How important is it to be able to influence the decisions or direction in your relationships? A vital part of relationships is listening to each other. But, if your opinions or thoughts do not impact another person, is that something that should be addressed? Today, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff and Dr. Chris Grace talk through when you are not able to influence people close to you and what that might mean in your relationships.
Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. I'm Chris Grace.
Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.
Chris Grace: Tim, we've been talking about a number of things here, and it's awesome to talk about relationships with you, as a communication expert, and your degree in this area.
Tim Muehlhoff: I'm sorry, what was that last part? A communication what? I love that.
Chris Grace: As a worldwide leader in communication.
Tim Muehlhoff: Why do I not hear that from my kids or my wife?
Chris Grace: And then, from my field, in the field of psychology, there are a couple of topics that come up when we talk about the art of relationship, and especially now, as we've been looking over the last couple of sessions about the topic of influence, and who impacts us, who do we allow to impact. Who do we allow in-
Tim Muehlhoff: And why.
Chris Grace: And then why. So, one of the things that I thought would be interesting to talk today about would be the role that influence, and the role that persuasion, and impact has in relationships. What do you think-
Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely.
Chris Grace: Let's start talking about that roll. Relationships really navigate a very important... When he comes it influence, you have to navigate something, and that is how do I allow this other person to know both that I care for them and that I hear them when I still have my own personal ideas and views, and I want to express what I think is right. Another person I'm now with who kind of sees they are right. Now, sometimes, we reach this point where, who has the most influence? Who's going to make this decision. Influence is huge when it comes to relationships.
Tim Muehlhoff: There's something called social exchange theory, which, very simply is this; is it equal.
Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Tim Muehlhoff: If I'm in a relationship where I feel like you're always influencing the relationship and I never get to influence you... We always talk about issues, but it always goes in your direction.
Chris Grace: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: It's like I never can sway the conversation. I never can get it to a point where we're going to do mine. In a dating relationship, man, that's a nightmare. You're just seeing the future of your marriage.
Chris Grace: Let's talk about that. What should you look for when it comes to this area of influence or allowing people to have an influence? Or, if you're with somebody, or you're starting to be interested, or dating somebody in which this is coming up as it's not going well. What are the signs, Tim, that you are... Like you said, you're seeing your future and you need to pay attention. What do they need pay attention to? What are the things that they are seeing?
Tim Muehlhoff: Not only does this person that I'm dating ask my advice... That person can ask my advice and that feels really affirming. I think that is a positive sign of the dating relationship. However, if you ask my advice but never take it, then, I now become concerned, because, again, you just saw your future. The person asks for your advice, but I think that becomes token after a while. I think you just want a good exchange.
By the way, you wouldn't want to be in a relationship where every time that person asks your opinion and you give it, he or she does it no matter what. You don't want that kind of power over a person. For me, Chris, it is this give and take. You ask me for my opinion, which I appreciate, and sometimes you take it and sometimes you don't take it. Well, that's okay. That's a healthy exchange between two individuals. That's what I would like, is this sense of equality within the relationship that you don't always do what I say, but I appreciate you listening. There's just a good exchange, and I'm open to your ideas, as well. It has to be a two way street.
Chris Grace: In a dating relationship... If we stay with that for just a minute and the roll that influence and persuasion plays. I see that in a dating relationship, if it comes to issues like, where should we go eat, what do you want to have today, and I give you my opinion, and it's always, well, I hate Chinese food, I like this restaurant and we continue to go there. Preferences like that... Where to go, foods, things like that... It seems as if some of this could get a little bit more tense filled, a little bit more... The stakes are higher when it comes to, maybe, ideas, or what we believe about things.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: Or the way we maybe even have specific world view issues about how to treat... or what to believe about a situation or a current cultural issue. Those are harder to navigate.
Tim Muehlhoff: The relationship will take a natural progression. We both do premarital counseling. It is fascinating, Chris, when you get to the wedding, the details of the wedding. I've had couples who just flat out say, "No, this is what we're going to do. I've dreamt of this my whole life, and this what we're going to do." And, of course, as premarital counselors, you and I step in, and we're like, "Is there any way in which your mind could be swayed?" And then, lets say, he or she says, "No." Then I want to probe, "By the way, are there other areas that this is true?" Not just the wedding day, but raising kids, or... You want to find out how many areas does the person that you're becoming more committed to that are off limits. "Hey, I'll take your advice about these things. I just want you to know there's like two, or three, or four, or five I don't want your opinion. Or, I'll ask for it, but I'm not doing it, because I'm locked and loaded on five issues." Man, you want to know those issues before you commit to a person. I'm not going to have any access or influence? That would be a real concern to me.
Chris Grace: And a couple, then, that's dating and you see... Let's just say there are some area that there is just a difference of opinion on, and you're trying to navigate this... Well, lets just say it's maybe even where you go to church-
Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.
Chris Grace: We've talked to couples where one feels more comfortable here, another one feels more comfortable there-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: Or, they neither feel comfortable at certain places, but they're trying to navigate some of these things in this relationship. What would you say is some steps you ought to be able to take... or you would like to see in another person? What do you want to see in them? I think you brought this up, earlier... It's just that idea that I'm being... at least I feel heard.
Tim Muehlhoff: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Chris Grace: This person takes the time, not only hears me, but then says back, "So, Chris, what you're saying, it sounds like, is you really want to go here because you feel more at home, you feel like God's...", whatever it is that I'm expressing, and they hear me. It doesn't have to be that they agree with me, but I at least want to be heard. That's one thing that we need-
Tim Muehlhoff: And, I like that. The only thing I would add to that, Chris, is in a dating relationship when you're moving towards marriage, I don't want to just be heard. If I'm starting to keep track-
Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Tim Muehlhoff: I think you've heard me on ten different issues. I can't think of once when you changed your mind based on what I said. That would be really concerning to me in a dating relationship.
Chris Grace: So it goes beyond... First of all, you do have to be heard-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah-
Chris Grace: And excepted, but then, there has to be at least some movement, some sense that you are willing... It comes down to a little bit about humility. It comes down to selflessness. Seeing from another person's perspective is one thing, but then knowing on both sides that both of you are willing to, in essence, give in. Paul talks about that in Philippians two, three, and four. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty concrete." And that phrase, with humility in mind-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.
Chris Grace: Let each of you regard on another. I'm hoping, in good relationships... As you said, in premarital counseling, when we're talking to couples. In good relationships, you're beginning to see fruit and evidence of people doing this and navigating these areas.
Tim Muehlhoff: I agree. Fascinating, what the Book of Proverbs says about humility and it's counter part, which is pride. The result of pride is often described as destruction and disgrace... prideful people in the Book of Proverbs. The humble person experiences honor, riches, and fullness of life. If you were to take all of the proverbs in the Book of Proverbs that talk about humility, you could boil it down into one verse, Proverbs 12:15, "It is the willingness to listen to advice." You don't always have to do it, but do you listen. Here is the checklist I came across when I was writing on the book of Proverbs; To analyze whether you think you're humble... and, I think we could also extrapolate that out to the person you're dating.
But, here are some questions, Chris, that I think are incredibly intrusive. You know what I mean. Here are, like, four or five of them. Even when you feel strongly about something, are you still aware that you could be wrong? I think that's a mature perspective. Number two, do you trust that truth has nothing to fear from investigation? We can look into this. There's nothing to worry about if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. If I'm right, I'm right. Do you reserve the right to change your mind, or do you feel weak or ashamed to change a strongly held opinion. My dad's generation... You do not admit you're wrong. It was one of the greatest signs of weakness that a man could do. Right? No, I'm right, period. Another one, do you feel like you need to hide past errors in your thinking, cover your tracks? Here's the last one, do you approach others with the idea that you might have something to learn from them. And, again, I would want to assess my own humility...
By the way, I think this depends on different areas, Chris. There are certain areas I have opinions, and you know what, I don't know much about fixing a car, or fixing a nation, or you know. So, yeah, I could be wrong. But, man, I have a hand full of issues, and you know, we've been doing this long enough. I absolutely think I'm right.
Chris Grace: I think you have more than a handful of issues.
Tim Muehlhoff: (laughing)
Chris Grace: There's a whole bushel full.
Tim Muehlhoff: But, you know, we all have that. We're all complex people who feel very strongly about one thing. If you're dating a person who feels strongly about everything thing, man, I'd run from the hills. Cause, come on, no one can be right about everything. You and I notice in academia, there are people who think they're right about everything.
Chris Grace: It's a great list to be thinking through and to be able to evaluate, not only, like you said, yourself, but this could be a grid and a filter by which you can examine other relationships that you are in.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: And I think you're right, Tim, when you run into somebody that maybe all kinds of other areas are... you enjoy their personality and lots of other ways and you have lots in common and similar interest. This one particular issue, a lack of humility or being willing to be open to, really does lead and cause concern for you and I when we talk with young couples, because we see its impact later on in a marriage.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my gosh. And parenting.
Chris Grace: And parenting. That's right. In Psychology we would talk about an emotionally intelligent person, right?
Tim Muehlhoff: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Chris Grace: A person who really can recognize and understand what's going on in this time is more than just being right in a particular issue, right? It's understanding the impact that it has on the other person and on you. Hearing that and being able to take that perspective of another person really begins to... And if you run into someone and you begin in a dating relationship, and you're not seeing that it can be the sign of some unhealth coming up that... Or, at least an issue that you need to start paying attention to in this relationship.
Tim Muehlhoff: I've been recently writing about this topic. I remembered this one experience that I really had forgotten until I've been kind of thinking along these lines. In my undergrad at Eastern Michigan University, I took this one class. It was called Bible as Literature. Which means, they are treating the Bible... The Bible isn't inspired. It's not the word of God. It's a literary text.
Chris Grace: That's what this class said?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, that's what this class was. There's no miracle People aren't being raised from the dead. The Red Sea didn't get parted. These are all just narrative constructions to make a really good story. Well here I am, a sophomore, and, Chris, I must have been a pain in this woman's behind. I'm raising my hand every single second. She says something I don't agree with, I don't listen, I raise my hand and object. You could just tell she's getting frustrated. After one class was ending she goes, "Mr. Muehloff, could you stay behind?" I said, "Sure." She said this to me, I'll never forget, she said, "Are you here to learn or to set everyone else, including me, straight?" And, Chris, I just looked at her... That question has stayed with me.
Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Tim Muehlhoff: Right? Am I the kind of conversationalist that really is just concerned with setting people straight? Can I compromise? Can I find common ground? Can I admit that I was wrong? I think that's the kind of criteria you want in a dating relationship. Can this person compromise? Has this person ever admitted he or she was wrong? Ever? Man, that causes me concern if you can't answer yes to that.
Chris Grace: Yeah. It can be really hard to do this well, because we really are... As humans, we are pretty much confined to, I live with my thoughts, a lot, I understand my thoughts. My way of thinking is something I'm familiar with on a regular basis. So, that comfortableness, at times, can lead to some problems where I'm unwilling to then hear or entertain something else. I remember the poet, you remember, Ambrose Bears who had this quote about conversation. It said this, "Conversation is a fair for the display of the minor mental commodities." It's a fair. It's like being out in a state fair grounds. We are displaying all these minor mental commodities, but each exhibitor is so intent upon the arrangement of their own wears that they fail to recognize those of their neighbors.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yep.
Chris Grace: You're sitting here arranging your own little world, your own display, so much so that you fail to understand or recognize even those of somebody right next to you. It becomes a challenge, and it's a developmental task for each of us to begin to say, "You know what, I do have these important things to give, and I do want people to see this, and I do want to be heard and accepted." But, for me to step out...and this gets back to that idea of humility...to look at, and to entertain somebody else's way of seeing this is extremely important cause.
Tim Muehlhoff: Extremely.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Go ahead.
Tim Muehlhoff: This makes me think of... At the university I went to undergrad, I was applying to be a resident advisor. At that university it was a massive job. You got, not only room and board paid for, you got a stipend. It was the primo job, and I had to pay my own way through college. You get to the last level of interview, and it's a group conversation. There's one person planted in the group that you don't know has been planted, and it's a grad student, Chris, in like philosophy or ethics. They purposefully bring up an issue that they want you to comment on, right, because you're a potential resident advisor that might have to step into this. Whatever position you are going to state, this grad student philosopher was going to disagree with you. But, you didn't know that. You think, by the way, this grad student looked young enough. You don't know that this is a grad student. You think this is just another person that you're just sitting with.
I'll never forget. They asked me something, and I was just locked and loaded. No, this, this... He goes, "Well, try this on for size. But couldn't it be possible..." And he does it, and I'm just going.... And in your mind you're thinking, "Okay, job interview, should I hold or... but, man, that made a whole lot of sense what he just said." So, I stopped and I literally said, "You know, I think I want to take first rebuttal against myself. That sounded pretty good." And the woman who was running it, I'll never forget, later said to me, "I knew at that minute you had the job." I'm not trying to give myself pats on the back, but it was so good what he said. I was like, "Okay, you know what, I think you're right."
On the front end, before you commit the rest of your life to a person, you want to see this in action. Right? You want to have deep conversations and surface disagreements. I'm concerned, Chris, as well as you are with these couples that are headed toward marriage and engage and they've not had a serious conversation about finances, about faith, about family upbringing, the starting of a family. You need to have these disagreements to know if that person is willing to give an inch on some really important topics.
Chris Grace: Tim, is the opposite at all a concern, as well. For the person who is so strongly... They don't give an inch, very strong opinions this... Is the opposite also of concern to be in a dating relationship with somebody who really doesn't take much of a stand on these things? They don't hold strong core truths. They're pretty beyond malleable. They're like, "Whatever you want." It almost feels as if you could go to another extreme. How would you-
Tim Muehlhoff: I think so, Chris. I'd be concerned with the person who loves that kind of relationship. I enjoy the fact that you agree with everything I say, and you never once contradict me, or you never once push back. I would be concerned with the person who is content with a relationship like that. But, here's the funny thing about marriage, Chris, we know this is true. Noreen is a very intelligent woman. We had very spirited conversations when we were dating. Now that we're married, those are the things that now greatly annoy you, right? On a good day, you love it. You love the give and take. You just say, "Hey. Hey. I have a PhD. Just..."
My kids now caught... They're old enough that they push back. They now refer to... Sometimes they'll say, "That's a Dad fact. That fact is only true in your world." Because, they have an annoying thing called Google. I'll make and argument and I'm waxing eloquent, and they're like, "Hang on for a second. No, Dad, that's not right." And, I'm like, "Shut that computer while we're talking." So, yeah, I think the opposite is exactly true. You don't want a doormat. Though, if you did, I'd be concerned that you want that kind of relationship. I'd be concerned about that, and I'd be concerned if you wanted to be the doormat. You want a person to do all you're thinking for you? That doesn't seem healthy to me.
Chris Grace: It sounds like when we're looking at this field and this notion of influence, and persuasion, and impact... It sounds as if, Tim, there's a couple of important things a person needs to look to, especially in a dating relationship, or a roommate relationship, or whatever it is. It seems the heart comes into play here. We can discern... Is this person seem willing? All of us are growing and changing and developing, and none of us have this all figured out. I guess what I would say to a young couple is, "Are you noticing, or are you aware that this person seems to have some sensitivity to this. They're aware of it. They know they need to grow in this area. They can be pretty strongly opinionated, but they at least admit or recognize that, you know what, sometimes I don't get it right." I think that for couples you see these signs and evidence that, while this diamond isn't necessarily as polished with this facet as you need, you know its not difficult to see that in the future with this person.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's the problem with [inaudible 00:20:55] a little bit, Chris. You and I we work at a marriage center that is unapologetically Christian. Heres what problemitizes this, what do you do with a person who doesn't just have an opinion or a conviction, it's a Biblical conviction. This is what I believe the Bible says, period. There is no wiggle room. That's interesting. Again, we reward that in the Christian community. We want our young students to have Biblical convictions and stand by those convictions. We do not want them to waiver from the faith. We want them to be steadfast, but, Chris, sometimes I'm afraid that, "Hey, I, before the Lord, I believe this is true." Wow.
Even those convictions, I still would want to see just a little bit of humility. To say, "Listen, I really do believe the Bible says this, but, man, I know some awfully smart people who disagree with me." I'd want to know. Do you even know that? I love the fact that you have that Biblical conviction. Do you know there's some really smart people on the other side of this issue. That they're not even aware of that concerns me. Even with my deepest Biblical convictions, which, Chris, I do believe are true. I still need to know there are some awful good people who disagree with me, and I need to be open to that, even as I'm pretty convinced I'm right. But, am I open to what other people have to say about the Bible?
Chris Grace: I remember when... Spending some time overseas... We had traveled, and we spent a lot of time... I know you have, back in Eastern Europe. We were in Russia for a while, and you guys lived there, I know, for a while. I think at that time is when you start to realize... Okay, I do have these convictions. I am certain of this belief. But, in order to reach and have an influence on the people around me, I'm going to have to really navigate how to do this in a way that doesn't shut off, doesn't offend, doesn't close off, while still holding and maintaining this. I think that kind of gets back to our original idea of influence. We have to still be in community, be aware of what we believe, but be willing to do it in a way that can actually be win some[inaudible 00:23:12].
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.
Chris Grace: If I had to write a book, I think I'd write it called Win Some Persuasion [inaudible 00:23:16].
Tim Muehlhoff: (laughs)
Chris Grace: It would be a good book. I'm thinking about it right now.
Tim Muehlhoff: Great title. Even the great reformer, John Calvin. I mean, Calvinism. John Calvin. I absolutely can believe that this what the bible says... had this wonderful phrase called, "Reformed and always reforming." Which means, yes I am convinced, but I need to always revisit what I believe to be true, because things do change over time.
When I was with Campus Crusade for Christ in Wildwood, New Jersey, the staff leave halfway through the summer, and all the students take on different positions. I was the Bible teacher, selected. And, Chris, I'm a Junior, and somebody actually recorded some of these talks. I actually got sent to me cassette tapes, and listening, I'm just a little bit horrified at how rock sure I was on certain things that now, to be honest with you, I wouldn't have been so firm. I think I was even wrong on some areas. So, lets have a little bit of humility that... I love that. Calvin. Let's be reformed, but always reforming. Let's always be revisiting these topics, I think is good.
Chris Grace: Well, when it comes to relationships and when it comes to what we believe and the way in which we navigate these things, there's one area that, I think, is the impact of it and influence and allowing someone else to influence us... That comes into play in marriages. It's a big topic. How do we navigate this? Why don't we take that as another topic? What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I think this is great. Influence within a marriage. That can get pretty dicey sometimes, because you're living with that person. You're seeing their good and their bad. Yeah.
Chris Grace: Well, lets talk about that. How about next time? Let's do another podcast next time.
Tim Muehlhoff: That sounds great.
Chris Grace: Alright. From the wonderful campus of [inaudible 00:25:13]. It's just great to be here with you guys and to visit with you on this topic. And, Tim, I appreciate your thoughts and taking the time. Let's do it again soon.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.