5 Tips for Navigating Confrontational Conversations

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In his article, "Don't Shirk the Dirty Work," (Enrichment Journal, Fall 2011), Pastor Glenn Reynolds says, "The best leaders do not delay or duck the difficult; instead they confront problems directly and quickly. The most challenging question is often what to confront and what to leave alone."

One of the temptations leaders face is to put off a necessary conversation of which they fear the outcome. I've come to the conclusion that any leader who takes delight in confrontation may need some help. No healthy leader enjoys having to confront someone or engage in a tense conversation. But no leader escapes the need for such talks on occasion.

Often the solution to our problem is just a difficult conversation we don't want to have.

And so we wait.

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And things get worse.

A problem that was manageable months ago becomes overwhelming, simply because we let it fester and grow to something much worse than it would have, had we dealt with it sooner.

Hard conversations are not listed in most leaders' job descriptions, but perhaps they should be. To be effective we must ask God to give us wisdom in this area.

These five points have helped my journey of handling tough conversations:

Say no to worry and fear

Worry does nothing to change the outcome of the conversation.

We are also commanded many times in Scripture not to worry. Scripture gives us instruction for such occasions:

"But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict" (Luke 21:14-15).

2)  Deal with insecurity or approval issues

There are times I haven't wanted to have a conversation because of the fallout that may come from it. Sometimes it's not so much the person I'm meeting with that I have feared, but others they are connected to. As leaders, we all have the experience of meeting with one person over her issue. Then, a short time later, those she is in close connection with leave the church—displeased that someone they are close to was confronted, or did not get her way.

As leaders, we are cognizant of the possible ramifications of a difficult discussion when the person we meet with shares with others in her life. More difficult conversations, or losses, may follow the initial conversation. Out of a desire for self-preservation, we may put off the talk. Rarely is this best for us, for the other person, or for the church. We just delay the inevitable by our refusal to step up and lead, and do the hard thing that must be done.

Due to some of my life experiences, losses have the potential to be a greater challenge for me. Before I received help for my issues, I would do just about anything to prevent a loss in the church, including avoiding conversations I didn't want to have. I realized I needed to have a breakthrough in this area of my life to be the Christian, and the leader, God wanted me to be.

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