Taking Back Your Powerby Bret Mavrich
I have a super power. No, really, I do. I doubt Marvel will be calling upon me to star in the next Avengers movie, but here it is:
God has granted me the super-power of tuning out of conversations with other people but somehow recording it in my head. Then when they say, “You’re not listening to me,” I can play back the conversation line-by-line for the last minute or so to prove them wrong.
Of course I’m being facetious. This isn’t really a super power. It’s actually the opposite, a way of masking the ways that I have disconnected with others.
We don’t need super powers to connect deeply with others. We simply need to exercise the power that we already have.
I am powerful
The foundational confession in Danny Silk’s book, “I am a powerful person,”
On the contrary, admitting that you are powerful is actually a statement of massive humility if you understand it correctly. A humble person is someone who agrees with what God says about them, and who he created them to be. So when we come to terms with the idea that God fashioned us in his own image and commissions us to reflect his love to the nations, we see that he has vested in us a great deal of authority.
Powerless people feel as though they are a victim to circumstances and the behaviors of others. While some people have endured serious pain at the hands of others, not even the world’s worst tyrant can strip another human being of their God-given identity.
The Power to Respond
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. He emerged from one of the darkest hours of human history with a stunning insight: even in the prison of a Nazi death camp, men and women still maintained the right to choose their response. Between every interaction with others and our response is a space where people choose.
Now, the space between the stimulus and our response to it might be different from one person to the next. We all have differing degrees of limitation based on our genetics or upbringing. For example, someone who was raised in a tumultuous home where they had to shout to be heard might feel as though that is the only available response to pressure and conflict. It feels like pure reflex.
But as we allow God to fix our hearts and renew us according to the image of Christ, that space grows. Over time, we can come into a broad space where we meet conflict with others full of options and dignity. We discover that to be made in the image of God is to be created as a being who can choose to respond to any and every circumstance. We’re not animals, governed solely by instinct. No one can force another person to fly off into a rage, or to neglect their commitments.
Our Response Ability
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this our “Response-Ability,” our ability to respond. The first step in taking our power back and building godly relationships with others is to recognize and embrace our ability to respond to them in the way we choose.
This is one of those glorious truths that grows in light the more we meditate upon it. We gain insight into our identity. We begin to understand parts of our life that used to be confusing, like why relationships always seem to go south at the same time and in the same way. But the feeling of power that starts to grow is undeniable as we realize that God has given us the power to shape and change our life.
Once we acknowledge our response-ability we can enter into meaningful interactions with others, often healing broken ways of relating. These changes can begin immediately, and all it typically takes is learning a few principles and putting them into practice. I call these simple tools.
Simple Tools: Empathetic Listening
One of the most exciting discoveries I’ve made in my personal journey to be a powerful person is that changing the way I interact with others was as easy as learning a new skill. While we can grow in our relationship skills over time, most skills are simple enough that we can understand and begin applying them almost immediately.
One of the most powerful examples is the practice of “empathetic listening.” The day I learned about this simple tool was the day I hung up my “super power” and realized that it was actually crippling my ability to connect with others. The reason is that to connect with other people, you have to be able to do more than simply parrot back to them the words that came out of their mouth. You have to communicate in a deep and meaningful way that you hear them, validate their pain or concern, and identify with it.
As profound of a practice this is, empathetic listening can be boiled down to two simple steps:
- Think what you see
- Say what you see
So for example, a friend might be telling you a story about a difficult situation at work. Instead of rushing in with a solution, make some observations in addition to the words they are saying. What is the pace of their speech? What kinds of facial expressions are they making? What is their body language saying? Oftentimes a person might say that something is “no bid deal,” but everything surrounding their words speaks otherwise.
Once you’ve allowed some time to understand them thoroughly, say something to demonstrate that you’ve heard them. “It must have been really frustrating to have that happen,” or “It sounds like you’re really mad that they piled all of that work on your shoulders,” or “I can imagine how isolated that made you feel.” Reflecting a person’s pain or mood back to them in this way can bring amazing freedom and relief.
That’s why empathetic listening is so powerful. This simple tool makes people feel understood by you, and they open up to you in return. But it’s hard work. You’ll have to shut your cell phone off, and listen with all of your senses. You may have to ask clarifying questions, or sit through uncomfortable silence. But it’s worth it.
And that’s just one tool that I’ve found that empowers me to love others in a deliberate way. It doesn’t take a super power to connect with people. It only takes openness to learn better skills and new strategies for relating with others. Over time, we can become a community of people who love one another well, and who take responsibility for our own growth.