The Tunnel of Chaos
by Eddie James and Tommy Woodard
A good friendship or relationship takes work—sometimes, even a little chaos. We’re not relationship experts, but we have been best friends since high school. These days, friendships are hard to come by (and even harder to maintain). But through our 30-plus years of friendship (which also involves a 30-plus-year ministry partnership), we’ve learned a few things along the way that we think have been keys to our friendship lasting this long. One of those things, which Eddie loves and Tommy hates, is the “Tunnel of Chaos.”
We use this term to describe when one person needs to confront another person about something difficult, knowing it may not be easy and will likely get uncomfortable. The Tunnel of Chaos is the ornery little brother to the Tunnel of Love. You know the Tunnel of Love—two people sit in a boat shaped like an oversized swan and share a relaxing ride with lighthearted conversation. Well, the Tunnel of Chaos is more like a giant goose. Not nearly as pretty, for sure. We think that for anyone to get to the Tunnel of Love with a friend, spouse, family member, or even coworkers, people must go through the Tunnel of Chaos. It’s not as fun or romantic, but it does propel us toward love.
We’ve established a set of rules to help guide us through the Tunnel of Chaos. The conversation may lead you down tracks you hadn’t intended, and emotional twists, turns and bumps you don’t want to ride, but these five rules can help defuse tension and guide you to the other side.
- Try to stay in the room. Our natural instinct is to flee when conflict arises, but being willing to participate in the conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it becomes, shows the other person that you care. It’s a signal that you’re in the friendship or relationship for the long haul, that you’re not just trying to criticize a behavior or air a hurt, but rather, your motivation is the good of the relationship.
- Keep your voice down. Sometimes, when we’re trying to be heard, we turn up the volume. But loud things often signal “Danger!” and a loud voice could be disconcerting for the other person. Keep your volume at a steady, moderate level so you’re not adding to an uncomfortable distraction. Keep in mind that it’s ok to be angry, but what you do with your anger can be detrimental to your relationships. If you struggle with anger, you may want to work on those issues before you get into the goose and enter the tunnel with someone you care about.
- Be willing to listen. For many of us, we naturally want to fix other people, so when there’s a problem, we assume it’s the other person who needs to make an adjustment. But we often miss our own blind spots. Real progress in a friendship or relationship comes by expressing the problem and then listening to the other person’s perspective, even before offering your own. Don’t be too quick to offer your own solution.
- Respond instead of react. Keep James 1:19 in mind. We love The Message version, which says, “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” Reacting only makes the tunnel longer. Responding, however, creates a safe environment for both people to travel together. Don’t get defensive and take things personally. Listen and seek to understand. Reaction leads with accusations and emotion. Responding listens and confirms that what the other person has said is being heard and processed.
- Prepare for a long tunnel. You never know how long the ride will be when you enter the tunnel—some are short and others are long. Keep your eye on the long game, the ultimate purpose of the conversation. The point isn’t to win or be right, it’s to invest in the relationship. And don’t leave your friend in the tunnel. You may walk out with things unresolved at the end of the conversation, but you walk out together.
Friendships that tackle the Tunnel of Chaos are very rare, but are so worth the ride. Just remember to keep your arms and legs inside the goose at all times!
Tommy Woodard and Eddie James are The Skit Guys. They became best friends in high school and love to make people laugh. They’ve spent the last 30-plus years performing hilarious and poignant skits live and on screen. In addition to creating videos that are used in churches around the world, The Skit Guys have a podcast, comedy DVDs, and have recently released the book, Smells Like Bacon: The Skit Guys Guide to Lifelong Friendships. Learn more at skitguys.com and follow them on social media @skitguys.
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