Most of us are blind to our own poor relational skills. As a result, we often fail to see how our behavior impacts the people around us and undermines our witness for Christ.
One of the best ways to counteract our self-blindness is to ask for candid feedback from those around us. Their answers are sometimes hard to hear, but they can point the way to personal growth, freedom from sin and improved relationships.
Here’s a personal example.
Shortly after I launched RW360, I sensed that our family was not experiencing completely honest and open communication around the dinner table or during individual conversations. I also sensed that I was part of the problem.
So I went to my wife and children and asked, “What do I do that makes you feel that you can’t be completely open around me and express opinions that might differ from mine?”
Nix the Teaching
Corlette said, “Ken, you love to teach. It’s a wonderful gift God has given you. But as you frequently tell others, sin often turns our greatest gifts into our greatest weaknesses. When I share an opinion or a problem, I wish you would not treat me like one of your students or conciliation clients. I know they are grateful for prompt, specific instruction and advice. Sometimes I am too. But most of the time I just want you to listen, understand and show that you care.”
Don’t Lead Me
Jeff (my 22-year-old) said, “If I say something you don’t agree with, you usually start asking me questions. I know you’re trying to help me think things through more deeply without lecturing me, but sometimes it feels like I’m on the witness stand, and you’re using leading questions to make me change my mind.”
When I asked him what I could do instead of asking questions, he said, “Just lay your opinion out on the table graciously and directly, Dad. Then we can talk and even debate man-to-man, which I actually enjoy.”
Don’t Fix Me
By the time I asked Megan (my 24-year-old) for her feedback, I had a pretty good idea what to expect.
She said, “Two things, Dad. You always use the right words and never react harshly, but the expression on your face sometimes shows that you disagree with my opinions. I don’t mind you disagreeing, I just wish you’d say it directly rather than having a look of disapproval on your face.”
“Second,” she went on, “please don’t always try to fix things. I know you love me and have spent much of your life looking out for me, but at this point it means more to have you just listen and help me get my feelings out so I can begin to see for myself what I should do.”
Faithful Are the Wounds of a Friend
These answers pierced my sinful pride and self-righteousness. But since they had been offered with love and gentleness, I managed to resist my initial impulse to react defensively. When I prayed silently for God’s guidance on how to respond, three verses I’d memorized long ago came to mind:
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15).
“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5)
These passages helped me to respond to my family’s feedback with humility rather than defensiveness. This opened the way for further discussion that helped me to see more clearly how I can continue to improve my relational skills, especially my other-awareness and other-engagement.
As I asked God to help me grow in these areas, I gained insights into myself that I eventually turned into blog posts, including Redeeming Your Weakness, Seven Steps to Empathy, Lawyer vs. Teacher, Manipulative Double Messages, and The Nail. These posts may be of value to you if you have some of my “teacher/problem-solver” tendencies.
I’ve still got a lot of room to grow. But through the feedback of my family, friends and co-workers, God continues to guide me on the journey of being conformed to the image of Christ, as promised in Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18
If you’d like to pursue that same journey in your life, I encourage you to use questions like the one I asked my family. But first pray for the humility you need to fight defensiveness and really listen to the answers you may receive …
– Ken Sande
- Do you think those closest to you—at home, at work and at church—feel comfortable expressing opinions that might differ from yours? How might you be discouraging that kind of honesty and openness?
- Who do you feel most comfortable talking openly with, even to the point of disagreeing? What is it about that person that makes you feel safe to talk openly and candidly?
- If you think you might be inhibiting people close to you, take some time to read and pray about the related blog posts listed above … and consider sharing them with those closest to you so they can help you to grow.
- One of the best ways to discern God’s guidance is to hide his Word in your heart by daily memorization and meditation. Here is a way to develop this discipline.
- Do you have a hard time receiving feedback and criticism from others? Here is an excellent article that shows how to grow in this grace: The Cross and Criticism.
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