“I cannot wait to have that difficult conversation with that friend of mine, the one where I have to tell him how much he’s upset me. It’s gonna be the highlight of my week. I just love confrontation!” I believe it was…well, actually, it was no one ever who said that.
No, most of us hate difficult conversations, but it’s one of the necessary parts of being a Christian—and perhaps more so of being in ministry. Jesus also gave us some specific instructions about how we’re supposed to handle ourselves when someone has upset us, namely that we are to start by going to that person and pointing out our concern (Matt. 18:15ff). We know the easy thing to do: Ignore it and hope it goes away. However, that often causes resentment to grow and walls to build up in the relationship. As we navigate the world of difficult conversations, whether related to a sin that needs rebuking or someone who has upset us and caused a wedge in the friendship…what are the things we need to keep in mind?
How Strong Is Your Bridge?
The first thing you have to understand is how much weight the relationship can handle. Imagine a truck driving across a bridge. If you’re driving a heavy truck across a bridge that isn’t very strong, the bridge will collapse, and it will be a terrible mess. Likewise, if the bridge of your relationship with the person you’re confronting isn’t strong, then don’t drive a heavy truck across it. Work on the relationship first, or figure out if there’s a better person who has a stronger relationship who could have that conversation.
If you have a problem with someone, there is no time better the present. You may want to send him or her a quick text or email to set up a time to get together in person, which will force you to make sure the conversation happens. The longer we wait, the more potential for a damaged relationship. My friend Steven uses the analogy of oral hygiene in this regard. Plaque and germs build up on our teeth, and toothbrushes brush them away. The longer you wait, the more junk stays in there, and the potential for long-term damage grows. In the same way, we have to practice good relational hygiene. You wouldn’t go a week without brushing your teeth, and you shouldn’t put off removing the relational germs that stand between you and a friend.
Be Specific and Be Calm
The most gracious thing you can do when confronting sin is to be as specific as you can be. Rather than talking about someone’s overall attitude or general behavior, have as many examples as possible. “You’re always interrupting me” is not nearly as helpful as, “On Sunday when you interrupted me in our leaders meeting, it felt really rude and disrespectful.” Nothing will derail your efforts toward reconciliation and repentance faster than a quick temper. Do everything in your power to avoid defensiveness, anger and accusation.
After the Fact
The other helpful analogy in this regard relates to your car stereo, which has a bass and treble dial. If you decide to turn up the treble, you also have to turn up the bass or it will sound distorted. That is, when you bring a rebuke or a correction of some kind, you need to invest in the person relationally—really care for him or her—so the person is able to experience your love in addition to the rebuke. In fact, the rebuke will be much easier to handle when it is coupled with love.