Every relationship has a limited amount of social capital.
Among other things, this means that you need to exercise wisdom in how often you initiate uncomfortable conversations with those around you, whether in your family, church or workplace.
Think of it like this: imagine that you can spend only “three pennies of criticism” in a normal relationship each week. If you spend those pennies on minor issues, you’ll find that person unwilling to listen to you if you try to bring up another issue, even if it’s really important. You’ve used up all of your pennies, and there’s nothing left to draw on in your “relational bank account.”
Some relationships have a larger reserve and can endure more frequent uncomfortable conversations. I’ve been fortunate enough to have professional colleagues who had so much passport with me that they could initiate several stressful conversations in a week when we were facing unusual challenges.
Other relationships naturally necessitate a large expenditure of pennies … like a mother of small children who must spend many pennies a day simply to maintain order. (But even there, excessive correction can be counter-productive.)
And still other relationships are so new, wounded or fragile that even one unpleasant conversation a week could exhaust your account.
So the next time you’re about to start a conversation that may be unpleasant for someone else, ask yourself, “Is this really where I want to spend one of the few pennies I have with this person?”
The more wisely you discern and spend your social capital with those around you, the more likely you are to engage others in productive ways and to see your relationships grow deeper and stronger over time.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).
“To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23)
– Ken Sande
- Think of a person who as a great deal of social capital with you; how has that person earned your trust?
- What types of relational interactions build social capital? What types of interactions destroy it?
- Name two relational qualities that you would like to focus on in the next month to increase your social capital with the key people in your life?
- If you’re a conflict-escaper, you’re likely to avoid unpleasant conversations even when they are truly necessary. If this is your tendency, make this a weekly prayer, “Lord, please help me to discern where you want me to spend some of the pennies you’ve given me with the people around me, so that I can speak into their lives in a helpful way.” (see Prov. 27:6)
- For additional ideas on how to improve your “other-awareness,” see the blog posts on this page.
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© 2016 Ken Sande
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