There is one phrase I try to keep in mind every time I engage someone in conversation.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THEM
In every conversation my goal is that the person leaves the conversation glad they spent that time with me. Sometimes I do well. Other times? Not.
Everyone has an ego. We all have strong convictions about some thing(s). Everyone I have met has life priorities. We all also have strong opinions about some thing(s). However, when our focus is on having conversations with people that leave them in a stronger place, we need to ‘park’ all those important things (our ego) and make it all about them.
Bench pressing 350 pounds is child’s play compared to suspending your ego. It requires great strength or resolve to suspend your ego while engaging with another person.
Learning to keep your focus (and interest) on what interests the other person is what we are talking about. We are talking about the practice of humility, or better yet…meekness. The main idea behind the word “meek” is strength under control, like a strong stallion trained to do the job instead of running wild. To become an encouraging spiritual friend to others you begin by training your ego instead of letting it run wild. You make it about them. You refrain from redirecting the conversation towards what you think is the most important thing to talk about.
In this context, to practice meekness is to stay interested in the priorities and interests of the other person. When you don’t practice meekness you fill the conversation with your interruptions. You try to redirect the conversation to your own priorities and interests, and perspective.
I realize I always have a choice. I can go toe to toe with my ego against their ego with the hope of winning the other person over to my way of thinking. Or, I can exercise restraint and suspend my ego and give my full attention to the other person. Meekness, or Ego suspension, is the number 1 challenge for every human being.
Here’s the deal. To the degree that you practice this kind of meekness is to the degree that others will see you as a real friend. You become the kind of friend who knows how to listen and knows how to help people talk through what is really important to them at that time.
If you want to learn to be an encouraging spiritual friend to others practice meekness. This is how Jesus presents himself to those who are heavy laden (See Matthew 11:28-30)
If meekness is not natural for me is there any hope?
Now, let’s consider how you might integrate this practice of ‘meekness’. into how you relate with others. Since it is the least natural thing to do, you need to recognize that it requires a conscious choice, along with effort. Lots of it, by the way.
Here is what helps me suspend my ego while with someone. I keep the bigger story before me. In a previous post I suggested a goal for every encounter you have… “The result of your time together might leave the person stronger with more courage in their heart to proceed with life”.
My conviction is this… if I can remain in a posture of meekness, God will create space in the person’s heart to do some amazing things.
I enjoy watching someone step towards something they feel God might be inviting them into… and doing it with courage…and knowing that I played a small, hidden part in that.
Keep the bigger story before you. It will help you do the hard work of suspending your ego while in conversation with another person. Making it all about them.
Yeah, but what if?
Let us suppose you are meeting someone and you’re able to set aside your perspective, and your priorities. You are able to give your full attention to the other person. You are learning their context, and you are tracking with them…but as you listen it seems clear to you that this person is going down a self-destructive path, or one that may lead to hurting others. Now what? What do you do in a situation like that where you realize they are doing something that you just know is wrong? What do you do, when it seems like the responsible thing is to step in and try to change the choices they are making, or considering?
“Is there ever a good time where one should not suspend their ego?” “Isn’t there a time where you just need to speak up and say what’s on your mind?”
Again, ‘What is your goal?’ Is it to speak or to help?
When you have listened to another person, they are more likely willing to listen to what you might have to say. Apart from that, not so much.
When I see someone making choices that could be dangerous to them, and or others, I will speak to them about it. However, whenever possible, I will still use questions to bring the issue I’m concerned about to the surface. Example, ‘you mentioned that you think the best thing to do is ‘xyz’. I’m curious about that. Would you mind telling me more about why that seems to be the best option for you? Etc.” Now, if after talking about it they still don’t have any concerns I’ll ask them if I could share a few thoughts I have. (I always hope they will discover on their own that they need to change course).
So I am not opposed to speaking truth and speaking it in love. I just take a long time with a person to get to that point. I would prefer that they discover that maybe what they’re doing and where they are going is not the right course to take. In which case they may invite me to help them look at other options. I love it when that happens.
If you want to give this a shot, then..
- Choose to do so,
- And consider the bigger story which is your goal for every encounter. (You would like the next conversation to result in that person feeling good for having spent that time with you).
So, now you are about to have that encounter and you want it to begin well. Here are two of my favourite things to practice.
- During the first part of the conversation only talk about what they want to talk about. Talk about only what interests them. How do you talk? You talk by asking questions. I have found that I can have a great conversation with someone for the first 10-15 minutes by only asking 3 or 4 questions. (Later on I will write an article on my favourite questions. For now, ask ‘non-judgmental’ questions to encourage the person to talk about what is of interest to them at the moment). Of course, to do this simple practice you will need to practice restraint. You need to toss out those little gems of wisdom that comes to you as the other person is talking. That’s right. Throw them in the garbage. I can sum up the key to being an effective listener in 2 words: “Shut Up”. Or if that seems a little harsh, here are 4 words: “Have nothing to say.”
- The most effective way to practice meekness is this. Find someone who holds a polar opposite view to your perspective on a particular issue. Then practice everything you have learned from reading this article. Examples might be on anything from ‘child education to politics to world views’. This will provide you with many opportunities to suspend your ego, and it will often humble you. You will likely learn more about this world you live in because you decided to posture yourself in humility.
Humility is the foundation for growth and maturity. Matthew 5:5 reminds us that the way of meekness presents us with a wonderful inheritance that cannot be bought.