I decided to write this post because honestly I’ve had to do this a lot in the past couple of years with many different people. Especially for Christians, this is an essential aspect of life, and if we are to spur one another closer to Christ, we need to actively hold one another accountable in areas of weakness.
1. Give yourself space to thoroughly process the topic.
Chances are having a difficult conversation with another person is daunting because you haven’t allowed yourself enough time to think through what parts of their actions are hurting you most, why it matters, and the root of your strong emotions toward their actions or how they’ve made you feel. Processing can look very different, depending on your personality: maybe you like to journal out everything that happened, maybe you need to verbalize out loud until you’ve discovered the root of the issue, or maybe you just need to sit in complete silence to actually give yourself space to think, because your life is unceasingly busy.
Whatever you need to do to actually allow yourself to think of the issue at hand, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to do that. No resolution or conversation can come about if you don’t reflect on what has happened so far in your relationship with the other person.
2. Write down all of your thoughts.
True, I am very much a written processor as you can probably tell… however, I think writing down everything you’re feeling is valuable regardless of your personality. Even if what you write down doesn’t make it to the conversation, the act of writing will allow you to solidify what you’re feeling, why, and what parts of the issue are most important to you. Think of the person and write your thoughts about how they’ve made you feel. Chances are, whatever you wrote initially is most important to the issue at hand, and then the conversation can be shaped around those points/feelings.
3. Incorporate relevant Bible passages.
While you want to be honest about your feelings and the person’s actions, you also want to make sure you’re having the conversation for the right reasons. The best way to ensure this is to incorporate Scripture and reorient the conversation around a bigger picture… it should not be about an apology or making someone feel bad, but if you’re both Christians it should definitely be about Christ and how you can both grow closer to him together as a result of the conversation (hopefully).
4. Make sure to use statements that emphasize your opinions and feelings of the issue at hand, so nothing is taken personally in a negative way.
Despite what you feel (and easier said than done), your feelings are just that; they’re not facts. So make sure you’re emphasizing that you acknowledge the “opinion-ness” of your feelings. No one wants to feel attacked and no one is pure evil, so don’t paint people that way. You’re trying to build bridges, not burn them down.
5. Restate how much you care about the person.
This ultimately should be why you’re having such a sticky conversation. The world tries to convince people to simply leave negativity in the dust or cut out anything that has a less than joyful effect on you. But like with so many other aspects of culture, Christianity is counter-cultural. Real love and love that goes beyond the temporal addresses issues in relationships and resolves them. There is no ignoring the problem, running from the problem, or pretending like the problem doesn’t exist.
Just like God’s relationship toward us, having hard conversations and being in relationships with other human beings means acting both justly and graciously. Just, because we acknowledge that certain actions are not okay, but also gracious, because no one is perfect and we all screw up.
6. Wait at least 48 hours before approaching the person. (More if you have a busy schedule and less time to process.)
Similarly, your aim is not to hurt anyone or act out of pure emotion.
I think having the knowledge of how to approach a person and a topic of conflict is useful, because we are more likely to tackle a difficult situation if we have solid steps in place. Otherwise running away from the problem or letting it fester becomes too easy (and makes the lives of both parties involved worse!)
Just remember: these conversations will only be beneficial. They have only strengthened my relationships with others or given people important things to meditate upon for future interactions with others. You really can’t go wrong having a tough conversation, as long as you’re speaking honestly, while still being open-minded to their responses, empathetic to them on the receiving end of such difficult topics, and aligning your points with God’s word.