Friday, April 27, 2012

Carefronting on the job-site

99.9% of the time I love the concrete job I have, and more to the point, I'm thankful for my boss.  He's a great guy, a strong Christian, and honestly he's just about the best boss I've ever had.  He's the type of guy that asks me on Monday morning, "How was your weekend?  How was church?  How's your family?"  We talk about the Bible on the job, we discuss ministry, we talk about books we've read or are reading.  And, he's extremely flexible; he's very accommodating to my needs as a tentmaker.  The .001% of displeasure though, almost got the best of me this week.  I was frustrated to say the least, and a bit resentful too.

Today I had to initiate a conversation with him (after some prompting from God's lovely gift to me) that I didn't feel like having, but I'm glad I did.  My boss, in my mind was being passive-aggressive and it was making me feel miserable.  Sometimes I shy away from conflict, i.e., I don't want to rock the boat and I let my anxiety control me.  While I'm getting better at this, I still feel uncomfortable at times with tough conversations.

Let me set up the scenario, just a little:
  A couple of days ago, there was a concrete-pour that didn't go quite right, there wasn't enough drainage off of a porch, and after two days of rain there's some water sitting on it today.  I knew that he wasn't happy the day we finished it, but didn't think it would be a big deal.  He arrived on the site after the concrete was in place and by chance I was troweling it.  Though I didn't lay the concrete down, he didn't know that.  So it appeared I didn't lay the concrete to the right grade/elevation, but I was willing to let that mistaken notion slide then.  Again, I didn't think it was a big deal.

But, last night when I texted him to confirm what time we were starting today, I didn't get a response...  Thus, my feelings that he was being passive-aggressive began to solidify in the back of my mind.  There were a few other times over the past few months it seemed to me that he was "quietly simmering" when things didn't go quite right and combined with a lack of a response to my text last night, something seemed "off."  And then today, he seemed rather distant and sullen on the job-site.

So here's what happened today:  
After a couple of hours of working together, I waited till there was a time I could approach him with the other guys on the crew out of ear-shot and I simply asked: Are we Okay?  I was practicing the concept of carefronting, Augsburger's term for caring enough about the relationship to confront the problem or issue.  I wanted to do as Paul says, "Speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15) and layout the issue as I saw it.

My boss was extremely receptive and any anxiety I felt walking up to him, evaporated immediately.  He said in response, "I'm okay if you're okay."  A safe answer, and one that allowed me to continue.  I said something about "being vulnerable" and then I mentioned I could tell there was something strained between us. He took that opportunity to mention the pour from earlier in the week that didn't go well.  That allowed me a chance to set the record straight on some nuances of that pour, and without making excuses or being defensive, communicate that the grade wasn't my mistake.  But we didn't stay there, we went deeper.

We talked for a good 20 minutes, and there's no need to go into the details.  It was a really good talk though.  I was able to share my feelings, and this will come as no surprise, he was feeling some of the same frustrations.  He lovingly and accurately pointed out some areas I need to grow in, and really, I don't feel he was deflecting either.  Better yet, before all was said and done, we genuinely exchanged comments of our mutual appreciation for each other.  We shook hands and even hugged afterward.

Before I forget, I found out while talking he didn't ignore my text message -- purposely being passive-aggressive, it was merely coincidental that he didn't respond.  Perhaps the best comment he made, by that I mean my favorite, was when he said, "We are Christian brothers, at the end of the day, we'll work it all out."  My second favorite part of the conversation was when my boss said, "Here's what I hear you saying..."

I'm sharing all of this with you to say, 
It's better to bring into the light the problems you have in a relationship than to let the problem become sulphuric.  Instead of taking the easy way out and just avoiding the problem, you'll gain so much more by becoming vulnerable and asking the uncomfortable questions, by carefronting. In the end, I truly think talking out my frustrations actually strengthened our friendship & improved our working relationship.  It was rewarding to flesh-out the situation and gain some clarification that otherwise I wouldn't have received.  I know in the future I won't wait so long to address my concerns with him.  And while I can't speak for my boss, my respect for him definitely  increased and my frustration drained away, like water...


Anonymous said...

Great blog Craig. If we would all practice "carefronting" in our homes as well, our marriages could improve and perhaps even our children's behaviors. We need to make ourselves more vulnerable and take the time to keep our relationships in check. I need to practice this more often. Thanks Craig.

Craig Cottongim said...

Thanks Matt!