Boundaries Face to Face
Cloud, Henry, and John Sims Townsend. 2003. Boundaries face to face: how to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
I found this book very helpful and wanted to share a little bit about it. The book is about how to handle confrontational talks but the goal is not to have a confrontation but to improve the relationship between two people. Since reading it, I have started to put several aspects into practice and saw how it makes a difference.
What are the aspects of a helpful ‘confrontation’? The table of contents provides a great overview over the important ingredients:
Part 1 – Why do you need to have that difficult conversation?
- The talk can change your life
- The benefits of a good conversation
Part 2 – The essentials of as good conversation
- Be emotionally present
- Be clear about “You” and “I”
- Clarify the problem
- Balance grace and truth
- Stay on task
- Use the formula, when you do “A,” I feel “B”
- Affirm and validate
- Apologize for your part in the problem
- Avoid “shoulds”
- Be an agent for change
- Be specific
- Differentiate between forgiving and trusting
Part 3 – Seeing how it is done
- Telling people what you want
- Making someone aware of a problem
- Stopping a behavior
- Dealing with blame, counterattack and other problems
Part 4 – Getting yourself ready to have the conversation
- Why you need to be ready
- How to get ready
Part 5 – Having the difficult conversation with people in your life
- With your spouse
- With someone you’re dating
- With your child
- With your parents
- With adult children
- At work
- With people in authority
Let me underline some points that I found especially helpful:
– The importance of preparing yourself for a difficult talk and not feeling embarrassed about it, but explaining that I easily lose the thread and might say things that I did not mean to say and forget things that I find important;
– Name the problem and don’t let yourself be distracted, by neither yourself nor your dialogue partner. It happens so easily that you get on a tangent. I often fall into the trap of bring up other situations that are similar, but mentioning them all can get overwhelming.
– Saying honestly what the behavior of the other person causes in you and be specific. Putting this in words can be quite difficult but if I work on this during the preparation, it is a first step towards a solution.
– The same applies to concrete suggestion of what need to be changed. This can be a challenge but when I think through this during the preparation and try to be specific, I realize what can I expect realistically and what not. I need to be aware that nobody can change completely from one day to the other. Therefore it needs to become clear to myself what exactly I expect from the other person and what is feasible. Unrealistic expectations only cause frustrations on both sides.
– Don’t expect the talk to solve your negative emotions. They have to be processed before attempting such a talk, with the help of God and friends. The talk has to be motivated by my love for the other person and out of interest to improve out relationship, not to let off steam.
– We need to honestly express our wishes and needs but not turn them into demands. I give to leave the other person the freedom and not manipulate. I need to be aware that not all my wishes will be fulfilled. It is important not to expect all wishes to be fulfilled, but to share even those wishes and needs that I know cannot be fulfilled. As long as I leave enough freedom to the other person, that’s ok. “Freedom is the precondition for any good relationship.” To not manipulate is one of the biggest challenges for me. Not all forms of communicating my needs are appropriate.
– Accepting the No of the other person no matter what. If the point is especially important for me, it is better to bring it up again at another occasion. It is also important to express my understanding for the other position (and not assume that the other person knows that). Some solutions will only develop after we understand why the other person reacts a certain way, or says no, or …
– Listening and asking back, and really try to understand what the other person wants to express. While at the same time avoiding getting side tracked. It is better to postpone side issues to another talk.
This is just a small selection of helpful points in this book. Since reading it several months ago, I noticed time and again how often confrontations are motivated by the desire to blow off steam and the expectation to feel better after doing so. This is basically the contrary of what Cloud and Townsend propose here.
Why do so many enjoy striving for God’s acceptance, even after he went to such lengths to prove it was already ours? Perhaps they feel more secure if they think they can control the relationship. Perhaps they’re afraid that if they no longer have to earn his acceptance they’ll find themselves using grace as an excuse to pursue their selfish desires. Perhaps they don’t want a relationship with him at all, they simply want his help when they hurt and the coveted get-out-of-hell-free card.”
If you have never known the joy of simply living in God’s acceptance instead of trying to earn it, your most exciting days in Christ are ahead of you. People who learn to live out of a genuine love relationship with the God of the universe will live in more power, more joy, and more righteousness than anyone motivated by fear of his judgment.”
From the chapter: “Trying to earn points with somebody who is no longer keeping score” in “He loves me!” by Wayne Jacobson
I just started reading “He loves me!” by Wayne Jacobsen. In the third chapter he brings up the question of what motivates us to follow Jesus – fear of hell or love for God. Unfortunately, it is true that there are many people who believe that a clearer vision of hell would motivate us to be more mission-minded. In the past this approach to evangelism has probably worked fine. But it is a pertinent question what kind of Christian this approach will produce when their conversion happens out of fear of hell.
When I thought back of my own conversion experience, I realized that fear of hell was not a major factor, but fear to miss out on something important all the more. This was partly rooted in the drawing that the evangelist showed me (which I found very helpful and have often used myself) – the broad road leading away from God, no matter whether it is paved with small or big sins, on the other side the narrow road that leads to God, and the door that connects the two roads – Jesus, the door to eternal life. At that time it really seemed to me as if this doorframe was throwing its shadow on my path, inviting me to change my direction of life. A unique chance? Maybe. Nobody can know when there will be another situation where God speaks into our lives and touches our hearts.
Unfortunately, I also realized that, there is a pattern in my life. I had to admit that there are things in my life that are often motivated by fear to miss out on something. Who knows when I will get this opportunity again? In this way, I often cram things into my life, that are not beneficial and are causing needless stress. But one does not want to miss out on things, right?
Along a similar line was the fear to miss God’s will for my life – if I don’t listen well enough, I might miss it and then take the wrong path. Then I might have to travel on the wrong track for the rest of my life and would miss God’s blessings and the fullness of life. <ironic>
When I think about it, I realize that these patterns of thought are – or better – were in my life. I notice that they don’t quite fit with how I experienced God during the last few years. Of course, there are situations were we might miss something important because we can’t make up our minds or we procrastinate a decision. But God does not motivate us through fear. Through the Life Model I became more aware over the last two years about the difference between love-based and fear-based relationships. As a result this kind of situation happens less and I am thankful for it.
What can I learn from this? Wherever my motivation is rooted in fear, most likely it does not come from my heavenly Daddy. I want to learn to be even more sensitive to this and realize earlier when I am driven by fear instead of motivated by love (which reminds me of the book “Getrieben oder Berufen” meaning “Driven or Called” which is the German title for “Ordering Your Private World” by Gordon MacDonald).
God is not interested in our sacrifices but in our obedience, one out of love, for who he is, out of joy over our relationship with him, and because this relationship is precious to us.