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Growing Relationships Through Enlarging the Conversation

When setting out to define “enlarging the conversation,” it seems that this could mean a variety of different things to different people, but at the very core of this definition is the idea that one must break free of the boxes we create in our lives, and that this process is what it really means to enlarge the conversation. As humans, we are creatures of habit – we drive the same route to work every day, eat the same dinner every Wednesday, and have the same conversations with people over and over again, seldom realizing that while the topic might be different, the substance is the same.

Enlarging the conversation forces us to actively engage ourselves in stepping outside of all this sameness to try something new, and to change our way of thinking and our way of relating to others. The substance of our conversations begins to change, to shift to something more meaningful and connected, something that is more about the “we” and less about the “me. ” When defining what it really means to enlarge the conversation, it is important to remember that conversation is the primary means we have of constructing our identities (Stewart, 2009).

It is through our communications with others that we gain a sense of who we are, that we evaluate and change the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that make up our individual selves. When we stay locked in our boxes, we stay locked in dysfunctional patterns and stifle ourselves needlessly. In short, we do not grow. However, when we begin to become self-aware (the catalyst for enlarging the conversation), we realize how stunted we have become, and we realize how much more God wants for us and how much more growing there is for us to do, if only we will courageously and faithfully put forth the effort.

When we enlarge our conversation with God, we move closer to our true identity, our identity in Christ, and thus, become more connected to our Creator. Oftentimes we do not consider that our relationship with Christ is the cornerstone of our lives, and if we are ever to be truly successful in this life, we must build from that cornerstone. Enlarging the conversation can be a huge contributor to this realization, as it forces us to constantly and consistently turn to Christ as the focal point of our lives and the center of our growth.

Indeed, enlarging the conversation in the rest of our lives and relationships is practically impossible unless we are grounded and secure through our enlarged conversation with the Creator because we are bound to encounter resistance to our efforts that can only be overcome with a Christ-like attitude and the assistance and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This resistance leads to another facet of enlarging the conversation, which is essentially that any conversation requires two participants (Petersen, 2007).

In the context of our humanness, we cannot enlarge our conversation by ourselves, although we can start and lead the process of enlarging the conversations we have with others. Which, of course, we cannot do unless we have begun the enlarging process with God first, bringing us back to God as the center of things. When we look carefully at God’s Word, the Bible, as well, we see that the principles of enlarging the conversation are found throughout its story.

In the Bible, enlarging the conversation can be found in such principles as “love thy neighbor as thyself” and the notion that we are always to do what is right, regardless of the consequence to ourselves. These are ideals that are not widely practiced in our world today, they are not found in the comfortable, familiar box lives we have constructed for ourselves, and to try to adhere to such ideals, or even to espouse them, is as revolutionary now as it was 2,000 years ago.

Upholding the Christ-like principles found in biblical teachings is the primary method we have of enlarging the conversation, and again, moves us outside of ourselves, but in a different way than we might expect. We find that when we set out to enlarge the conversation with other people, instead of with God and within ourselves, we are moved toward the other, toward the “we,” and the “me” becomes less significant to our view of the interactions taking place, but at the same time, is even more influential in what is going on than before.

For example, when we enlarge our conversation by actively listening to another person, by truly trying to understand them and connect with them on a meaningful level, we are almost entirely focused on them, not ourselves. Yet, it is this quality of being selfless that becomes a part of the identity we have co-constructed in this conversation, and that can make a more significant positive impact on that relationship than we might expect. Additionally, this same selflessness can provide an example and act as a catalyst for the other person’s internal, self-awakening process of enlarging the conversation.

Thus, our relationships become more connected and more meaningful, we are communicating on a deeper level, and our lives are richer and more satisfying, which leads to even more growth, both personally and relationally, and this continual change becomes a new habit for us. Summarily, enlarging the conversation can be defined as the process of identifying the need within ourselves to grow, and facilitating that growth by stepping outside of the selfish, self-limiting boxes we have chosen to live our lives in.

This entails moving from being self-centered to being Christ-centered, and then to being more like Christ in our interactions and communications with others, until we eventually are grounded enough and healthy enough in the “me” to be able to truly focus on and connect with others, forming a “we” identity and a stronger, healthier relationship. It is continually moving away from all of the things that have kept us locked in the dysfunctional, unsuccessful patterns that have become our “comfort zone,” and moving toward something new and better. Background and Behavioral Blend Influences

Nobody is perfect, but we all would like to believe that we are special, that the personality traits that make up our identities are unique to us. Well, in a way, this is true. God did create each of us individually, and no one is exactly the same as anyone else. However, we share similar motivations for why we act, think, and speak the way that we do, and these motivations influence our personality in ways we may not realize, and can sometimes lead us to become locked in behaviors or thought patterns that are unhealthy, unsuccessful, and dysfunctional (Carbonell, 2005).

It is important to understand that no personality type or behavioral blend is better or worse than another, but each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and we can all learn good things from each other (Carbonell, 2005). Indeed, to be more Christ-like, well-rounded effective communicators, we should try to pick up some of the strengths from other personality types to compensate for the weaknesses in our own. Our personality and behavioral blend is more important to our interpersonal communications than we may think, and can actually hinder good communication, even when we are earnestly engaged in enlarging the conversation.

We are all flawed in some way, and although we can empathize with each other, it is impossible for us to truly walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. However, drawing on the strengths and healthy behaviors of other personality types can help us learn to speak their language, to understand them better. Simply knowing more about another person’s personality and behavioral blend can help us to better see where they are coming from, what is motivating them, and a little bit more of the “why” behind what they are doing or saying.

This is an essential part of becoming an effective listener, and consequently more effective at enlarging the conversation and promoting the growth and connectedness of our relationships. Listening is an active pursuit, not something we can do with our minds elsewhere (Burley-Allen, 1995). Going into the conversation with a deeper understanding of what is motivating a person places us in a better frame of mind for active and effective listening, since we are focused not only on what another person is saying, but why they may be saying it without pushing our own assumptions and preconceptions (Petersen, 2007).

In short, it broadens our perspective. According to the self-assessments taken at the beginning of this course, my behavioral blend is C/I/S, and I believe a fairly accurate representation of me and my personality. Additionally, according to other sections of the assessments, my S tendencies are slightly stronger than the others, and my spiritual gift is showing mercy. Overall, C/I/S types like stability, want to do the right things the right way, and are not very aggressive or pushy. These types are “people people” and tend to be great motivators and encouragers.

S types tend to be the gentlest and humblest of the four personality types, but can also be easily taken advantage of because they generally are not very good at saying “no. ” Personally, I can see how certain aspects of my behavioral blend have affected my interpersonal communications. For example, my I tendencies lend a positive, cheerful, and encouraging air to my demeanor, so I think people tend to feel uplifted around me, and combined with my C tendencies of always wanting to do the right thing and being correct, makes people feel they can trust me if I say something is good.

My judgment is usually pretty good, so their feelings are justified, and I feel that this has really helped me a lot in life. However, like most other S types, I have a harder time than other personality types with saying “no” to people. I like doing things for others and I like being someone that others can rely on, but sometimes doing so much can lead to feelings of resentment and feeling unappreciated, which will come out during communication, even if it is unacknowledged.

It creates what Petersen (2007) calls “flat-brain syndrome,” and the emotional baggage of my own actions and feelings can seriously hinder good communication and growth in relationships. However, focusing more on my other strengths and utilizing them to help me say “no” more often will help to keep bad feelings in check, and can go a long way toward eliminating this problem entirely. I believe that sometimes just remembering something positive about ourselves can help us to act in a more positive way and communicate more effectively.

For example, if I’m feeling unappreciated at work and overstressed with all the projects I have to complete, I may get “flat-brain syndrome,” and this will probably carry over into my interactions with my family, no matter how hard I try to keep them separated. All this may cause me to fail to listen effectively when one of my children comes to me with a homework problem, and I may say something that cuts off communication. This could leave me feeling regretful and my child feeling discouraged.

However, if I remember and focus on my abilities to encourage others it helps to put me back in that mindset, and I can say and do things to reopen that line of communication and that relationship will grow just a little bit more. Growth and connectedness in relationships is the overarching goal for my life, and being more aware of my own and others’ personality traits, behavioral blends, and motivations can help promote this, since it is easier to connect and communicate with others when you have a better understanding of what makes them tick, so to speak.

In addition, if we engage ourselves in actively trying to control and modify our personality and behavioral blend, drawing from the positive strengths of types different from our own and focusing our attention on nurturing the strengths of our own personality and behavioral blend type, we are effectively enlarging our conversation in another way. We are stepping outside of that box; we are expanding our idea of who we are, and gaining alternative perspectives for viewing the world. Potential Barriers

Potential barriers exist in every interpersonal communication we make, but not all of them become realized. It is almost impossible to enter a relationship, or even a conversation with a stranger, without carrying preconceived notions into our interactions. Sometimes our ideas, thoughts, and opinions serve only to further the relationship, like when we find a friend, a kindred spirit, but sometimes it can cause conflict. It is important to understand how to deal with that kind of conflict when it arises, so that it does not become a barrier to communication.

While it may sound strange, conflict itself is not a barrier to communication, only a potential barrier, and one that I think everyone must deal with sooner or later. Conflict can act as a catalyst for good communication, by encouraging an exchange of opposing viewpoints (Stewart, 2009). As long as it is handled in a way that encourages openness, honesty, and respect, without dragging hostile or negative emotions into it, conflict can be very good for the growth of a relationship. Personally, I believe I am very good at handling conflict, specifically with my husband and children, and usually it remains only a potential barrier.

While certain barriers are external, other barriers to effective interpersonal communication come from within ourselves, which is where I believe the majority of potential barriers I may face come from, and usually will take the form of simple misunderstandings. For example, our unique personalities and behavioral blends cause us to view the world in different ways, and this can act as a barrier to good communication, especially if one or both parties are unwilling to see things from another’s point of view.

Making efforts to be more understanding of why and how other personality and behavioral blend types view the world the way they do can go a long way toward eliminating this barrier, and is something I plan to do in my own life and my own relationships. Feelings of being overwhelmed and simply being too busy are also potential barriers to effective interpersonal communication in my life that are not as easy to classify into external or internal. It is difficult to find meaningful connection and promote growth in your relationships when you do not have time to talk to someone.

Of course, many would say the solution to this is to make time, but sometimes there just are not enough hours in the day, and someone or something is bound to get cheated. Going along, hand in hand, with having a super-full schedule is feeling overwhelmed by such a schedule. When you are struggling against these kinds of feelings, even the time you can make for people in your life is tainted by the anxiety and frustration of feeling that something has been left undone, or there is something else that must be done before a certain time.

Avoiding this barrier may be a bit trickier, partially because my primary support system which would make me feel less overwhelmed is my family, the same people I would want to spend more quality time with. I would not want to spend the limited amount of time I have with my husband or my children focused on me, my schedule, and my feelings. For a few minutes, that is okay, but I would rather spend the majority of my time with them in real communication, sharing thoughts, beliefs, dreams, etc. , dwelling on the things that really matter.

However, learning how to be a more effective communicator and enlarge the conversation can help eliminate those feelings, by helping me to say what I really mean in a way that my support system can receive it well and I can feel heard and understood. Overall, my interpersonal communication is pretty good, and although, as I mentioned before, potential barriers will always exist, I believe I have a good handle on how to prevent those potential barriers from becoming real barriers. Dealing with Noise Pollution

When someone says noise pollution these days, they are generally talking about loud music, construction noises, etc. , but there is an emotional, interpersonal kind of noise pollution all around us and within us all the time too. Internal noise pollution occurs when we listen to all the negative thoughts or beliefs that may pop into our heads, when we allow the hurts and pain from the past (our emotional baggage) to drag us down and give us “flat-brain syndrome. ” External noise pollution can occur when we listen to other people’s negative communications and allow them to hold sway over what choose to say and do.

We pass their negative, unhealthy, dysfunctional communications through our own faulty filter, and before you know it, our interpersonal communications and relationships are just a big, tangled mess that we cannot seem to undo (Stewart, 2009). There are several ways to avoid this, though. Part of the solution is to promptly identify and remove any potential barriers to effective interpersonal communication, which can cut down on the amount of external noise pollution we are hearing.

The act of enlarging the conversation itself is another good way to reduce noise pollution because stepping outside ourselves and our boxes helps us to get rid of the emotional baggage that is prompting most of our internal noise pollution, and attempting to get others to join in the process of enlarging the conversation can also reduce the external noise pollution we are getting in the form of misunderstandings and misconceptions. In the specific context of my family, reducing noise pollution, both internal and external, will in a large part be helped simply by communicating more effectively, more openly, and more honestly.

Improvement and Enticement As I have mentioned before, nobody is perfect, and everybody’s interpersonal communication skills can use improvement, even mine! Based on the information I have gathered through the personality and behavioral blend assessments, and through becoming more self-aware, I have identified a few key areas where I could use improvement. Oftentimes, I have a tendency to be too reserved or shy, which when combined with my desire to always do the right thing in the right way, could lead many to feel I am aloof and unapproachable.

This is definitely not conducive to effective interpersonal communication, and could be counteracted merely by displaying more of myself. Oddly enough, I can also be somewhat impulsive at times, and do not think before I speak. Then, I say things I may not mean and that could be seriously misconstrued if taken out of context. Indeed, being clear, concise, and correct are important facets of speaking in a way that is conducive to good interpersonal communication. This can also play a part in encouraging others to join the conversation and its enlargement, as resistance is practically inevitable.

There are other ways of combating this too, like being persistent and positive and really open about your goals during the conversation. Of course, I also think that sometimes just telling people about your experiences enlarging the conversation is enough to make them want to do the same. Actively making efforts to improve in certain areas and become a more open advocate for enlarging the conversation can lead to better communications and growth in relationships in a variety of ways, and enhance feelings of connectedness, as you may find yourself starting a new journey with an old friend as you enlarge the conversation together.

Plans for an Overarching Goal The overarching goal for my life, growing and becoming more connected in my relationships with God and other people, specifically my family, practically requires enlarging the conversation, as one cannot remain wrapped up in their own selfish little world, locked in dysfunctional or unhealthy patterns and boxes, and manage to have close, meaningful relationships with other people.

If my goal is to promote growth in my relationships and to become more connected to others, it is important that I exert some control over my personality and behavioral blend, as well as improve my interpersonal communication skills and enlarge the conversation within myself. Of course, this all begins, as mentioned in the very beginning of this paper, with a relationship with God where we are enlarging the conversation and stepping outside of the box into something more real. From an eternal perspective, this is accomplished primary through adopting more Christ-like behaviors and attitudes.

Learning to listen effectively to what another person is saying can be one way to love your neighbor, and even if this is not combined with any other act of selflessness, can have a life-changing effect on someone. Sometimes we lead and encourage merely by setting a good example for others, and effectively listening and enlarging the conversation can be (and indeed, probably should be) a truly selfless act. Luckily, though, we have more than inner promptings available to guide us in our interpersonal communications.

The Bible is an excellent guidebook, and full of stories about how to and how not to promote growth in our relationships, and how to form bonds with others that are lasting and meaningful. For example, we are shown how to encourage our friends while they are suffering, and given a variety of ways to lead others toward enlarging the conversation, which could be considered leading them toward Christ, as one cannot truly begin to expand and explore the world of possibilities available without a relationship with our Creator.

I plan to utilize every resource available to me, including the Bible and the Holy Spirit, to enlarge the conversation within myself as much as possible, and to carry that over into the most important relationships in my life, with my family. Following biblical principles and the principles of effective interpersonal communication and listening is easier and better than being led by emotional baggage, personality or behavioral blend, or even my own silly self. Obviously, I will have triumphs and I will have failures, but the most important thing is to try.

Our relationships, and the quality of those relationships, says more about who we are and what is important to us than a hundred pages of words could relate, and I want my relationships to reflect a godly life full of love and happiness. References Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The Forgotten Skill (2nd ed. ). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Carbonell, M. (2005). Extreme Personality Makeover. Blue Ridge, GA: Uniquely You Resources. Petersen, J. (2007). Why Don’t We Listen Better? Portland, OR: Petersen Publications. Stewart, J. (2009). Bridges Not Walls (10th ed. ). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

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