“If you enjoy confrontation, you may have a lot bigger issues than the ones we’re discussing today.”
A counselor once told me this as I was complaining about how much I despised difficult conversations.
The truth is not many of us enjoy having difficult talks with friends or coworkers. If things just worked themselves out, life would be much easier. Love it or hate it, conflict-free change just isn’t the case most of the time. God uses moments of conflict to develop us. Proverbs 27:17 likens our growth to honing a blade: “iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.”
If you’re a leader of any sort, life will be filled with many difficult conversations and moments of conflict, both big and small, so we should learn how to navigate these moments with great care and skill.
Before we dive into the practical ways of dealing with conflict, here are a few steps that should come before any tough conversation:
When we start with prayer and taking on an attitude of humility, it can be a game changer with tough situations. You’ll be a lot more calm and clear-headed about where the direction of the conversation needs to go.
So after you’ve prayed and calmed any heightened frustrations, you can weigh out if the problem is a character deficiency or sin issue, or just a difference of opinion. Character or sin issues ought to be addressed primarily with Scripture. The Bible says this about itself — 2 Timothy 3:16 says Scripture is good for teaching, reproof, and correction — so we can trust God’s Word as the best place to start.
Opinion issues can be a little trickier. Most people feel strongly about their opinions, including us. If something that’s an opinion issue is bothering me, I try to give it a little time to see if it’s important enough to mention. If it continues to bother me, I’ll bring it up and preface that I’m stating my opinion.
Just because it’s a difference of opinion and not plainly a sin problem doesn’t mean it’s not valid. We should value one another’s opinion and at least hear each other out. At the end of the day the leader should make the call on what they feel is the best decision and that decision should be respected.
There are quite a few situations, personality types, and issues we’ll get to encounter. There’s not a simple black and white answer on how to move through these conflicts. That’s why we take the first steps stated earlier. Here are a few practical things we can do after we’ve prayed and received some wise counsel.
I had a conversation with one of our musicians who had some character flaws that were getting in the way of him getting to be used in a worship/leadership role. Most of what he was doing weren’t sin issues, but just didn’t fit in our worship culture. For example, he would constantly remind people that he was available to play when he hadn’t established any relationship with that leader. He would bail on prior commitments if something more appealing came along.
In our conversation, I told him I had some really difficult things I wanted to walk him through. That it would be a shame for him to miss out on ever being used, or play because people gave up on him when they found out that he may back out on a commitment because of a better opportunity. Also that people felt like he was just trying to network or use them.
He was incredibly grateful that someone took the time to speak into his life and help him see these shortcomings. We’ve had more difficult talks since then and he’s constantly received constructive criticism very well. He’s now serving and doing an amazing job here.
There are also other times I’ve had multiple conversations with people who weren’t as open to critique and we aren’t able to work together any longer.
There are no promises that people won’t be hurt or offended, during or after these conversations. Make yourself available and approachable to talk through any remaining problems the other person may continue to have. God knows the outcome of any difficult conversation or circumstance we’ll ever have. We can trust that He is in control of all these moments as He is with everything else in life.