Rules of Engagement

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. James 4:1 (The Message)

I typically give homework to my clients between sessions. After all, most of the work of change needs to take place outside the counseling session. My job is to equip clients with the tools they need to effectively handle life challenges. I encourage, I challenge, I give feedback, and I provide accountability for my clients. Above all, I try to listen closely to them and give them the respect that they deserve. They have entrusted me with very precious parts of their lives, and I have a duty to honor them with confidentiality and accountability.

Recently, I gave a set of Rules of Engagement to a couple who was having a hard time communicating effectively. I thought that I would share them with you to see if you might also find these rules helpful in times when communication gets tense or even counterproductive.

Rules for Healthy Engagement

  • We agree to engage in a reasonable discussion where no threats are made
  • We agree to each take ownership of our part of the problem
  • We agree that no blame is to be given to the other party
  • We agree to own how we are feeling
  • We agree that spiritual solutions should be sought for whatever problems we are having
  • We agree to stay engaged in this discussion as long as we can participate in a courteous, respectful manner
  • We agree that a “timeout” can be requested by either party with no questions asked, and no blame assessed, when tensions are getting too high to manage

I realize, of course that these, in some ways, are ideal goals and practices, but they are also reasonable and possible. It takes discipline and determination to follow these rules, but if we do, it works. I suggest that these might be applicable to political and social discourse as well. This list is far from exhaustive, but if followed, it will produce better communication for both parties.

So, there it is, and as they say in recovery meetings, it works if you work it!

Prayer: Lord, give us ears to hear, and discretion in our speech, Amen.

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