Meet People Where They Are

I was recently helping a friend of mine with a small construction project he was hired to do for a family in a nice neighborhood. We were working to repair a large bathroom window that had become rotted and damaged due to improper installation. As we worked, we realized (as is often the case) that there was more damage than we originally anticipated and that there would need to be a complete replacement of one of the windows. We told the woman of the house about the problem and, as you can imagine, she wasn’t thrilled. It was already a pretty costly project and the additional repair would probably cost another five to six hundred dollars.

While my friend was talking with her, the woman became increasingly frustrated and began to get a little “snippy.” Obviously she wasn’t planning on this extra expense but she began to take it out on us as if it was our fault. All the while I was thinking (in the words of a good friend of mine), “Don’t blame me, I didn’t write the mail. I just deliver it.” There was no way we could have known the exact nature of the problem before getting to that stage. I felt like we were a little stuck but I kept working as the woman made some calls to see about fixing her new problem.

Some moments later the woman explained that she was having an extremely difficult month. Her mother had recently had a surgery that had gone wrong and was going to have to have it over again; two of her children had recently broken their ankles around the same time; add to that the pressure of a home improvement/repair project and you have one stressed woman! After she explained her situation, it made perfect sense that she would have a little “meltdown” at the news of a bigger problem. This woman was completely overwhelmed by all kinds of things going on in her life and adding one more thing was a really big deal.

It got me thinking about a principle of relationships, particularly of conflict: there is always more going on than you know. As my good friend and pastor Dan Reiland says, if someone’s reaction to your feedback is disproportionate to the situation, there is always something bigger going on behind the scenes. Find out what that is and you’ll be surprised how your perspective changes.

So often we expect so much of people and are surprised by their behavior in individual situations. But what we often fail to do is remember that people are beat up, hurting, distracted, angry and confused by things going on in their lives. If you caught me on a REALLY bad day, I’m not sure my behavior would be anything to be proud of. It’s really important to remember that. We often view others based on their worst moments and maintain an image of self that is based on our personal best. That’s not how I would want people to view me, because I’ve had some pretty bad moments.

When we remember to meet people where they are, to remember their humanness and consider their complexity, we are living out Jesus’ command in the golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12).

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The Danger (and Power) of Expectations

Have you ever gone to a movie with friends or family and walked out with completely different perspectives on what was or wasn’t good about it? As soon as the words “That was awesome!” come out of your mouth, someone says, “Are you kidding me? That was a complete waste of time!” Or how about this response, “It wasn’t what I thought it would be.” Now you’re on to something. Too often filmmakers put all their best scenes in the preview and bore you for the rest of the time. This is just another way of saying that your expectations weren’t met.

Expectations. What a powerful word! If I look close enough, I find that I expect things from everyone in my life. From myself, my friends, my server at the restaurant, even God. When my expectations aren’t met, I am left feeling angry, hurt, or disappointed (maybe all three). One of my good friends, in talking about business relationships, used to tell me that the number one thing that causes breakdown in relationships is unmet expectations. I think you can apply this principle to all relationships and almost all of life. I want to give you two observations about expectations, and then a couple suggestions on how to manage them better. Continue reading “The Danger (and Power) of Expectations”

Reinventing the Wheel

If there is anyone who is guilty of the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” it’s me. I am a guy and I am a very practical person at that. This means that if it still works by any stretch, if it looks ok, if it functions at all it is worth keeping around. I’m into saving time, effort, and money on using stuff until it wears out.

But there is a problem with this approach. I can get lazy and procrastinate when things actually need to change. It’s usually true that every part of your personality has good things and bad things about it, and I think for me this is one of those cases. You see, we are all creatures of habit. We get into rhythms and before long we become more attached to our methods than we are to why our methods are there. The means become the focus and not the end, and this is a scary place to be (it’s called being “in a rut”). No matter the arena, I have to be willing to constantly reevaluate what I’m doing and how to make it better. Here are a couple examples. Continue reading “Reinventing the Wheel”

Moving Objects Are Easy to Steer

Maybe it’s an obvious point, but it struck me when I heard it. A good friend once told me that a ship cannot be steered unless it is moving, and I got this image in my head of someone at the helm of a huge ship trying to do a 360 in the harbor to no avail. Without the propulsion of the wind in its sails (or the motor) the rudder is absolutely useless. The same is true of your car (perhaps a more familiar metaphor). If you’re sitting in your driveway, it doesn’t matter how drastically or how frantically you turn the steering wheel, without forward motion nothing will change. The same principle is actually true in life and is very mysterious to me, but I have seen it proven over and over again and I simply can’t deny it.

If you’re like me, you tend to get into a state that I like to call “analysis paralysis.” It is where you stop, look around at all your options from every angle, think about each one, and then start over again. All of this is for good reason, you need to make a decision and you want it to be the right one, one that will bring the most benefit to you in the long run. But this careful calculation has its drawbacks. If you do this long enough, eventually all of your options will start to blend together and seem the same. You will be stuck because you are able to talk yourself into or out of any of your options. That makes decision making even harder!
Here’s the problem: You’re not moving! Stationary objects (and people) are almost impossible to steer. It is incredibly important to move in a direction and see what happens. Continue reading “Moving Objects Are Easy to Steer”

Out of Sync

The other day I was at the gym on one of the cardio machines in the back row. I’ve seen this setup at many gyms, but at this gym all the machines are arranged in two rows in one area of the building. I was on the back row and I watched an interchange happen between two men that was really awkward. I don’t know either one of these guys, but for the sake of the story let’s call them Joe and Pete.

Joe is on the front row of machines to my left on a treadmill, walking at a normal pace. Two or three treadmills to his right (and mine) is Paul, also walking at a normal pace, wearing headphones. Apparently Joe and Pete know each other because Joe finished his time on his treadmill, walked over next to Pete’s treadmill, and gave that silly, smiling wave right next to Pete’s head. Just one problem, Pete didn’t see him. Lost in his headphone world, Pete had been looking the other way and had no idea whatsoever that Joe had come up next to him and waved. Continue reading “Out of Sync”

The Lost Art of the Slow Build

I love great novels. One of my favorite’s is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not only does the book capture the many romantic traits of the jazz age, but it is a classic story about love, jealousy, money and a dream. I won’t go into the story in case you haven’t read it…

The thing about a great novel is that it is masterfully written with all of the details carefully crafted to fit together and build into a glorious crescendo, the point in the story where all the tension breaks loose and it’s all out in the open. This is the part of the story that makes all of the work of the preceding pages seem like nothing at all. It’s the payoff, the winning lottery ticket, the feast at the end of the famine. It’s the climax of the symphony where all the instruments come together in that melody they have only hinted at for so long.

I think that in large part our culture has lost the appreciation for the slow build. We live in a time of microwave ovens, fast food, and, when we watch TV, changes in most camera shots every three to six seconds. We have developed a very short attention span. Continue reading “The Lost Art of the Slow Build”