If I Am the Family Bully?

 

Q. Could you please talk more about the dynamics of bullying? I am the bully in the family.

A. Let’s Talk!  Thank you so much for disclosing. Let’s see if we can uncover some truth to set you free. It is common in familiar circles like families for someone to be the corrector-in-chief. Communication is often disrespectful with eye-rolling or “the Look,” teasing, name calling, and many other hurtful messages including raging and disrespectful punishing (as opposed to discipline). It is such a trap because you may mean to be helpful, but the effect is damage to your important relationships. It is a misuse of authority to disrespect others when you are correcting or instructing. Let’s talk about other ways to accomplish being a leader without bullying.

First let’s talk about owning your bully behaviors. An idea is to have a family meeting and self-disclose (as you did with this column) that you see what you have been doing is “bullying.” Share your deep regret for harm done. “I have been wrong to ____. My behavior has been disrespectful and very hurtful, and I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?” You then need to build in some ways to change your behaviors so that you don’t revert back to the bullying. Some adult bullies have asked their children to make a hand signal or another cue when the bullying shows up again. Hopefully the correctors of your bullying will be kind and respectful. It is a good thing for families to keep seeking better ways to communicate.

Coercion is a first cousin to bullying. And, under most forms of coercion is fear. You may want to self-evaluate and see if coercion and fear are issues for you. Many people use coercion with people close to them for fear that if things aren’t done a certain way that bad things will happen. We don’t want to ever let fear drive us or our behaviors. This is a huge issue for your own mental/emotional/spiritual health. Many times I end my column with “Ask God to show you” and that is the case here. Ask Him to reveal any fear(s) in your life. You don’t want that stronghold. Moreover, ask Him to show you all of the issues in your choice of bullying behaviors; and ask Him to replace those behaviors with loving correction and instruction.

I hope you are not hearing me just say, “Quit it!” because I am not. It is a journey to make life changes and not an overnight destination. In summary, your disclosure that you are a bully is a huge first step. Kudos to you!! A second step is sharing with family or a wider circle. Thirdly, this change involves replacing the bullying behaviors with other more desirable behaviors. Hey, you are moving forward.

You as the parent or adult really can set the standard for loving, firm, and respectful leadership—void of bullying behaviors. Our world has become so full of the fruit of bullying such as verbal abuse that it almost seems “normal.” It is not the norm. Here’s the real model for us: Jesus had all authority, but was not a doormat, nor was He a bully. Ask Him to grant you a renewed leadership style that blesses all those around you. THAT is the pattern we all long for in our relationships and everyday lives.

For Deeper Reflection

 Colossians 3:8 – “But now, you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

Colossians 4:6 – “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.”

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

 

 

Let’s Talk

Bravery in Today’s Culture – Part 3

What About the Workplace?

 

Q. Would you please talk more about staying brave when people are bullying you in the workplace: both co-workers and your boss?

A. Let’s Talk! This is a hard one! Bullying in the workplace is akin to bullying in families—very sensitive and difficult to talk about—but talk we will do. Talking is brave! We are not in the business of trying to change or control others (actually bullies do that), but information can change us. This is what we can do:

A first aspect of workplace bullying is that it is alarmingly accepted and sometimes admired as “toughness.” Aggression and assertion in the workplace get twisted and are hard to separate at times. Assertion when appropriate is a good thing; aggression is not a good thing when it belittles or disrespects another. Our culture has become pretty aggressive, so this already sounds counter-cultural. Proof that aggression is not respectful is the uh-oh feeling in the pit of your stomach when it happens to you. Listen to that red flag. I bet you have a story or two or more.

There is also the issue of an imbalance of power. When someone in authority over you bullies you, there are a number of options. You can choose to ignore it, but as we talked about last week, that is not a healthy choice emotionally. In addition to your own resulting issues, you “enable” these toxic behaviors in the bully when you pretend the behaviors are not present. You can choose to change jobs, although in this economy, that might not be practical. However, could God be calling you to another situation and using this pressure to move you forward in your current work?

Another choice is a conversation. Remember the suggested line from my last column, “We have a problem. What do you think we need to do to make things better?” This is certainly respectful enough to say to a boss or another co-worker and is the start of a dialogue. You can also ask that a third person, such as a Human Resources rep, help the two of you work through this problem. Your part is the establishment of a boundary. It is never acceptable for someone to intimidate or to choose any of the other bullying behaviors we have discussed. It makes for a toxic workplace when bullying is accepted behavior. There is also the choice to go to a higher authority in the workplace if your boss is not open to getting help. It is not advisable to go over your boss’ head before first speaking with your boss, if possible.

If the bullying is sexual harassment , this is a legal issue and needs to be reported to a legal authority and not ignored or dismissed. There are countless other categories of bullying in the workplace, but the common denominator is for the victim to be BRAVE and set a boundary. This may mean talking about the discomfort and the disrespect. This is not easy, but it is appropriate and certainly a basic right to protect oneself: your heart, mind, and body.

As a summary: your main focus is to protect YOU, not changing the bully. If the words you speak to set that limit or boundary actually stop the bullying—great. But if the bully doesn’t change, you were proactive and brave. Next week we will talk about family bullying, but today choose to think about Ephesians 6:13 “having done all to stand.” We do what is right and all we should do—and then we stand.

At this point I need to make a disclaimer. Please prayerfully consider your situation because it is unique to you and vital to address. None of what I have mentioned above may be what you need to do to resolve your workplace bullying situation(s). My hope is to raise your awareness and help to clarify what you are experiencing. The Lord alone has the answers. Call unto Him!

For Deeper Reflection

Jeremiah 33:3  “Call to me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know . . . .”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.