10 Tips on How to Manage Difficult Conversations

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When you are in ministry it is not all that uncommon to have to talk with people or counsel with people about difficult subjects or sensitive things in people’s lives. Before I do I think it is important to say up front that these conversations don’t go well 100% of the time. There are times you are going to do the right thing or say the tough thing and be very, very unpopular. There are going to be times people think the worst of you when you mean the beset. Some times there is no way to avoid that. But I think there are several things we can do to help those conversations go well a better percentage of the time. A few ground rules first. 1 – None of these should EVER been done to manipulate someone. 2 – Don’t use any of these that aren’t true for you. Here are a few things I have found helpful. Add in your tips in the comments:

  1. Come from an attitude of humility. If people think that you think you are better than them they won’t listen. That leads to #2
  2. Freely admit where you have goofed things up yourself. If you make yourself vulnerable they are more likely to do the same. This eliminates the perception that you think you have it all together.
  3. Admit that there have been times in your life someone had to come to you and have a difficult conversation and you are glad they loved you enough to do it.
  4. Treat people with love and respect. It is hard to get angry with someone when it is obvious they love you and are trying to take care of you.
  5. Let them know how difficult it is for you to even bring up the issue but you feel you have to because of how important they are to you.
  6. Give them time to think it over. They may not agree with you on the front end. Let them have time and space to consider your input.
  7. Don’t be harsh. Rarely will people follow a harsh person. You may think someone did something stupid. Keep it to yourself because you have probably done some dumb things too. Don’t be harsh. Harshness builds up walls of defensiveness and these conversations require they come down.
  8. Be honest. People will respect you if you are honest with them. Don’t beat around the bush.
  9. Be biblical. We are not out to get people to follow us our what we think is best. We are pointing people to God and that means scripture has a premium in these conversations. Let them wrestle with and debate God and not you.
  10. Let them know on the front end that at the end of the day, even if you disagree, you won’t desert them. One of the scariest things for people having difficult conversations is the fear that when it is all said and done that relationship will never be the same. Then people start resisting and become defensive because they are protecting more than just the issue you came to discuss. They are protecting their relationship with you.

4 Responses

  1. Matt,

    Great thoughts! Here is one I would add:

    Ask if you (the approacher) understand the situation correctly. Admit that you may have bad information or a misperception. Give the person an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings you may have. This way, you do not come as an accuser, but seeking understanding. (“The Accuser” is one name for the Devil, and we do his ungodly work when we come off as accusers of our brethren.)


  2. I think two things are important here only instead of the whole list. Be caring and honest. That is what Jesus did most of the time.

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