WHEN YOU CAN’T OVERLOOK

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.

Soldier in full combat ammunition pulls a check from a grenade.

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.

Ask the Lord to fill you with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and to keep you in step with the Spirit all the way through the difficult conversation (Gal. 5:25).

Be Gentle

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.

Question: What is something that has helped you navigate difficult conversations?

HOW TO STOP DISCORD IN ITS TRACKS

Three Steps for Preserving Peace When Your Feelings Get Hurt

beauty girl cry

They inevitably do, don’t they? We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2) and quite often we and people we care about in the body of Christ get hurt in the process.

Anticipating this challenge for His church, Jesus prescribed just what to do when offenses threaten unity between brothers and sisters.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).

In the rest of the context (Matt. 18:16-20), the Lord explains how to proceed if your brother fails to listen, but that’s another post or two for another time.

In this post I want to camp out on the all-important starting place for stopping discord in its tracks as spelled out in v. 15. I see three simple steps in this one verse.

First, go to the person. If your brother sins against you, go. Take initiative. If you can’t overlook the offense (Prov. 19:11), assume responsibility for your feelings and reach out.

Too often we stuff or brood over hurt feelings to our own emotional detriment and the detriment of relationships. Paul fleshed out the law of love in such cases this way: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

Two, speak with the person. Tell him his fault. Sit down (face-to-face is best) and get honest about what has happened–or what you think has happened.

More times than not offenses boil down to misunderstandings. Never underestimate the possibility for communication to break down.

I try to always lead with questions at the outset of a peacemaking confrontation. They will sound something like this: “You know that situation/conversation/email/etc. a while back? What was going on there? I might be missing something–can you help me understand?”

Just before I stepped down from my church last summer, a misunderstanding with one of our elders reinforced for me the wisdom of this kind of approach. I took offense at him hijacking the leadership of my last Sunday AM prayer meeting with our intercessory team.

Turns out he didn’t hijack anything. After I cooled off and remembered the importance of practicing what I preach, I went to him after the service in just the manner described above.

He explained that he had done what he thought that week’s office email requested of him. It made perfect sense! I laughed and we went away reconciled. But I could have made a nightmare mess of our relationship had I failed to engage him for clarification or confronted him in anger.

Three, care for the person. Between you and him alone. Guard confidentiality. Refuse gossip. Blabbing about your pain from another’s words or actions may likely slander them and sow discord among brothers–an abomination among the things God hates (Prov. 6:16-19).

Deidra Riggs, in her book One: Unity in a Divided World, calls confrontation a gift God extends to us:

God desires oneness and unity for us. When we hold grudges and add people to our unappealing short lists, we invite division and disunity. One way to stop discord in its tracks is to bring it out into the open, set it down on the table between you and the other person, and talk about it face-to-face. … We can take courses, read books, and listen to podcasts, which give us specific techniques for dealing with confrontation, but I’ve found the very best instruction right in the pages of God’s word” (14).

Well said, sister, and thanks for the insight and exhortation.