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Sharing Uncomfortable Truths (Revisited)

August 16, 2016

As he walked out the door, I didn’t know if I’d strengthened a friendship or killed it. 

I recently shared a story about Nelson, a guy I play basketball with a couple of times per week. (Sharing Uncomfortable Truths.) I took the opportunity to approach Nelson and point out that when we played on the same team, he never passed me the ball. I tried to use the concepts found in one of my favorite business books “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.” 

The  conversation was tense. I tried to validate Nelson’s position. He is a very good player. Certainly a better scorer than I am. I let him know that I wasn’t mad, but I wasn’t sure if he even realized that he was ignoring me when we were on the same team. He left without saying much. 

I really only see Nelson when we play ball. The next week we ended up on different teams. There’s not a lot of talking that happens during a basketball game. I had no idea if Nelson even remembered our conversation, or if it had any effect. 

Last week, I was gone on a hike and missed the game. Today was once again, basketball day. We had eight players and we did our typical “shoot for teams.” I arrived late, so I was warming up as the other guys were shooting. I noticed that Nelson missed his shot. Only two players made baskets the first time through the rotation. 

Rodney, it’s your turn to shoot.

I’m not sure if anyone noticed me miss on purpose. Like I said, I’m not a great shooter anyway. I tend to focus on playing defense. But, I barely hit the rim on my shot. 

The players lined up to shoot again. Nelson was third in line. The two players in front of him both made their shots. 

Makers are dark and get the ball first.

Nelson and I both already had white t-shirts, although I wasn’t wearing the one he’d given me to get me to quit wearing the ugly yellow jersey. The game started and after the other team scored, we headed down court.

Here was the moment of truth. With only four players on each team, everyone gets a lot of time touching the ball. Did I subject us both to an uncomfortable conversation for nothing? 

Nelson got the ball in the corner and cut toward the free throw line and dropped the ball right in my hands on his way past. I fired a pass down low and Steve scored an easy basket. So, a token? A consolation to “get me to shut up?” The next time down the court, Nelse cut across the middle of the key and Sean hit him with a bullet, and Nelson kicked it back to me at the top of the key. 

I still don’t shoot much. I was 2 for 6 over the course of three games. I lost track of how many times Nelson passed it to me. Because, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t an issue of keeping track. I looked for opportunities to get Nelson the ball in scoring position. I yelled encouragement when he made a particularly good shot.

There’s a scripture in Mormon canon that goes something like

Correct at times with clarity, but afterward show an increased caring for the person you’ve corrected, lest he consider you to be his enemy.

(D&C 121:43)

I can’t think of a time I’ve enjoyed basketball quite as much. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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