November 17, 2021

How to coach people in a polarized environment
There’s been a lot in the news lately about living in polarizing times. Polarizing is defined as “causing people to separate into opposing groups.” Matters that are often polarizing include religion, culture, language, race, ethnicity, politics, values, beliefs, identity, and more. Sometimes we are dealing with so many of these different topics at once that it doesn’t feel like we fully fit in anywhere, and it can feel overwhelming and complicated. We long for the “old days.” However, the reality was that the “old days” were often polarizing as well—just in different ways.

Written By Robert E Logan

Christian Coaching Pioneer, Strategic Ministry Catalyst, Resource Developer, Empowering Consultant : Logan Leadership

Polarization In the Bible

Take for instance first century Palestine, into which Jesus was born. It was a land occupied by Roman soldiers, while the population was primarily Jewish. That alone presents polarizing factors related to politics, ethnicity, nationalism, religion, and military action. Some people wanted to revolt and begin a revolution (Zealots). Others wanted to work within the system (Herodians). Some retreated from society into chosen isolation (Essenes). Others became part of the traditional religious establishment (Pharisees). Yet other religious groups (Sadducees) became more secularized, sometimes allying with the Pharisees, while on a different page theologically.

We also see a society with deep economic inequality, including slaves and masters, prostitutes, widows, orphans, beggars, and rich merchants. Some people were considered untouchable, unclean, or ostracized for some reason… people not to be associated with. Then we have the Samaritans—of mixed race and mixed religion—not to mention the gentiles and foreigners also present among the general populace.

I think it’s fair to say Jesus found himself in a polarized society. The Pharisees and the Herodians even conspired together at one point to trap Jesus by asking him about paying taxes to Caesar, knowing that either answer he gave would be wrong to someone. (Mark 12:13-17)

Coaching Through Polarized Times

So how are we to handle the polarization in our own world? How do we engage in healthy ways? In ways that reflect more of God’s Kingdom to others?

Coaching provides us with a powerful tool, in that it isn’t trying to convince someone into a different position or belief but to draw out what is already in a person. We might be able to help people grow in expressing Kingdom values in a way that promotes understanding and lowers the temperature, as opposed to throwing fuel on the fire.

coaching to bring unity to polarized times

Coaching Questions for Polarized Times

Here are some questions that may help people reflect on and process how they are engaging with others in a polarized environment:

1. Think about and reflect about the interactions Jesus had with different kinds of people. What were the guiding principles that governed his engagement with these various kinds of people?

2. Jesus was full of both grace and truth—not balancing them, but full of both. How are both of those values reflected in his words and actions? What would a full grace response look like? What would a full truth response look like? How can you fully express both?

3. In what ways do your interactions or responses line up with Jesus’s? In which ways are they different?

4. Which groups of people do you have particular difficulty engaging with?

5. What are you seeking to accomplish in your interactions with others? (e.g. to win, to get your agenda moved forward, to encourage mutual understanding, to keep the peace, etc.)

Listening to Build Unity

As I think through how to engage in a polarized society, I think one answer is to at least ask better questions. Why not ask others what they are hearing from God? Why not ask them one of the questions above? And then truly listen to their responses?

For the most part, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. So let’s try and see if we can try for a more Kingdom-aligned response. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But if you try out any of these questions—with yourself or with others—let me know how it goes. I’m curious what might be different.

Photo by Martin Engel – Grafiker Hamburg on Unsplash

Cover Photo: Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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