Preventing a Breach

I learned the hard way how easy it is to breach a dam.

When I was fourteen, my dad hired a contractor to enlarge a stock pond on our ranch by building a dam. It was ten feet high and thirty feet thick at its base.

As the pond filled, we discovered that the dirt around the exit pipe had not been properly compacted. Water was running through the dam around the outside of the pipe, washing more and more dirt away and threatening to sweep away the entire drain structure.

My dad and I quickly dug a diversionary channel to lower the water level and give us time to repack the dirt around the exit pipe. Within minutes we cut a small trench a foot wide through another part of the dam. It was an enormous mistake.

The water flowing through the trench was moving so fast that it began to erode the surrounding dirt. We immediately began shoveling dirt back into the channel to block the flow, but it was too late. The water was running too fast to be stopped.

As more and more dirt was swept away, the erosion accelerated. Within twenty minutes our small trench was four feet wide and ten feet deep. The dam was completely breached. The pond was nearly empty. And we felt like idiots.

Young couple fightingWould you believe that I’ve repeated this mistake countless times since then? Well, I have.

Never again with dirt and water, but all too often with people and words.

A little irritation triggered a few impulsive words. No big deal; just letting someone know how I felt. But then words began to flow in both directions, faster and faster. The gap between us grew wider and wider.

And soon there was a breach in our relationship that took a lot of work to repair.

Proverbs 17:14 describes this age old scenario perfectly:

“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before a quarrel breaks out.”

The earlier you stop the flow of critical words—preferably before they even begin—the better. One way to do this is to develop the habit of filtering your words through the three levels of the SOV plan:

  • Self-aware: What am I feeling right now? (Impatient, frustrated, defensive) Why? (I’m being criticized, I’m not getting what I want.) How do I typically react to these feelings? (My face and voice get stern, I speak harshly, I blame others)
  • Other-aware: What do others seem to be feeling? (Fear, uncertainty, irritation) How might my reaction impact them? (Make them even more defensive or angry!) What interests do they have that I can meet? (To be heard, understood, respected)
  • Values-aware: What are my most important values? Am I living those values out in this situation? How can I close the gap between the values I aspire to and the values I’m actually following right now?

Thinking three dimensionally is not natural for most of us. But if you practice these skills long enough, they can become second nature, enabling you to guard your relationships from the impulsive words that used to cause so many breaches.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions:

  • In what situations or with which people are you most often provoked to speak impulsively? Why?
  • Think back to the last time you breached a relationship with impulsive words. Describe what you were feeling, what you did and how the situation turned out.
  • Now imagine that you could go back to that situation and handle it by applying the SOV plan, as outlined above. How would you answer the SOV questions?
  • Now look to the future. Identify a situation where you may be tempted to speak or act impulsively and then use the SOV concept to plan how you will approach that conversation.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2013 Ken Sande

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