Dr. Mike Bechtle: I call it elephant prevention. Like, from the very get-go looking for any little thing and typically when something goes wrong and the other person’s not responding the way we want, we think, they’re doing something wrong. But it’s bigger than just the other person, who’s right, who’s wrong. It’s like- we’re bigger than this problem. It’s something that we need to address and look at together.
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John Fuller: That’s Dr. Mike Bechtle describing some of the challenges that we face in communication, especially if there’s been conflict or tension in the relationship. And it may be that you’ve experienced that. And if so, we believe that today’s program is just for you. This is Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: Hey, John, we had a great conversation last time with Dr. Bechtle. Um, he’s got such wonderful insights about how we interact and communicate with each other.And we said this last time, when you look at God and the way He has structured everything, especially His creation of humanity, it’s about relationship. He created us for relationship.
And, Mike has done a wonderful job in his recent bookDealing with the Elephant in the Room. It is about how to have healthy communication and develop healthy relationships, whether it’s your spouse, your children or, uh, you know, friends and business associates. And it is a wonderful, wonderful resource, uh, to deepen your understanding of communication. The Bible has a lot to say about good communication. I reminded of the verse in Proverbs 1:5. I love Proverbs…We try to read one a day for the 31 Proverbs. And, uh, my boys and I have made that a habit over all of their growing up years. But Proverbs 1:5 says let the wise hear and increase in learning and the one who understands obtain guidance. I mean, this is the instruction of God to us. And, uh, I think this is one of those programs where it’s right from the heart of God.
John: Yeah, and if you’ve got relationships, you probably have some elephants to deal with. (Laughter) I think yesterday’s broadcast...
John: ...Was great. Get a CD or download of it. Uh, use your mobile app. Um, we’re so pleased with the refresh on that. Use that to listen again. Or if you’d like, just call us and get a copy of the bookDealing with the Elephant in the Roomby Dr. Bechtle. Our number is 800-232-6459. And online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Well, Mike, welcome back to the program! (laughter)
Mike: Thanks. It’s a privilege to partner with you.
Jim: It’s good to have you back. And we left off last time about the listening and the skill set that’s required there. This could be one of the most difficult areas for me, I mean, especially when you’re in leadership, you’re in meetings, people are looking to you to give direction. And what I’ve admired in people that I’ve seen in leadership is their ability to listen. But it’s an acquired skill set, isn’t it? And it’s the same in marriage and the same in parenting. How do we become better listeners?
Mike: It is an acquired skill, and it’s something that we have to be intentional about. Because recognizing the value of it - I don’t think anything builds trust with a person more than listening.
Mike: And the problem is that sometimes when we listen to another person, but haven’t we all had that where we’re talking to someone, we’re looking them right in their eye, they’re looking at us, but you know they’re 1,000 miles away.
Mike: And you know that all they’re doing is waiting until you finish so they can present their side of it. And this is a recognition of it that’s saying, you know what? I want to set aside my position. I want to set it aside just to understand. It’s not listening to reply. It’s listening to understand.
Mike: And if I can do that, then it opens up trust to be able to have that kind of relationship.
Jim: I’ll admit I struggle with that. That’s an area that I could do better in because I’m usually trying to think through problem-solving, right? So I’m listening to solve the problem. And that’s a modality that is hard to just let go. But you’re right, it - especially when you’re dealing with your spouse, that’s not a wise (Laughter) modality to be in, you know - let me always just be here to solve your problem. No, I just want you to listen to me.
Mike: But nothing will probably strengthen the relationship more than listening. I think of everything we’ve talked about yesterday and today, uh, if we could walk away with just the importance of listening, it could change everything.
Jim: Boy, that’s good. Describe, for an example, if you’re willing to let us peer into your marriage with Diane - I mean, what’s an example of how you practice this well?
Mike: Like I mentioned last time, my wife and I can go out to lunch with two different people, and she will come home and ask me how my lunch went. I’ll ask her how her lunch went. (Laughter) She will give me a statement by statement overview of her lunch. I said this. She said this. Then I said this. And sometimes I thought her description takes longer than the lunch did. But she’ll ask me what we talked about with whoever I had lunch with. And I’ll go, um, (Laughter) stuff, and I really don’t know. But it’s the difference in recognizing how we communicate is that she is connecting everything. And I had the conversation. I wasn’t unaware. I was focused at the moment, and then I move onto something else, so I really don’t remember.
Jim: You know, even in that regard, though, Mike, this whole premise is about dealing with the elephant in the room. That is a little elephant that creeps into your relationship, especially if it’s consistent. And I think most male-female conversations in that regard, it is consistent. You know, men have very little detail about their lunch and women have a lot of detail. And the men are saying, oh, my goodness, can you just give me less detail, at least in their minds. And the women are saying, where are you? How could you go out with that guy that’s thinking of getting a divorce, and you didn’t talk about his marriage?! I mean, they get frustrated for that.How do you - roleplay that for me. How do you - how do you come to grips with that and understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths?
Mike: Usually, I’ve found it doesn’t work when you’re having the conversation…
Jim: (Laughing) Right!
Mike: …And there’s frustration. Because when you put emotion and logic together, it just doesn’t work. But I found that I can come back to it later and say, remember that conversation we had. And it can either - either side can do this. But to be able to say, in that conversation, when I, as a husband listen, you had so much detail, but I - it’s hard for me to listen to that much detail because I...
John: Because you don’t care. That’s what - you don’t care, that’s what you’re telling me. You just don’t care.
Jim: I think what John’s saying is how did Diane respond to that? (LAUGHTER)
Mike: Because when I - she says you don’t care, and I say, it’s not that I don’t care. It’s probably that I do care, but I get lost in all of the detail. And I can even go back to some of the things that we could talk about, or talked about that we’ve learned about how a male brain works - focuses on one thing. It’s just hard for me to follow you. I really want to know how it went. But when - at that level of detail, it’s hard for me to stay with you.
Jim: Let me go back, as we ended last time - I teased it up by saying you were a professor, and you learned quickly sitting with your students - that they really needed someone to listen to them. You can’t solve their problems. But describe that environment and what you learned being a professor of teens and 20-somethings.
Mike: Well, I wasn’t much older than that at the time, and I hadn’t been teaching for very long. But one of the best parts of the job is mentoring. So you’re in the classroom, but then those students build a relationship with you. They come in their - in your office, and they just want to talk about life.
And it was priceless. But they’re going through things, and they want to know what to do, and I didn’t know what to tell them. And I was always so intimidated by that. And I thought, I don’t have answers I’m supposed to - to know what to tell them and which way to guide them. And so most of the time, I sat there thinking, what in the world do I say next?
And I would just listen. But then what I would say is, generally, pick up on some little strength they had and just affirm them in that - just a little encouragement in one thing or the other. And then it terrified me, years later, to find out that those little conversations, a few people chose a career based on what I had encouraged them...
John: Oh, my.
Mike: ...In. And it happened often enough I thought there’s so much power in just listening.
Jim: Because you weren’t really giving a solution per se.
Mike: No, no.
Jim: You were just hearing them out and letting them kind of wander into their own conclusion, right?
Mike: And I felt like I wasn’t giving them anything. I felt like I was almost doing them a disservice, and they’re going to walk out and say, well, he doesn’t know anything. But they heard it, and it was mostly because they got to say their thoughts out loud. I listened. I asked questions just to kind of shape their thinking, but they walked out with some new tools for solutions.
Jim: You know, when you look at it, Mike, Jesus, of course, the son of God, um, sinless, perfect. He illustrates human communication so brilliantly, which was often to ask questions - tell stories and ask questions. And that’s how He knew He could teach those around Him. It wasn’t to dispense godly knowledge, although He was. But it wasn’t — therefore hear me in this - step one, step two. He didn’t do that. He could have. He could have gone to Caesar and say, hey, by the way, I want to kind of reorder all of the rotten things in your government. (Laughing) He didn’t even do that! But He shared stories, and He asked questions of his students, His followers and said - well, you know, in essence, how do you make that conclusion?
Mike: Well, we do that with our teenagers. It’s real easy, when we have kids, to assume that I’m the parent, I’m supposed to guide them and tell them what they need to know and shape them and give them wisdom. But I found, when I had teenagers, that some of the best times were when, instead of trying to direct them and steer them, I would ask them a question...
Mike: ...About how did you feel when that just happened? And maybe it’s something they messed up on. But, you know, when that - when that occurred, what went through your head?
Mike: And how do you think that - do you think that was a healthy response? Just tell me where you would go with it. And because I asked questions, I didn’t come down on them, but they steered themselves toward the right answers.
Jim: Yeah, I think so often, they know.
Jim: It’s just are they feeling, um, safe enough to go in the direction they believe they...
Mike: Well, they’re still kind of...
Jim: ...That is the right way to go?
Mike: ...New at it.
Jim: Yeah, it’s...
Mike: They’re learning.
Jim: ...All intimidating.Let me, uh, raise this topic, since you mentioned teenagers (Laughter) - technology. Human communication and now the - the advent of technology and where that’s taking us, uh, what do we do with that? How does that help us? How does it hurt us?
Mike: Technology is just a tool. And it’s real easy to villainize it today and say everybody’s on their smartphones or just playing their games. Even women will say that about their husbands - he’s always playingvideo games, he’s always just watching TV or something else, he won’t talk to me or do those kinds of things.But technology, the - I think where we’ve gotten in trouble is it’s a great tool for enhancing relationships but not replacing them, not replacing communication...
Mike: ...In relationships.
Jim: How do you guard - how do you administer that? How do you make sure that you’re in a healthy place and not an unhealthy place?
Mike: Talking about it is probably the biggest thing. Because it’s easy to let it become the villain when it seems to get in the way. You’re talking to somebody, they’re on their phone, they’re not really paying attention. But to be able to talk about the purpose of our relationship and the dynamics that make things work in our home, or in our - in those relationships...
Jim: What would be some of the red flags? I mean, I can think of one because, um, we’re big on the dinner table. We’re big when we go out to eat that we don’t use technology. But it is - and it’s not a habit that we have or a game that we play - but we’ll notice tables at a restaurant where mom and dad and the kids are all on their smartphones.
Jim: They’re not really communicating. And we try to say to our kids, if you look at that, what’s happening in that picture? They’re not loving on each other. They’re not getting to know each other better. They’re not...
Mike: What a great learning experience...
Mike: ...For them.
Jim: But that’s one - that’s a, you know, an obvious one. What are some others that would be the red flag for the family - that the elephant’s in the room but nobody’s seeing it?
Mike: I had a friend that said that whenever they need to call the kids down for dinner...
Jim: Oh, no, don’t tell me they text them.
Mike: ...That they have to text them...
Jim: Oh, no! (Laughter)
Mike: ...Because they have their headphones on, they’re doing something else. If they yell up and tell them it’s time for dinner...
John: It’s convenient, come on.
Jim: What’s sad about that is - it’s not that, you know, that I’m virtuous. I just never thought of it. That’s a great idea! (LAUGHTER)
John: Yeah, there you go!
Mike: See that - there’re some things like that that we can use. Like, I’ve got another friend that when he’s driving home at night - he’s got four kids. And so on his way home, he calls his wife and debriefs on the day.
Mike: So they use the technology during that time so that...
Jim: Oh, OK.
Mike: ...When he gets home, he can go immediately to the kids, meet their needs, and he’s already had that conversation with his wife.
Jim: That’s a great idea.
Mike: And so it’s a matter of using those kinds of things.And I think something as simple as - when our kids are having a birthday party, to not video everything because then they look up, and they see all these faces with - they see cameras...
Mike: They don’t see people interacting.
Jim: Oh, it - man, we have made that mistake all these years! (Laughter)
Mike: Because you tend not to go back and look at the videos...
Mike: ...But you have the memories if you actually connect with them.
Jim: Yeah. I think we were ignored, though, taking those videos now that I think about them. Seeing the pictures in my mind. I think the kids were looking at their friends. They didn’t care about the camera!
Mike: Yeah. (Laughter) And so I think we miss some interaction because of that.
Jim: That’s an interesting point, though. There’s a great application right there. Something simple.
Mike: So I think one of them is - a simple thing would be that I’ve learned when I go out to dinner with my wife, I leave my phone in the car. I don’t just...
Jim: Oh, that’s good.
Mike: I don’t just not answer it. And I let her know that it’s in the car.
Mike: And the first couple of times, it was a little terrifying that she would think, well, aren’t you going to go get it? But it said to her, this is you and me right now.
Mike: You have 100 percent of my attention. I’ve learned to do it in business meetings. I don’t even take my phone in.
Jim: Wow, that’s a good idea - leave it behind.
John: Well, Dr. Mike Bechtle is helping us understand conflict and tough conversations and better communication. Uh, he’s written a number of books. We’re, uh, really zeroing in onDealing With The Elephant In The Room, and we have copies of that and a CD. Or if you want to be high-techy (ph), uh, we have downloads and, uh, a mobile app for you to listen again to our two-day conversation here. The website is focusonthefamily.com/radio. And you can also call us - 1-800-232-6459.
And Mike, before we leave this topic, I’m just thinking about all the miscommunication that happens in emails and texts. I mean, there’s no - I can’t do an emotional read of a situation. And I’ve - Dena and I have been working on this - my wife and I have been working on this. I’ll say, Sweetheart, that was just too long of an email. I couldn’t read it all. Or...
Jim: Yeah, don’t start there! (laughter)
John: And then she’ll abbreviate. And I’ll say but I’m - you sound angry there. And so I’m - I’m imposing a burden on her because I’m having a hard time reading through. What advice do you have for us in elephant prevention when it comes to social media and electronic communication?
Mike: Well, you know, the research shows that only 7 percent of our communication is the words that we use.
Jim: The data.
Mike: Right. 38 percent of our communication is our tone of voice - how we say it - and 55 percent is our body language.
John: The non-verbals - wow.
Mike: So in face to face conversation, we’re using all three. If we’re on the phone, we’re down to two. But if we’re texting or emailing or on social media, we’ve lost about 93 percent of the communication tools that help us connect.
Jim: Mike, in fact, you use an example of a friend of yours who’s a contractor. And he told you about how many tough texts he gets all day long because the tile’s not right, the wall’s not right, the window’s leaking, I’m sure. Describe that. And how has he managed this deluge of negativity?
Mike: He’s a ceiling contractor for major projects, like airports and skyscrapers and those kind of things. And whenever they sit down at the beginning - all the contractors get together for their first meeting - they almost make court dates at the beginning...
Mike: ...Because they know there’s going to be lawsuits. And he said, “It gets so volatile.” They want to do everything by email. Nobody talks. They just email because they want the paper trail. So when they’re in court, they can prove you said this, I said this.
And he said, “It tends to get volatile really quickly.” And the first email can become very toxic. And he’s learned that the way to handle that is if he gets one of those emails, he doesn’t email back. He either picks up the phone - and he’ll just say, hey, I got your email. What’s going on? Tell me about it.
Or in some cases, he’ll actually get in his car and drive across town to meet with them, have lunch...
Jim: That’s good.
Mike: ...With them because he said, “I’ve got to have that face to face.” No matter how tough they are and how strong they are in their email - because you’re kind of anonymous. You don’t - it’s safer that way. He said, “If you meet with them face to face, they’re never as strong as they are in those kind of communications.”
Jim: Well, and to your point, you’re using 100 percent of your God-given...
Jim: ...Communication ability - body language, tone of voice and the content of what you say, which I think is brilliant.Um, you said something in your book that really caught my attention because this fits at a cultural level. And I want to read it to you. Of course, you wrote it. And then just expand on this. Uh, you said “Americans used to live in a trusting culture punctuated by occasional episodes of harm. Now we live in an untrusting culture punctuated by occasional episodes of integrity.” Wow. Is that what we’re living in now?
Mike: Well, I think it certainly is a different culture. When I was a kid, I used to get on my bike and start riding. And my mom would say, “Where are you going?” And I’d say, “I don’t know.” She’d say, “OK, be back in time for dinner.”
Jim: Right, and it’s 10:00 in the morning. (Laughter)
Mike: Right, it’s 10:00 in the morning.
Jim: I remember those days.
Mike: But when my kids started riding their bike I would say, OK, make sure you can see me. You can go down to the end of the block and back, but make sure I can see you. And I remember what a big day it was when they could go around the block. And I was terrified for those two minutes because...
Mike: ...I didn’t know.
Jim: ...That block is big!
Mike: It is. And what’s going to happen there? So I think we have got into a culture where there’s so many things happening - and it may not even be how much is happening, but what we see on the news magnifies...
Mike: ...What is happening, so it’s disproportionately terrorizing.
Jim: Where does this go when that breakdown of trust is occurring at that level - at a national level, where people are lacking trust, we’re not doing much institutionally to build trust? I mean, what do we, as Christians, do in this environment?
Mike: You know, it could be frustrating for people because we don’t know what to do. But we feel like I have to do something. And it’s real easy to say, well, I need to let people know where I stand. I need to let them know my position. And, uh, they’ll protest. They’ll do some of the other things.But in First Peter 2, I think it starts at about verse 11, especially in verse 12, it says there’s two things you do in society when you are in a hostile society. It says, basically, you live a godly life. And secondly, you treat people with respect, including the emperor...
Mike: ...So the leaders, the other people - to be able to have conversations. And the problem with the protests and some of the other things is it’s - we’re taking sides. We’re just talking. But what could I really do that would make a difference, as a believer? I could probably have a conversation with somebody I disagree with and show them respect …
Mike: … Not to change your mind. But what could it do to sit down and just listen to someone who I disagree with and have that conversation, still show respect, and we can come out of it with respect.
Jim: It’s powerful. And, you know, thankfully, the Lord laid that on my heart. That’s something I’ve been doing. And what’s amazing about it is how the Lord shows up in those conversations.
Why do you think, as the elephant in the room in that context, why do we in the Christian community - Christian leadership - why do we fear taking the word of God, taking, uh, the fruit of the Spirit, taking the attributes of God into hostile territory? Why do we pull back? Why do we want to stay home? Why do we not want to engage the world in all of its unseemliness?It’s exactly opposite of what Jesus did. I mean, Jesus went to the unseemly parts of the community, and he got ridiculed for it. He was hanging out with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the people that desperately needed him. But the religious people frowned upon that.What, in our human nature and our fleshly nature, is keeping us from doing the work of God?
Mike: I think we don’t like pain. We don’t like people to think poorly of us. We’re afraid of what they’re going to say about us. And we don’t know how to respond. Um, Jesus knew what to say. He had some good answers. And we find ourselves in situations, especially people who are more introverted, which is about 25 percent of the population, that can come up with great answers if they have time to think, but when someone confronts them, and it’s like they’re putting you in a position of how backwards are you that you would actually believe that, and so...
Mike: ...We don’t - we don’t know what to say. We don’t know how to respond. But I think that goes back to the importance of real relationships, godly living. It’s not wearing our Christianity on our sleeve, it’s wearing it in our life.
Jim: Hm. That is well said. Um, we also want to clarify - and this was in your book, too, and I think it was brilliant - um, this idea of being nice is not the highest goal in communication relationship, being kind is. And there’s a difference, as you say, between nice and kind. Describe it so we better understand it.
Mike: We like people that are nice. If - there’s something comfortable about being around nice people. But a lot of times, people are nice, but it has to do with themselves. It’s usually, if that’s all it is, it’s unhealthy because it’s like, I don’t want to come across as negative, I want people to like me. That’s being nice. Kind has that element, but it adds to it I will do the tough things I need to do to be able to change some things. I’ll say - I’ll have the hard conversations. Nice people won’t have the hard conversations, and tough people will because it needs to happen.
Jim: Kind people-- kind people can have those hard conversations.
Mike: Kind people can have those hard conversations because it needs to happen.
Jim: I - I understand this, and it’s an important distinction between being nice and then being kind. Kindness is a fruit of God’s Spirit. Nice is not in the list, and there is that distinction. And I like that idea that you look at nice as a self-centered attribute because it’s about how you’re being received or not being received...
Mike: Well, I...
Jim: And that’s not the goal.
Mike: I think the most - one of the most fascinating verses is where it says, you - it’s his kindness that draws us to repentance. It’s not his theology, it’s not this and the confrontation...
Mike: ...It’s his kindness that draws us to him.
John: Yeah, that’s Romans 2:4. And, Jim, that’s been a hallmark verse, uh, that you’ve mentioned time and again here on this broadcast.
Jim: It is. In fact, it’s on the hall here at Focus...
Jim: ...Because I believe it. It’s an amazing thing that God is saying - it’s his kindness that draws us to him, not a club, not, uh, a battle. And I’ve - and when I speak in front of groups, I’ll often say, who was beaten into the Kingdom of God? I’ve never seen a hand go up yet.
Jim: Who was ridiculed into to - you know, these Christians treated me so terribly I decided to become one of them. It just doesn’t - that’s not a testimony we hear.Mike, let’s end here - uh, you share a story about a surgeon who taught you the power of kindness. What was going on with that?
Mike: I had surgery several years ago. And the surgeon was considered one of the best in his field in Southern California. And he’s 80 years old, and he was - been doing it forever, but he was the best. He was a very kind person. I loved his bedside manner. And I’d always seen him as being very nice. But after the surgery, about six weeks later, I was having a lot of pain. So I went back, made an appointment. And I said I’m just still in a lot of pain. What’s going on?
And I realized the difference then between nice and kind because if he had been nice, he wouldn’t have cut me. But he was kind because he said, “Well, of course, you’re in pain. I put - I knocked you out, and I cut you with a knife, and I - you paid me a lot of money to do it. Of course it’s going to hurt.” (LAUGHTER) And...
Jim: That’s true.
Mike: ...I realized at that time that if - he wouldn’t have made the cut if he was just nice. He had to do what needed to be done in order to solve the problem.
Jim: And the pain was a normal...
Jim: ...Part of the process...
Jim: ...I mean, that’s what he was saying. That’s a good doctor.Mike, this has been great. And I want to thank you again for helping us understand where communication breakdowns and what we can do to make our relationships healthier and stronger, um, exists. And so thank you for this wonderful bookDealing with the Elephant in the Room.
I hope you have heard today that we’re here for you. And we have counselors. Uh, this is core. Uh, communication and relationship is the core reason, at least in Scripture, that God says we were created - for a relationship with him. And to get this better - I’m not going to say right because that makes it seem like there’s a perfect spot. But to do better in human communication, I think brings joy to God’s heart. And you can do it with your spouse, with your kids, with your adult children, uh, with your business associates, right down to even your extended family - yes, your mother-in-law - we’ll pull her in, too. But it’s something we should aim for. And, Mike, I’m so grateful for how you have articulated the heart of God in this wonderful bookDealing with the Elephant in the Room.Thank you.
Mike: Well, thanks for letting me participate.
John: Hm. Yeah, some great insights and biblical truth in the bookDealing with the Elephant in the Room. And we really do want to help you, so call us today. Make a generous donation, as you can, and we’ll send a copy of the book to you. Request a CD or get the download of our two-day conversation, as well, so you can review that, maybe share it with someone else. Our number is 800-232-6459. Or online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: And, John, in fact, if people could simply give a gift to help us minister to hurting families, in their communication, in their time of need, uh, we want to say thank you by sending a copy of Dr. Mike Bechtle’s bookDealing with the Elephant in the Roomas our way of saying thank you for standing in the gap for these families that you, together with Focus, we’ll minister to.
John: And once again, our website is focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Well join us next time as Heather Avis and her husband Josh share their story of walking through the pain of infertility and God opening up their hearts to adoption.
Heather Avis: But there is another side; but you have to go through it. You have to sit there, you have to be in it, and you have to let God’s grace meet you there and then you’ll find your way out. There is a way out.
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