Posts Tagged ‘Series: Receiving Others as Gifts’

Receiving Others as Gifts: Finding Common Ground

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Conflict is inevitable if you spend any amount of time around other people. But conflict does not have to come between people or lead to the negation of others as gifts. When we address conflict in a healthy way and seek to find common ground, we validate the other and can move toward solutions that benefit everyone.

I’m aware that so far in this series on Receiving Others as Gifts  I’ve painted a pretty rosy view of everyone serving one another, having companionship, and working harmoniously. We’re all gifts to each other and we feel this especially strongly when we all get along. But what about when conflict surfaces?

 

Two Pitfalls

When it comes to dealing with conflict there are two major pitfalls to avoid:

 

Denial

Ewwww…Conflict….Can’t we just pretend everything is okay? Well, you could, but it’s not the best way. Denying that conflict exists, while a popular choice, is actually a terrible way to honor others as gifts. In fact, pretending conflict is not real is a negation of the other.

 

Manipulation

Another popular, yet misguided approach to conflict is manipulation or using the conflicted situation as a means to get others to do things against their will. Again, this does not honor others, it actively negates them to get what we want.

 

A Better Way

When conflict arises it is best to address it directly and respectfully with an eye toward mutually-agreed-upon solutions. This takes work and it takes practice but it is the best way to honor others and the gifts that they are. Let me break these down a little more:

 

Being Direct

Being direct means, first of all, identifying the problem and then naming it specifically and in objective (non-judgmental, factual) terms to the other party.

“Your article is two days late,” is direct, specific and objective.

“We’re having trouble getting the publication finished,” while stating the fact that the publication is delayed is too vague about the specific problem of the other party missing the deadline.

“You obviously don’t care about our publication because you totally blew off your deadline,” is specific about the missed deadline, but it fails the objectivity test because it is accusatory and assigns motives based on subjective perception.

 

Showing Respect

Addressing conflict respectfully means that we go into the discussion assuming the best about the other and that person’s role in the situation. For all we know the deadline was unclear, or perhaps there was a death in that person’s family. Maybe that person has all-around too much to do. It is disrespectful to behave as if we know the other person’s intent before talking it out.

Dealing with conflict respectfully also means keeping our own emotions in check. It’s understandable that the conflict may have stirred up ill-feelings for us. But showing respect means that we don’t use our feelings as an excuse to mistreat or lash out at the other person.

 

Finding Solutions

Naming the problem directly & addressing it respectfully are just the beginning. Once the problem itself is clearly understood there is no need to belabor how bad the problem is or shame those we believe to be at fault. At that point the important task is to find solutions.

Finding solutions is best achieved when we start by finding common ground. While the conflict itself may seem larger-than-life, there are likely to be values on which the parties still agree. Working from values held in common can help keep the conflict from devolving into an “us vs. them” standoff.

Can the parties agree that the publication is important? Do they agree that staying on schedule is a priority? Perhaps there is agreement on these larger issues, but the precise timing of the deadline is an area for clarification or even renegotiation. The solution may be as simple ace a recommitment to the deadlines as they are, but it may be that the deadline could budge a day or two and not compromise the timeliness of the publication.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

The example of the missed deadline is admittedly a rather small area of conflict and I know that oftentimes the areas of conflict we face are considerably more serious. But even these small areas of conflict have a way of festering &/or getting blown out of proportion when they’re not dealt with effectively.

Dutifully practicing conflict-resolution skills in the small matters helps us build those skills for when the bigger conflicts arise. As we practice the skills necessary in finding common ground and working toward solutions we become more and more able to honor and receive one another as gifts.

 

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Receiving Others as Gifts: Working Together

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One of the ways that we are gifts to one another is when we team up to do something that we could not do alone. Sometimes we directly serve one another as I wrote about in the post about mutuality, but many times we serve alongside one another to accomplish a larger purpose.

Our collaborative “work” may be in the home, at church, in a volunteer organization, or for paid employment. Wherever we are, when we work together, we are not only gifts to one another but we are gifts to the people and organizations we serve.

In this continuation of my series on Receiving Others as Gifts, I am suggesting four conditions that facilitate working together: empowerment, trust, accountability, and communication. In what follows, I’ll say more about each one.

 

1. Empowerment

Working together is at its best when each person is empowered to operate in his or her unique strengths. Part of the joy of working in teams is that different people can specialize in different facets of the work as each is gifted.

Okay, of course, most jobs require us to operate in some or our less-strong areas to get the job done. For example, I don’t love making phone calls, but sometimes I have to.

Still, when individuals can, for the most part specialize, everyone is genuinely engaged and invested because each gets to do what each loves doing. This benefits the project, organization or cause because it maximizes the time, energy, and expertise of the people involved.

 

2. Trust

Working relationships require a basic level of trust. It’s best to assume people are trustworthy in their roles and tasks unless they prove you otherwise. When trust is present, we can each move forward in our unique roles trusting that others will do the same.

Greater levels of trust can be earned when people fulfill their roles well and demonstrate faithfulness and commitment to the project or organization. Over time, as more trust is earned, the working relationship can strengthen.

When we trust others, it means not worrying whether they’ll do what they said. It also means not micromanaging what they do. These behaviors ultimately only weaken the organization and erode trust over time.

 

3. Accountability

An empowered and high trust work environment also needs high accountability. Remaining open to questions and receiving feedback graciously helps keep the work on track.

Of course, arbitrary and negative criticism is destructive and not what true accountability is about. Accountability, rather, can be thought of as check-points to support one another.

True accountability reaffirms the goals and values of the work at hand in a positive way. It then helps people reflect on how they are doing with their parts in the work.

 

4. Communication

Last, but not least, strong communication is essential for collaboration to be at its fullest. Keeping one another up-to-date about challenges and changes ensures that everyone is tackling the right job at the right time and with the right information.

When problems do arise, clearly and graciously naming the problem and talking together about solutions is the best policy. Pretending a problem isn’t there and not discussing is hurtful to the organization.

It is important to communicate affirmation in a working relationship as well as communicate about difficulties. Offering sincere and specific encouragement to one another contributes to a positive atmosphere in the organization.

 

Through empowering others to use their unique strengths, trusting one another to follow through, remaining accountable to each other and communicating openly, we can establish a strong working situation. We can then receive one another as gifts as we collaborate, working together with joy.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Receiving Others as Gifts: The Sanctity of Life

SanctityOfLife

In a way, this topic–the sanctity of life–is foundational to the entire series of receiving others as gifts. In fact, it is foundational to my entire life message and my worldview as a whole.

I could’ve put this topic first and built out from there, but it is a bit tricky to write about. I mean, I can, with one post, alienate just about everyone with my thinking on this issue. I myself don’t even live up to my own high-minded ideals about how very sacred and precious life is.

And so, I’ve buried this most-important topic in the middle of the series to work up the gumption to write about it. At this point, I don’t so much have more gumption as I have a sense of commitment to myself to write the whole series as planned.

Basically, when it comes to the sanctity of life, I think it is a lot easier to want to protect some lives and disregard others. But if we take seriously that each and every person belongs to God as God’s precious creation, then we are challenged to hold as sacred the lives of all people.

Let me give you an example. Sometimes I have heard people make a very impassioned case against abortion, yet those same people advocate for strict application of the death penalty. On the other hand, some people are pro-choice, yet staunchly opposed to the death penalty. For me, if life is valuable, then both the lives of the unborn and the lives of inmates on death row are valuable.

Both abortion and capital punishment are serious issues and I do not mean to make light of either the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy or that of serious violent crime. What I mean to say is that I lament any loss of life.

I figure if the good news of Jesus Christ is true, really truly true, then no one is beyond God’s love. Every life is worth saving in God’s eyes.

But the sanctity of life in my mind goes beyond just the overt taking of a life. We demonstrate respect for life and undermine it in a million small ways every day.

Some of the everyday ways we show respect for life, in no particular order, are when we:

  • care for the sick;
  • truly listen to someone who thinks different from us;
  • honor those who are vulnerable;
  • advocate for non-violent solutions to problems;
  • treat children with kindness;
  • give dignity to the elderly.

We undermine life when we neglect the above, abuse others with actions or words, infringe on others’ basic human rights, and more. These behavior undermine life because they violate others in some way. Whatever we do that violates others–even if they live through it–are offenses against their lives.

In this broad extension of the idea of the sanctity of life, there isn’t a person I know that isn’t guilty of some violation of another. Myself included. Having this perspective doesn’t make me perfect. But I do believe it with all my heart and try to catch myself whenever I recognize that I’m in danger of causing harm to another.

The good news is that we can begin anew each day. We can connect with our God who loves all of his created people and allow God’s Spirit to guide our words and actions as we receive others as gifts and honor the sanctity of their lives.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Receiving Others as Gifts: People Belong to God

Belonging

In a previous post in this series on Receiving Others as Gifts I talked about not taking others for granted, that they are not objects for us to use. I want to go a step further with that to emphasize that people belong to God.

 

People belonging to God has (at least) four important implications:

 

1. We Need to Honor & Respect Others

The other people we encounter in life, as God’s beloved creations, deserve the respect that we give to God.

In college I once wrote a paper talking about the importance of both loving God and loving neighbor. I wrote about these actions as if they were two separate realities.

My professor pointed out that these are really two sides of the same coin.

It simply doesn’t work to say we honor God when we dishonor God’s created people.

 

2. We’re Not the Boss of Other People

Overtly acknowledging that others belong to God underscores that they do not belong to us.

We serve alongside one another in mutuality and we give and receive meaningful companionship but others are free to give or withhold these as honors their own commitment to God.

Others’ participation in service and companionship is not for us to coerce but for them to discern.

It is important for us to honor their boundaries about what they are or are not willing to do.

 

3. We Can Learn About God from Others

Another implication of others belonging to God is that many times we can learn from them about God.

As each of us are designed by our creator to be in communion with him, sometimes others may be tuning in to God in ways that we aren’t currently. As such, we can glean insights and inspiration from their encounters with our God.

Obviously, as a church professional married to a pastor I believe that there are formal roles in which this can happen.

But a person does not have to be super religious or a trained professional to have encounters with God from which the rest of us can learn.

It is easy to settle into our own views about and experiences with God. But God is at work in the lives of others too.

Our lives can be enriched by remaining open to God’s movement in and through others.

 

4. Different by Design

In my post about “giftedness” I talked about the idea that others are different from us. Whether we find these differences enjoyable or annoying, it is important to recognize that many of the differences among us are by God’s design.

God created each of us as unique individuals. Our giftedness comes from God.

Discrimination against or dismissal of others’ uniqueness is a failure to recognize God at work in each person. But by honoring their differences, we honor their belonging to God.

 By honoring others as God’s beloved creations, giving them the freedom to choose how they serve and with whom to associate, learning from them about our amazing God, and respecting their uniqueness we show a deep respect for them. In these ways we show with our actions that we embrace the idea that they do not belong to us, but to God.

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Receiving Others as Gifts: Embracing Their Giftedness

Giftedness

For as long as I can remember I have had some understanding that different people are, well, different. We don’t all like the same things, we don’t all behave the same ways, and we don’t all have the same ideas. Different people have different gifts and strengths and these should be honored and celebrated, not seen as a threat.

School Days
When I was a kid in school I remember being really jealous when certain select individuals were considered “gifted” and got to go to special “enrichment” classes while the rest of us did our usual routine. I wasn’t the most enthused about school work and admit to often just doing the minimum needed to get by—as smart as I thought I was, I wasn’t exactly “enrichment” material.

As I progressed through elementary school, other kids distinguished themselves in athletic achievements. I, on the other hand was challenged to meet grade level minimum standards on the annual physical fitness achievement test.

Seeing other students excel in ways that teachers recognized and for which awards were given in school often led me to wonder whether I had anything distinguishing or remarkable about myself.

Being Unique

Now, looking back on that time I can see trends of the types of things that I really put myself into whole-heartedly and truly enjoyed. These were creative pursuits of all kinds, a little entrepreneurship, and church-life. And now I’m putting all that together in my writing and speaking ministry!

Whether we get recognition or awards or not, we each have unique gifts. The traits and experiences that set each of us apart make it so that, like snowflakes, no two people are exactly alike. And that’s a good thing!

But sometimes we see our differences as a threat. And this is not altogether unfounded as there are indeed risks inherent in accepting the uniqueness of others.

Measuring Up

Sometimes we feel threatened by the success of another, like I did when other kids went to enrichment classes or got physical fitness awards. Sometimes to minimize this risk we try to be something we’re not. We can get ourselves awfully stuck by measuring ourselves against the strengths of others.

It’s difficult to fully embrace the giftedness of others without also understanding our own giftedness. To that end, there are numerous professional assessments—the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory to name a couple.

I encourage all people to spend some time learning what makes them unique. A book that offers a comprehensive overview is LifeKeys and I highly recommend it.

Leveling

But sometimes the differences of another feel threatening because we cannot predict or control what they will do. To minimize this risk we often try to reduce others down to how they are supposedly “just like us.” We think we can tame the threat they pose by finding what we have in common with them.

Patrick R. Keifert, in his book, Welcoming the Stranger, warns against this leveling of the other. He advocates an understanding of the “irreducible other” arguing that to truly value others we have to let their otherness be what it is.

It is important to be open to the strange and surprising aspects of others. Rather than minimizing differences we do well to embrace them.

Risk Management

The differences among us do not have to be threatening. Gaining clarity about our own strengths helps us feel more secure and less apt to measure ourselves by an impossible standard. And acknowledging that others are never going to be quite like us or within our control can free us up to the ways that they will surprise us. As we navigate these risks we can then more fully embrace the giftedness of others.

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

 

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