Last week in episode 10, I talked about the two features found in every good relationship, the first being want. The desire to want the relationship to be the best it can be, as evidenced by taking action to enhance a relationship. Relationships take work and if we’re not willing to work at it, they’re not going to be sustainable. We have to want it bad enough to work for it. That’s the first feature.

The second feature of every good relationship is skill, we can want a good relationship and can work at it, but if we don’t have relational skills, those relationships aren’t sustainable either. You need both. Want and skill.

The first step in improving our relational skill is to know what level our relationship skills currently are at. Knowing the four levels of relationship skills will give us a picture of what is possible in our relational development. It can motivate us to move from a lower skill level to a higher level as we see what we could become.

Let me run through the four levels real quickly, then we’ll come back and focus the rest of our time on the first level.

Unconsciously unskilled. We don’t have a clue as to how unskilled we are when it comes to relationships. We just don’t get it. We’re blind as to how our behavior impacts others. We have no idea of what we are doing wrong in how we relate to people. We make relational blunders but we don’t know we’re making them. We have no internal editor. This is the scariest level in a relationship.

Consciously unskilled. We’re making mistakes in our relationships with people, and we know it. Things aren’t going well, but we don’t know what to do about it. We can tell people are turned off by us, but we’re not sure why. We notice how others have better relationship skills than we do, and wonder how they do what they do. We wish we could be like them. This is the most hopeful level in a relationship.

Consciously skilled. We see how we impact others, for good or ill. We’re aware of our skills and try to put them into practice. We try to get better at them. We avoid our natural tendencies that get in the way of relationships. We work at self-correcting ourselves when we see that we might be adversely affecting a relationship. We’re attuned to how others relate well and we try to emulate them. This is the most encouraging level.

Unconsciously skilled. We’re good at relating well with people, and aren’t even aware of it. We’re not even trying; it’s just part of who we are. People from time to time will complement us on one of our relational skills, say listening, for example, but we didn’t notice it ourself because it comes so naturally for us. We’re pretty self-aware of our relational weaknesses, and intuitively avoid them as much as possible. This is the most joyful level of relationship skill.

Unconsciously unskilled

We don’t have a clue as to how unskilled we are when it comes to relationships. We just don’t get it. We’re blind as to how our behavior impacts others. We have no idea of what we are doing wrong in how we relate to people. We make relational blunders but we don’t know we’re making them. This is the scariest level in a relationship.

The clueless level of relationship skill. Three examples from relational interactions in the Bible.

I Samuel 1:2-8. Story of Elkanah

  • Elkanah was a good man, a good husband
  • He couldn’t identify with his wife’s problem
  • He wanted to fix things. Probably got tired of hearing the squabbles between his two wives. He just wanted the problem to go away
  • In essence he tells Hannah, don’t feel the way you feel
  • He tries to use logic and rational thought to counter an emotional reaction.

Mark 9: 33-37

  • Here the disciples had been witnessing Jesus do great and wonderful things, but they argued who among THEM was the greatest
  • I wonder how Judas participated in the argument? Was he the prime-mover? Did he retreat? Did the argument play any role in his later betrayal of Jesus?
  • The disciples failed to see they were part of a larger story outside of themselves. The story wasn’t about them, but they wanted it to be.
  • Jesus was so gentle with them, and uses their dysfunction as a teachable moment to take the competitive pressure off that they felt among themselves.
  • He moves them from talking about elevated roles in his group, to extolling the virtue of being like the lowest in society – children. What a contrast!

Matthew 20: 20-28

  • James and John look like first century millennials, with their helicopter mother, intervening on their behalf. Similar to modern day millennials whose parent shows up with them for their first employment interview.
  • James and John obviously had no clue on how their request would sit with their fellow disciples.

One theme emerges from all three of these stories. It’s that pride is at the root of all three examples of unconsciously unskilled interactions

  • Elkanah, thinking his wife should find him to be the answer to her greatest needs and desires in 1Samuel
  • The disciples arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest in Mark 9
  • James and John and their mother, wanting a higher status than their peers in Matthew 20

In a later episode we’ll refer back to this incident with the apostle John. It’s part of an important illustration I’m saving for a few weeks from now.

Lessons Learned from these unconsciously unskilled relational moments:

  1. We get in trouble when we put ourselves first in a relationship, when we elevate our needs above the needs of another person.
  2. In spite of our relational dysfunction, Jesus is gentle with us and uses our lack of skill as a teachable moment to show us how to do relationships right. Being unconsciously unskilled is not a birth defect, we can change and learn from it and move on to a higher level…if we want to.
  3. We need to examine ourselves, and ask, what relational skills do I lack that I am not aware of?
  4. No matter how skilled we are relationally now, at one time we were all unconsciously unskilled when it comes to relationships. Therefore, we should show grace and understanding to those who are where we once were.

The big question then is this: How will we know if we are unconsciously unskilled in our relationships, and if we are, how can move up to the next level?

The big answer to this question is the big idea, the take-away form today’s episode and our show in a sentence:

We need others in our life whose relationship style we can observe and emulate, and one of those others needs to be Jesus.

Here’s a way you can respond to today’s show

Who are some people I know who are very skilled relationally, that I could model myself after? What relational qualities do they have that I would like for myself, and then ask Jesus to show you how to develop those qualities.

Coming up next week
Next week in episode 12 we’ll take a look at the next level of relationship skill development, consciously unskilled. I’ll be sharing examples from my own life that illustrate this next step in relational skill development. I’ll show how we can all learn from our less-than-stellar relationship moments.

Quote of the Week

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it’s the illusion of knowledge      ~ Daniel Boorstin

Resources mentioned in today’s show

Episode 10, Two Features of Every Good Relationship

The Discovers: A Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself, by Daniel Boorstin