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Everyone Acts in a Way that Makes Sense to Them

From the series God's Wisdom for Building Great Relationships

This message is Principle #3 for building great relationships – Everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to them. Inappropriate, immature behavior or damaging, dysfunctional patterns can manifest for reasons that, at least to the offender, and from their experience, makes sense to them. Proverbs 14:12 says "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."  If the way that seems right to us isn't in alignment with God's wisdom, it will produce conflict and deteriorate the relationship. So, now what? Join Chip to find out.

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Message Transcript

I’m talking about basically life lessons in terms of building a great family and just great friendships. Principles that have to do with marriage, parenting, friendships, your boss. And so, let me do a quick review

Principle number one – the biggest lesson I learned was: it all begins with God. I come from a family background, there’s a multi-billion dollar self-help industry, there are TV shows, there are books, there are movies that all tell you: this is how to do relationships. My biggest lesson is: God created relationships and His Word gives direction on how to have great ones by His intent.

The second principle was that every, recognize that everyone is desperately insecure. We looked at the very beginning of time and Adam and Eve and that once sin entered the world, we are all, varying degrees, we are just desperately insecure people.

But since that time, we are fear-based. And because we are afraid of what other people will think about us, we hide. And so we pretend and we image-cast and we perform and we manipulate and we so fear rejection, it’s in all of us. And so we said the passage was Genesis chapter 3 and then our practice was: Take off your mask. Authenticity builds genuine relational intimacy and hypocrisy destroys it.

That great truth that people are not looking for perfect people, but people like you and me are really looking for authentic, real people.

Principle number three is everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to them. Everyone you meet, every behavior you encounter, whether it’s from your dad, your mom, your mate, your friend, your boss, an employee – everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to them.

When people act in immature, inappropriate, or even have patterns that appear absolutely dysfunctional and damaging, they are doing it for reasons that, at least inside their head and from their experience, it makes sense.

Everyone behaves, and you say, Well, that seems kind of simple. I’ve got to tell you, when you get your arms around that, it will revolutionize how you interpret what happens. Because sometimes it’s not even wrong, sometimes people are very, very different and so they respond in ways that make sense to them that are completely foreign to you, but it causes conflict.

Let me give you my first example where I began to learn about this. Theresa and I come from very different families. I came from a family of schoolteachers that really believed in education and thought that the way you learn is around the supper table. And so, we would eat dinner and then push, literally, push the plates to the middle, you couldn’t even clean them up.

And then, this is why I like coffee, I think, my parents would get a cup of coffee. I didn’t like milk, but if I would drink half my milk, they would put a little coffee in it and a little sugar. But seriously, from about four years old on. And we would talk for forty-five minutes around the table and that question, like, “So, what did you learn in school today?” if you went, “Oh, nothing,” that was like, “That does not work in this family.”

And so, what I learned is a dynamic occurred in our family that the way to eat and be heard is you have to interrupt somebody. So, my family, when you talk, you have to track because they interrupt. And everyone is talking all the time.

Well, Theresa came from a family that was just the opposite. And people were very polite and very cordial, but not overly communicative. Not good, not bad, neither of us right, neither of us wrong. But it must have been about two, maybe three months after we are married and we are going to drive up, I think, and visit her sister. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive or so.

And we have a little conversation in the car. And it’s these beautiful winding roads and there are lots of trees and a blue sky and puffy clouds, all of which I didn’t notice at the time. And so, we talk a little bit and I notice that I am way more talkative in this new marriage relationship than my wife.

And so, like men do, we count things, probably not very wisely at times. So, I decide that I am going to run an experiment and I am not going to say anything and see how long it takes her to initiate the conversation and talk to me.

Now, you’ve got to remember, all of us are desperately insecure. My experience tells me and my family: if you don’t talk to me, you are rejecting me because that’s how I grew up, but that’s the way we punished each other. When you are fighting for airtime, the way you tell someone that, Boy, I don’t like you, is you don’t talk.

So, we drive and I’m going to run this experiment. Ten minutes goes by. Kind of looks over and smiles at the car. We keep going. Looking out the window, who knows what’s out there. Twenty minutes goes by. Now, I’m starting to go, We are married three months. Is this how you…? What’s the deal here? And thirty minutes goes by. Thirty-two minutes goes by. Thirty-five minutes. Thirty-seven point five minutes. And I’m just going, What is, man, what is going on here? I thought we had a good marriage, I thought I married the right person, what is going on? She won’t even talk to me! We must have a big problem. And I am, in my mind, it’s building and building and building.

We hit the forty-five minute mark and I decide that’s it. And so, she is looking out the window, seems to actually be enjoying things, at times, looks over at me and smiles, which is ridiculous. Forty-five minutes you haven’t talked to me. And I turn to her, “What is wrong with you, anyway? I can’t believe you! I have – forty-five minutes we have been in this car, you haven’t said a word.” And I attacked her.

And after we realized we had little differences and I got clothed in my right mind emotionally and mentally and we worked it all out – everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to them. When Theresa’s family drove in the car, people didn’t talk a lot. My wife loves nature. My wife was sitting there, actually, revealed she had good thoughts about me. And she was seeing how beautiful nature was and looked at me and said, “Oh, yeah, I was having a wonderful time. I thought how wonderful it is to be in the same car, enjoy all this beauty, to be newly married, and know that even without words we can be close.”

All right? I’m thinking, Without words, this marriage is on the rocks and we have only been here two months! Do you understand the difference? If you understand people behave in a way that makes sense to her, if you don’t understand that, you’ll assume that they behave in a way that should make sense to you.

And when you place that demand on people, because a lot of times, that wasn’t moral. Her family wasn’t right and mine wrong or vice versa. But it produced tremendous conflict.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man,” the first part of that, “There is a way that seems right to a person,” there is a way that seems right to a man.” There is a way to talk, there is a way to do business, there is a way to parent, there is a way to respond to parents, there is a way to spend money, there is a way to prioritize, there is a way that seems right to a person.

All of us have, in our mind, there is a way that seems right to us. But it says, “If it isn’t in alignment with God’s wisdom,” it says – what? “But the end thereof is the way of death.” If you begin to understand, even when people blow up, even when people say things after a long time in a relationship, even when a kid slams the door – it doesn’t mean you condone the behavior, but if you assume that it doesn’t make sense to them, then you will usually attack the wrong issue and the relationship will further deteriorate.

I’ll give you another quick example. I had an experience just in the last couple months and there was a Christian organization, we had built a good relationship and they said, “We have this ministry to churches and people around the world and we heard a series and we think you have a couple messages that would really help them.” I said, “Well, great.”

“We have never done an international conference, would you go to Hong Kong and we’ll have a couple other teachers go and we think this would be great.” And I thought, I've got a great friend in Hong Kong, we have mentored a church in Hong Kong. I really believe in what they are doing. So, I go and I do it.

And then I came back and they had a couple other conferences they asked me to speak at, had a great relationship, and this is the leader of this whole deal. And we just, I thought everything was great. I didn’t really notice that they didn’t ask me to speak for a year. I didn’t notice that they didn’t ask me to speak another, I was pretty busy anyway.

And then we had a big project that we had talked about earlier and they said, “Whenever you get ready, let us know about this project.” So, I call; no response. I email; not even a return call. Well, they are busy. I understand they are probably out of the office so I wait two months, go through the same. No response. And all of a sudden, I’m thinking, Now, wait a second. I went all across the world to these people, gave them a week of my life, I have done two major events for them and you can’t even get a return phone call?

And so, then, I decide, a guy taught me, okay, I’ll do a phone conference. So, I called and our assistants, we set up a phone conference and on the day of it, five minutes before the conference, “Oh, an emergency has come up. So-and-so can’t make it.”

So now I’m thinking, “Now, am I connecting these dots and these are all just coincidences or is there a problem here?” Well, I don’t want to tell you about the second phone conference that was canceled, the time I learned to talk to his assistant and she goes, “Oh, yeah, he’s right in the other room.” And then after she checks, “Oh, I didn’t realize,” and her voice tells me, you all have been here, right? “I need to figure out how to cover for my boss without making you feel too bad. He doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Eventually, I end up talking with a board member and had another big meeting that he, at the last minute, dropped out of. Now, here’s what I’ve got to tell you. If I don’t understand that people always behave in a way that makes sense to me, I want to tell you some thoughts that casually went through my mind. “What kind of a jerk is this guy? I go all across the world, I do this, I do this, I do this. He won’t return my phone call? Are you kidding? Who does he think he is? Is he the most arrogant guy in the whole world? Does he just use people? You know what? I thought that was a good organization but you know what? I guess I was wrong. They just used me and…”

Not that any of those thoughts would ever go through my mind, but if my flesh was in control, they could have. Of course, all those thoughts and all those feelings and what would have happened? This. And then probably in my flesh I would have thought of very subtle, sophisticated ways to tell other Christian leaders about what bums they are. That’s what sin does, doesn’t it?

And instead, by the grace of God, I thought to myself, Everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to them. And I got on a phone call with two of his leaders and I said, “I would do this directly, but I can’t get an audience with your boss.” And I just recited the things that we had agreed upon and what I have done and I said, “Would you tell him I have a conviction from God that I must have wounded him in some way? Because all the data of his life has been he is a good man, he is a godly man, you have a great organization, and he won’t even return my phone call. So, I am assuming there is a problem between us.”

And since one of the relational principles is it always begins with God, all those feelings and thoughts that were angry and bitter and unforgiving came to my mind, but I have a verse that says, Matthew 5:23 and 24, “If when you come and present your offering to the Lord, there at the altar and remember your brother has something against you, you lay down your offering and go to your brother.”

And so I said to these two guys, “Tell your boss I will be bugging him until he answers my call and I believe in some way, I don’t know what I did, I don’t know why, but I don’t have relationships with Christian leaders like this. And I don’t put it under the rug and he and I are going to talk and we are going to get this resolved. And tell him, in advance, I’m not mad at him, but this can’t go on. I need to hear what I have done wrong.”

So, the long and the short of it is, a board member, coincidentally, called me the next day, of his organization, and just in conversation asked a couple questions and I said, “Brother, I’d like to talk directly. I can’t get him to talk to me.” He said, “Let me see what I can do.” And when board members call you and you head Christian organizations, it has immediate impact.

And so, I got a call the next day and we set up this thing and we talked. And it was really interesting. We get on the phone together and I tell him my side of the story. And then here’s what my assumption is: he is behaving in a way that makes sense to him.

And I say to him, use his name, “All my experience is you are a good man, you’re a godly man, it’s a great organization, we have partnered in three or four major events. This behavior is totally contrary to everything I know about you. But I have to assume it makes sense to you. And the only explanation I have is that I have wounded you or offended you in some way. And so, will you please get that on the table so I could ask you to forgive me?”

And he said, “As a matter of fact, you did. Remember two years ago,” and he cited it and we agreed that we weren’t going to bring up one issue in this conference. I said, “Fine, you’re the head of it.” And then when I got up, two hours later, the person who was Emceeing the event asked me two questions about that issue. I assumed, I guess he talked with his boss and he changed his mind, so I took three minutes on it and went on.

Well, he didn’t talk with his boss. He just did that. His perception was: you and I talked, we agreed not to address that one issue and then you got up in front of my constituency and addressed that issue.

And then I said, “And what part of coming to me and addressing that was left out? Why didn’t you come to me?” And then all of a sudden, are you ready for this? Two leaders get to talk. And he didn’t use these words, but basically said, “You know something?” I am premising. “Because I am desperately insecure just like you. All of my leadership life I have not addressed people when there is conflict. I hate conflict.

And what I have done is I have just pushed it down, pushed it down, pushed it down, and I didn’t really even know. I just knew there was something, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but when the board member called and when I got your email and when the two, my COO and the other vice president said you’re going to keep calling until this gets resolved,” he said, “I put my finger on it.”

And you know what’s amazing? When you begin to treat people and understand they always, always act in a way that makes sense to them, it is amazing what healing can occur than assuming their motives are bad, they are carnal, they are evil, they are trying to hurt you, they are out to get you.

It doesn’t mean you condone the behavior. And so, here’s the practice I want to give you. Two things that have been so helpful over the years. Number one, become a student of others’ behavior to learn the “why” behind the “what.”

Become a student of others’ behavior. I literally have, and Theresa has with me, we have become students of one another’s behavior. I have become a student of my kids’ behavior. I have become a student of the people that I work with. A student.

I now know the “why” behind the “what” of her silence and her silence now, of course, she talks a lot more now and I shut up more now, so we have both grown. But the “why” behind the “what” is there isn’t a problem.

I have learned that my wife gets refreshed by being alone. I get refreshed by talking and verbalizing. And so, there are times where she is getting refreshed and I know the “why” behind the “what” so I can give her space and not feel rejected.

She has now learned that she may not feel like talking, that I have been through a board meeting or this or that, or been out of the country and we need to go to Starbucks and she is going to sit and just ask four or five questions and I’ll talk for an hour and a half and I feel better when I get done. But be a student. The “why” behind the “what.”

One of my sons went through a really rebellious stage and he butted heads, butted heads, butted heads. And I remember near the end, toward the breakthrough when God did an amazing thing, everything he did I assumed was rebellion against me and challenging my authority and God.

And I remember I started thinking, He’s a smart kid. He keeps doing really dumb stuff, in my opinion. And it causes all this conflict. And we sat down on his bed, he’s seventeen, he lifted weights, was a big wrestler, was huge! Big, strong kid.

And I remember thinking, There has got to be a “why” behind the “what.” And I pushed and I pushed and I pushed. And I’ll never forget this strapping, big, muscular guy breaks down and bawls like a baby in his bedroom and the “why” behind the “what” was not as much rebellion as it was fear. And he was scared to death at not measuring up

And as a parent, don’t you, as a parent feel differently with a child who is afraid than a child who rebels? Become a student of the “why” behind the “what” of people’s behavior.

Second, choose to ask this question: what is the most generous explanation for their behavior?

When your mate or friend does something that really bugs you, ask yourself, What is the most generous explanation? And really what that means is you are saying, “They are behaving in a way that makes sense to them.” I don’t understand it and it may have hurt me, but what is the most generous explanation?
See, the harshest explanation from my friend who is a Christian leader was he is arrogant, he’s a jerk, he used me, he is insensitive, and he is unwilling to address hard issues, which tells me he has a lack of integrity. That’s my harsh assessment.

The most generous assessment is: why would a good, godly leader of a great organization act in a way that is so contrary to everything that I know of him? Do you see the difference? The approach is completely different. So, ask yourself, when, with one of your kids or with your mom or dad or with a business associate or even with a neighbor, ask yourself in relationships: Hmm, you know what? I don’t know what is going on here but this makes sense to them.