The Table Podcast

Engaging in Difficult Conversations

In this episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Gary Barnes and Wendy Miller discuss navigating difficult conversations, focusing on goals, pitfalls, and how the gospel makes a difference in these spaces. Note: This interview was recorded before March 2020.

Timecodes
01:51
Basic layers of conversation
08:50
Emotional zones to navigate
13:42
Intentions versus impact of our connections
19:28
Three modalities of our interactions
23:31
Theological foundations for difficult conversations
29:59
Question and Answer section - Tensions of sharing the Gospel
37:07
The Gospel frees us to have difficult conversations
Transcript
Darrell Bock
I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center. And I have two very distinguished guests with me. Gary Barnes, we … Gary and I have literally done life together. We were in the same church for years, and have ministered side by side. We served on an elder board together for years. And you all know Gary. He’s a licensed psychologist and marriage and family researcher and professor of Biblical Counseling. He’s also an ordained minister in the Anglican Church of North America. I’ve got to get all of that in, right?
Gary Barnes
That’s right, that’s right.
Darrell Bock
It makes a difference, doesn’t it?
Gary Barnes
Oh, yes.
Darrell Bock
Oh, yeah. So … And then, Wendy Miller, who’s also a licensed professional counselor and a founding partner of Sparrow House Counseling. Now, that just sounds interesting to me. What is Sparrow House Counseling?
Wendy Miller
Sure. It’s a private practice here in Dallas. We’re a group of independent therapists that all work together as a team. And we treat the whole lifespan. So we start at age 3. We have people that specialize in children that age. And then we go all the way through the lifespan and anything that’s outpatient, we’ll do.
Darrell Bock
Now, the obvious question is, “Sparrow House. Where does that come from?”
Wendy Miller
Matthew 10:29.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Very good.
Wendy Miller
We actually worked with a company here in Dallas to help brand our name. We wanted something that was distinctly Christian, and yet if you weren’t a believer, it wouldn’t turn you off, either. So, they helped us come up with that.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Okay. Well, thanks for being a part of this.
Wendy Miller
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Well let’s dive in. Here’s the context of what we’re talking about. If you live in our culture, which is an easy culture to live in, then you probably now and again will have a … find yourself faced with what would be a difficult or an awkward conversation. And there are things that we do that undercut those conversations, and things we can do to help those conversations be … at least have the potential to be profitable experiences. And so we want to talk about that a little bit.

And I want to open up by talking about the layers that are a part of conversations that we normally don’t think about. So Gary, help us with that, because I think most people, when they enter a conversation, they’re kind of what I call … they approach it like Joe Friday. Old illustration, I know. Joe Friday was the cop on Dragnet. And he would be investigating a crime and he’d ask the question, and the question would come across … person would begin to spew an answer and give all the background to it, what I call the footnote answer. And in the midst of that, he would look whoever it was he was asking the question in the eye and say,

Gary Barnes
“Just the facts.”
Darrell Bock
“Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s right. You got it. And so most people enter in a conversation just thinking that’s all that they are talking about. But it’s actually more complicated than that, isn’t it?
Gary Barnes
Oh, yes. In fact, there’s no one model that describes all the layers. So we have multiple models with multiple layers.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So you give your model and I’ll give mine, and then we’ll hand it to Wendy and she’ll fix it all.
Gary Barnes
Yeah. We’ll just see how many models we can talk about.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Gary Barnes
One of the models that I frequently find that difficult conversations have bumped into is they are having the “facts and events conversation,” but that’s really not where the real conversation is. It could be one or two levels below that. But the relational themes, or the even personal themes are actually activated or triggered by the fact and event, but I continue to have the conversation just at the fact and event level.

To go down to the deeper levels requires that there will be a sense of trust and safety. And if that’s missing, we continue to have the conversation at the fact and event level. And that’s why you can talk about the sequence of the wash, the soap in the wash cycle for ten years and not really get to what is that really connected to that we need to be talking about.

Darrell Bock
Or you didn’t help me with the dishes tonight.
Gary Barnes
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And it’s really not about dishes.
Gary Barnes
Not at all. [Laughter] But you could keep talking about it for ten years.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I can soap up those dishes all I want, as many times as I want, and I’m not getting there. The filter that I’m familiar with and that I often will talk about is, there’s the facts level – or the topic of what you’re talking about. There are the lenses and filters that you take that conversation through, and then there are the identity issues that are wrapped up in that conversation, and think about it that way. And then, if … I tell people, and if you have any doubt that this is going on, all I need to do is say two words to you: CNN and Fox News. They’re looking at the same set of things out there, but they certainly are taking it through a very different set of processes and a very different set of results, as a result. And there are things going on underneath what you’re seeing in front of you that impact the way you are processing what’s in front of you.

So Wendy, how do you … help us with this. What’s going on with the layers, and how do you help people get sensitive to the fact that that’s going on?

Wendy Miller
Well, I think we still live in a time where people care more about being known than what you know. And I often will say, “It’s important to chase the connection more than chasing change.” And when we’re up in those upper layers of just the event or trying to chase agreement, that that’s the goal, that we agree, and you’re not chasing the connection, where the trust is built, then that’s when we just stay apart.
Darrell Bock
But I thought the goal of a conversation was to be right.
Wendy Miller
Yeah. And you’ll just keep chasing that.
Gary Barnes
That’ll keep you at level one.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. It’d be an exciting level one. So, …
Wendy Miller
For ten years.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Exactly right. So how do you help build the trust that we’re talking about? And when you talk about being connected, I know that one of the things that we tend to talk about at the Center is it really is crucial to be a very good listener.
Wendy Miller
Absolutely. Before you can even talk about whether or not you can agree, people have to feel like they’ve been heard. And so to spend a lot of time in the conversation, making sure that you’ve heard somebody. And you may think you’ve heard them, but what matters is if they think you’ve heard them. And then after they feel heard, then you can go on to whether or not you understand what they’re saying. And you may think that you understand them, but what matters is that they think you’ve understood them.
Darrell Bock
I think most of us would understand this example, and it would be I’m listening to you, and my default position is to figure out what’s my response to you gonna be? In other words, I’m working with … and particularly if it’s a difficult conversation … I’m working on framing the rebuttal. But actually, that process of listening, that kind of listening is getting in the way of the type of thing that you’re talking about, isn’t it?
Wendy Miller
Yeah, absolutely. Because what you’re doing is you’re gonna try to get them to agree with you, and you’ve already skipped all the way to the top to chase agreement. You’re not chasing connection. Connection happens in the listening and the understanding. And so to get back down and let go of the rebuttal, and leave that till the end. Because until somebody feels heard and understood, then you’re gonna argue over and over and over about who’s right. It becomes an arm wrestling match, which is just silly.
Darrell Bock
And so, another thing that we talk about regularly when we talk about this is the idea of the first goal is the goal, you’ve used the word connection, which is the relational element. Another way that we think about it, when we think about it in terms of content, is making the effort to understand the other person, which means not … it means expressing it in such a way that they’re able to say to you, “You get what I just said to you.” And that … In fact, don’t you guys sometimes teach a process to facilitate that?
Gary Barnes
Oh, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So I’m feeling a need to be enlightened. So, enlighten me about that.
Gary Barnes
So, in all of the multiple models that we’re talking about, there’s another three layered model that I really like that’s talking about emotional intensity in the exchange when there’s a difference. So whenever we’re bumping into differences, problems, or conflicts, emotions are a part of that experience.
Darrell Bock
[Emotionally expressed] No, they aren’t. [Laughter]
Gary Barnes
And so, we just set up a whole series of communications. Everything is communication. Verbal, non-verbal, emotions are … it’s all communication. What you don’t want, especially when you’re talking about differences, problems, or conflicts, is to be driving under the influence…DUI. You don’t want to be driving under the influence of negative emotionality.
Darrell Bock
That’s never recommended. Okay. Alright.
Gary Barnes
Because there’s a biological thing that happens in your brain. You leave your prefrontal cortex, where you do reasoning and analysis, and you get hijacked to your mid brain, where you do fight or flight.
Darrell Bock
That sounds dangerous.
Gary Barnes
You cannot do your goal of understanding, reasoning, problem solving when you’re in your mid brain. So you’ve got to monitor yourself in these emotional zones. And we think of it as the red, yellow, and green. If you’re in the green zone, typically your emotionality is not driving you to create new problems on top of the problems that you’re talking about. So your normal way of talking should serve you well.

If the emotionality gets so much I’m in the red zone, there’s no kind of talking that can be constructive. And so the rule there is, “No talking.” And so the idea is, you need a time-out to get your physiological base line back in place again. One of our most revered researchers, John Gottman says, “Unless you’re like a star athlete, you shouldn’t be having a problem conversation if your heart rate is over 95 beats per minute.”

Darrell Bock
So you can … that’s one of the ways you can monitor it …
Gary Barnes
You can actually wear your monitor.
Darrell Bock
My Fitbit tells me to shut up.
Wendy Miller
Time out.
Gary Barnes
And it’s actually better if you’re doing self-monitoring, rather than reporting on the other person’s heart rate.
Darrell Bock
That’s right. Which gets into something I’m gonna come back to later. And isn’t there another element that sometimes it’s helpful to say to someone, “Can I put in different words what you’ve just said to me to see if I understand what it is that you’re saying to me?”
Gary Barnes
Yes. And so that would be the yellow zone.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Gary Barnes
So in the yellow zone we say you need a structure. It’s like guardrails on a curvy mountain road that’s wet. So you might bounce off of the guardrails a little bit, but you’re not going over the side. And the structure is something that both people willingly agree to ahead of time that promotes understanding. Even though you may be clear that we have 100 percent disagreement, we can still have 100 percent understanding.
Darrell Bock
So the key here is … and I don’t know if I can stress this enough … is it the initial goal in a conversation is to be sure, if I can say it this way, you understand each other – that you’re on the same page about what it is you’re talking about – before you move into the assessment mode. I have a line that I do when I speak about this in the context of cultural engagement, where I say to people, “You need to mute your heresy, doctrinal, attitudinal meter. Mute it.” I didn’t say shut it off, ’cause it’s there, and you’re gonna probably be processing stuff. But that’s not the first place you go. That’s not the default place to reside. My first responsibility is to hear what the person is saying to me, because it could be that in the midst of that conversation, I get a glimpse, relationally, of what is driving them that may actually help us in the conversation, if I do a good job of listening. Fair?
Wendy Miller
Absolutely.
Gary Barnes
We say … Another way of saying to structure it is to say, “Let’s set aside the solution. Neither one of us are gonna work on a solution right now.” Let’s call that stage two. Stage one, the goal is just understanding.
Darrell Bock
And then you pursue that because once you understand what it is that … what it is precisely you disagree about, and at what level that disagreement is operating at, the better off your chances of getting somewhere.

Now you’ve raised another issue earlier I want to come back to, which is the whole idea of trust. Because sometimes one person may go into a conversation pretty well-intentioned, and the other person may not be in that space. In fact, the number one question I get when I do this afterwards is, “Well, what do you do when you walk into the conversation and you want to go there, and the other person isn’t the least bit interested in going there?” What does that mean? And what does that mean for the dynamics of the conversation? And are you stuck at that point?

Gary Barnes
Yeah. [Laughter]
Wendy Miller
Well again, I think it comes back to connection, and trying to communicate that that’s what you’re chasing, that that’s what you want is the connection, and to see if somebody’s willing to do that. Even if they’re not willing to engage in the overall question of what you’re gonna do or where you’re gonna land in a conflict it’s, “Will you at least engage with me to connect?” and start there.
Darrell Bock
So sometimes that involves, I think practically, the asking of questions that push towards understanding, as opposed to staying at this level of the topic in the debate. That’s one way to probe whether it’s even possible to go there with the other person.
Gary Barnes
There’s a couple other models that can help us here. I was just in a session this morning with somebody where this was going on. So, you can really want connection with someone and have very positive intentions, but still be creating a negative impact in the other person, the way you’re trying to get a connection. And so you can’t just say, because I want a connection, and because I have positive intentions that you should have a positive impact. And so there has to be a teachability that I have my own filters that messages are going through, and you have your filters that messages are going through, and there’s a great likelihood that things are gonna get bent in the process. And even though I have positive intentions, you can still have a negative impact.
Darrell Bock
By the very way that you go about doing what you’re doing.
Gary Barnes
Because of both of our filters.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Gary Barnes
And it’s not just a one-person problem. It could be a double-person problem.
Darrell Bock
Let me give you an example that I think helps break this down a little bit, and shows where we’re at, and use myself. My wife will often say to me … I won’t say how often … “You’re not paying attention to me.” I know the moment she says that, I’m in a bad moment. And usually it’s happening when I’m multitasking. I’m paying attention to something my screen, she’s talking to me, and she says, “You’re not paying attention to me.” And then my instinct is to immediately parrot back to her … ’cause I can do this … exactly what she’s just said to me, which then, all that does is frustrate the boo out of her. And my guess is that’s an example of the type of thing that you’re talking about.
Gary Barnes
Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Because actually … And then, I have what I call the moment of decision. [Laughter] The organ is playing, and I’ve been invited forward, and the decision is do I stay in my seat, or do I come forward? And here’s the decision that I have. I can sit there and explain to her and defend the multitasking that I’m engaged in, or I can make the effort to understand what it is she is really saying to me when she’s saying I’m not paying attention to her. And hopefully, with enough sensitivity to realize what she’s really saying to me is, “I want your undivided attention, and I’m not getting it. And that is communicating what you think about me as a person vis-à-vis what you’re doing now.” And all that’s going on. Not any of it has been consciously verbalized.
Gary Barnes
Exactly.
Wendy Miller
Right.
Darrell Bock
But that is exactly what is going on in terms of the levels. And you’re going down. And, of course, what I’m reacting out of is the identity level, which says, “She just accused me of being a bad husband. And if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a bad husband.” [Laughter] So the tendency is to defend yourself, to produce the rebuttal, and to defend yourself when, in fact, what needs to be done is to take a step back and realize and hear what it is that she’s saying to you. It will make all the difference in the world in the conversation, what decision I make in the hour of decision.
Wendy Miller
And she can also learn how to approach those conversations with more “I” statements of “I’m feeling like you’re not available,” and start it that way, as we grow in knowing how to do this.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So there is …
Gary Barnes
But I love your example, Darrell, because it’s the same thing that I’m caught up with Cathy at home. It’s the very same thing. It’s the same thing that all couples that I see in private practice. It’s the same thing that people who aren’t married to each other, but they’re still bumping into differences.
Darrell Bock
Like roommates.
Wendy Miller
Yeah.
Gary Barnes
It’s the same thing. And so positive intent does not equal positive impact. And if I can just accept that, and not try to convince you that you should have a positive impact because I had a positive intention. If I can take the defensiveness out of it. Say, “I can explain my positive intentions later. But right now, I need to move towards your negative impact. Not against it and not away from it. I gotta move towards it.”
Darrell Bock
Okay, now you’ve just brought up another … We were working in threesomes today.
Gary Barnes
A lot of models.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, a lot of models. But that’s helpful. In other words, every conversation that we face has three elements, has three potentialities in it. Right? Towards, against, and away. Now most people think you’re only dealing with two, towards, and against. But the more subtle one of those three, it seems to me, is the move away, which actually is the one that normally happens, particularly in marital relationships, or in close family relationships. What you tend to do is withdraw. I’m not gonna be hostile, and I’m gonna be very, maybe even passively withdrawn. And that can be as damaging to a relationship as actually … if someone’s against me, at least I know what I’m dealing with. So, are we …
Gary Barnes
Yes. And you could even say an away is “a sneaky against.”
Darrell Bock
Ooh. Okay, yeah.
Gary Barnes
If you think about two different people, you have four possibilities. You have a fight/fight, or against/against. You have a flee/flee, away/away. Then you have where there’s one of each. So if you just look at marriages, the most … in America, the most common of those four patterns is where the wife has the positive intention of connecting to resolve a problem, and the husband has the positive intention of not fighting, because that makes the relationship bad.
Darrell Bock
Okay. I can already see where this is going. [Laughter]
Gary Barnes
So as the one is moving towards positively, the other is moving away positively.
Darrell Bock
And they’re off. [Laughter]
Gary Barnes
Another ten years. Okay. So you can see that positive intentions aren’t the thing. They’re creating a negative impact in each. And the one person’s negative impact makes the other person do the more thing that creates another more negative impact. And so that’s the negative feedback loop that gets reinforced.
Darrell Bock
Now, we haven’t mentioned any Scripture so far, and we can’t go through a cultural engagement chapel without at least taking a shot at Scripture. So what we’re talking about here is how to love well. Right?
Wendy Miller
Um-hmm.
Gary Barnes
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
We are talking about how to engage and connect with people that communicates first of all, “I care about you as a person.” And with that having been established, then work on the things where we’re kinda rubbing against each other.
Gary Barnes
Yes. It’s everywhere in Scripture, once you start getting sensitized to it.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right. Yeah. So, okay. We now have hit … that sets the table. And so, as you can see, we’ve got microphones. For those of you who are new, the microphones allow you to come up and ask a question. So feel free to come up to the microphones if you have a question. But as you can see … and you guys are so sharp. They put this up on the screen. I didn’t say anything about it. And I’ve got a whole slew of questions right here on my phones for those of you who prefer to remain anonymous as you ask the question. And we have no problem with anonymity in Cultural Engagement chapels. So, here’s a question right at the start, and this is a softball. But what kinds of difficult conversations can these ideas be applied to?
Wendy Miller
All. All types of conversations.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right. Yeah. This is a … We are non-discriminatory on this. It applies across the board, everywhere. When I’m normally talking about this, I’m talking about public square conversations. And the first time I did this, the first reaction I got from the floor was, “I feel like I was just at a marriage conference.” And I went, “Yeah. It’s a two-fer.” So yes, it very much applies to pretty much everything that comes down.
Gary Barnes
Can I just add a word about that? Getting back to the theology side of things … I know there’s three models … is I think you would have to say any good theology would have to say that number one, theology is inevitable. Anytime you have two different people … no matter what the circle is…red/blue, white/black, husband/wife, roommates … it’s inevitable this side of heaven. Point number two, if you’re on autopilot with it, it will naturally lead you to more separation.
Darrell Bock
In other words, if you operate strictly out of your instincts.
Gary Barnes
Yes. It’ll be away or against. It won’t be towards. But number three is, it can also be your catalyst to greater oneness. But it’ll be a oneness that’s not based on sameness. And that’s where the deep theology is, right there.
Darrell Bock
Man, there are all kinds of things that I want to … So what you’re saying is, is that in order to get here, you have to work at it. That’s the first thing. And the payoff on the other end, if you work at it actually can take you to a much deeper place, even though it may have been challenging to get there.
Gary Barnes
It will be.
Darrell Bock
It will be challenging to get there. Okay.
Wendy Miller
And I love that he said oneness isn’t sameness, because that’s what we often do is we start off in these conversations trying to get the other person on our side, to believe, to agree, that we chase that sameness rather than simply taking the time to understand the other person, and understand their position.
Darrell Bock
I’m gonna apply another example here, so that this has some vividness to it. We just recently did a series on world religions, which obviously involves pretty significant conversations. And traditionally, the way we deal with world religions in Christianity is we take the Bible and we line up the religion against it and we say, “How does this align or not align with what the Scripture says?” That’s obviously a very important step in thinking about world religions. But it also excises out, potentially, the whole relational connection dimension of what will be going on if you had a conversation with someone who has a different religious belief.

So we did a series, and we built it around three questions. And the three questions were this. “What is this religion about?” Many religions, particularly if they’re eastern religions, I tend to know shmatz about them. Why does someone walk into the temple, do what they do in Buddhism or whatever? And so the first question I want to know is, what … how’s this thing structured? How’s it shaping the attitudes of the person that I’m interacting with?

The second question is, “What’s the attraction?” Why is a person drawn to this religious faith? What is in it it’s doing for them as an individual that causes them to be an adherent? Which is not a normal question that we ask when thinking about other religions.

And then the third question is, “How does the Gospel speak into that attraction?” In other words, I’m trying to address my experience of the person in that world religion from the standpoint of where they are at, as opposed to trying to pull them in what I call a superman move, and making them leap tall theological buildings in a single bound, and pull them to where I am. I’m starting off with where they are, and then engaging in the conversation accordingly. I see Paul doing this in Acts 17.

And so, that’s a connective model, in my mind. Am I … is that fair?

Gary Barnes
Yeah, yeah. And I’m really, really big on information and skills to help this whole process. But over the years, I’ve understood that that’s a necessary, but also insufficient resource for what we’re really talking about here. And it’s really the Gospel that frees us up to really do this. I could give you a list of names of people that I know personally that are the experts that have written books on information and skills for this, and they’re divorced and have messed up relationships.
Darrell Bock
Right. Exactly.
Gary Barnes
It’s not because of a lack of information or skills.
Darrell Bock
So the development of how to relationally connect to people … this is true of everything in cultural engagement. Everything in cultural engagement is – there’s the culture and what’s going on around you, there’s what the Bible has to say about it (often those two things are in conflict), but I’m still left, once I get through those two stages of, I’m gonna relate to the person who’s in this different space. How am I actually gonna engage them at a personal level, and establish enough trust and rapport to be able to engage with them?

There’s something you said to me when we were preparing for this that we haven’t raised, that I want to raise now, and that is, the level of the quality of conversation is directly related to the least amount of trust one of the people has in that conversation. Would you elaborate on that?

Gary Barnes
Yeah. Or you could say the least committed person. So if you think of the relational funnel as multi-layered, at the top, where it’s the biggest, our relationships are most superficial. And that’s where we have the least amount of feedback and disclosure, because we have the least amount of trust and safety.

At the very bottom, where it’s the smallest, there’s only room for a few people there. But that should be, functionally, our deepest levels of feedback and disclosure, because we have corresponding deeper levels of trust and safety. So there’s graduated in between levels. And so, the connection, or the depth of the feedback and disclosure has to match the trust and safety. The least committed person, or the least safe or least trusting person, trustworthy person, is the one that determines if it has to go to another level.

Darrell Bock
They control the quality of the conversation.
Gary Barnes
They do. No matter how much I want that person to be deep with me, I have to realize that they’re the ones that are controlling the level of the relationship.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I think that’s a very important insight to have, as we think about this. Question.
Audience
Yeah. Okay. So, if anybody knows me, you know I really don’t have a problem telling people what I think about stuff. [Laughter] So, my question is, when you’re trying to reach a certain goal – and it’s not connection – or you’re trying to move forward in a space or a place, when is it appropriate to push?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Gary Barnes
I think you can speak the truth in love, but pushing is gonna be an “against” experience by the other person. And so it’s gonna be a counter-productive. So, by saying that, I’m not saying you don’t speak the truth. But you have to speak the truth as you’re moving towards. Speaking the truth moving against is gonna move things up in the funnel.
Darrell Bock
So then that raises the natural question, so how then do you … let me back up. One of the challenges of sharing the Gospel or thinking about a Gospel-oriented conversation is inevitably it is a challenge/invitation tension. You’re challenging people with where they are, because sin is not an easy topic. But you also have the invitation part of it, but there’s a way into this relationship that makes that obstacle not insurmountable. And you’re trying to balance those two things. So how do you – let me use a different word than “push” – how do you challenge people when you’re in this mode? And I think what I’m hearing you say is if you’ve built enough trust, then you’ve got a chance of going there. But if you haven’t, it will be absolutely counterproductive.
Gary Barnes
It will.
Darrell Bock
And so, the line again, we use regularly goes something like this: “People will not care about your critique unless they know you care.” And so, building that trust of caring sets up the possibility for going deep. And when you go deep, inevitably you’re gonna go to places that challenge. But if you try and go deep without that, then …
Gary Barnes
You’ll get defensiveness.
Darrell Bock
You’ll get defensiveness and push back, plus all the other things we do in these conversations.
Gary Barnes
You’ll get either more moving against, or more moving away as a result.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. There’s a whole ‘nother layer to this conversation that we don’t have time to go into, but normally when we talk about this, there are things that we do that sabotage these conversations. I’ll just do a quick list. Things like someone brings up something where you’re at fault and your reaction is what I call the Yes, but. It’s called the pivot. “Yeah, I do that.” I call it the quick confession, too. “Yeah, I’m guilty as charged. But now let’s talk about what you do, and it’s worse.” All you have to do is watch about ten seconds of television and you’ll see that on a regular basis, coming daily to your screens between seven to ten at night. So that’s one.

Another one that we do is what I call the label. I label what you say, drape it in black, play “Taps” over it so I can put it to death, and that avoids me talking in detail about what it is that you’ve raised. The labeling. I call that the exorcist approach. I just put the letter on it and move on.

So there are things that we do that undercut our conversations. Are there other things that you can think of that we do that are in that category?

Gary Barnes
The list is endless. It just goes on and on. It’s our defense mechanisms. And sometimes we have an awareness, but a lot of times we have no awareness.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And all those things either represent an attempt to move away, or an attempt to move against.
Wendy Miller
And you alluded to this earlier, Dr. Barnes, about how important it is to regulate yourself – that you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on with you – and you have to know when you’re being defensive. You have to know when all that stuff’s coming into play for yourself. Because if somebody’s just pointing it out, and you don’t already know about it, we tend to push back and work against. But if I know my stuff, and I’ve done my work, and I know when my stuff’s coming into the conversation, there’s a much higher chance of that conversation’s gonna be productive.
Darrell Bock
You know what I’m gonna do? I’ve never done this before. I’m just gonna go through the list of questions that I have here. I’m not looking for response. I want to show you what we’ve triggered:

“How can you monitor your emotion while still being genuine in communicating your thoughts and feelings?”

“In the context of a relationship in which both people aren’t viewed on the same level, i.e. mother/daughter, boss/employee, what options are available for the person who might have to justify being heard, especially if the other party doesn’t see it necessary to really listen?”

“In these kinds of conversations, what is the role of defining terms and getting on the same page about what we are referring to?”

“How should we handle words or language that can be problematic or triggering?”

“I must be drunk, because too many conflicts are handled under the influence of emotion.” [Laughter] “How can I practice removing negative emotion before having the conversation?”

“For those of us who are relationally challenged, can you concretely define connection? I hear you say chase connection. What is connection, and how do I know that I’ve connected?”

Wendy Miller
That’s good.
Darrell Bock
That actually … and the next line was, “Thanks.” [Laughter]

“If you are dealing with anyone already prejudiced against what they assume you are about, and their language is filled with loaded terms and extreme thinking, do you try to unpack those statements and attitudes? Do you start with asking defining questions? What do you do to get a true conversation going?”

“What are some of the healthy ways to respond to passive aggressive people?”

“What would be best to do if both of us, a couple, at the same time have no room for the right conversation, because of babies, papers, parents, ministries?” That sounds like a seminary question.

“What do you do if it’s clear that we have radically different views?”

Gary Barnes
I think you’re gonna need another chapel. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
Fair enough. I think … let me just say this. Our time is rapidly going. I’m gonna take time to take these last two questions, but let me just say this. The reason we did this is that …you will find out, the moment you enter into ministry, you will be walking into a series of all kinds of difficult conversations. If you do not have any clue how to even walk into the space, then it will not be long before just the emotional drain of pursing all this will eat you up in ministry. And so this is no minor area that we’re talking about. This is, in many ways, the core at the relational level of pastoral ministry that we are talking about here. So yes, we may need to do another … I guarantee you we’re gonna do several podcasts on it, and I now have a list of questions for us to go through.

Okay. So floor is open again. Over here.

Audience
I was wondering about, in this desire to be heard and understood, how that might manifest itself improperly. And if it can, what are come corrective ways that we can reform our character into more Christ-likeness?
Gary Barnes
I got a response.
Wendy Miller
Go ahead.
Gary Barnes
One of the big, big breakthroughs for being able to move towards mutual understanding is when I’m not getting understanding to have my first response be back to “What part of this is something that needs to get worked on on my side?” And this is where I’ve really become big time impacted about the Gospel for most of us is way too small. Way too small. We need to expand what the Gospel is for us spiritually, but we also need to expand what the Gospel is for us psychologically.
Darrell Bock
And relationally.
Gary Barnes
Yeah, those two go together for me.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Gary Barnes
Because the Gospel frees me up psychologically. It frees me up from the expectations of the other person for my own personal okay-ness. The minute I make an expectation on the other person that their response to me is connected to some level of okay-ness in me personally, that’s too much weight for the relationship. And that interaction is gonna go bad.

So this is getting back to the Gospel. It’s … The Gospel gives me spiritual freedom, but it gives me psychological freedom, it gives me sociological freedom. And I have to be convinced that it’s the Gospel that gives me that freedom to love someone who cannot meet the deep needs of my soul. That’s the only way that I’ll be able to move towards someone who’s adversarial to me. That’s how I love my enemy. You can’t do that apart from the Gospel, authentically. It’s the Gospel that’s gonna free me that way.

Audience
You kind of answered my question in the previous question. But what is one practical tip that you want to give a seminarian in the student body so that we can love well? Because it’s information, it’s all that, but. And then love well, I believe it’s a something you have to be intentionally practice, and it’s really, really tough. So what is one practical tip that you can give us here to love one another well at DTS?
Gary Barnes
Yeah. You’re gonna have to be gripped by how well loved you are. Not just know it. Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul’s prayer to believers who are following Christ at a big cost to themselves, was that they would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. That’s being gripped by the love. It’s the compelling love of Christ. That’d be a great name for a documentary. [Laughter] “The compelling love of Christ.”
Darrell Bock
I think what Gary is alluding to is, to the extent that you allow your identity to rest in the acceptance that you have from the Creator, your identity is no longer placed in threat by anything else going around you.
Gary Barnes
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
And so the … and that’s … I see, oftentimes the church, in the public square space, operating out of fear or frustration or anger. And the moment I see that, I know they are not resting in their identity in Christ. And so, hopefully, we will be teaching you, as you move through your classes, how wonderfully blessed, not entitled, but how wonderfully blessed you are by grace. And if you appreciate that God reached out to you, when you had your back turned to God, and brought you to Himself, and that that’s what you’re called to model to a needy world, then you will be prepared to image the Gospel in your interactions with the people that you have.

Well, unfortunately our time is up. Let me close this in a word of prayer. I want to thank you for being very attentive, and I certainly want to thank our guests for helping us initiate [Applause] this conversation. So let me pray.

Father, we do seek to be your children, not in word only, but in deed. And in deed we seek for you to change us from the inside out. And that means taking our tendencies to think about the world from our own perspective and with our own desires, and hand those over to you. Help us to do that in the context of your grace. Help us to realize that you reached out to us when we weren’t interested. And help us to model the initiation and the love that was represented when you sent your Son to the cross, and we helped put him there.

We thank you for this opportunity to reflect on how you engage with us through the circumstances of life, often difficult ones. And we pray for wisdom and patience and tolerance and big ears, as we have the conversations that we need to have in our lives. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Audience
Amen.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Gary Barnes
Dr. Barnes is an ordained minister and a licensed psychologist who specializes in marriage and family research, counseling, and training. After graduating from DTS he served as an assistant pastor for seven years. While in the New York area he was a research project coordinator at NYU Medical Center’s Family Studies Clinic and later completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship through Parkland Hospital (Dallas) and the Child Guidance Clinics of Dallas and Texoma. His great celebrations of life are his wife, four adult kids plus three more by marriage, seven grandkids, and bicycle racing.
Wendy Miller
Before moving to Dallas, Wendy completed her undergraduate work at Oklahoma State University in the field of Family Relations and Child Development, and then spent a year serving at Shelterwood, a residential center for teens of families in crisis. In 2001, Wendy decided to pursue a Masters in Biblical Counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary in order to use her gifts and skills in a professional setting. During her time in graduate school, Wendy served as a counseling intern on the Trauma Floor at Timberlawn Mental Health System. She has been in private practice since 2004 and has cultivated experience with individual, couple, and group counseling. Now in practice at Sparrow House Counseling, Wendy enjoys working with individuals and families as they seek to take the next step in their personal recovery and healing.
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