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Fierce Conversations: The Gateway to Loving Relationships
Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. Chances are that no matter your situation, you can probably trace it back to a key conversation that set things in motion.


The thought of having a candid conversation with another person may bring a response similar to anticipating the taste of Buckley's cough medicine. Getting past the desire to avoid these discussions and consciously engaging in their benefits is the focus of a book called Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.*1) She calls these conversations "fierce" but points out the word is synonymous with "passionate" and "intense." Her thesis is that our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. Chances are that no matter your situation, you can probably trace it back to a key conversation that set things in motion. The question she puts to her reader is, "What are the conversations you have been unable or unwilling to have with certain individuals that if you did might change everything?"

Paul reminds the Colossians of the importance of beneficial dialogue by saying, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6 NIV). Engaging in fierce conversation is not as dreadful if a person has a vision for its benefits; if it is seen as a crucial part of building loving relationships within the body of Christ. Yet it is also important to realize the cost of having a pattern of inauthentic conversations in our relationships.

The first cost is a path toward emptiness. In Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises*2) there's a character that is ruined financially and when asked, "How did you go bankrupt?" he replied, "Gradually, then suddenly." So many things feel that way. We don't perceive what's happening until we're there and then suddenly, it all happened so fast. Patterns of inauthentic conversations yield similar results. In this kind of relationship no one says anything "unsafe"—it is all about keeping the peace. But it is a counterfeit peace. In time such relationships deteriorate and the participants are left wondering, "Where did that sense of blessing we had go?"

Another cost of failed conversations is an aversion to conflict. Harvard researcher Laura Nash recently wrote a book titled, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday. Its purpose was to find how these two venues could learn from one another. Concerning issues of conflict, she says:

[Church] practices are notoriously … conflict-avoiding [in a way] that can be very stressful … Businesspeople tend not to run away from those conflicts as quickly. They tend to be peacekeepers but not in a way that avoids conflict, whereas clergy tend to be peacekeepers in ways that repress conflict.*3)

In one of my seminary courses we discussed conflict management. At one point, I asked my professor (who has consulted with numerous churches), why do church people tend to view conflict this way? He replied, "Because we have this problem with our theology. We feel anytime we have tension, we're sinning." It seems in our exaggerated avoidance of sin we end up giving inadequate attention to genuine relationship—and repress fierce conversation.

Aversion to conflict will lead to something Scott Peck called pseudo communal relationships.*4) "Pseudo" means fake, artificial, or bogus. Peck says the tragedy of most human beings is that they spend their whole life in "pseudo community." Here, a person is only willing to share superficial parts of their life with others and relationships are just "surface" level. In this context, no one will risk initiating a conversation that could be uncomfortable, even if it could bring benefits for everyone.

Susan Scott tells a story of a young couple who are newly married. About a year into the marriage the young man is getting annoyed by his wife's continual desire to talk about their relationship. He sees all they are doing as "talking yet again about the same things we have been for months." Then one day it dawns on him that all these conversations are not really about the relationship—the conversation is the relationship. All those months that his wife wanted to "talk about us" (which annoyed him), the thing they were really doing wasn't "talking about us" but rather it was "defining us."*5) If our conversations become less and less authentic, then all the possibilities of connecting and maturing for the relationship decrease. First gradually, then suddenly we find ourselves becoming smaller in every encounter; engaged in some conversation that edifies no one.

Churches that are characterized by loving relationships are indeed built or lost one conversation at a time. These communities reflect Paul's counsel to the Ephesians:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).

Endnotes

1) Fierce Conversations. Susan Scott. (New York: NY, Berkley Publishing Group, 2004).;

2) The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway. (Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1996). ;

3) Church on Sunday, Work on Monday. Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2001).;

4) The Different Drum: Making Community and Peace. M. Scott Peck. (Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1997).;

5) Scott, ibid. (audio version).

Rob Lindemann is a licensed minister with the PAOC and serves as the Director of Student Ministry at Full Gospel Bible College in Eston, Saskatchewan. He also teaches in the area of professional and ministry courses. Rob was formerly on pastoral staff at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly in Edmonton, Alberta.

Originally published in Testimony, February 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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