I don’t like confrontation. That’s part of my personality. Truth is, I would rather move quickly past disagreements and arguments even if it means that I bear more of the weight of the consequences myself. But as I continue to grow older, and as I continue to grow in responsibility, I am learning that confrontation is something I cannot run from.
Neither, however, should it be something that I seek after. I don’t believe any of us should. We shouldn’t go running around looking for someone to disagree with us for the sport of it. Inevitably, though, confrontation is going to happen. It’s going to happen in our homes, our workplaces, and our churches, and the best way forward is to have a simple, humble, and direct conversation about it.
At the risk of overthinking such a conversation, though, I have found it helpful to think a bit before that conversation. Again, this might be just part of my personality, but I find that when I have given a little consideration to the matter, it helps me to be slower to speak, quicker to listen, and slower to become angry during the middle of it. Here are three questions I’ve found helpful to think carefully about prior to having a difficult conversation:
1. How did we get here?
Chances are, you and another person did not come to odds overnight. Perhaps there is a history of disagreement or rubbing one another the wrong way. At least there are circumstances in your past and in the past of another that have made this particular instance hard to deal with. If we take a little time and think about not just what happened, but how we got there, then it helps bring a greater understanding and empathy to the conversation. Further, thinking about how we got there actually helps you and another person not get into a habit of continually butting heads with one another.
2. What fault do I bear?
This is always a good question to ask. Doing so will help us from walking into a conversation with guns blazing. Let’s be honest – we all know our hearts well enough to know how duplicitous we are. Because our hearts are divided, there is almost always some element of a disagreement that we need to own up to.
Asking this question will help us to recognize that the vast majority of the time, disagreements and arguments and hurt feelings are a two way street. In fact, if we seriously ask this question, then it might be the whole conversation turns from a confrontation to an apology and a request for forgiveness.
3. What is the “win” in this conversation?
The purpose of asking this question isn’t to try and engineer a desirable outcome for me. Rather, it’s meant to provide clarity. So what am I really after in this conversation? What do I really want to change?
Many times, I’ve found that the true answer to this, for me, is for another person to feel bad. Or to own up to their own mistakes. Or for them to apologize. And if that’s the outcome I’m after, then I would do well to go back and ask questions 1 and 2 again. But if I can enter a tough conversation with an end goal in mind, then I can help to move both of us forward together in reconciliation.
Confrontation and difficult conversations are a part of life. As a Christian, we don’t have to run from such talks. But neither should we go into them with our tempers flared. Instead, we should be able to draw from the strength and patience of Jesus and handle even difficult conversations with grace and salt.