JUST SAY NO TO “E-MAULING”

Three Steps to Avoid Making Conflict Worse by E-mail

Difficult Conversations

Jan laughed out loud while texting on her phone.

She went to input the word “e-mail” only for her finger to slip from the “i” to the “u.”

It came out “e-maul.” I had to laugh too.

Then it hit me. It happens. We get “emauled” by someone upset with us or vice versa.

Know what I mean? Not so funny, is it?

Criticism, judgment, blame–just to name a few of my favorite things–can come packaged in blistering digital correspondence.

The temptation is all too familiar as well. Fire back a well-deserved “e-maul” in return!

Before long a conflict grows.

Practicing three guidelines when reading an “e-maul” can help prevent an escalation of tensions.

These come from Stone, Patton, and Heen’s bestselling book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most (pp. 274-75).

One, question your attributions. E-mail as a form of serial monologue works great for information and affirmation.

It rarely, if ever, contributes to effective confrontation.

It lacks the non-verbal cues necessary to help size up a sender’s intentions–tough enough to read in face-to-face dialogue–behind what’s written.

The authors suggest a first step:

Remind yourself that you don’t actually know their intentions. Your initial reading is likely to be off-target as on. The sender may have mixed or even positive intentions, or, most often, no particular intention about you at all.

Two, hit pause. If an “e-maul” hijacks you with strong negative emotions, take a timeout.

Walk away long enough to allow for a more rational balanced response. More from the experts:

Often you’ll have the strange sensation of wondering why you felt so bent out of shape. But if, after taking some time, you’re still revved up, move to step three.

Three, pick up the phone or talk in person. I can’t improve on this counsel:

Bottom line: You can’t resolve an e-mail conflict with e-mail. For all practical purposes there are no exceptions to this rule. Once any sort of emotion enters the arena — annoyance, confusion, hurt, anxiety — it’s time to switch your mode of communication. “But I’m a good, clear writer,” you think. “I’ll be extra careful and thoughtful, and I’ll even take the high road.” Don’t get suckered in. Anything you write during a conflict can be taken the wrong way. … So save yourself a heap of trouble and pick up the phone or talk in person.

The ancient wisdom writer warns, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).

What goes for dialogue goes double for e-mail monologue–or should I say “e-maulologue?”

Just say no to “e-mauling.”

Question: What other tips do you have for a peacemaking ethic when it comes to using e-mail?

THE POWER OF QUESTIONS IN PEACEMAKING

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This morning I shared with Nancy, my wife, my struggle over choosing a killer title for a prospective post.  After a brief pause, she said to me, “Babe, do you think it’s safe to go there?”

I’ve learned the hard way to listen up when my bride ventures her opinion. That writing idea went home to be with Jesus in a hurry.

However, our exchange got me thinking. My wife’s approach reminded me of one of the most effective strategies do-your-best peacemakers can employ for preserving unity at home, work, church, or anywhere for that matter.

I’m talking about the power of asking questions. King Solomon wrote, The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).

In all my years of doing peacemaking, I’ve never known any tool more effective for drawing out someone’s heart than that of asking skillful questions. When I wade into a conflict, inevitably I ask a ton of them.

Here are five categories of peacemaking power questions to make you a better guardian of oneness in all your relationships:

Category #1 EXAMINATION QUESTIONS

Many thanks to David Powlison at CCEF for his effective word picture for examining ourselves. In any peacemaking encounter you must start first with assessing your own motives. He lists a number of these in X-Ray Questions: Discerning Functional Gods.

My favorite? What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? Effective peacemakers remove any logs from their own eye before they ever attempt surgery on specks elsewhere (Matt. 7:3-5).

Category #2 COMMUNICATION QUESTIONS

We could cover a bunch of these. Let me give you my favorite. What did I miss? Around Orlando Grace Church our members hear me say this rather often: Never underestimate the capacity for communication to break down.

Humility dresses itself in the assumption that I may have somehow failed to get the right message (1 Pet. 5:5). Give that benefit of the doubt up front and watch peacemaking barriers fall.

Category #3 SUGGESTION QUESTIONS

These can take any number of forms depending upon the issue. The point is simple: instead of declaring a judgment, ask a question. My wife has mastered this art over the years. This morning she could have hammered me with, That’s a terrible idea!

But she would have accomplished only one thing—the opposite response she desired. Nancy ventured a question to engage me rather than put me on the defensive. Man, does it pay to marry a Matt. 10:16 woman!

Category #4 PERSUASION QUESTIONS

This may count as the money question for the peacemaking toolkit. I use it all the time. Help me understand your greatest concern about _____ ?

Just the other day it came in handy with my mom. We had locked horns over an issue for a while. After broaching the subject another time, I asked this very question with all the 5th commandment respect I could muster. I drilled down to the interest driving her position. She admitted it to me and we were off and running to a solution.

I have blogged about this essential aspect of peacemaking elsewhere. I cannot overstate the importance of its efficacy in reaching agreement with others when positions clash. Scuba dive beneath someone’s stance to discern their major interests.

Category #5 MEDIATION QUESTIONS

As with the other categories, questions helpful in assisted peacemaking take on many forms. One of my favorites resembles my persuasion question. In mediation I tweak it like this: What’s the worst thing that could happen if this deal doesn’t turn out in your favor?

James targets passions at war within us as the source of conflicts and quarrels (James 4:1). Wise mediators labor to dig deep into opponents to root out the heart idols stoking their passions.

Do you desire to excel as a preserver of peace in your relationships? Master the art of asking questions and watch your skills rise to a whole new level.

Question: What other questions have you discovered make you a better peacemaker? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

Titus 3:2 & Marital Communication

When I do marriage counseling as a pastor I often hear the same lament. We just don’t know how to communicate.

Recently I heard it again. The couple described the tenor of the relationship as one of yelling at each other, and not just occasionally but fairly often.

I immediately thought of Titus 3:2. Paul exhorts Titus to instruct believers in the church at Crete on how to live out the gospel in a life of good works in the world. Among other things that includes speaking evil of no one, avoiding quarreling, being gentle, and showing perfect courtesy toward all people.

I made the secondary application to marriage for obvious reasons. Who more important to show perfect courtesy toward than your spouse?

That led to a list of principles of communication in marriage or any relationship for that matter rooted in a Titus 3:2 theology of peacemaking.

  1. Stay in the “I” and avoid the “you.” In other words, self-report, don’t accuse. Instead of saying, You are judging me when you say something like that, frame things something like this: I struggle with feeling judged when I hear something like that.
  2. Listen carefully. Don’t interrupt. I don’t know how many times in marital counseling I hear a spouse talk over their partner rather than hearing things out to the end.
  3. Do everything you can by the power of the gospel to stay composed. Once your conversation deteriorates to yelling you’ve lost the battle and maybe the war.
  4. Ask questions in order to draw out the heart. Instead of stating conclusions and making ultimatums, seek to get at what’s behind your spouse’s position or choices by asking things like, Can you help me understand why that matters so much to you?
  5. Give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible that the problem may be only a failure to communicate rather than a deliberate sin. One of my most often used proverbial expressions is Never underestimate the capacity for communication to break down. Work hard to communicate so as not to be misunderstood, not just to be understood.
  6. Practice the golden rule. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Ask yourself if your manner of communicating reflects how you would want someone else to engage you in a conflict or misunderstanding. If it doesn’t, repent.
  7. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26). Few things hinder communication more than failing to deal decisively and constructively with your anger in a timely manner.
  8. If you haven’t already done so, read Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker or Peacemaking for Families. You’ll have to anyway if you come to me for marital counseling for further help on your communication. Might as well get a leg up on the homework.

Marital dynamics in one sense aren’t rocket science. Paul boiled it down to two things in Eph. 5:33. Wives need love from their husbands and husbands need respect from their wives. Men, does the way you communicate reflect love? Women, does the way you communicate reflect respect? If the banner of Titus 3:2 waves over the way you communicate with your spouse, the answer will be yes.