Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

Getting Real

How do we end this relationship damaging game?

1. Decide that being “real” with others is more productive than being “nice.”

It sounds simple, but it’s not. I’m talking about making a change in a basic value that many of us have held our entire lives. Many of us believe that “niceness” is what people really want from us.

Now, it is true that almost everyone enjoys being around people who are pleasant. But, as Proverbs 28:23 puts it:

In the end, people appreciate frankness more than flattery. Proverbs 28:23 [NLT]

In other words, people would prefer the truth. In other words, “it might be hard, I might even get mad, but please for the sake of our relationship, tell me how I’m doing with you. That’s the only way I can ever improve.”

2. Attempt to handle conflict in a biblical manner.

What is the biblical mandate for dealing with conflict? Jesus said “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 [NIV]

In other words, don’t wait for the other person to take the initiative in resolving things. And get this – resolving things is even more important that worshiping God. If you come to church and there is someone here that you are out of whack with … deal with them first, then deal with God. Pretty radical, but that’s what Jesus is saying here.

Jesus also said there is a sequence for dealing with conflict:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along [that’s when you get to ask them to pray – AFTER you go on your own first, not before], so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 [NIV]

3. Get comfortable saying these three phrases:

“I’m angry.”

But don’t stop there, because one of the traps of the Hide and Seek game is assuming that you can read the minds of other people. So, you need to get comfortable saying …

“Can you help me understand?”

I’m angry, but I want to hear your side of the deal, too. Maybe there is something I am missing.

“I forgive you.”

I’m talking about real and true forgiveness, not merely saying “it’s OK” when it’s not.

Real and true forgiveness is always painful. Real forgiveness requires confronting another person with the fact that they did you wrong, that it hurt you and that you didn’t like it … but that you have accepted the pain and are choosing to let it go. It costs you something – pain – but it gains you something – peace of mind and the opportunity for a renewed relationship.

4. Be a God pleaser before being a man pleaser.

No matter how nice you are you will never please everyone all of the time. With God, you don’t even have to try to be nice to win his approval. In fact, he offers forgiveness to us before we attempt to be nice. While we were still sinners, Paul writes, Christ died for us.

I’ve covered a lot of stuff over the past three days. Let me end with a couple of cautions.  If you are a hider, don’t get down about it. Everybody struggles with game playing in relationships. Just own it and pick one or two things off of this list and start to work on them.

Second, if this is not you, don’t beat somebody else over the head with this information. They already know it’s them and they are very vulnerable right now. What you need to do is to remind them that with God’s help they will be able to grow and change, and to encourage whatever progress that you see in them.

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There are several strategic moves when playing relational “Hide and Seek” that will help covertly hide your negative feelings. As you read through this list, you might want to check off the ones that are characteristic of the way you do relationships.

1. Deny your feelings of anger and frustration.

With this move, you just don’t let on when you are hurt. You say something like, “It’s ok” when it isn’t … or “it doesn’t matter” when it does … or “it’s not that big of a deal” when it really is. You turn the anger and frustration inward instead of expressing it at the person who deserves it.

2. Tell yourself, “In time things will work out on their own.”

Don’t take any action to resolve the conflict on your own because, who knows, it might only make things worse.

3. Have a lot of imaginary conversations.

Instead of going to the person and having it out for real, just do it in your head. You say what you really want to say, and then you mentally have them respond how you think they should. But whenever you see them for real, just keep smiling like everything is fine.

4. Expect others to read your mind.

Drop little hints and clues that might suggest that you are not happy and hope that others will somehow figure it out. Don’t sit down with them and come right out and say what is on your mind. That could be too risky.

5. Gossip instead of confronting.

All of that pent up anger and emotion has to go somewhere and since we’re too afraid or too lazy to take it to the person directly, other people are the natural outlet. And if we’re “religious” it’s really easy to do this by saying, “I have a prayer request about a problem I’m having with so-and-so. Let me tell you the situation so you’ll be able to pray more intelligently …”

By the way, there is a time when it is appropriate to say something like that but only under certain circumstances.

Those are some of the strategic moves in relational Hide and Seek. But how do you “win”?

– you meet your need for approval through deception.

You act like everything is OK, you don’t rock the boat, and you avoid the hard issues because you want everyone to be happy with you.

Well, that’s the game and it can get ugly.  But there is hope for those of us who struggle with this relational pattern. There is hope for those of us who lie in bed at night and realize that most of our relational stress comes because we pretend in order to meet our need for approval.

There is hope for those of us who want to end the game, but first, we must admit the truth about ourselves, that we are masters of it and then turn from it. We must ask God to give us courage to say what needs to be said and we must lessen the value we place on what people think of us. Only when we do that, are there some things we can start to do differently in our interactions with those around us.

Tomorrow I will wrap this up with a few strategy moves to end this pattern that is in reality, no game at all.  We are talking about real people with real lives.  Many time these are some of the closest relationships in our lives.

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One of the few kid games my brothers and I could play that did not end in bloodshed was the game Hide and Seek.  Should your memory be a bit rusty, let me give you a brief refresher course.  Hide-and-seek or hide-and-go-seek is a game in which a number of players conceal themselves in the environment, to be found by one or more seekers. The game is played by one player (designated as being “it”) counting to a predetermined number while the other players hide. After reaching the number, the player who is “it” tries to find the other players (thank you, Wikipedia).

In the kids’ version of Hide and Seek, the goal is to hide your physical body so that no one can find you. But in the relational version of the game, the goal is to hide not your body, but your emotions – in particular, the negative ones – that arise in the course of routine interactions with the people around you

There’s a high price to pay for that choice. It’s no fun to stay hidden forever. But in the relational version, not only is it not fun, it’s not safe. And not only is it not fun and not safe, it’s downright destructive.

All of that buried anger and unspoken pain is like a time bomb just waiting to go off, and in the end, more often than not, it does. It can wind up destroying relationships and has been known to cost lives.

God has been dealing with me about this so I’ve been taking a closer look at the details of this game called “Hide and Seek.”

Equipment required:

To play the game you only need one major piece of equipment: basic belief that conflict is bad or just too dangerous.

You have to be convinced that the world is going to end if someone gets mad at you because you expressed your displeasure over something they did. You need to believe that people would rather you run away from them than confront them. You need to believe that pushing through the junk that comes from revealing how you feel just isn’t worth the effort, that it’s easier to just hide those feelings and pretend that everything is OK.

Now, let me be very clear, I’m not saying that every bad feeling we have about another person needs to be brought out into the open. After all, Proverbs 19:11 says that … A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11 [NIV]

But the issue is – can the offense truly be overlooked and are we truly being patient? To overlook something means that you don’t bring it up to the person because you have chosen to let it go; because you have decided that it will not be an issue in your relationship. There is a world of difference between doing that out of patience and clamming up because you simply want to avoid conflict out of fear or laziness.

Tomorrow I want to look at strategies for playing the game.

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The goals of relational King of the Hill are:

  • To take charge of other people, and to take charge of them without their permission.
  • To order the world around you the way you want it, with little regard for the feelings of the other people in your life.
  • To seize and maintain the upper hand in relational interactions.
  • To maintain your position by pushing others away when they challenge your territory.

In other words, you come to the point where you are convinced that your way of doing things – including relationships – is superior to everyone else’s; that there isn’t a whole lot left for you to learn on the subject; and even if there was, it doesn’t really matter because you are strong enough to make everyone around you submit to your way.


If we are ever going to quit playing the King of the Hill game we must ask God to help us lose our pride and self-sufficiency and to humble us. We must admit the truth about ourselves, that we are masters of the game, and then turn from it. This is the foundation of change.

Once that attitude is established, there are some things we can start to do differently.

1. Become a student of people and relationships.

2. Get to the point where these three phrases fall freely from our lips:

  • “I was wrong.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I love you.”

Why are these phrases so important? They are words of humility and dependence – exactly the opposite of the pride and self-sufficiency.

3. Use your ears more than you use your mouth.

This takes the focus off of self and puts it onto others.

4. Give the lead position to others whenever possible.

Learn that you won’t die if you aren’t the king.

5. Start relying on God more than self-effort.

Remember that the reason we play the game is because we feel insufficient, and so we overcompensate to make up for it. This root must be destroyed in us.

After Nebuchadnezzar had his sanity restored, his life was more characterized by these behaviors than by King of the Hill behaviors. And you know what happened? Buried there towards the end of the passage is this little phrase …

The hope and promise for all of us who will give up the game. Is that we will attract others instead of driving them away. It won’t happen overnight, but with God’s help, it will happen.

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Ok, be honest – do you see any of the tendencies in the previous post in yourself? Have other people ever pointed out things like this to you about how you relate to them and others? (By the way, they aren’t your enemies when they do that. They’re actually doing you a favor.) And here is the tough question: when you consider the relational struggles in your life, how strong is the need to cover your insecurities with pride and self-sufficiency. Could it be that this is what is pushing people away and not that they are just being mean to you?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that there is hope. You can change. The bad news is that it won’t happen overnight. There is no magic or prayer that will transform you immediately. It’s a difficult process of breaking you and remaking you that God will bring about in your life if you will let him.

There was a king in biblical times named Nebuchadnezzar who eventually became ruler over the entire Middle East. He had a serious King of the Hill complex. He had such a bad case that he built statues of himself and ordered the people to bow down to them and worship.

But, along the way, God got involved in his life and began to change him. It began with a strange dream he had and a prophecy that God would break him of his pride.

Twelve months later, [Nebuchadnezzar] was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Just look at this great city of Babylon! I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence and as an expression of my royal splendor.’

Translation: “Look at me, I’m King of the Hill!”

“While he was still speaking these words, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’

Translation: “There is another King higher up the hill than you!”

“That very same hour the prophecy was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws.

It took seven years to get to this point of total brokenness.

“After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He has the power to do as he pleases among the angels of heaven and with those who live on earth. No one can stop him or challenge him, saying, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’

“When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and officers sought me out, and I was reestablished as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble those who are proud.” Daniel 4:4-37 [NLT]

In my next post I want to give you five practical steps that you can take to end the game of King of the Hill in your relationships.

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Ok, let’s get more specific. How does the game actually work in relationships?

In my previous post I wrote that all you needed to play the kids version of King of the Hill was a bunch of kids and some elevated surface. To play relational King of the Hill what you need is a basic belief that the way you relate to others is the right way (and even if it’s not, it doesn’t matter).

In other words, you have to have it in your mind that your way of doing things – including relationships – is superior to everyone else’s; that there isn’t a whole lot left for you to learn on the subject; and even if there was, it doesn’t really matter because you are strong enough to make everyone around you submit to your way.

Most of us aren’t quite as in-your-face as that. We’ve learned that there are several strategies to get the upper hand and to take charge of those around us. As I hit on these you might want to place a mental check mark next to the ones that apply to you.

1. “Pull rank” verbally or non-verbally.

When your kids complain about your policies and decisions and want to know why, is your primary explanation to them “because I said so?” “I’m your father” …”I’m your mother” … That’s what it means to pull rank.

In essence, whenever we communicate, “you have to do it my way because, right now, I am higher on the hill than you are” we’re pulling rank. And if we’re not careful, we can fall into a pattern of doing that to our spouses, children, subordinates at work and even our friends.

Is there ever a time when it is valid to pull rank? Yes, but very rarely. Only when it is critical that things be done your way and only after every other option has been exhausted.

2. Take offense when someone questions you.

This communicates that you don’t like anyone thinking that they may have a better way or better idea than you do. To be King of the Hill, you need everyone to automatically assume that your way is the best way, that your ideas are the best ideas. So, you need to let people know that if they don’t do that, you are going to make things hard on them.

3. Expect others to compensate for your relational weaknesses.

Have you ever heard yourself saying to someone else, “Look, this is just who I am. This is how I roll. Take it or leave it”?

Occasionally, it may be ok to say something like that, but people who play this game say it all the time. Instead of admitting their weaknesses and trying to improve themselves, they throw the burden onto everyone else. “You learn how to deal with me,” they say, “and we’ll all get along just fine.”

4. Stick together primarily with “birds of a feather.”

It’s hard to play this game for a long time because it hurts to have people leave you or distance themselves from you. So, you need to have other people (who are also playing the game in their relationships) encourage you that your way is the right way. They understand exactly how you feel, because they, too, are surrounded by jerks who just need to get in line.

5. Rely on logic to control people.

“Knowledge is power”, they say, and so people who play this game strive to become masters of knowledge – or at least enough knowledge to have control over others. (Very rarely does their knowledge ever apply to them personally). They know it all and they know how to present it in a way that makes everyone else look stupid or foolish.

So, that’s the strategy, But how do you win?

A win (and I use that word somewhat sarcastically, because nobody really wins in this game) amounts to successfully covering up your personal insecurity through pride.

That’s the real goal of people who play this game. On the outside, they appear totally self-sufficient. But, on the inside, they are full of self-doubt. “Do people really care what I think? Will they listen to me? Am I valuable? Am I capable?” … and the list of questions goes on and on. So, to compensate, they put on a front that says, in essence, “I’m better than you”, which is the definition of PRIDE.

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I think we can all agree that conflict happens in even the best relationships. When it does happen, there are certain deadly weapons that should be considered out of bounds.  These tend to provoke anger and resentment.  If we avoid these seven landmines, we will find that conflict can be healthy and can actually move our relationships forward.

1.  Never Compare.  Don’t say “Why can’t you be like…” or “You’re just like … ”  It’s unfair to compare.  God made every person unique.

2.  Never Condemn.  Don’t use phrase like, “You always…” or “You never… You ought to… You should… You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”  Don’t become someone else’s conscience. Only God has the right to judge so don’t start statements with “You…” because that’s a judgmental statement usually — “You do this… You do that…”  Start them with “I”.  “I need this from you…  I feel this…”  If somebody says “I feel it”, try to accept it as legitimate — whether you understand it or not don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way!”  If they feel it, just accept it.  It doesn’t mean you agree with it or it’s legitimate just accept as the way they way they feel.  “I need… I feel… It seems to me…” is much less threatening, must less condemning than to make “You” statements:  “You ought to, you should… you never… you always…”

3.  Never Command.  Don’t try to end an argument by force. “I demand that you do what I say!  I command you to do this…” This is especially true if the conflict is with a spouse. Don’t try to be a parent to your spouse.  Don’t make demands because it has a way of raising the temperature in the room. 

4.  Never Challenge.  We do this with threats.  “Just try that and see what happens!”  I remember when I was a kid and someone would say, “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you.”  You probably can guess what my next sound would be. (Peep!) That is the rebellious nature of humanity.  If somebody says “I dare you” you’re going to take the dare.  Don’t threaten, challenge, and lay down the gauntlet.  That is a mark of immaturity.  Let’s grow up and not use that.

5.   Never Condescend.  Never treat another person as an inferior.  Don’t belittle your spouse. “You shouldn’t feel that way.”  Don’t put them down.  Don’t ridicule them for their feelings or their logic or whatever. Above all, don’t play psychologist.  “I know why you said that… You said that because…”  Most of us have a difficult enough time figuring out our own motives much less figure out another person’s.  Don’t prejudge motives.  That’s definitely playing God. 

6.  Never Cut Off.  Never interrupt in the middle of a sentence.  When we get into arguments the tendency is to only see our side.  We tend to jump in before the other person has finished.  We’re not thinking about what the other person is saying.  We’re not listening.  We’re just thinking about what we’re going to say. The average person can talk 150 words a minute but the average person can listen to about 650 words a minute.  That leaves a 500 word per minute boredom factor.  That means while they’re talking to you, you’re already thinking about what else you’re going to say.  You cut people off.  Wait your turn to talk when you’re in a conflict.  Let them say their whole piece and then you can say your piece and back and forth.  Don’t cut each other off.  Treat each other with consideration.  I have a button that I made with the picture of an ear on it.  When I have a couple in my counseling office that has problem with this I will let one person hold the “listening” button to remind them that it is their turn to listen.

7.  Never Confuse.  This is when you bring up unrelated issues in the middle of the argument.  Often you do this intentionally to side track people.  Some of us are very good at this.  When we are in an argument that we know we’re losing we bring up something unrelated and start arguing about that.  You keep switching the argument because you realize you’re losing.  Stick with the issue.  Don’t confuse issues.

Let me summarize these seven things in one sentence:  Attack the issue not each other.  Proverbs 11:29 says, “The fool who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing worthwhile left.”  It is foolish to intentionally cause anger or resentment.  It’s dumb but we do it all the time when we’re angry.  After a while we learn how to push the emotion hot buttons of people.  You know what will tick off your husband/wife/parents/kids.  You know if you push that button it’s going to make them mad.  The Bible says it’s dumb to push those buttons, to make people angry intentionally, to intentionally build resentment.  It is foolish!

Photo:  Jacob Rickard’s photostream (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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