How to Have a Difficult Conversation without It Blowing Up in Your Face
My post The Beauty of Overlooking stressed fighting anger with magnanimous forgiveness.
The follow-up post When Overlooking Is No Glory unpacked diagnostic questions to determine the difference between active overlooking and passive denial.
Now, how do we proceed with a difficult conversation with someone who offends without escalating conflict?
Douglas Stone and company, in their book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most, nailed the challenge at hand:
Delivering a difficult message is like throwing a hand grenade. Coated with sugar, thrown hard or soft, a hand grenade is still going to do damage. Try as you may, there’s no way to throw a hand grenade with tact or to outrun the consequences. And keeping it to yourself is no better. Choosing not to deliver a difficult message is like hanging on to the hand grenade once you’ve pulled the pin. So we feel stuck. We need advice that is more powerful than “Be diplomatic” or “Try to stay positive.” The problems run deeper than that; so must the answers.
Galatians 6:1 gives us four deep answers.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Remember Your Goal
If you think someone has sinned against you, then they’ve gotten caught in a transgression. Your goal is not to vent; it’s to restore.
Don’t just look out for your own interest in repairing the harm done to you. Aim for his best interest in escaping the trap which has ensnared him (Phil. 2:3-4).
Walk in the Spirit
Offenses often trigger fleshly reactions–especially fits of anger (Gal. 5:20). Work them through BEFORE the difficult conversation. That might take some time.
Paul stresses this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit for these assignments. Gentleness tempers an approach, lessening hand grenade impact.
Ask questions way more than making judgments. I love to lead such conversations with something like: “Remember that thing you said/did that time? What was going on there? Can you help me understand what that was about?”
Strive not to put others on the defensive; make them a partner in solving the matter.
Inventory your Contribution
You may have sinned, however slightly, so as to affect the situation. Heed Jesus’s instruction to remove any logs from your own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).
A preemptive, legitimate confession goes a long way to deffusing bomb threats to the conversation. You may only be 20% responsible for the conflict, but you are 100% responsible for your 20%.
It shocks me how often folks tell me how they’ve been hurt by others but never talked to the offender about it.
When you can’t overlook an offense, the best advice is TALK TO THE PERSON (Matt. 18:15)!
Just take care how you do it. Leave the hand grenades behind.