In episode 11 last week I mentioned that the first step in improving our relationship skill is to assess the level we are it in our relational development. Knowing our starting point helps us see what how far we have to go to become more skilled in our relationships. It can motivate us to move to higher levels of relational expertise.

Let me run through the four levels real quickly, then we’ll come back and focus the rest of our time on level 2. I hope as we go through these you will see yourself in one of these four stages.

Unconsciously unskilled (U.U.) We don’t have a clue as to how unskilled we are when it comes to relationships. This is what we talked about last week. It’s the most dangerous level of relationship skills. It’s dangerous when we don’t know what we don’t know, because we can cause a lot of harm to people out of sheer ignorance of relational principles.

There can also be a bit of innocence in being unconsciously unskilled in our relationships. Several weeks ago I took my twin grandsons our for breakfast and they started talking about how they were getting along with their 13-year old sister. They were laughing about something they did or said to her. It irritated her, and these almost 17-year-old boys thought she was just over reacting.

I then told them something I learned a long time ago was that unlike guys, most girls generally do not like to be teased. Guys tease each other all the time. It’s a way we connect with each other. Not so with girls. I wasn’t aware of this dynamic when I was their age, I was unconsciously unskilled when it came to relating to girls in this department. It took me a long time to figure this out. The boys looked like they were listening, we’ll see if it translates into new behavior. They’re good kids, I’m hopeful.

Consciously unskilled (C.U.) 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.

Consciously skilled (C.S.) 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. This is the most encouraging level. We’ll talk about this next week in Episode 13

Unconsciously skilled (U.S.) 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. This is the most joyful level of relationship skill.

Back now to consciously unskilled. This is where we can tell we are making mistakes in our relationships, but we don’t know what they are. 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 relational development.

It’s hopeful because when we become aware of our lack of relational expertise it can motivate us to grow and learn the relational skills we lack.

One example that comes to mind is accounting. When I opened my executive recruiting business I learned I had to deal with government reporting, taxes, how to record income and expenses. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I was a history major in college and knew nothing about accounting. I didn’t know anything about business. Never took any kind of business course in college. I was consciously unskilled when it came to accounting.

So I had to find an accountant, someone who could tell me what I didn’t know I needed to know. What was frustrating for me was I didn’t know what questions to ask. It wasn’t until I started making mistakes that I came to understand the questions I needed answered. My consciously unskilled relationship with accounting drove me to learn what I needed to know.

While being consciously unskilled drove me to learn the skills I needed to learn, for some of us it can be quite different. It can become a recognition that I’m quite comfortable with the status quo, thank you very much, and I’m perfectly content with not improving my skill level.

I was at a conference several years ago where a well-known, big name speaker was giving a series of plenary talks. Most of you would recognize his name if I mentioned it. He was truly a gifted and inspiring presenter. My role at this conference was to conduct an optional breakout session in between talks this keynote speaker was giving.

My little talk was on the subject of listening, and to my surprise this big-name speaker sat in on my workshop. When I finished he came up to compliment me on my little spiel, and at the end said to me, “You know, I’m not a very good listener. People tell me that, I’m not a good listener.”

What was surprising to me was how he said it. It was with an air of recognition, with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders as if to say, that’s just the way I am, a not-a-very-good-listener. He was conscious of his lack of skill in this area, but gave no indication of wanting to improve.

Another time I was talking to a leader of a large ministry and I told him I admired his leadership in one particular area. He accepted my compliment graciously, but then said wistfully, “but I have the tendency to use people.” You could tell this was something he didn’t like about himself, something he’d like to change. There was a tone of regret in his voice.

His response was so unlike the response of the conference speaker. Both of them were consciously unskilled in a particular relational area. But one didn’t seem interested in changing, while the other one did.

I have two other stories that expose how consciously unskilled I was in two relational moments.

  • The missionary at my daughter's church from the Virgin Islands, heading to the Philippines the next day
  • The day my twin grandsons came home from the hospital.

Each of these last two stories show movement from being unconsciously unskilled (level 1) to consciously unskilled (level 2). How does this happen?

We have to put a name to our relational deficiencies so we know what to change. My leader friend put a name to his deficiency, “I tend to use people.” I put a name my shortcomings in the two stories I shared: self-centeredness.

For me, the movement from unconsciously unskilled to consciously unskilled happened in several steps.

  1. Acknowledging that I want to be a kind caring person. It’s the type of human being I want to be. It’s my persona. It’s how I want to view myself. It’s intrinsic to my value system. It’s who I want to be.
  2. Identifying the skill I lacked in a particular relational moment, namely other-centeredness. The skill that takes the spotlight off me in an interaction so it can shine on the other person.
  3. Being open to the Holy Spirt holding up a mirror to me, when I wasn’t even thinking about it, to show me the disconnect between the person I wanted to be, and the person I was in those two interactions.
  4. Resolve to do better. Learn from my mistakes. Ask God to remind me when I’m less than than the person he created me to be and that I want to be.

I wish we could all skip level 2 where we could go directly from being clueless in how we relate to people to level 3 where we’re aware of relational skills we developed and put them into practice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Results a listener will experience when he/she implements the solution.

By taking these four steps, our life will be so much richer in our relationships. We’ll be able to better monitor ourselves and become the person most of us want to be. We’ll be more inviting and relationally attractive to people if we do the four things I mentioned:

  1. Remind our self of the kind of person we want to be.
  2. Give a name to the relational skill we lack
  3. Ask the Holy Spirit to point out the relational skills we lack, and then to empower us with the relational competence he wants us to have.
  4. Resolve to do better. Be on the lookout for our relational weaknesses

Before I close, here’s the he main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence

To improve our relationship skills, we must first identify our relational deficiencies in light of the person we want to be.

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

Ask the holy Spirit to gently point out your relational flaws, and ask him to empower you with the skills you need to be the person God created you to be.

Coming up next week

Next week in episode 13 we’ll take a look at the next level of relationship skill development, consciously skilled. I’ve been getting some interesting feedback from recent episodes that I want to start sharing. Would love to hear from you about THIS episode and stories of when you were consciously unskilled. and how you dealt with it.

Quote of the Week

Scars remind us of where we have been. They don’t have to dictate where we are going. ~ David Rossi

Resources mentioned in today’s show

Episode 11, Relationship Skills – Level 1