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Outcome Independence and Listening

Being an alpha male and being a good listener appear to be opposing ideals. But being a good listener requires a game principle called outcome independence. Here's a good primer on outcome independence from a Christian perspective (specifically for pastors!) and one decidedly not, but with gospel implications. Outcome independence means you stay focused on an important goal or process despite resistance. The Old Testament prophets including Jeremiah and Isaiah were HIGHLY outcome independent. They proclaimed judgment and repentance regardless of Israel's response. This principle will help a guy in every type of interpersonal relationship - as a father to his kids, as a husband to his wife/significant other, and as a man to his coworkers and peers. It is worth mentioning here that Asian American men in particular (and I'm preaching to myself here) would benefit greatly from learning outcome independence.

Negative example: A couple days ago, I commented to Judy that she had disappeared from the family room (where the kids were) to change clothes. She responded that whenever I disappeared within the house it was to retreat with some electronic device (phone, iPad, laptop, etc.). I reacted by defending myself and explaining that "I don't always do that" and "That's not fair".

This is an example of poor listening and defensiveness.  It's what marriage guru John Gottman calls negative sentiment override. In anti-bullying language, it's called "taking the bait". In game terms, it's called outcome dependence - your attitude is dependent on another person's response to you. No matter what you call it, this kind of response is a relationship killer. It makes the situation about you and what you're doing (or not doing) wrong. It turns the tone serious when the provoking comment was intended as light banter.

In this situation, things turned out fine because Judy is accustomed to my defensive outbursts. She ignored me and kept doing what she was doing.

Positive example: At another point this past weekend, we were doing the nighttime routine with the kids and I lay down on our bed for a moment to relax. Judy shouted at me to get up and help. I said "I'm resting - it's my sabbatical!" I meant to be playful but Judy shouted back, "When's MY sabbatical?!?!" My first instinct was to get defensive. My second instinct was to go to her immediately and ask when would be a good time to give her a retreat from the kids. But since I provoked her reaction and her response was not at all surprising (she'd been butting heads with Elliot all day), I went for something more playful. I walked over to her and said with a smile, "You sound angry". She didn't say anything (Caleb laughed when he heard me) and I started brushing Abby's teeth. After the kids were in bed and we had some quiet time together, we talked about when she could go on a personal retreat.

If I had been reactive to her "when's my sabbatical?" comment, things would have gotten very tense (and they certainly have in the past). But I made my initial comment to be playful and I stayed playful despite her resistance (which I should have been more sensitive to in the first place but oh well). In that moment, what Judy was really trying to tell me was that she had been wrestling with the kids all day and for me to sit back and relax during the kids' bedtime ritual felt like a slap in the face. But if I had been defensive, it would have been about me and I wouldn't be able to empathize. And if I had pushed her at that moment to go on a retreat, it would also have been about me trying to solve her problem without really understanding how she felt. Outcome independence doesn't mean you ram your agenda through. It means you hold it loosely but firmly and most importantly, delay your initial emotional response.

This is where the gospel is so important because I cannot practice outcome independence from a place of insecurity. Insecurity is all about outcome dependence. My worth is based on how people respond to me. But in Christ my worth is secure and because of his value on me, I can be outcome independent. I can listen.


  1. Thanks for the link, fine Sir!

    You are correct - I'm not religious. I do have respect for folks who honestly try to live by the teachings of Jesus, though. Seems like a tough row to hoe sometimes.

    I enjoyed your post "Game Is Christian", as well. Interesting thought - one I hadn't considered.

    So, thanks x 2 for teaching me something.


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