John and Cindy frequently argued about how to handle their finances. John bought the latest electronic gadgets. Cindy clipped coupons and shopped second hand stores. As retirement loomed, Cindy’s anxiety about their financial future grew. Every time she tried to talk with John about saving more money however, he became defensive and shut down.
Most of us don’t know how to initiate a difficult conversation with someone. We feel stuck in silence, gritting our teeth and seething inside. Or, we blow up, often later, regretting our reckless words.
Every relationship will have difficulties and there are times we need to speak up. We may need to confront a wayward child, broach a friend’s dilemma, discuss a difficult family issue, address a co-worker’s harmful habit, or set boundaries with an invasive in-law.
Here are 4 steps to initiating a difficult confrontation, making it more likely to be well received:
Ask God for courage to speak up, wisdom to know what to say and when, and humility so that you will speak the truth, but with grace and love. Jesus warns us to take the log out of your own eye before you attempt to take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Prayer helps prepares your heart so that you don’t sound judgmental or condemning.
Hard words need not be harsh words. This is too important a conversation to leave to chance. When emotions run high it’s hard to think quickly or say the right thing. Take the time to write out what you want to say and rework it until it says exactly what you want it to say.
Rehearse out loud what you’ve prepared. Listening to yourself say what you want to say over and over again will help your emotions calm down and better prepare you to speak calmly when the time is right. Your words will be better received if you are not overly emotional. It will also help you evaluate your tone of voice so that you sound neutral and not shaming.
Don’t initiate a difficult conversation when someone is tired, hungry or distracted with other things. After all your prayer, preparation and practice, ask for a time to be set aside to talk where you can ensure the best chance of being heard. When Queen Esther needed to confront the King, she prayed, prepared and practiced but when she actually had the opportunity she realized the time was not right and invited the King back again the second night for dinner (Esther 5:5-8). Your goal isn’t just to speak up, it is to be heard.
Don’t forget a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. When you’re finished with what you have to say, respectfully listen to what the other person has to say back. Extend the benefit of the doubt and when you don’t understand something and ask questions to clarify.
Lastly, understand that you can do everything right and still be rejected. Paul reminds us, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). You do your part, and then leave the results to God.