I’ve recently become acutely aware of the dangers of unhealthy communication. By unhealthy communication, I mean the avoidance of healthy interactions…instead of going directly to the source of the perceived conflict, people will instead complain to others who are not involved. I sort of understand this…it is innate characteristic we’ve had from the time when humans lived in tribes and life was very much an us against them reality. You stick with the people you know and trust and don’t risk pissing someone off by confronting the other person. This is very damaging to community. It destroys trust and divides people.
Many times it is simply a misunderstanding that could have been cleared up if only the offended party would have spoken directly with the object of their discontent. Sometimes the issue is more serious, but it is still important to speak your truth to the individual instead of letting the offence fester.
In our church we have tried to promote the use of a technique to avoid triangulation called The Path of Five. This is a technique meant primarily to be used by the uninvolved person to whom a complaint is brought. It goes something like this: When a person complains to you about another person, ask them:
- Have you spoken directly to this person? If not:
- Do you feel comfortable speaking directly to this person? If not:
- Would you like me to accompany you while you speak directly to this person? If not:
- Will you give me permission to speak directly to this person on your behalf? If not:
- Are you aware, then, that I cannot help you with your concern?
If the uninvolved person follows through with this, the triangulation and unhealthy communication can be halted at any point during the process, and if they ask all five questions without convincing the complainer to take their compliant directly to other person, then they can remove themselves from the situation without guilt.
Will Bowen, Unity Minister and author of A Complaint Free World, stated it nicely when he said that refusing to complain means “taking your concerns directly, and only, to the person who can affect the change you seek.” To do otherwise is just complaining and not getting your concerns resolved.
If everyone would refuse to complain and refuse to be complained to, our communities would be healthy, trusting, loving homes. But in reality, at our church, this has had only limited success. I think that people are uncomfortable with it, frankly. They want to be loving and attentive to their friends and listen to their problems, but ultimately this complicity undermines their ability to be loving and attentive to the needs of their church community. And that is unfortunate, because it can lead to mistrust and division. And that is the beginning of the end of true community.