Course lesson: Real Talk

I decided should start sharing excerpts from my course with you, first to better inform you what I am up to, secondly for feedback as I constantly am working to improve it, and third, in order to sew seeds for starting a group somewhere other than Russia one day. the following excerpt is from the one day seminar Real Talk that starts the whole training. I have referenced it here and here, but I have never given actual content. Of course content means little apart from the skills we learn in this course, and this is one of the most practical courses I know of on any subject. But it helps to know what this is about. And thus, here are a few quotes to consider:

IMG_0072.jpgEverything begins with a dream. We might call it an idea, a desire, or a vision, but as you look around we see nothing existing in our world that did not first begin with an idea, an idea of man or an idea of God. The best ideas, the best dreams, are those inspired by God.
But we are not the “lone rangers” of our ideas and dreams. Rarely does anything happen without meaningful conversations, some real talk if you will, with other people That is why we call it “Step 2 To Everything.” … to every worthwhile dream of friends and family, of ministry and work, and our community. And with so much good in our lives riding on this all-importantstep, wouldn’t it be good to learn to do it well?
God-given dreams are the precious treasures that come from a loving God, seed-gifts that need safe places to be discovered, watered, and grown. Our vision is to see communities of God-given dreams flourish. This is His dream for us – working together to change the world. Creating a culture that fosters meaningful conversation is the key next step to everything worthwhile in our lives.

Conversation would seem to be a purely human activity, but on closer inspection, we can see that human interaction is actually a spiritual endeavor. Why? People are more than the chemical reactions that keep their cells alive. They have minds, a will, and emotions that can themselves influence chemical processes in the body. These three (mind, will, and emotions) are what traditionally comprise the soul, which is the same area of interest as psychology. Beyond this we have a spiritual nature that concerns intuition, values, motivation, and meaning. Atheistic communism is a religious worldview that comes with its own assumptions about meaning, purpose, human values, and relationships, and these assumptions drive conversations in certain ways that differ from conversations that assume the existence of an infinite Being who created the world for certain purposes. Even if the conversation is not about God or meaning, these assumptions drive conversational agendas. Real Talk is built on the assumption that God is a personal God and therefore deeply invested in relationships. Real Talk is not about trying to get you to believe what we believe or making you compromise your values, but we do want to present a fresh paradigm for relationships that may expand your conversational horizons!
Thus we can say that building healthy relationships is built on knowing about how God views us. We, after all, are limited beings, and no one know everything or gets everything right. Though not a guarantee, knowing God helps us know how to be both God-honoring and other-honoring in conversation. If it is true that “we love because God loved us first” (1John 4:19), then we are wise to learn how God loves us and pass this love on to others in all our interactions, whether God is the subject matter or not mentioned at all. Consider:

Can we see and believe in others the way God the Father does and with the Father’s heart?

Can we learn to sense and cooperate with what is already happening inside a person, prioritizing and helping others do the same?

Can we allow others to take responsibility for their own lives, since God entrusts ours to us?

Can we follow God’s lead in communicating unconditional love in a judgment free conversation zone
Can we celebrate each person as uniquely designed for a unique purpose?

Self-centered listening

Self-centered listening is an identity issue. When I don’t know myself in relation to my Father God, I am in a sense spiritually orphaned. From this place I tend to either pull people towards me or push them away from me. This pull or push in conversation is an attempt to control the agenda of a conversation for the protection or promotion of my identity and my image. Moreover, this is a completely unconscious process.

Identity: who I think I am. For example, “I am a complete failure.”

Image: who I want you to think I am. For example, “I may be a failure, but you must see me as a success.”

False identity produces powerful lies that drive conversational agendas to control others through manipulation, masking, and malice.

Why are agendas important?

Getting our agendas lined up is a critical part of building agreement in conversation. A conversational agenda has two elements:

  1. The topic. About what will we be talking?
  2. The reason for the topic. Why are we talking about it?

Conversations that bog down almost always do so because of conflicting agendas. Moreover, overt conflicts are much more difficult to resolve as long as there are conflicting agendas. What does this look like?

For example, I have something against you, but when I try to talk to you about it, you come back with what you have against me in the same situation. Two people can be talking about the same topic, but their reasons for talking about it may be in stark contrast to each other. This can take practice to discern, especially when you are one of the participants. Initially, it is always easier to practice by observing a conversation, since you are more objective.

Once I see that you and I have conflicting agendas, either I need to let go of my agenda temporarily and listen to yours to find agreement, or you need to do so. Jesus himself implores us to lay down our agendas when in conflict with a brother so as to address his concern (Mt. 5:23). Then we can return to our agenda and win our brother (Mt. 18:15). On whom does this responsibility fall? The one who recognizes it and is willing to do so. This is maturity. Once we have agreement on our agenda, we have achieved the first level of agreement in conversation.

Questions teach us how to listen

As you continue to grow in listening, a good place to start is to posture yourself as a learner. Whether or not you actually know more about something is not the issue here. The question is how well you understand the thoughts and perspective of the person you are speaking with. You can’t disagree with someone you don’t understand. The key to agreement is belief that the person can’t be completely wrong, and this belief is rooted in the theological principle called Imago Dei – the biblical principle saying that we are all made in the image of God. No matter how marred we may be by sin, something of that initial imprint always remains. Give this principle a try and you will be surprised how rarely (if ever) you find that the person you are speaking with is totally wrong!

We now return to the topic of finding agreement as we finish the previous topic of  understanding. The critical element in building agreement is understanding values. Uncovering a person’s values is a powerful way of getting behind rhetoric and disagreement to sharing at the heart level. Focusing on opinions, positions, facts, and logic is often the surest way to prevent understanding. We need to know how and when to take the focus off of them and build understanding on the level of values as a way of building relationship and its corollary—agreement. The best place to search for bridges of agreement lies in understanding someone’s real intention behind his position, that is, the values driving him or her. This level is almost always possible, even between Christians and non-Christians.

Sometimes understanding a person’s values is not all that easy, as we may not be practiced at understanding our own values. Values are formed, refined, and changed through their exposure to alternative values and Providential challenges orchestrated by God.

The next step towards agreement is to find at least some points where you actually agree with the person’s beliefs. This level is not always possible, but a good conversationalist can find points of agreement much more often than a poor conversationalist.

Resonance. Conversations come alive and relationships deepen dramatically when the element of resonance can be added to a conversation. Resonance can happen at any level of agreement, though it is most powerful on the level of values or position. You know you have resonance when you not only agree about something, but when you can add the element of emotional energy to that agreement because what someone is saying resonates within you because you share a similar experience or value (desire, passion).

If you think you have found resonance with the person you are in dialogue with, then restate the person’s position, but this time make sure to not only share your feelings, but show your feelings, perhaps even naming them, and sharing why you feel the way you do. There is no energy without emotion, and emotion is the glue of relationships.

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