Those of you who have served missions will readily recall certain companions who were more challenging than others. Some companions were introverted and others never shut up. It was a great learning ground for us as we prepared for the bonds of matrimony. Statistically it appears that many of us still struggle with interpersonal relationships. It’s possible that the source of frustration may be an intrapersonal conflict.
My son Scott is serving in South Korea and has had native companions since his arrival. Scott is very outgoing and gregarious. The South Koreans do not always share his approach to interpersonal relationships. Over the past year or so we’ve corresponded back and forth as he learns to deal with a different culture and mindset. Today’s letter to Elder Himmer came out in such a way that it might prove beneficial to others.
Dear Elder Himmer,
This is in response to your questions and comments regarding getting along with companions and those not like you. Here are five suggestions or principles to consider…
- Be yourself
- Do WHAT is right and for the right reason
- Be consistent and honest
- Respect yourself
- Determine your trust level of others and develop your relationships based on that trust level
This means that your behavior, actions, thoughts, and motives are your own, unless you deem copying another’s is closer to how God would prefer it. There are two conversations one must master for authentic happiness, interpersonal and intrapersonal.
An interpersonal conversation is external and comprises of words (7%), intonation (38%), and body language (55%). Learning to neutralize all three, body language, intonation, and words will increase the probability that your intentions, feelings, and thoughts are properly understood.
An intrapersonal conversation is your self-talk. When things go badly, we often engage in negative self-talk and spiral downward in mood and spirit. It is important to control the negativity with neutrality, develop the skill to empathetically understand others, and develop an awareness of our surroundings. These three skills will often mitigate stinking thinking.
Do WHAT is right and for the right reason
Often our internal conflict has more to do with an attempt to get others to like us. It’s not important to be liked or to follow the crowd. In fact, it usually doesn’t work. However, developing mutual trust and respect almost always creates authentic happiness. When you behave in such a way that your goal is to garner another’s favor, you change your authentic self.
Happiness is a function or byproduct of trust and respect. Seeking approval, affection, or affirmation requires persuasion and manipulation and when sought for, reduce safety, trust, respect, and happiness.
Approval is trying to win the consent of another that your behavior is within their prescribed arena of what is right.
Affirmation is the constant need of being told you are good, right, pretty, handsome, or smart. It manifests a lack of self-regard and personal worth. It creates a judgment of one’s worthiness versus one’s worth.
Affection, when properly manifested, is the physical or emotional assurance of connecting, bonding. Affect, when manipulated, creates an insatiable drive for more and improper behavior results.
The three A’s are designed to be rewards of trust and respect. They are present as a result of proper and authentic relationships. They are satiable.
The counter approach is insatiable and creates addictive behavior that pushes the Spirit away. Observe people who constantly search for approval, affirmation, or affection. They lack self-regard, are not happy within, and lack close bonding capacities.
When the Spirit is present, the individual feels all three. The Lord uses His Spirit to create a bond between the heart (feeling) and mind (peace) that testifies (two witnesses) of one’s worth. God sends His affect, approval, and affirmation through the Spirit based on righteousness and mutual trust and respect.
Be consistent and honest
It is more important to do WHAT is right than to base behavior on WHO is present. Pattern your behavior on what maximizes the Spirit in any given moment, regardless of popularity or perception. The honesty at stake is within and not towards others. If you are internally honest the external manifestation will follow. If your pattern is to speak to anyone and everyone, be consistent in your goal, however, only make and follow goals that are realistic and in harmony with gospel principles.
The same is true with your companion, talking everything out together is admirable, but not realistic. He may not possess the ability or desire to talk about it. The space is not safe for him. You have limited time to train him so make the best of your allotted time on your mission and do the Lord’s work.
It is not your assignment to teach your companions Emotional Intelligence. They can learn it later, if they want to. Your role is to be an example of what it means to diligently magnify the calling of a Full-Time Missionary. It is not to solve personality problems or fix missionaries who lack social skills. Give them permission to be free from your expectations. This will cause you internal strife if you expect them to see things as you do.
People won’t respect you unless you respect yourself. What are your boundaries? Do you adhere to them? What are your Rules of Engagement and do you stick to them? Each of us has a system for communicating and interfacing with people. Does your system work? Are you getting what you want? If not, look at your system and adjust. If what you want is out of harmony with the Spirit, then adjust what you want.
If what if you want is more friends, seeking for affirmation, approval, and affection will never permit you access to those in a healthy, satiable manner. Respect for oneself means that goals and visions are aligned with universal principles of happiness.
Permit others to act independent of your perceptions. It’s okay for them to make mistakes or not be as outgoing, happy, musical, or athletic as you think they could be or should be. Move on with your vision of becoming independent in your own space, without regard to gaining external affirmation, affection, or approval from others.
Determine Your Trust Level
When communicating with another person, one subconsciously renders assessments and judgments based on perceptions. If perceptions are out of harmony with universal principles of healthy relationships (mutual trust and respect), that person will be frustrated, perhaps angry, and unsatisfied.
One of the most effective methods of determining or measuring trust is in a conversation. You as the questioner (TED) put forth questions on which the responder may respond. If the space is neutral, without bias or motive, then the TED maximizes the probability of getting an authentic response.
If, however, the responder is unwilling to be open, honest, and vulnerable, then trust is either not present or is perhaps minimal. A skilled conversationalist has the ability to determine the cause of the distrust. One who is not skilled will often exacerbate the space and create greater animosity, distrust, or lack of safety.
It’s okay for someone not to trust you. There will always be people who won’t trust you. However, learning to deal with the statistical probability that some people are not as open, trusting, or vulnerable is a social skill that is valuable to possess. Communicate with such people on a level equal to your trust quotient. As time progresses, give them permission (invite) for greater vulnerability.
Converse at a level they are comfortable with and incrementally deepen the discussion and observe their reaction. Each person moves at a different pace.
May the Lord bless you in your constant quest for perfection.
Thank you for your service,