In the Hard Conversation, Remember These 6 Things!
Nobody likes conflict! Well, theres always that one person that seems to thrive on it. They’re an annoying anomaly. But most us, we don’t like conflict. We don’t do conflict well. We avoid conflict at all costs. And then it wells up in us and destroys relationships, or makes them deeply unhealthy. But what if there was a better way to do conflict? What if you and I could learn a healthy way to process conflict and to have those hard conversations? It just might save us a lot of grief, and even make us better human beings.
When facing conflict, and the hard conversations, we in the church often turn to the Bible, and rightly so. Specifically, we turn to Matthew 18:15-21 where Jesus gives us the primary model for conflict resolution; go to the other person individually to work it out; if that doesn’t work then take others with you, and then, if necessary, go to a larger group; while only as a last resort is the relationship to be broken. But interestingly, the way Jesus sums up that model is with the call to forgiveness. In fact, what we see in that whole chapter of Scripture is that the goal of conflict resolution within the community of Christ is reconciliation, not winning. What I don’t see in that chapter, and what I’ve had to work out on my own, is just exactly how to have the hard conversation with the other person. So, over the years, I’ve come up with six points that I try to remember before, during, and after the hard conversation. Maybe these points will be helpful for you as well…
- Just because I heard it doesn’t mean they said it. So many times we think we know what the other person said, and we’re wrong. Be direct and ask the clarifying questions. Set aside any agenda you bring to the hard conversation and listen deeply. You may not have heard what you think you heard. And further, if you heard it from a third party, it just might be gossip.
- Practice conversational exegesis. Often we assume meaning rather than receive it. In biblical interpretation we are taught to read out of the text what the text is actually saying rather than to read into the text what we assume, or what we want it to mean. We do this conversationally as well. To listen deeply is to hear what the other person is actually saying without assuming we already know.
- It’s ok to get angry. It’s not ok to quit the conversation. Emotions can run hot during conflict and hard conversations, but it’s not acceptable to use those emotions as an excuse to short change the process and break the relationship. Stay in the conversation even when your emotions are strong. (Disclaimer: if the relationship, or the conflict within it, is abusive, illegal, or immoral then breaking the relationship might be in order. But anything short of that, stay in the conversation.)
- Don’t let my tone negate my content. When it’s your turn to speak be clear, concise, and respectful. How you state your case will decide if it is heard. This is the other side of points 1 and 2, help the other person to hear what you are actually saying. Your tone will be the deciding factor in their ability to listen well.
- Be quick to admit wrong and slow to claim right. When we enter conflict and the hard conversations we tend to do so with an attitude of trying to prove that we are in the right. When we slow down the conversation and listen deeply, we’ll often recognize our own role in the conflict. Be quick to admit it. Not only will it disarm the other person and diffuse the situation, it will prove your sincerity in the ultimate goal for conflict resolution, which is point 6.
- Remember, the goal is reconciliation, not winning. Most of us have been raised within a culture of winning and losing, admittedly there are times when that’s good, but not here. Within the ordinary conflicts we experience within our community of faith, reconciliation is the goal; the restoration of the relationship is what we should strive for most.
What did I forget? Is there another point I should add? One that doesn’t work?
Here’s another hint…print out this list of points and tape it to your desk and computer screen, put it in your wallet, keep it at the ready, because often, conflict and the hard conversations happen when we least expect them.
Let me know how it goes for you!
Grace and Peace, Rich