Your heart is beating in your toes and hands start to perspire. You feel as red as a stoplight and as nervous as a skydiver. In fact, many people would prefer skydiving.
Conflict. So many of us are deathly afraid of confrontation. Why is that? Why do we try to avoid the inevitable nature of dissonance? We tend to believe confrontation leads to broken relationships, injury and disconnection. We hate to confront because it pulls people apart. At least, that’s what history has taught us.
Reality is that if you have ever experienced family, work, school, traffic, dating, etc. you are familiar with the necessity of confrontation and the inevitability of conflict. Perhaps you’ve avoided it? Perhaps you have attempted to fix problems and ended up hurt? Perhaps you have hurt others?
Maybe many of us shy away from conflict because we have never been taught how to healthily engage in confrontation and have not seen the fruit such conversation could bear. Perhaps God allows conflict to build and enhance relational intimacy. I’d like to propose that you can confidently be a participant in this dance called confrontation.
My husband and I have observed how healthy confrontation has enhanced our intimacy and grown our trust in one another. For that reason, I almost get excited when we have spats! We do not always get it right, and we continue to make mistakes, but God’s grace is abundant and He helps us continue to grow in this area. When we engage in the process as outlined below, we both walk away with greater satisfaction in our marriage. Our goal is not to attack or control the other person or to prove that we are right. Our goal is to become more like Jesus, and position one another for greatness. Our goal is also to enrich our marriage so that it will be better than yesterday.
I have also noticed how engaging in these crucial conversations has caused me to experience personal growth and strengthened my relationship with God. For that reason, I am passionate about teaching others the art of effective conflict.
10 Key Facts on Confrontation:
- Confrontation demonstrates that there is a relationship worth fighting for. Disagreements will test covenant and are an invitation to strengthen relationships.
- It is essential to approach others as a learner and with a spirit of gentleness. You need to recognize that you also make mistakes. Be sensitive to your own failure and choose to be a person of gentleness.
- Confrontation requires trust. Deep trust. As humans we have an innate desire to preserve and control ourselves and our surrounding environment. This can be good – and this can be bad. We need to recognize everyone’s need to feel in control. When people feel as though they have lost control, they become combative in an effort to self-preseve. The other individual needs to sense that you have no need to control them or any desire to judge them. I find that the best way to position yourself with this attitude is to check your tone, check your posture, check your motives and check your word choice. Position yourself as a learner.
- The foundation of fruitful confrontation is asking good questions. Good questions will provide internal pressure that stimulate problem-solving. Many times the best questions are open ended. Danny Silk provides some good examples of questions in his podcast series, “Keys to Confrontation” – Some include, “What is the problem” – “What are you going to do?” – “How is that working?” – “Do you want my help?” – “What kind of help do you think you need?” – “What can I do to help?” – “Will you help me understand…” (tone is everything when asking these questions).
- Be self-aware – know your motives and your goals. Your goal should always be that the other individual leaves the conversation feeling more supported and loved than when they entered the conversation. The purpose of disagreement is to teach, support and strengthen the other individual. It is also to remind them of how important and valuable they are.
- Drive conversation toward strengths. Though you may be exposing a failure or weakness in the other person, it is important to highlight their true self – the treasure. In the midst of confrontation, people will forget that they are amazing treasures that are destined for greatness. The other person needs to be powerful in the confrontation. You are not forcing them into submission. You are not attempting to dominate them. You are not shaming them. Disagreements are not intended to be a power struggle. Instead, we need to honor, and empower. An example of identifying strength could be if I confront someone on their forgetfulness, I might point out where their mind has been and how incredibly focused and driven they are. With every weakness there is embedded a gift from God that we can turn into strength if we surrender it appropriately.
- Be Humble. Be quick to apologize. Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Admit any wrongdoing and articulate how you hope this conversations helps you grow and learn. Remember confrontations are intended to grow everyone involved. In the bible, God only prune the branches that are producing fruit. The fact that you get to engage in confrontation means you all are growing.
- Work together to identify the hurt and broken places. This can help you both discover opportunities for personal growth and identify existing problems. Confrontation will inevitably expose our broken and hurt places which actually helps us discover opportunities for growth and helps us formulate ways to intentionally support one another.
- Know that you are not the answer to their problems and trust people to solve their own issues. Do not criticize in the name of love. Give people freedom to say no.
- Know your impact. Understand the weight that your words will carry to the recipient and adjust the approach accordingly. How will he or she walk away from the conversation and what support system do they have that will promote growth?
7 Steps to a Healthy Conflict
- Begin by asking there person permission to bring up an awkward or sensitive issue. “Can I talk to you about something that’s been bothering me?” is another way to enter into this dialogue.
- Identify what you respect about them and thank them for letting you bring up an awkward or sensitive issue.
- State what the problem is in the form of a question if possible. “I’m wondering if you have noticed…”
- Ask good questions
- Admit your wrongdoing or any ways you have contributed to the problem
- Identify and discuss any exposed pain or broken places you see and ask the other participant to do the same.
- Identify practical steps moving forward – what can each person do differently to support one another in meeting personal and relational goals?
Years ago I was confronted by a leader at church. She said “Hey I want to talk to you about how you are leading this group of girls and give you some feedback. Is this a good time?” I said sure. She said “first of all, you are a woman of wisdom and you leading our girls at church is a blessing. I am so thankful that you are willing to participate in our community and I’m also so thankful you trust me to give you some feedback.” I said thank you. She then said, “I wonder if you would say that your priorities might be a bit out of whack. You spend so much of your time isolated studying or alone in your home that you are missing friendships and community. I fear that some girls might not be able to share their hearts with you and get the guidance they need because you are not giving the necessary amount of time to leading this group. What do you think about that?” I then told her how I felt. It exposed some brokenness in me. My need to be perfect in the classroom. My fear of failing as a leader. My selfishness.
Because she gave me room to be in control and answer her questions, I felt safe. I did not feel threatened. I felt affirmed, honored, and treasured. This confrontation led to personal growth rather than isolation and bitterness.
You can embrace the opportunity to disagree. Choose growth. Choose deeper relationships. Gently confront one another.