My father has always told me that leadership is not a light mantle and you should only aspire to a position of leadership with the full knowledge of the challenges that may come. One of the difficulties intrinsic to leadership is the responsibility to tackle difficult conversations—mediating a conflict; addressing misbehavior; acknowledging fault.
Even though I’ve had many opportunities to grow in this area, tense conversations still fill my stomach with butterflies and turn my mouth into a desert. As I sat down to write this blog, I couldn’t help but reflect on a few tough conversations that happened this summer. Did I handle them with grace? Could I have been more Christ-like in those interactions? It made me realize that we all have room to grow in this arena, so I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned on how to have hard conversations.
- Submit it to the Lord. Without my heart being focused on Christ and inviting the Holy Spirit to be present in my conversation, I can be certain that my sinful flesh will influence my words. Before engaging in a difficult discussion, I pause before the Lord, begging Him to guide me and help me in the process. I am so deeply grateful that I am never alone in these challenging moments, but that God is with me, providing all that I need.
- Choose your words. One of my favorite pastors often uses a military slogan, “in the heat of the battle you will not rise to the occasion, you will default to the level of your training.” This is so true, especially when your emotions and adrenaline are raging in your brain. I have found that it is extremely important to take time before your conversation to determine what you want to say and how you want to say it. It may even be helpful to write down your thoughts and take them with you into the conversation so that you can clearly articulate all the things you feel are important.
- Listen. Most of your conflict conversation should be spent listening. By speaking less and listening more you communicate to the other person that they are valuable, that their words and feelings are important. It can be difficult not to defend yourself or interrupt if you feel that what they are saying is unfair or inaccurate. But, sticking to the thoughts you planned in advance and trusting God to help clarify any lingering confusion or wrong will give you peace as you practice the art of listening.
- Speak with humility and love. I have found that successful conflict conversations involve a significant amount of humility and love. Difficult conversations are not about proving you are right, they are about understanding one another and finding a peaceful resolution to misunderstandings and offenses.
Difficult conversations are an unavoidable component of life—relationships are messy. But persevering through conflict will strengthen you, your relationship with God, and hopefully your relationship with the other person. I pray that as you engage in challenging conversations, Philippians 2:3 will define your heart and speech, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.”
Ali Howard is a Baylor University graduate who has engaged in full-time, nonprofit work since 2011. She joined the Joni and Friends team in January 2015, and serves as the Senior Coordinator of Volunteer Services. She also acts as the content editor for the Irresistible Church blog and books.