This topic has come up so much recently that I thought I’d write down some thoughts I have about it. Conversations with friends and with MOPS leaders I work with – How do I approach a hard topic with a friend? How do I tell someone on my team that they aren’t pulling their weight? How do I talk to someone who is overstepping my boundaries? I think most people at some point find themselves in a situation where they feel like they need to have a hard conversation with someone – and it just seems to come naturally to some people and not so naturally to others.
By nature, I do not like conflict. In fact, my natural reaction to most conflict is just to quietly back away. But I’ve learned most times that’s not the best way to deal! I am not an expert by any means, but I feel like God has taught me a lot about this over the years. Eighteen years of marriage, three kids, and many years in women’s ministry leadership has given me lots of in-the-trenches experience that I’ve been able to learn from – and I’m still learning! When I first thought about this, I was thinking from a leadership perspective – interacting with people you lead or work with. But as I re-read, I think these really can also be applied to friendships, marriages, and even parenting to a degree.
So here goes… some things to consider when you’re feeling like you’ve got to have a tough conversation with someone.
- First of all, does this issue even need to be addressed? What is my motive in this? Proverbs 19:11 says “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Simply take it to God in prayer and let him work in your heart and lead you. Oftentimes things (offenses!) that are slight, momentary, or inadvertent are best overlooked.
- Am I the person to address this issue? Sometimes in leadership you may see an issue/conflict arise with another person, but you may not be in the best position to address it. There may be someone either with the authority or who is simply closer to the person or the issue who is in a better position to discuss it with them. We must take care that in trying to figure this out we do not resort to gossiping. Prayer is really the best way to find out if God is calling YOU to have the conversation. Pray, pray, and pray some more, asking God to give you a clear calling and pure motives.
- Once you feel that God is calling you to this conversation, do it as soon as possible. Sometimes we think (or hope!) problems will just fade away on their own, but more often than not, they will just get worse if we give them time! Plan ahead and think about the setting you want for the conversation and then make that happen. Privacy (initially it’s always best to have these conversations one-on-one ) and a location where you won’t be interrupted or distracted is always best. Make sure there will be enough time to do the conversation justice.
- Again, ahead of time, think about the best way to phrase what you want to say. Use “I” statements as much as you can. Don’t generalize (in other words don’t use the words “always”, “never”, etc.). Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). If you cannot figure out how to say what you have to say in love, then God is likely not calling you to this conversation – or at least not yet!
- When you do have the conversation, start out with some positives, and be sincere! Then move on to seeking deeper understanding about the issue at hand. Using the phrase, “Help me understand where you’re coming from.” is so useful. Maybe you don’t know the full story! Listen and look for common ground – because that’s where you start coming up with a solution to the conflict.
So what do you think?
What are your best tips for having a hard conversation?