Category Archives: Communication

Mis-speaking, lying, or telling a truth you didn’t mean to tell? Reasons why we say things we regret

If you have been following American presidential politics, you will understand references to candidate faux pas like Romney’s “47%” or Obama’s “guns and religion.” [Check out this link for a comparison of the two].

Ever wonder why these gaffes happen? Is it a matter of mis-speaking as so often is claimed? Or is the candidate saying what he/she believes only to discover in the light of day that they wished they hadn’t been so honest? As I look at the possibilities, I see 4 reasons candidates  say things they later must apologize for.

1. They mis-speak. Let’s deal with this one first since it is most often claimed as the reason for the faux pas. Anyone can get their tongue twisted around. My father once quoted Isaiah 40:31 during a sermon and said, “ings as wiggles” instead of “wings as eagles.” This is the usual form of mis-speaking. We can get numbers, facts, and ideas twisted around. Mis-speaking is usually fairly obvious to hearers and quickly fixed once it is brought to one’s attention.

2. They say what they think but later wish they hadn’t. Quite often we say what we think but then wish we hadn’t been so forthright. When it comes out, we recognize (immediately sometimes but not always) that what we said doesn’t sound very good. Sometimes we don’t always recognize what we believe until our own ears hear it. We look down upon a group of people (in the presidential examples, religious conservatives and recipients of public funds) and stereotype them as a group because that is how we have imagined them for some time.

3. They are mis-informed. There are times we say something but have mis-understood the facts. For example, there is a commonly repeated stat that 50% of evangelical marriages end in divorce. This is not true, but someone could repeat the stat as fact but later retract it once they learned the stat was not true. Sometimes we hold a stereotype but later discover better facts and change our opinions.

4. They lie to please others or win a point. Have you ever said something because it earned you some point, even if you didn’t fully believe it. Consider a fight with a family member. Did you ever stretch the truth to win a point, “You always… You never…” Or, maybe you said something that would please your audience. You made a joke about another group of people in order to win a laugh. You suggested you agreed with an opinion even though you did not.

So, sometimes we regret speaking what we believe. Other times we regret saying things for ulterior motives. Can you think of other reasons why we say things we wish we could take back? How would you react if a politician said,

What I said was patently false. I said it because I got caught up in pandering to my audience. It was wrong not only to speak falsehoods but also wrong to give in to people-pleasing. I apologize for these two wrongs and I endeavor to speak only the truth, even if it costs me your support or the presidency.

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Filed under Communication, News and politics

State of the (Marital) Union: A time to review

Just prior to President Obama’s State of the Union address last night I thought of the above blog title and that it probably makes sense to every married couple to have their own state of the union review. Then I had fun imagining the similarities that such an occasion might have with the political review before the 2 other branches of power and the rest of the American public. First, the more dominant spouse speaks to what is going well with either cheers and/or ice-cold silence from the other spouse. Then the dominant spouse goes on to outline what they want to see happen in the following year. Afterward, the minority spouse rebuts and/or counter proposes his or her plans for the coming year. Since there is no media present to breakdown and critique the arguments, each spouse takes the role of reporter  to give a replay of the key points and also that of pundit by debating the merits of said points.

Sounds like most couple fights. I guess we don’t need a special night for this!

All kidding aside, it is good for couples to do an annual “take stock of our marriage” review. Here are some ideas that might be more constructive:

  1. Start with remembering why you got married and what you really like about each other. Too often we focus on the negative and allow those issues to skew the picture. Remind each other of their strengths and of their value to the marriage.
  2. Take time to listen to the dreams and concerns of each other. Take the lead in seeking out the mind of your spouse. What are their dreams and concerns? Don’t debate the merits of these dreams and concerns…and don’t problem solve to make them happen just yet. Just listen and validate everything you can! Oh, and if you are sharing your concerns…make sure you do two things: share them in a way that doesn’t accuse and attack (“I’m concerned that you don’t love me” may not help as much as “I’m concerned about how little time we spend together.”) and be sure to return the favor by asking about their dreams and concerns.
  3. Acknowledge your own weaknesses and ways you know you need to improve (could be anything from eating better to giving more compliments). And when your spouse does admit the need for improvement, resist piling on or adding to their list. Be bold. Ask for and extend forgiveness!
  4. Name the hot spots or threats to your marriage (external, internal, controllable, uncontrollable). See if you can’t find agreement on a couple. During this time, don’t go too deep into the complexities or get into problem-solving. Just name them in a matter-of-fact way.
  5. Set one goal and a simple means to start moving. Goals need to be something you can control. “Get our kids to respect us” isn’t one either of you can control. It also helps to be specific. “Spend more time together” is pretty vague. Try, “spend 2 hours one night per week together doing something other than talking about kids or watching television.” Then consider what barriers might block you from meeting the goal. Keep your efforts simple, doable, easy to repeat. This doesn’t mean you are setting the bar low but that you are trying to be faithful in the little things and trusting God for the bigger things.

One last thing: don’t wait til the following year to review. Otherwise you might have a mutiny at the next mid-term elections and get voted out of (dominant spouse) office.


Filed under Communication, love, marriage, Uncategorized


At September’s AACC conference I attended a presentation entitled, “Technoethics” by Jana Vanderslice, a psychologist from Texas. She got me thinking about the use of e-mail and other Internet-based technologies with counselees. Here are some of the issues:

1. E-mail. Do you have a policy about your use of e-mail with counselees? Do you inform them about the limits or possible problems that might be encountered? Problems such as security and confidentiality, whether or not you will read them “in time”, what becomes of them (printed out and kept in a file?), whether or not you provide brief counseling through e-mail and possible charges, etc. Dr. Vanderslice suggests having a start to the email that says, “Confidential! This is not meant to take the place of in person consultation…”

2. If you do e-mail counseling, do you (a) know who you are emailing? What data do you collect from the person you provide email counseling to? And (b), do you think about how your email may sound if it is printed off and/or forwarded to others. You should assume that your electronic communications may be passed on. Further, if you have regular e-mail contact, how will you deal with the nature of always being at the beck and call of clientele?

3. Your Social networking accts. Do you use twitter? Do you have a Facebook or MySpace account or the like? Do you “friend” your clients? Do you have anything personal on the web you’d rather your clients didn’t see? This becomes a form of self-disclosure. There may be things revealed about yourself on-line that you would never reveal to a client. Remember, if the client is in the same Facebook network, they can likely see more of you than you might realize.

4. Google searches. Similarly, it might be worth your while to search yourself and see what is out there. Did you know that there are “rate my counselor” type sites out there? Many of these exist to help you find healthcare providers in your area, but include ratings by current or former clients. Do you know what others are saying about you?

5. IT and other providers. Who has access to your accounts and computer? Does your IT dept (if you are in a larger organization) know to honor HIPAA regulations? If you use a vendor (e.g., Geek Squad), they need to sign an agreement to maintain the privacy of the clientele data on your email or database. Can you encrypt email and/or WORD documents?

Can you think of other technoethics issues?

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Filed under Communication, confidentiality, counseling, counseling skills, ethics, Psychology, teaching counseling

The fine art of disagreeing

Ever noticed that some people can disagree with you to your face but do it in such a way that you are neither threatened nor feeling the need to go to the mat over the matter. What do these folk do differently?

First, they are willing to voice their disagreements. This is preferable to those who agree to your face but tell others they disagree with you.

Second, they do it in such a way as to not diminish you as a person. I’ve noticed that some people are expert in making others feel important–even as they may completely disagree with an idea. They validate you as a person. They assume you mean well and are authentic in your ideas and beliefs.

On the flip side, those who approach the fight looking to drag character into the matter, who assume you are duplicitous or have a hidden agenda, get our defenses up. It is a sure way to kill a relationship (marriage, work, family, etc.) to start a conversation challenging someone’s honesty and accusing them of not being upfront.

I think we are most likely to do this if we have been meditating on some real or perceived unfairness in the relationship.

But what if you really think the person isn’t being honest with you or themselves? Should you bring it up? It is my experience that the more attention to pay to their concerns (whether obvious or partially hidden), the more likely you can have a worthwhile conversation and either the dishonesty will reveal itself or it will become less of an issue. Of course this isn’t always true, but often, in most relationships.

So, if you can honor 1 Corinthians 13 in your disagreements, you will enrich your relationships with others and master the fine art of disagreeing with others in love.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Communication, Relationships

Faking politeness

We all do it now and again. We say, “that’s okay” when we are burning up inside. We leave a voice mail and say we were sorry to miss them but we really weren’t all that sorry and we are glad they didn’t pick up when we called them back. Sometimes we fake politeness because we know what it in our heart is not good and so we are act into politeness. Other times we merely want to avoid more problems and so wish to make them go away by faking peace.

Apparently there are some advances in technology now that can help you be better fakers. There are ways to call someone and get into their voice mail without the phone ringing–designed to make it seem like we were sorry we only got their voice mail but in actuality that is all was wanted. NPR ran a story on this topic. They also described some ways to either pre-arrange a computer to call your cell to get out of a meeting or using pre-recorded sounds (baby crying, dog barking, doorbell, etc.) to end phone conversations you want to get out of.

So, is it wrong to fake politeness? what is the difference between being nice to someone who is a pain or who causes you problems and being polite but not meaning it. I would suggest that when we make it seem we were caring but weren’t (either in our heart or to others) then that counts as faking and isn’t good for the soul.


Filed under Communication, conflicts, Relationships

Hating the desire for intimacy

In prep for a presentation next week I have been reviewing Dan Allender’s”The Wounded Heart.” While I’m not a fan of his approach in this book (it’s too much at once for those with PTSD), I do think he has many, many nuggets of truth. Here’s one on p. 41:

Let me state an important observation: I have never worked with an abused man or woman who did not hate or mistrust the hunger for intimacy. In most victims, the essence of the battle is a hatred of their hunger for love and a strong distaste for any passion that might lead to a vulnerable expression of desire….The enemy, or so it feels, is the passion to be lovingly pursued and nourishingly touched by a person whose heart is utterly disposed to do us good. Such people (if they exist at all) are rare; it is therefore easier to hate the hunger than to wait expectantly for the day of satisfaction.

I see this love/hate/fear theme in many troubled marriages–even those where abuse is absent. When we desire this nourishment from someone “utterly disposed to do us good” and then continually wake to the realization that the person we married is not–no, cannot–disposed to do us good in the way we dream, we often feel rejected and invalidated because it seems to us the person is holding out on us. In response to these fears, we have one of several choices:

  1. Demand/pursue via criticism, complaint, accusation, suggestion, etc. that the person give what they are withholding: perfect validation and intimacy
  2. Withdraw into coldness, self-hatred, workaholism, fantasy, etc. to avoid the intimacy that is present in the marriage because it is not what we think it should be
  3. Actively pursue the dream of intimacy with others, or
  4. Daily die to the dream that the other will make us fully secure and happy WHILE continuing to offer unconditional intimacy, support, validation of the other in order to better provide sacrificial love AND yet still communicating (without demand) clearly our requests for how the other can love us well or what behaviors they should stop that are hurtful.

As you can see the 4th is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit. The first 3 are much easier choices. They require less of us and maintain our all/nothing view of self and the world. The truth is we can only approach the 4th position if we place our trust in God to sustain us in a broken world. And therein lies the problem. It is hard for us humans to trust an unseen God, especially when our experience with the seen world tells us that love is conditional, that we are not valued, etc.

What’s the answer then? There is no one answer. But am I willing today to do one thing where I trust the Lord and show love/civility to the other as a creature made in the image of God. If I can answer yes, then I need to find another human being (since we are made for community) to help me discern what that love might look like today (hint: it may not look anything like what my spouse thinks it should look like).


Filed under Abuse, Anxiety, christian counseling, christian psychology, Communication, conflicts, Desires, Great Quotes, love, marriage, Relationships

The root of conflict in couples?

We often say that most conflict between spouses boils down to money, sex, or power–and the first two are also all about power in the relationship. I think that is true. But, don’t forget that the power struggle may be less about the two people and more about a life-long pattern of feeling powerless  and unsafe in the world. In psychology terms we talk about this as the lack of secure attachment.

Here’s a few summary statements about attachment that I wrote up some time ago. I have no idea where these thoughts came from or why I wrote them so I apologize now for plagarizing them. They may well be my own thoughts or someone else’s…

1. Attachment injuries are often the culprit behind continuously conflicted couples.

2. Fights, then, are more symbolic than content driven.

3. Attachment insecurity precedes most conflict: the feeling of being alone, abandoned, rejected, etc.

4. Injuries usually are trauma based (or the perception of) in the present marital relationship or much earlier in childhood. There is a “violation of connection”

5. Two common problems result: (a) numbing, and (b) obsessional repeating/self-reminder of the experience of the violation. (example: the person repeatedly recalls the time 5 years ago that their spouse treated them as an object)

6. As a result of #5, the person experiences (a) and increased desire/”need” for a safe haven, but (b) lacks trust in the spouse, and (c) is vigilant for any sign of relational danger (i.e., reads ambiguous data in the worst possible manner)

7. The other spouse feels pushed/pulled at the same time and commonly physically and/or emotionally withdraws

8. The cycle perpetuates itself allowing both parties to solidify their labels for each other

9. The GOAL of therapy is to get a commitment to stop the cycle/script and to have each party soften towards each other so as to see the desires behind the emotion/behavior. If couples can see beyond the criticism or withdrawal to common desires of intimacy, they may be able to re-interpret and validate that desire while at the same time supporting a healthier way of expressing that desire.


Filed under Communication, conflicts, counseling, marriage, Psychology, Relationships

Power grabs by therapists

We counselors and therapists have ways of asserting our power over our clients. Usually, we do it via subtle messages and phrases. I was reminded of this fact last week during a seminar by Paul Wachtel of CUNY. He told of a case he had of a semi paranoid and hostile client who made many complaints. After one such complaint against him, Wachtel responded with,

Isn’t it interesting that you see me as being just the way your father was

These type of insights offer pseudo-neutral “observations” that are really accusatory and given to show our intellect (but draws them away from their affective state). Further, when we are irritated and make a statement like this we are really saying that my frustration isn’t about me but is about you. I’m objective here, you are not.

When we give insights to clients we need to ask whether or not the client already understands them, will feel that we are working WITH them (not talking at them), and be motivated to do more exploration. As Wachtel stated, insights are often “implicitly adversarial” (never about us either!).

These kinds of linguistic power grabs aren’t just done by analytic oriented therapists (who might be inclined to make distant insights into clients’ unconscious). Cognitive therapists do the same by implicitly and explicitly telling clients that they are irrational and if only they could think like we therapists, they would be so much better.

Let’s not forget that the words we use with clients tell something about ourselves–maybe more than we wish they would.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Communication, counseling, counseling skills, Psychology

When a good label loses its value, or, should we rethink labels altogether?

Ever found a word, term, idea that had great meaning for you become useless or degraded because it became popular? Well, maybe that only happens to academic and clinical types. As a counselor terms like idols of the heart, Biblical counselor, integration, christian psychology all are meant to help individuals identify themselves and shape a conversation. At Biblical Seminary, we are attempting to train students to think “missionally.” When we started down this path, not many were using the word. But now it seems everywhere and used in so many ways that make you question whether the word really has any meaning.

So, I’ve had these thoughts from time to time but last night I was reading Paul Wachtel’s (professor at CUNY) “Relational Theory and the Practice of Psychotherapy” and he had this to say about one of his terms, relational. You could easily replace all the relational words with your own favorite term.

[The relational movement] is a loose coalition that is encouraging a diversity in viewpoint rather than seeking to impose a new orthodoxy. But this diversity of meanings also introduces confusion. Students in particular often are unclear about just what it means to be relational, both theoretically and clinically. Some, for example, (mis)understand being relational as being almost relentlessly self-referentially interpreting everything that transpires as being about the therapist.

In part, the problem lies with the very success of the relational movement. As the term “relational” has come into broader and broader use in recent years, there has been a corresponding decrease in the degree to which it communicates a clear and unambiguous meaning. This is perhaps an inevitable cost of success; relational perspectives have become increasingly prominent in the field of psychotherapy, and we have reached a point where many people want to jump onto the bandwagon. As more and more people use the term, sometimes more as a token of membership in a movement to which they wish to belong than as a substantive reference to a clearly specified set of theoretical premises and practices, the ripple of meanings makes a phrase like relational psychotherapy less than ideally precise.

Labels like relational, object relational, classical, or contemporary Freudian (to use examples from the psychoanalytic realm) often serve less as a medium of illuminating discourse than as a functional activity of boundary making, akin to the way our animal cousins leave their  scent to mark off the boundaries of their territory. “I belong here, you belong there,” may be a sentence; but it is a sentence whose message is not very different from what is conveyed by the glands of our mammalian kin. (pp 7-8)

He goes on to say that words should not merely make boundaries but to “alter and complicate” them through the act of conversation. While there are boundaries, they do move and change and no one human created word will adequately separate the sheep and goats, to mix my metaphors.  

So, what do we do with labels if they lose explanatory power when others find them helpful? Get rid of them? Or, do we use them with greater and greater humility. I like Wachtel’s description of the problem with another set of labels, 1person and 2 person approaches to counseling (1 person refers to analysis where the client monologues and interacts with their own psyche and 2 person approaches tend toward a relational, experiential interaction). Wachtel holds a 2 person theory. But here’s what he says,

To begin with, it is worth noting that the distinction [between the two labels] is almost always employed by putative two-person thinkers, as a critique of one-person modes of thought. There are rather few writers who defiantly proclaim, “I am a one-person theorist and proud of it,” although there are, of course, many writers who declare themselves to be proponents of the models that are called one-person models by two-person theorists. Writing as someone who, if the dichotomy is usable at all, would without question fall on the “two-person” side of the divide, I must say I find it disquieting to be characterizing competing theorists in a way they do not acknowledge as the basis of their own thinking.

This lack of acknowledgment on the part of “one-person” theorists, of course, does not in itself invalidate the critiques. It is certainly possible that critics of one-person models are recognizing something about the theories they are criticizing that their advocates do not. Indeed, in certain respects I myself believe this to be the case. It does, however, raise a question as to whether there might be a way to frame the critique that would be more illuminating and experienced as less of a straw man by more traditional theorists.” (p. 11)

I think Wachtel is helpful here and I have said similar ideas in the past. We need to be willing to come at a situation with differing dividing markers than we may have used in the past. For us Christian counselors, this is especially true. Mark McMinn considers himself to be an integrationist. But, his recent book, reviewed here, shows willingness to describe his model in ways that might make older integrative folks uncomfortable (i.e., giving Scripture trump power). So, we need new ways of looking at the data and less focus on division and more focus on description. Maybe we take a little longer look to see what is shared in our venn diagrams… 


Filed under book reviews, christian psychology, Communication, Cultural Anthropology, Doctrine/Theology, Great Quotes, missional, Missional Church, Psychology

Do you say more than you mean to?

We all are guilty of saying one thing while hiding (or trying to) our true feelings or intent. We do this for a variety of reasons. We fear conflict. We don’t want to hurt another. We don’t want to be seen as petty. We want to manipulate. Bottom line, we do image management.

But, I suspect that we leave more telltale signs as to our true feelings/beliefs than we realize. Consider these examples:

1. An interviewee badmouths a previous employer to a prospective employer and at the same time describing their own gifts. Here the individual thinks they are showing how they are better than their prior employer but really reveals arrogance and narcissism. I watched this happen recently (not at Biblical). The poor guy thought he was acing his new interview but kept on digging a deeper hole for himself.

2. A person says they are fine (after a possible conflict with a friend) and then looks down and away. Here the individual may be saying several things (I’m embarrassed, I’m not fine, I just want this to go away…) but they are rarely saying, “I’m fine.”

3. Or how about that line some of us said in our teen years, “Let’s be friends” (to a former boy/girlfriend). Here, we meant, “please let’s not make this harder than it has to be.”

What body language messages do you notice that convey to you a message that isn’t being stated? Where do you think you are fooling another? 

Just recently, I congratulated someone on a job that I thought they had worked hard on. The person immediately stated that it hadn’t gone well (correcting my assumption) and yet, they were fine with the outcome. I appreciated the spontaneous and honest response rather than the usual nicety-laden conversation that would have meant nothing to either of us. 

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Filed under Communication