Seven Tips for Handling Hard Conversations
Most of us don’t like having hard conversations, especially those that might be uncomfortable or awkward.
VitalSmarts found, “One in four people have been putting off an uncomfortable conversation for at least six months, one in 10 have been doing so for a year and another one in 10 have been staying mum on an awkward issue for more than two years.”
This may be because we have not had hard conversations modeled for us. You may have grown up in a home where hard conversations were avoided or homes where hard conversations led to fractured or ruined relationships.
But we cannot escape hard conversations. In fact, they are necessary for all relationships.
Nicole Unice in Todays Christian Woman writes, “The prospect of a tough conversation scares many into silence. But dealing with difficult matters—be it resolving conflict, confronting a character issue, or uprooting bad behavior or poor performance—is not an optional exercise in Christianity. The Bible calls us to be people of reconciliation: people who pursue peace and value unity, people who do not live as the world lives but choose the deeper, sometimes scarier path of real relationships with one another. Real relationships take hard work, but I’ve discovered that the ministry of tough conversations is the fertilizer of soul growth.”
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t shy away from hard conversations. It pretty much provides a blueprint for how to handle these types of conversations.
The next time you need to have a hard conversation with a family member, friend, or coworker, use these tips to guide you.
1. Ask Yourself Why
Did your mama ever say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Those are wise words.
Before you jump into a hard conversation, ask yourself why it is necessary and important for you to have this conversation.
Sometimes, we want to have a conversation just to prove we are right… or because we’re jealous… or because we’re holding on to grudges. I think you get it.
What is at the heart of the matter? If this conversation is more about appeasing yourself than reconciling a relationship, it might not be a conversation you truly need to have.
2. Spend Time with God Beforehand
One of the most important things you should do before you have a difficult conversation is spend time with God.
Spend time in prayer, asking God for wisdom. Spend time in His Word, looking for direction.
As Christians, we are told we can pray and ask for wisdom, and it will be generously given to us (James 1:5). Truthfully speaking, we all need wisdom to be aware of our struggles, as well as how to handle issues with others.
Use what scripture tells you about Jesus as your standard for living and for loving others. Ask yourself how Jesus reacted to similar situations in the Bible.
The Gospel Coalition explains, “When Jesus exposed the Samaritan woman’s sin, he poured out the living water of his grace. This is his way. Condemnation without redemption is hatred, but condemnation with Christ’s redemption is eternally kind.”
3. In Person and In Private
Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Jesus specifically told his followers to have this difficult conversation privately. This is wise.
Would you rather be confronted about an issue by a close friend privately or by a large group publicly? People tend to be more receptive when you treat them with respect, such as pulling them aside at the right time and the right place.
4. Enter with the Right Spirit
So much of how someone receives what we say comes from the way we present ourselves.
Having the right body language and tone is critical. If you yell or shout, don’t expect the conversation to go well. If your body language seems frustrated or dismissive, the listener may feel defensive.
Your tone of voice can make someone tune you out without even hearing what truth you have to speak.
When you must have a hard conversation, check your spirit. Are you entering the conversation with grace or are you “revved up” for a fight?
If you want to enter in with grace, I’d encourage you to meditate on Proverbs 15:1 and Proverbs 15:18 before you enter into the conversation.
5. Listen Before Speaking
James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
This is always true, but especially during hard conversations.
If we paused and listened to the person before speaking, we are less likely to react out of anger or form misassumptions.
6. Choose Your Words Carefully
If you rush into a difficult conversation, you could say things that hurt instead of heal the relationship.
As Carl Sandburg said, “Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.”
Remember, you asked yourself the purpose of having this hard conversation. The goal isn’t to maim.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 12:18
Before the conversation, seek God’s wisdom and spend time carefully thinking about what you feel you need to say.
7. Seek Forgiveness and Reconciliation
The goal of a hard conversation is to have everyone on the same page, moving forward together.
This means that many hard conversations, such as those dealing with conflict, will require forgiveness and a desire for reconciliation.
We should strive to live in relationship as Ephesians 4:31-32 commands.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Make sure your intention of moving towards reconciliation are evident.