Are you killing your influence in 1 of these 5 ways?

Everyone wants influence.

You don’t think so? Go with me for a moment. Whether it is influence in a child’s life, influence in an organization we joined, influence over your own health, influence on an issue of grave concern, or just influence in your conversation with a customer service agent, we all want influence. We want to be able to move something from where it is to where it should be–spiritually, relationally, culturally, politically, organizationally, or physically.

And yet, we can do things that minimize or even kill our influence. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about things we do or say, attitudes we foster, or postures we take which makes us less able to move something we deem important from where it is to where we think it should be.

We can kill our influence.

The polarizing, political conflicts of late evidence our diminishing powers of influence, but I could just as easily refer to ways we lessen our influence in the lives of our youth, the spiritual journey of our friends, and even our own personal growth.

Here are 5 ways we kill our influence.

  1. We don’t slow down to let people catch up. Sometimes we get so excited about a good idea that we fail to help people process and move along at the pace appropriate to them. How many parents have been frustrated with the slowness of a child’s development and given up trying? Patience!
  2. We are more concerned about getting our own point across than we are hearing where others are struggling. Someone is conflicted over an idea, or reacting because of the inherent personal implications, but instead of teasing out their questions, we get preachy and overbearing. Without empathy, influence wanes. Listen!
  3. We get defensive when people question our actions or ideas, becoming reactive instead of helpful. Because polarized argument has hit the mainstream in a profound way, we seem less willing to engage disagreements at the level of ideas–we feel attacked and return the favour with force. Peace!
  4. We consider certain people unworthy of our respect, reducing them to mocking derision. So much of this is happening, I don’t even know where to start. People who boldly claim to follow Jesus Christ will say the nastiest things about others, bringing shame on their Saviour (Here’s a related post on Christians behaving badly online). The lack of respect and the degrading of dignity means we’ve already lost our influence (as well as our own dignity). Battle lines get drawn, wars ensue, and nobody moves. Respect!
  5. We lack the humility needed to influence others, exuding instead an ultra-confidence (which we may not even have!) that our position or thought or perspective is the only right one possible.  Is it? Really? You’ve got it all figure out and don’t have anything left to learn from others, even those you may disagree with? Humility.

So how are you killing your influence?

We all want to move ideas and people toward something better, but we can kill our influence if we won’t wait and listen, calmly and with respect, knowing that we are also growing and learning, along with everyone else.


Five for Fighting: 5 Questions I Ask When I’m in Conflict with My Kids


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Image from Photobucket

Sometimes we fight.

I know, that’s horrible to say, but it’s true. And I hate it. When I can see the conflict coming with my kids, I try to head it off.

How? By asking myself five focusing questions, my “five for fighting.” I don’t always ask all of them, but usually one or two help me when I’m losing my perspective, getting into a no-win confrontation, or slipping in my priorities. Here’s what I ask myself.

5 Questions I Ask When I’m in Conflict with My Kids

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The Wisdom Q: Is this worth it?

We’ve all had that experience of realizing, usually right in the middle of meltdown, that this thing I’m fighting for just isn’t worth it. Do I really want to let my relationship take a hit over a haircut? Am I really  going to push my agenda right now and risk hurting our trust? Of course there are times when we need to push through, hold the line, be the unpopular parent–I get that. I’m not arguing for always giving in. But for me, I know there are times when I lose perspective on what really matters, and end up harming my relationship over something I really, in the end, don’t care about nearly as much as I care about my son. The Wisdom Q helps me walk away at times I might have stubbornly held my ground and gained nothing of value.

The Purpose Q: What’s my goal here? 

In a similar way, I try to ask myself why I’m expecting something, saying no to a request, or urging some kind of behaviour. By asking “What’s my goal here?” I’m able to focus on the result, the end goal, which makes me more flexible in how we get there. It also helps me communicate with my boys more effectively, sharing with them why something is important to me, why we are doing this a certain way, why I’m concerned about this choice or that option. Asking “What’s my goal?” keeps me from being that parent who gives orders but never explains the reasons. Maturing kids need to know “why”, and so do maturing parents.

The Effectiveness Q: Will this even work? 

Haven’t we all had the experience of realizing, as we got further in, that this is stupid and won’t work? I’ve had “great” ideas about a family “policy” that didn’t account for reality. But how many times has pride kept us pushing, somehow thinking that if we just persevere it will work in the end? For the time’s that’s true, asking the effectiveness question can reassure your decision. But if you realize you’re now fighting for something that’s not going to work, show the humility needed and stop.

The Empathy Q: How are they seeing this? 

Oh, I cannot tell you how helpful this has been for me. I get so caught up in my perspective that I fail to really understand how my son is seeing all this. Getting around to his side of the table, asking questions, opening up to his way of viewing things will not only help build our relationship, but it’ll go a long way to understanding what is really going on. And I’ve been consistently surprised by how thoughtful and aware my sons are, and how together we will often come to a better solution.

The Action Q: What can I do to lean into relationship right now? 

This, my friends, is the game-changer, and it applies not only to conflict but across the parenting board. What action can I take to nurture my relationship, right now? There have been times when I’m not seeing eye to eye with one of my sons on a particular issue, and instead of just trying to hammer it through, I try to do something that will actually grow our relationship.  Sometimes it’s as simple as playing a game with them, taking them to the bakery for some “special son and dad time” (we have a long tradition of that one), or simply showing interest in something they’ve been doing. Taking action for the relationship, rather than focusing on the particular conflict we’ve been having, has had remarkable effect. Not only has our relationship grown, the conflict has often been diffused, sometimes even solved.

Which question seems most helpful to you?

What has helped you navigate conflict with your child?


Everybody Hurts, Sometimes: Six Practices To Increase Our Empathy

R.E.M was right. And we all know it: everybody hurts, sometimes.

Advice from the old song? Take comfort in your friends. 

So here’s my question: how can we become a comforting friend to hurting people?

It seemed like every day this last fall, I was being schooled in empathy. I was struck, again and again, by how much was really going on “behind the scenes” in people’s lives.  And the more I knew, the more the Holy Spirit grew my empathy.empathy

It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it? We all know it’s wrong. We all quote “judge not lest ye be judged,” and, if asked, we all say we don’t want to be judgmental. But let’s be honest: we often are. It’s just so easy to assume things about others, based upon my narrow vantage point on their lives.

That kid freaking out in the store. What a brat.

That couple who constantly bicker. Immature.

That wealthy woman who has it all together.  Wow, what a snob.

That annoying teen age boy. Avoid, avoid, avoid. 

So, how do I become a non-judgmental, grace-filled person? By growing in empathy for others.

Here are six practices helping increase my empathy for others.

1. Always assume there is more going on than you know. Okay, so maybe there won’t be, but I’ve been consistently surprised at that depths and significance of people’s personal struggles, when I’ve got in close enough to care. Knowing that, I’ve started just assuming there’s more, especially in those times when I’m beginning to judge a person for their anger or their sharp criticism or their cool veneer.

2. Give grace. Assuming there’s more going on, I consciously extend grace to that person. I’ll even tell myself, “This person must be hurting,” or “I wonder what’s happening here,” cuing myself to do as Romans 15:7 instructs: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (NIV) This helps me remember to give grace as I’ve been given grace.

3. Ask gently and prayerfully how they are doing. If it’s appropriate, I try to find out more about the person. Depending on my relationship with them, this may just be getting to know them at a basic level, even a simple, gracious conversation in the check-out line, or it could mean leaning in close and asking, “Is everything okay?”  I’ve asked that at a coffee counter and seen tears leap into the eyes of the barista. We may not have talked it through right there, but at the very least, I was able to express care and grace and give an encouraging word to another loved baristaperson.

4. Hold their story reverently. If people do open up, know that you are standing on holy ground. The stories of people’s lives are sacred material, woven by the grace of God, shot through with beauty and ravaged by sin. To hear anyone’s story is a precious gift, and we hold it reverently. We don’t make it about us, we don’t try to deny what they are feeling. We listen openly, giving people the space to actually share their real struggles. I’ve written here how we can become better listeners.

5. Pray with them and for them. If at all possible, ask if you can pray with them, right then and there. If they are at work, or you are in a place where prayer could embarrass them (especially if tears flow, which often happens in prayer), then either move to a more private location, or commit to pray for them after you leave. If you can pray with them then, make it simple and short: “Jesus, thank you for loving us. I pray you will give __________ your grace today.  I pray that he/she will know how much you love him/her. Amen.”  Natural voice, no theatrics. After you leave, write down their name where you can see it and pray for them for a week.

6. Reflect on how your view of them has changed because you know more of their story. Wow, I had no idea she was struggling with such deep depression. I did not know that boy’s dad left him and his mom high and dry last year. I was unaware of the fact that her mom was just diagnosed with cancer. And so on. Everything seems to change when we know more about a person’s life. Our understanding grows, our love grows, and we become more gracious and more empathetic.

R.E.M. tells the hurting people to hold on. Hold on. You’re not alone. 

As we grow in grace and increase our empathy, hurting people will know they aren’t alone, that they can hold on, that they are loved and heard by us, and by the God who made them in his image.

Let me ask you: What have you done to increase your empathy? 

What do you do when you find yourself judging someone?