How to Have (or Not Have) Difficult Conversations
Imagine you're about to have amnesia in the next five minutes.
FUH-GET 'BOUT IT!
No, really. Give it a shot. It'll make sense in a moment.
Pretend that for some strange reason every memory of your life will disappear after the next 300 seconds have passed.
It's a sad thought, I know.
Still, the clock is ticking. This means you'll only have a few moments to write yourself a message about who you are, what matters to you, and what your life has been like.
What would you write?
If you're up for it, actually do this. I did and was amazed at what it revealed to me.
Specifically, I was amazed at what I didn't write.
I had to home in on the things that matter most in the world.
What would and wouldn't you write?
Sometimes we need an exercise like this to remind us of what's really important and what our convictions are - those core values we fight for regardless of how we're feeling in any given moment.
Now... let's talk about having difficult conversations.
Sometime this week (if not today) you're going to face a situation that will push on those convictions.
- A family member may give you a "look."
- A co-worker may push your buttons.
- A meal may feel chaotic.
- A cashier may frustrate you.
- A driver may cut you off.
- A friend may let you down.
What if instead of reacting in a way that creates regrets, you had something larger guiding your life?
What if you knew where you’re heading, how you're going to get there, and the role God plays in it all?
And what if along the way you discovered what really matters and how to share it?
How to have (or not have) difficult conversations begins with why you feel you need to have them to begin with.
That's why we went on that "forgetful" journey at the beginning.
We all want to "make our mark" in life yet often feel like we're just "getting through the day." When someone or something cuts in on us, those things we're fired up about on the inside begin to flame up and difficult conversations occur.
There are several types of difficult conversations that come up during these times:
- Confrontation: There will be times when we need to confront kids, spouse, parents, siblings or others in our family on an offense. Other times we'll have to speak out against people hurting your family. Tone matters as much as dialogue.
- Explanation: Parenting and marriage are full of awkward topics. Take sex, for instance. Between having to explain to our kids about what sex is to sitting down with our spouse to explain what we think of our sex life, the tension can overwhelm the topic if we're not careful.
- Inspiration: We will at times be looked to for some sort of "pep talk" from others around us. When their optimism wanes, they'll need to borrow some of ours. Even if we're willing to give it, the weight of our words can make these conversations difficult.
- Confession: Sometimes our own flaws need to be owned out loud. It's never easy, but always the first step in the healing process.
Thankfully, Galatians 6:1-3 speaks into all these types of difficult conversations:
"If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves"
When we find ourselves at the threshold of a difficult conversation, we can:
- Remember what matters. Just as we can tell ourselves what's really important (like the five-minute exercise this article started with), so we can invite others to share in what's important with us.
- Be personal without taking things personal. When someone disrespects us in an awkward conversation, it's his or her attempt to feel more important than us in that moment. Watch that you aren't tempted to bark back, but with gentleness and respect stay calm and speak truth.
- Value the person more than the results. We're going to want to see some sort of change, and rightfully so. The pathway to that change is through relationships, though. Perhaps the person we're in conflict with won't alter anything today, but will if you stick with them over time.
A common phrase in our culture is that we’ve become famous for what we oppose, rather than what we're for.
Circling back to the initial amnesia exercise, once we realize what really matters to us, suddenly the conversations we do and don't need to have will be clearer.