A few years back I spent time training with an improv comedy group. I wanted to learn the art of improvisation after having some experience doing sketch comedy. I quickly realized that while improv is essentially making up what you are performing on the fly, there are rules that govern making an entertaining scene. Here is the basic structure:
1. As quickly as you can set the scene and define the relationship.
2. Once the relationship has been defined and the scene progresses, establishing some sort of conflict is vital.
3. Once conflict is established, the scene is shaken up to make it more compelling and take it to the next level. This is referred to as “the tilt”.
4. Finally, finding a place to naturally end the scene with a clever pun or tag line to close out the action.
In essence what I have described above is in a lot of ways the framework of good story telling. However, I find it interesting that while we are so drawn to good story telling in our books, TV and film, we often times struggle to live out our own personal story. I see it frequently in how we deal with conflict. Either we avoid it like the plague or we get into patterns of emotional reactivity that cause a lack of healthy resolution and often more damage.
I believe that if we can learn to do conflict well, that it can lead to richer and more mature relationships that are consistent with the rich and abundant life God desires for us here on earth. Many authors have sought to address this topic and while not an exhaustive list, here are three suggestions that I believe will allow us to tell better stories with our lives.
1. Approach relationships with an attitude of humility
And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
We are all people in need of grace. Checking our motives and attitudes can go a long way when dealing with conflict.
2. There is power in having a sense you’re being heard
Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. Proverbs 18:13
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19
When someone is not heard, a conversation becomes a debate and potentially adversarial. God wants us to hear each other’s hearts and seek what is in the best interests of the relationship and not our own selfish desires.
3. It’s completely acceptable to take a break.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. James 1:5
When you find yourself in a heated conversation that is in a sense hitting a wall or standstill, do not be afraid to take a break. I had a professor call it a “Critical Pause”. Walking away from the conflict for an agreed set of time with the purpose of praying and thinking about not only how to communicate more successfully, but to more importantly process how you can seek to hear the other person more effectively.
What story will your life tell?