I simply had reached the end of my patience! There I was in the heat of the South Florida afternoon on the low ropes course with a group of 15 boys who were “gifted” to me for the afternoon. My job was to challenge them to work through their frustrations and get to a point of working together seamlessly as a team. Normally, although always a different challenge, this is a blast, and I enjoy this kind of work immensely. I expect a group to get frustrated and even up the challenge in order to create this frustration among the members. It is important to pull out and struggle through the negative dynamics so we can move to forming a tightly knit and functioning team.
Never in all the years of doing this have I experienced the negative dynamics which were waiting for me with this group of boys. There was no staying two steps ahead of them because they were a boundary challenged group as it was. Having no real authority figures within their framework of life, they did what was necessary to survive one day to the next, never knowing if they were going to have a home to go to or if they were to be permanent members of the system.
My heart was already tugged by their circumstances. Yet, despite my efforts, any hope of progress among the team was being held back by one huge, negative dynamic. They could not control their mouths. The bickering, fighting, name calling and insults prevented them from ever coming together long enough to complete a challenge on their own. Each and every step of progress was met by two steps of setbacks. One challenge would show marked improvement, and all would be lost by the time they were met by the next challenge. Figuratively taking away their vocal chords, (not allowing for any talking) always takes a group to a point of intense focus and leads them to success. Not this group. They could not refrain from insults and back biting even when the option to speak was removed.
Needless to say, I was frustrated! Yet in the midst of my frustration, I knew in my heart they were exhibiting the very dynamic they were experiencing with others in their own life each and every day. So I tried a different approach.
- I lowered my voice to force them to listen, thus keeping them from talking.
- I decreased my words to keep their attention.
- The most dramatic change I made was in my tone. I spoke to them like a mother would speak to her child, spirited but with compassion, focused but with gentleness, challenging but with encouragement.
- And finally I asked for their total commitment to the challenge, assuring them of the surge of joy for the accomplishment they would feel in the end.
The change was incredible, if even for a short time. I knew it would not last, but it created a small span of time where they were able to understand that I was on their side. I was there to help them succeed, not just bark orders and rules to complete yet another task the way “I” wanted it completed.
Although I am not sure how long the lessons I taught this group of boys will remain, they reminded me of something I too often forget to utilize in my own life.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.” Psalm 16:24
In my memory, I can recall far too many situations in which for the sake of the goal, proving my point or winning, I have not used a pleasant tone, let alone pleasant words.
It is easy for me to be spirited, focused and challenging in how I speak, underestimating how my words are affecting the one hearing them.
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are endless.” Mother Theresa
This month I will be practicing the “Honeycomb” effect. Any ideas?