The unpleasant reality of church ministry is that sooner or later there will be conflict with a team or individual. People are messy and we often need to have tough conversations to coach and correct for better ministry outcomes. While it’s tempting to just ignore these issues, they can cause huge problems down the road regardless of how big or small they might appear now.
So don’t send an email or a text…schedule a time to meet and engage in a face-to-face conversation. Even if it may be difficult.
Here are five tips for handling tough conversations:
1. Speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15 calls us to speak truth in loving ways. Now, this verse doesn’t imply we can say mean things if we use a sweet tone of voice. Tough conversations happen best within the context of authentically loving relationships. So a question to ask is who is the best person to have this direct talk? Is your relationship with the person in question close enough and healthy enough for an exchange of difficult words? Do they trust and respect you? Or is someone else better suited to have this conversation? Your job is to ensure that truthful words are spoken in a loving environment, between two people who desire the best for everyone.
2. Know the goal going in. Be clear on the purpose for the conversation. Is it to gather information? Do you wish to obtain a commitment for a change in behavior? Will the desired outcome be simply to share perspectives and positions on a difficult issue? Knowing the desired outcome will help you determine the direction to take.
3. Assume positive intentions. Most people evaluate themselves based upon their own intentions. At the same time, we tend to evaluate others based upon their behaviors. As you prepare for a tough conversation, try to assume the other person has only positive intentions and that he or she is basically a good-willed person. This will radically alter your tone and approach to the meeting.
4. Allow for silence. Most people are uncomfortable with silence. But like pauses in music, periods of silence in a conversation can prove to be as important as words spoken. Do not bulldoze through these moments, but let them linger naturally. Sometimes it is in these times that God is doing his best and most important work.
5. Do it now. A measure of effective leadership is whether or not a leader is capable of making hard decisions and how long it takes to act. You probably already know what needs to be done. It will not resolve itself, and it will likely get worse if left alone. As Proverbs 15:23 reminds us: “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!”
[Excerpted from the book, Practical Stuff for Pastors: Managing People, Group Publishing, Inc., 2015.]