Joy: Cultivating Healthy Relationships

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The old saying that “communication is not what is said, but what is heard” is absolutely true.

Even if a person is committed to making time for their key relationships and has their heart in the right place, they can torpedo a relationship with the wrong word choice, inappropriate tone, bad timing, or offensive body language.

The proverb,

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. — Proverbs 18:21

reveals the result of good and bad communication styles.

If you use the tongue in a mean-spirited way, you will eat the fruit of miserable relationships. If you use it to give life and love, you will eat the fruit of healthy relationships.

Unfortunately, many people try to speak life and love, but the words just don’t come out right. One of the most common communication mistakes that I see sucking the joy out of peoples’ relationships has to do with conflict resolution. Conflict is unavoidable. It will happen to everyone in any truly authentic relationship. Handling it well will build high-trust, low-stress relationships. The most obvious unhealthy way to deal with conflict is to avoid it. Bad strategy.

The steps to healthy conflict resolution between two adults are fourfold:

1. Speak only about specific, observable, and undeniable facts about the situation.

2. Share how you feel about the situation or what the person did. No one can deny how you feel about the situation or what actually occurred.

3. Never make an inference about why a person did something or what their motivation was for acting a certain way.

4. Ask them to clarify their view of the situation and what they suggest should be done moving forward.

Bad example: “Honey, the way you constantly badger me about all these issues is driving me crazy. Why can’t you just trust me and know that I’m doing the best I can to figure things out?”

Good example: “Honey, when you continually revisit the same issues we’ve already resolved, it really frustrates me. What can we do to create a plan, agree to it, and start making the situation better?”

Most people I know see the value in this approach and can get good at starting conversations using this technique. The challenge is keeping your cool and finding the right words when the other person isn’t playing nice and they retort to your opening comment with venom. My advice here is to acknowledge their emotion (“I can see you’re bothered by this and I feel bad that you feel that way”) and go back to the formula:

1. Clarify the original — and any new — facts that have been revealed.

2. Share how it is impacting you and that you’d like to improve the situation for both of you.

3. Make no inference about why they are saying something or why they did something.

4. Ask them to clarify their renewed perspective on the situation and how they think you should move forward.

You may need several cycles of this communication structure until you can come to an agreement. Not only will this strategy de-escalate these contentious conversations, but you are building trust with the other person, which will minimize the emotional load of future disagreements.

Now, some people may read this and think, I’m not going to get all mealymouthed here and start dancing around the real issues. If I have an opinion and feelings to share, I’m going to share them. To that I say, “Be my guest… and enjoy the fruit that approach produces. You reap what you sow.”

Relationships are hard. They take time. Conflict happens, and we too easily revert back to our win-lose approaches rather than win-win.

But the time and effort you put into your relationships will contribute to the joy and fulfillment in your life.

Excerpted with permission from The Joy Model by Jeff Spadafora, copyright Jeff Spadafora.

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Your Turn

Let’s meditate on Proverbs 18:21 today. How can we use our mouths to bless those around us, especially our families, today and bring more joy and fulfillment into those relationships? I learned conflict resolution the hard way — through doing it disastrously. But, the steps to healthy conflict resolution work! What do you need to incorporation into your challenging conversations? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear how you’re improving your most important relationships and experiencing more joy! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

Jeff Spadafora is Director of the Halftime Institute’s Global Coaching Services and Product Development (www.halftime.org), where he trains and manages the global Halftime Coaching staff. Earlier, Spadafora was a management consultant for twenty years with a focus on executive education and development for Fortune 500 companies. He lives with his family in Evergreen, Colorado. www.halftime.org

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