With this simple phrase, Jesus uttered the nine hardest words in the Bible (Mt 5:37). I fail to live up to them and sooner or later, so does every person I have ever met. When we do this well, we earn high levels of trust and strong relationships.  When we fail, we lose trust and experience superficial, broken relationships.

In this posting, let’s look at the dramatic effect these words have on preventing conflicts and being at peace within ourselves.

To start with, we are good at noticing when others fail. I’m an expert. Seeing myself? Well, that’s a bit harder! :-)  Here are some common examples I see regularly.

“Hey, let’s get together sometime. I’ll have you over for dinner.”  You never hear another word.

“Okay, I’ll pick up those things from the store after work.”  They come home empty-handed.

“Sure, let’s meet at this time and place.”  The person forgets the appointment or cancels at the last minute. (I’ve sure been guilty of this one)

In my first marriage, I failed all too often. My wife had a memory like an elephant and I was always guilty. My coping mechanism to avoid conflict was to not make commitments. I learned to speak in gray tones, rather than black and white. My agreements went something like this: “Sure, I’ll do it if I can.”  “Hopefully I can go with you.” “Maybe. I’ll have to see how things go at work.”

When the inevitable argument came, I had already built my defenses. “I never said, ‘Yes, for sure!'”  “I didn’t mean 100% I would do it. I have to work-play golf-visit Charlie.”  I was especially good at using work as my excuse. In our western culture, most people accept that work trumps everything else, even our prior commitments.

I frequently see this problem in the work world. As a leadership coach, it is the number one sign of a dysfunctional organization. People miss their commitments to deliver quality results by an agreed deadline. The serious conflict avoiders foolishly fail to move the deadline. Instead, they just miss it and then rationalize it with excuses.

Among the worst offenders are Christians. Christians want to be nice, especially pastors. Recently, myself and another person working for me called about 60 churches to offer my speaking services. Only a couple were blunt and upfront: “No thanks.” We were both taken aback by this, yet upon reflection, I greatly respected their honesty. At least it was the truth! Many of the others gave the usual, “We’ll take a look at it,” and “Call us back in September.” Whereupon we discovered they never looked and had no interest in the matter.

We need to be aware of our own role in this game of lying and deception. By the way we say things, we often encourage others to lie. We pressure them to agree with us and support us. As most people are ‘pleasers’ and ‘conflict avoiders’ by nature, they are all too likely to give us the answer we want to hear, not their truth.

My number one solution to this is to be neutral in my language. I express what I want and I make a point of saying that either a yes or a no are fine. I’ll taken either of those over a ‘maybe’ or silence.

Unfortunately, silence is still the most popular way that people avoid taking responsibility for dropping the ball. We ignore follow-up emails or phone calls. We are afraid to be real and authentic. We do not want to offend someone. Instead, we love to use “too busy” as our main excuse when we are confronted.

Maybes and silence typically lead to the “Opposite Effect” which I describe in some detail in The First Rule of Inner Peace book. With repetition, these responses cause more conflict than spitting out the gory truth. We need to do as the Bible says in Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted but the enemy multiplies kisses.”

This involves risk and it tests the strength of our friendships. I am reminded of the phrase that ‘People are in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.’ Real friendships are extremely rare. Most people can count fewer than five, some none at all.  We are fickle beings.

Letting our yes mean yes and our no, no, is a sacred commitment. Jesus’ next words were, “Anything else comes from the evil one.” We are not to ‘swear’ we will or will not do something. We are to merely live up to our word or, in my practical experience, seek permission and agreement from the other person to alter a commitment. To not do so is to convey that our word means nothing-zero-nada. A wise boss of mine once said to me, “I need to know that your word is your bond.” I will never forget those compelling words.

To overcome this bad habit, we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves, am I commitment-phobic? Do I dance in circles and use flowery language to avoid making black and white commitments? In the end, when our yes means no and our no means yes, we are lying to ourselves. We are teaching ourselves that we cannot trust ourselves. Inner peace becomes impossible.

Our marriage,family life and career will flourish with love in God’s will if we practice this one teaching.

In his peace,

John