E96: Three Little Words for Navigating Difficult Conversations
Podcast Intro – (Upbeat acoustic guitar music)
Jon Steele 0:09
Hey everyone. I'm Jon Steele. And this is After IV: a podcast for InterVarsity alumni. Life after college is hard. And even a great experience with your InterVarsity chapter doesn't shield you from the challenges of transition. As we hear stories from real alumni learning how to make it in their post-InterVarsity reality, my hope is that this podcast will offer some encouragement, a few laughs and even some hope for the future. This is After IV, and these are your stories.
Welcome to After IV the podcast for InterVarsity alumni. I'm your host, Jon Steele. And I don't know if you're keeping track as these episodes click by each week, but this one right here is episode 96. And you know what that means? It means that we're going to be jumping into triple digit episodes very soon.
That's right, four weeks from this episode's release will mark our 100th episode. And I am really excited to share that landmark moment with you. And to help make it special, I would really love for you to be a part of it with me. So if you love After IV whether you've been listening from the beginning, or if you're brand new to the show, right this moment, I want to hear from you. If you have a favorite guest or episode maybe a favorite story that someone shared that was meaningful to you. Or maybe you have your own story of how After IV has been an encouragement to you, maybe you just want to give a shout out to the person who shared the show with you in the first place. Whatever it is, I want to celebrate those things with you. So as soon as you hear this, find us on Instagram or Facebook @afterivpod and send us a DM or go to the show notes and follow the link there to our SpeakPipe account where you can leave us a voice message. Please get in touch and let me know your favorite moments and meaningful stories from After IV over these last 100 episodes. I absolutely can't wait to hear from you. All right, you can expect to hear more about that as we continue on in the coming weeks.
But for now, as we think about today's episode, I have a question for you. How many of you listening right now can think of a time when you got into an argument with someone else? I'm guessing that would be all of us. Maybe you were just asking a question. Maybe you said something someone else disagreed with maybe you were trying to pick a fight. It could have been with someone that you knew really well or with a complete stranger. Whatever the reason, and whoever it was with, do you wish that it could have gone better? Maybe not those of you who are picking a fight on purpose, but the rest of you? Do you wish that you had some skills to help keep a challenging conversation with someone from turning into a no holds barred Battle Royale, especially when it comes to sharing Jesus?
Well, you're in luck. Today, we're joined by Professor Seth Freeman, an expert on the topic of negotiation and conflict management. And let me allay any concerns that you have right off the bat. No, he's not going to teach us the top tips for using negotiation for getting our way and sharing the gospel. Instead, he's going to share with us a simple but extremely helpful framework that he's developed. And it's a framework that guides us through hot topic conversations, whether gospel oriented or otherwise, this is a broadly applicable framework for navigating any challenging conversation that you might find yourself in. And I think it's going to serve you really well as a tool to have in your back pocket as you walk through these early days of life after graduation. So let's dive in. Here's Seth Freeman. And this one's for you, alumni.
Seth, welcome to the podcast.
Seth Freeman 3:35
Thank you so much, Jon, I'm really looking forward to our conversation today.
Jon Steele 3:38
Me too, I am really excited to hear the thoughts that you have the research that you've been doing the educating and things that you've done around the idea of negotiation, and how we might learn from some of those things with evangelism. But before we step into this interesting world that we're going into together, Seth, would you take just a moment to introduce yourself for us.
Seth Freeman 4:01
Sure, Jon. And just as a preface, the word negotiation is an intriguing one, I'm sure to our listeners, because what we're about to do is talk about, you know, wheeling and dealing for God. I mean, that's not what we mean. Education is an unfortunate umbrella term that really encompasses things like peacemaking, conflict management, there just isn't a good word for it. So we'll use that as just a starting point. But of course, there's much more to it than that, certainly, certainly. And the short, bio, if you will, is that I'm a professor at Columbia University and also at NYU Stern School of Business. I'm speaking on behalf of myself, not any institution. And I've taught the very subject we were just talking about negotiation, conflict management, peacemaking for Jesus, decades now, and I've had 1000s of students around the world and it's really the stuff of peace and prosperity and justice, you know, and what could be better you know, you efficacy students go into situations from roommates to organizations and beyond. And they use their skills and peace ensues and harm reconciliation. It's fantastic.
Jon Steele 5:13
As you said, when we talk about negotiation, there's sort of two different pictures that come to my mind. You've already named one of them. That's the wheeling and dealing businessman, you know, something of used car salesman, kind of negotiating those sorts of things, which can feel no offense to if there any used car salesman listening to us, I'm sure that you're better. You're better than the stereotype that we've grown to know. But it doesn't, it doesn't promote sort of the best picture. The other one that comes to mind for me is almost like police negotiation, which is usually trying to stop someone from doing something terrible, it does conjure up some, some images that might not be great. But what's interesting to me is that in the world of evangelism, it's the same thing that even the word evangelism can conjure up some really negative stereotypes, really negative experiences, anxiety inducing ideas, as well. And so it's interesting that here, we are talking about a couple of things that can really have a lot of negative connotations. And, and I'm excited to see the ways that maybe we can redeem both of those things, by bringing them together in ways that maybe we've never thought about, especially in the realm of peacemaking like what you what you've talked about, I love that idea.
Seth Freeman 6:27
Well, thank you so much. And it might actually help our listeners too. Now that we've said that dropped the idea of negotiation, because it's really not what we were here to talk about, in a sense, what we're really going to talk about is dialogue and conflict management and difficult conversation. And those are all part of this universe. So if if the words that we've just talked about, bring up negative connotations, I might suggest just letting go and saying let's, let's think of this is just how do you have a great if difficult conversation? And so maybe it makes sense for us to start with the story of how this all got started? And where what difference it can make for us? Yes, please do that. So one way to to get a feel for this is to share with you something that happened to me just two weeks ago, really, I have a dear friend who I'll call Dave, who's a gentleman and a scholar, he lives as I do here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He's literally a professor, well renowned, funny, bright, we've known each other for years, he's a secular humanist. And, you know, he doesn't go to meetings, he just, you know, that's just sort of his assumption about the world. And you know, that's the water that you swim in here on the Upper West Side, and in the institutions that were part of. And so we we get together regularly for coffee. And he mentioned something, we got to talking and I just nudge the conversation slightly toward the subject of the beginning of the universe. Well, two hours later, it was time for me to go. And he was sad to see me go, there was a big smile on his face. And he said, this was the best conversation I've ever had. Now, he's 72 years old. And that's, you know, take that with a grain of salt. But it shows you how excited he was. And here's the really wild part, we had been talking without actually using the word about God for two hours, we talked about the beginning of the universe, we talked about the fine tuning of the universe, we talked about near death experiences, the transcendence of the soul. We talked about the consciousness and its nature. We talked about all these things. And yet by the end, he was thrilled. And why was that? Well, it was because I was using a very simple method. And you might say, Oh, well, you know, you're a conflict management guy. That's that's what you do. Now, this is very definitely a learnable skill that dozens and dozens of my students have learned to do in very short order. I've been training them and sending them out as an optional assignment to go have difficult conversations, or as I call them, Hot Topic conversations with people they know who they disagree with. And that's in the political realm. But both there and in my conversation with Dave, what we found was the same thing that you really can come back with a feeling like, wow, this was great. And that's what gets me excited. And that's why I'm here to chat with you. That's
Jon Steele 9:24
awesome. So we're hearing something that is not just an interesting study in the classroom, but something that has had wide practical application, in you said in political conversations you've had or in this conversation that even without using the any of the terms that we might associate with sort of an evangelistic conversation, but you are essentially having a conversation about God with somebody that has really been very successful and useful. That's right.
Seth Freeman 9:53
And one of the reasons I think this is worth sharing is because it's almost a different philosophy than that what our parents or grandparents might have brought to feeling Jesus sharing faith. I was just listening to a sermon by Tim Keller and he was talking about sharing faith in this day and age. He was my minister for 10 years, dearly. He was sharing that up until recently, you could kind of assume that people knew something about faith about Christianity, he was basically saying that going to church, though maybe not something I want to do is a net positive. But today, he said that you just can't assume any of that. And he says that makes it a particularly challenging time to share faith. And I think for many of us, even the idea of sharing faith today is doubly triply challenging because it's so conflated with so many political assumptions and cultural assumptions and baggage and angers and so it shines one away from it. And yet, there is a way to talk about stuff like this that's actually loving and opens things up pretty much the way things went with me and Dave, it's really just three little words. And those words are paraphrase, praise probe. And the idea is that instead of talking a lot, you raise a subject, and then you just listen. And then you say back what the other one is saying so well, that the other one says, exactly, or something like that. Once you've done that, then you praise you find something positive that you can truthfully affirm that the other one said, on the subject, and if that seems impossible, that's okay. You just ask him to say more. And then you paraphrase again, the third thing once you've done that, is you pro that is you simply ask a humble, curious question. It's not a prosecutorial question. You're not trying to suddenly disprove what they just said, but you just explore it with them. And this simple process of paraphrase praise probe is one of the main reasons that I think Dave said, this was great, because instead of being argued with, he was chronically validated, not that his ideas were always validated, but he as a person was validated. And when we do that, we're basically giving a little piece of love to the other person. And that's really what this is centrally about. It's not about changing minds. It's about being 3%, more loving.
Jon Steele 12:38
But something I love about a good framework is that it simultaneously feels new and familiar at the same time. And this framework feels like that, to me, I have a psychology background. So the idea of paraphrase that you shared feels so much like active listening to me, this idea of I'm giving you my full attention, and I'm going to make sure that what I heard is what you said.
Seth Freeman 13:04
Exactly. And I might add that you've been doing a lot of paraphrasing and praising already.
Jon Steele 13:10
Yes. I'm glad to hear that. And that. Yes. And the idea of praising honestly, it kind of reminds me of… It sounds like improv comedy to me.
Exactly. “Yes, and…” Even if you disagree with the thing that was just said, you find a way to say, “Yes. And I'm confused about why that's the case. Can you tell me more?”
Seth Freeman 13:32
Excellent, exactly. See? You already got this. What else do you want to talk about? What's our next topic here?
Jon Steele 13:39
Maybe you can help me find a better way to ask this question. Because especially in the realm of evangelism, I do want to change someone's mind. I do want them to go from “I deny the existence of God, I deny the reality of Jesus,” to “actually, I'm coming around to this idea, and I'm changing my mind.” So that it is, you know, not only positive experiences in the moment, but you know, long term effectiveness of actually turning the ship a little bit. So I'd love to talk more about those things. If those feel like helpful places to go next.
Seth Freeman 14:15
They do and probably the single biggest challenge with anything like this, whatever approach one takes to a hot topic conversation, secular or religious is the desire to close the deal. Right then and then. And, oh, do I know that feeling because as I mentioned, I'm a lawyer. By training and practice. I don't practice now, but I'm trained to do it. I want to win the argument. I know that impulse, and it turns out, it works almost perfectly badly. There's a phenomenon called the boomerang effect. And it goes like this. The more strenuously, I argue from my point and say, Look, these facts prove you're wrong. You don't go, my God. You're a light and darkness. You edify me. You've, you've redeemed my blind had thoughts? No, no, you don't do that. You go. Yeah, that's what you think you're old down. Why is it that 64% of millennials who were raised in the church have left and most of them will not return? Well, the Barna Group, they actually looked into that they did surveys and interviews, and we found out that it's not what one would first perhaps think you might Oh, it's because they wanted to partay and sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. No, that's not what it was. The overriding problem. The millennial said was the people they met in church were hypocritical hypercritical and narrowly political. And with that said, to me sounds like it's people who have all the answers and none of the questions and they aren't listening my way or the highway. And there's a rigidity to that. And that's heartbreaking because that's not Jesus. Jesus was not, you know, hypocritical, hypercritical and narrowly political. And the Barna Group really confirmed that many self professing Christians actually answered that description. It's not just millennials illusion, there's real evidence that they were onto something. So paraphrase praise probe is not going to turn me from a Pharisee to a genuine disciple. But it does have the seeds of both of us loving each other and learning from each other. And no, I'm not going to convert to some new religion tomorrow, because I was open eared. But it does mean that I'm going to learn things too. And my willingness to do that is one of the things that reads with the kind of humility that is so vital to this work.
Jon Steele 16:40
I appreciate that perspective, there is another way that we can learn together and pursue together that actually looks a lot more like the way that Jesus communicated with people. I think that's really fantastic.
Seth Freeman 16:51
Well, I so appreciate your saying that. And one of the running themes that I see in the students comments is, not only did they enjoy it, but their counterpart did too. What typically happens is they say, I was nervous at the start, who wouldn't be right? We all know that the the anxieties of this, but I calmed down very quickly. Because I have this little framework. One way to add even more comfort and safety is to say, let's agree that we're not going to interrupt each other, that we're going to speak to each other with respect. And that makes both of them feel like Oh, this isn't going to be a knock down, drag out shouting, you can preface that. And I call that the golden minute. But what they almost invariably say is I calm down very quickly. The other one did too, and later said, I felt I felt like I couldn't really talk with you. And it meant a lot to me.
Jon Steele 17:47
Seth, you're already taking me in the direction that I the next question that I wanted to ask, which is what are your recommendations for getting started with this kind of like this golden minute? Do you have other recommendations that you would give to people as they want to start applying these things in their life?
Seth Freeman 18:04
Sure. First, I would suggest, you know, pick a time be intentional don't just fall into this. I had one student who said that in the middle of an argument in which one member of a group of five classmates had voiced a dissenting view on a hot topic. She first launched into telling him he was crazy and stupid. And one or two others launched him and said the same thing. And then she decided to try paraphrase, praise Pro. How well do you think that works?
Jon Steele 18:35
I'm guessing I'm guessing it wasn't the right start.
Seth Freeman 18:40
So that I mean, that's that's really a cautionary tale. And so don't do this with a group do it one on one in private place. I recommend doing it over coffee or even better over food and just introducing and so you know, Jon, I've always been curious about your your your take on global warming, or you were talking the other day about the start of the universe. And I'd love to hear more about your thoughts about it. I'd love to do this in a way that that's comfortable for both of us. So I don't know if we can agree we won't interrupt each other. And we'll speak respectfully. I'd love to just see if we can enjoy that together. Does that sound like a good good thing to do? And what have you done very winsome, very inquisitive? And really, it's it's off to the races paraphrase, praise probe, and you just keep doing it. You might say, all right, at what point do I get to share my own views? Well, after you've done this 234 times after you've really validated the other person, not their ideas necessarily. them that's the key are validating them by giving you them your full attention by truly trying to understand them by truly showing that you're seeing something good in them. That is like manna from heaven. And it's so builds credibility. It's so invites reciprocity, it's so allows them to start to see with humanity which is vital.
Jon Steele 20:01
I'd like to dig in just a little bit further to the item that you're actually already explaining. And that is the idea of affirming the person without affirming the idea that you disagree with. I find that in that moment, as they are sharing completely opposite views that it's almost easy for me to just kind of trail right along with them. And I'll get to the end of the conversation and realize that, oh, this thing that was supposed to be about me lovingly sharing an alternate perspective ended up just being almost like saying, yeah, that works, too. You find out you're affirming their idea, just because you want to be nice. I completely agree. How can you avoid that?
Seth Freeman 20:40
Well, first, let me just affirm the idea that we are not here to be nice, okay, and we're not here to be strong, we're here to be strong and nice or strong and grind. As I say, if you know, if you're just kind you can, you can kill with kindness, if you're just strong, you can kill with strength. It's melding the two that's so remarkable. And those are, those are qualities that Jesus manifested with perfection. And one of the things that we want to do is not just let somebody believe that anything is fine. And oh, where do I how do I become a member of your movement? Now? No, that's not that's not it. What we're trying to do is validate the other person and be 3% more loving. That's basically it. And the rest will just follow from there. Now, do I just want to do I want to leave the other person with the impression that, you know, this, this movement, that they're a part of this philosophy that they believe in is the cat's meow, and, you know, now not necessarily at all. That's why I'm asking questions. And at some point, I can venture, let me share with you a story, or let me share with you something that I'm concerned about. And one of the things that made my conversation with Dave So effective was because I was able to share all kinds of books that I had read and study and science that I had seen. But it was always in the context of, here's what I really like about what you're saying. And let's add this or let me share thing with you. Just to give you a sense of how powerful this was. The following week, we got together again, and for the first hour, all Dave wanted to do was talking about all the things that we talked about in the deposition, all the research he done, as a follow up, that tells you how powerfully what I was sharing with him right? You know, it made him really, uh huh. So you can talk about anything, and I strongly urge you and our listeners not to feel like you've got to buy into whatever the other person is saying. But rather, what you're doing is loving them.
Jon Steele 22:51
Let's say that people listen to this, and they start adopting this. But as we tend to do when we try something new, it doesn't always go the way that the example version goes. What would you say to people as they sort of trip and fall and mess up? Or maybe get angry or the other person doesn't respond the way that they want it? And they're like, Okay, well, I tried. But now what? What would you say to somebody that has a rough start,
Seth Freeman 23:14
the first thing I would do is start, start simple. Start easy. Don't go into something you've most care about. And you're first trying this, but find a subject that you don't care a great deal about, you know, like, who is the greatest baseball player of all time, and one of you may think it's Barry Bonds, and the other one thinks what are you crazy? It's Willie Mays. And you know, you can get into the whole thing on steroids. Yeah. Generation. Yeah, no, I say Hey, kid, you know, what about the 50 Forgetting and backup and you know, they're endless arguments you can get into like that. But if you're using paraphrase, praise probe, you can try this out in a way that's, that's safe. And the stakes aren't that big. And you go, how did that go? That was really good. I enjoyed that. They might try it on something that's a low grade political issue. And then once you're getting the feel for it, then you might want to venture into something in on the fringe of philosophical and religious things with somebody who you're in a good place with and see where that goes. And the one thing I'll caution you on is if you go in thinking this is going to be great. I'm going to I'm going to double attendance at church next week. Yeah, that's not what this is. This is a long term thing. And this is this is coming alongside I was thinking about this the other day, imagine you are all powerful, and God incarnate, and you've just gone through the crucifixion and the resurrection, and it is Easter Sunday morning. What would you do? Well, if you watch Marvel, and you live in this culture, what do you do you find the most dramatic and explosive and big way to win now, what's happened to every one, you know, from the from the top of the temple? What does he do? He takes a walk with two nameless disciple goes and talks with them for hours. who and who does that? Well, God does that, is he sending out a divine press release? No. He's patiently walking quietly to amaze us with two men who can't even recognize them. Now, that tells me something about patience. And that is urgent as what Jesus was here to do. He's not in a hurry. And he walks alongside. He's Micah, do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. But that inspires me to go, I don't need to close this deal. Today, I'm going to walk with somebody.
Jon Steele 25:36
I love that idea. Because it our culture is so up into the right and right now that we, you know, we want to see immediate change it is, it's coming out of my pores, Seth, like it is. So in me, we want to see progress at every moment, very measurable progress. And so I this feels like not only a framework, like a mental framework to consider not only a tool to use very practically. But this feels like a spiritual discipline, in patients, like you said, of saying, I am going to submit myself to the timeline, whatever that might be. And rather than dragging somebody down the road or pushing them up the road, I'm just going to walk with them, and ultimately in step with the Spirit, because that's the pace that He is drawing someone that the spirit of drawing that person to themself.
Seth Freeman 26:31
And you just have to say your word, the spirit, as mysterious as the spirit is, yeah, there's lots of room here. And one of the nice things to add about paraphrase praise probe is we don't have to have all the answers. In fact, we can be the dumbest one in the room make good stuff can be one of the best places to be, I can genuinely ask the questions of a child. And I may actually have more impact than anything else. So I very much affirm what you're saying, Jon. And the only thing I'll add is, now that we've talked about this, and the importance of listening, and asking questions, and such, I warmly encourage everyone to learn about remarkable new evidence that's coming in, in the last several years and decades that so strongly supports the case. For Jesus, it's quite remarkable, not to hit people over the head, but to be encouraged. Because the irony is, is the better prepared I am, the more humbly I can say, You know what? That's a good question. I don't know. Whereas if I don't know anything, I may tend to be more defensive and argumentative. So for all these reasons, to be ready with an answer, if asked to be able to share when I it's appropriate, but also to be actually more humble. It helps to be prepared.
Jon Steele 27:44
I love that the combination of preparation and and knowing your moment, not forcing your moment, but waiting patiently and humbly for it. Seth, are there any resources that you can point us in the direction of if people want to continue developing in this process? Are there places that you would point us for some of these things? Sure.
Seth Freeman 28:05
The first thing is, surprisingly, I've actually done an interview in Time Magazine, essentially talk about this. And so if you Google Time Magazine, and Seth Freeman, you'll actually see an interview with Belinda letscom, who talks who bakes in much of what we've just been talking about into a very succinct and well written article. I have a whole slide decks on these things. So I'm happy to share them. And I can do it in like 10 or 15 minutes, or the better part of an hour, depending on one's availability and interests. So I invite people to contact you, and through you, me and I LinkedIn, I warmly encourage listeners to reach out to me, I'm Seth Freeman. And there are many Seth Freeman's I'm surprised to find so I'm a professor at Columbia and at NYU.
Jon Steele 28:52
Perfect. Seth, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been beyond fun for me. And as I said before, I love being able to walk away with a tool that feels both new and familiar at the same time. And this feels like that. Thank you, Seth, for being with us today. I'm so grateful.
Seth Freeman 29:10
Thank you so much. You're saying something that I would love to make sure many people learn and benefit from and I give you all the credit, and I invite listeners to blame me for any shortcomings or issues they have.
Jon Steele 29:23
Of which I imagine there will be very few, if any. So thank you. Thank you very much, Seth, I appreciate you.
Seth Freeman 29:29
My pleasure, Jon. Thank you so much.
Jon Steele 29:33
Paraphrase, praise probe. When you find yourself in those sticky conversations, no matter how important or pointless the topic might be. If there's some sort of relational collateral on the line, consider paraphrase, praise probe, listen closely, and then check to make sure that you've heard correctly, find something positive that you can affirm and what the other person said. And then ask a humble curious question that helps you further explore the idea Get together. And remember, you don't have to seek out the most challenging version of this right away. Start simple hone the skill and slowly apply it to more and more challenging topics. And make sure you take a minute to check out the show notes. I've put a link to Seth's website there where you can continue learning about this method of paraphrase praise probe. Seth, thank you so much for joining us and for teaching us how to better engage around difficult topics of conversation. This is an incredibly timely skill that you've imparted to us. alumni come back next week as we enjoy our third and final conversation with harvest and InterVarsity alumna who spent 15 years as a full time missionary in China. If you aren't caught up, just take a look at episode 70 and 85. And then there's also a brief introduction to harvest in Episode 64. And then don't forget that our 100th episode is coming up. So find us on Instagram, Facebook, or SpeakPipe. And tell us all about your favorite moments from the podcast. Thanks for tuning in. And I will see you in the after alumni.
Podcast Outro – (Upbeat acoustic guitar music)
Hey, thanks so much for joining us today, Alumni. If there was anything that you learned, really enjoyed, or that encouraged you from today's episode, would you send us a DM or tag us in a story? We'd love to hear about it. You can find us @afterivpod on Instagram and Facebook. And if you haven't already, take just a second to unlock your phone and subscribe to the podcast. If your platform lets you, leave us a rating and a review. And if you like what we're doing here, share us with your InterVarsity or other post-graduation friends. Thanks again for listening. And I will see you in the after, Alumni.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai