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Caring Enough to Confront

One of the traits of an effective leader is being willing to speak one’s truth in a grace-filled manner. None of us typically enjoy having these crucial conversations with one another yet we all suffer when they don’t occur. When we fail to address problems or challenges when they’re small, we allow them to become larger, more intractable ones. We might think they go away but more often than not, they simply go underground and show up elsewhere.

Crucial conversations and confrontations are a natural part of life. They’re a key to bringing out the best in ourselves and others. They need to take place in our work and ministry settings as well as in our homes. For me, these conversations often show up as part of our Saturday evening “family meetings.” In coaching relationships, they occur during our monthly “check-in” times. If dealt with early, they’re usually brief conversations. And let’s face it, there’s almost never a “right” time to have these encounters – let’s learn to simply have them as they occur.

What holds you back from caring enough to confront? What price do you pay for not addressing problems as they occur? What words or scripts do you use to begin these types of conversations? I welcome your insights.

Some Toughts (24)

  1. Sandy
    added on 31 Aug, 2011

    When preparing to enter into such a conversation, I think carefully about how I am going to say what needs saying. I want to be very cautious with what I say in order that I don’t come on as accusatory or shaming. I work hard to indicate that I value them and their efforts even if I disagree with the methods or outcome.

    I find that honesty is always the best policy. I am respectful as I listen to them and work at being firm about what I believe while still honoring their right to disagree.

    Having said this, I have to admit that I find confrontation very uncomfortable. Perhaps one thing that holds me back is that I have been on the receiving end of accusatory or shaming confrontations and I don’t want anyone to feel the way I felt in such a situation. I also must be careful to state facts and not become defensive myself if the other person does.

    When I don’t address the problem, it continually nags at me and I feel stressed and uncomfortable until it comes out in the open. Depending on the situation, it can also cause misunderstandings and harm in the congregation and to relationships.

  2. Jay
    added on 31 Aug, 2011

    I think that it is very important to hold these conversations, as stated they are not always fun or happy conversations to have. I feel that they are healthy to hold and a good thing to do to hold yourself and others accountable. This is effective if it is not done in an attacking way.

  3. Sumer
    added on 31 Aug, 2011

    I think that building relationships is key to figuring out how to address situations. Learning how others respond and deal with constructive criticism or opinions is important to how to begin and construct a conversation. I too believe that honesty is the best policy. I like to be straight forward in what I see, but not rude or too blunt. I listen with good eye contact. I use “I phrases” rather than “you phrases” and never want anyone to feel shamed or ridiculed. If I were to not have an important conversation, I think that I would feel that I wasn’t doing my job in looking out for the congregational needs in the ministries I direct. The feeling would stick with me until it is resolved.

    • Summer
      added on 31 Aug, 2011

      Sticky keys
      *Summer is my name

  4. Dr. Bob
    added on 31 Aug, 2011

    When the need for such a conversation arises I will usually begin by simply stating what the “problem” is with some sort of direct phase such as “We need to discuss the 800 pound gorilla in the room”. I then try to discuss the problem with detachment and involve the person or persons involved to help become a part of the solution. This way they do not feel under attack or somehow persecuted, rather valued as a partner in the solution. It does not always work and every conflict is unique, but with respect, a firm hand, and God’s guidance every issue can be resolved.

    • Sandy
      added on 31 Aug, 2011

      I like what you’re saying, Dr. Bob. The whole idea of it being a “we” issue and not a “me against you” issue is one that I stress in premarriage counseling as well. If it’s “me against you,” then someone has to lose; if it’s “how can we come up with a plan and solve this,” it’s a win-win situation.

  5. added on 1 Sep, 2011

    I think it’s important to have good relationships with others within the church. For people that I have built and nurtured a relationship with it is easy to confront them if there is a problem. I think this is because we have a history. They value who I am and I value who they are and know we can work through and situation. For those who I don’t have a good relationship with it is sometimes hard to confront them especially if they are an elder in the congregation. I believe the problem will only get larger and you face a risk of feelings getting hurt the longer you let it go on without addressing it.

  6. Kristin
    added on 1 Sep, 2011

    I think one of the keys to having these tough conversations is to create the space in which to have them. By having consistent “check in” time, a safe space is created in which everyone knows they can be honest and open. I know that I thrive on feedback, both positive and (gulp) negative, and I appreciate when it is given in a fairly predictable, safe space.

    Growing up, my family never created time to have tough conversations, (we were one of those bury it and move on type of families) and so it has been a growing area for me to learn how to do confrontation in my adult life.


  7. added on 1 Sep, 2011

    I am with Sandy here, I find confrontation uncomfortable but the pricetag is high for avoidance. Mainly sleepless nights, resentment and miscommunication.

    I find rehearsing in my mind what I will say is important. How would it sound if I said it this or that way. Prayer is also very important along with bending the confidential and wise ear of a colleague (who is willing to challenge me when

    I also value the CPE process in confrontation. When having an issue, how do I take responsibility? What may my issues be in this particular situation? Wondering what another person’s point of view may be is also important. These questions tend to deflate my self-righteous, finger pointing side. (Well, most of the time!)

    Finally, Peter Stienke’s healthy congregation series has been incredibly helpful to me in this area. ‘Confrontation’ and even conflict are rich soil beds for planting seeds and getting healthy harvests. Peace, Renita

  8. added on 1 Sep, 2011

    What will people think? Will they get upset and yell? What if I say the wrong thing? All of these are reasons I have used to NOT confront problems. I was relying on my own courage and understanding instead of relying on and trusting God.

    This past year, our church has gone through strategic planning, and I had my personality profiled. It was very interesting to see on paper what I already knew… I hate confrontations, and seek harmony in every situation. I go out of my way to proactively prevent conflict! That doesn’t mean, however, that conflict doesn’t arise.
    My biggest obtacle to get around is the feeling that someone is unhappy. I want the people around me to be happy, and I know that when I have to bring light to a situation, it is going to make someone upset or unsettled. In the past, this meant that I would speak with one party, get their perspective, and then go speak with the other party. This was a huge mistake. No one truly ended up happy. I ended up in the middle not knowing what to say or do to get back to harmony! This wasn’t the way to deal with situations, and it would bother me morning, noon and night until the problem was cleared up enough to move on.
    I find that going into a discussion quickly about what is happening is key. Time sometimes adds to a conflict if the problems gets inflated by “he said/she said” conversations. Discussing things with everyone involved instead of individually is more effective when it is handled properly. I have found that when I outwardly recognize that each person wants the best outcome, and that we are all working to get the best results possible, it takes the focus off of any one individual and puts it on the result.
    Instead of starting a discussion with “Well, we are here because I heard you have a problem” or “We need to find a better way to do this. Your way won’t work”, I would begin with prayer, followed by thanking each person for their time, effort and sacrifice to help a program/event/relationship succeed. I would outline what is going well, and then mention that there are still things that could be looked at to make the success of the program/event/relationship more satisfying for everyone involved. Disarming people before the conversations begin makes conflict more productive.

  9. Kelly :-)
    added on 1 Sep, 2011

    When I hesitate to enter into conversations that are crucial or deal with confrontations because I am people pleaser. I want everyone to like me and having these conversations might have someone in the end not like me. But through God’s guidance and constantly changing my heart I am learning to please Him. And in that I must have theses conversations otherwise I am setting a poor example to those around me on how to handle conflict. Instead I want Jesus to constantly use me as an example to shine the glory on Him.

    How I handle the conflicts depends if they happened directly to me or if I hear of them indirectly. If the conflict happens right in front of me through seeing it or someone approachs me the first thing I do is check my emotions. As I read in Group magazine, I want to respond not react. I check my emotions and shoot up a prayer for God’s guidance and wisdom. I hear the person’s side of the story and try to discern with God where they are really coming from. Usually there is a deeper issue than the one they are concerning. I agree with Sandy on actively listening while standing firm to what I believe.

    If I am in the wrong I believe in humbly apologizing and learning from the mistake I made. If it about something I had no control of I try to explain it to the person our goals and reasons behind our ministry or my actions. And hopefully we can come to a resolution or agree to disagree. I always want to follow up later to maintain relationships with that person. (Hopefully that is possible)

    If I hear of a conflict that I have to deal with indirectly always always come to prayer with it. God sees way more of the problem then I do and I pray for understanding and then I try to follow the same steps.

    I am new at this all and will continue to make mistakes but I agree with you all in directly facing the conflict or it will get worse! I think you all had great suggestions.

  10. added on 2 Sep, 2011

    Addressing conflict and dealing with crucial conversations makes us vulnerable which most of us avoid at any cost. I also highly recommend Peter Steinke’s family systems books – we’ll be using these in our fall Certification School.

  11. Steve Anderson
    added on 3 Sep, 2011

    I am in a situation where I have been in the same parish for 13 years now–alot of water has gone under the bridge in that amount of time. By this I mean, we have had plenty of conflict over the years about this that and the other thing and sometimes I have worked through these and sometimes I hold in alot of stuff which I fear will come spewing out before I have a handle of what I want to say. I am “in process” in all of this as we speak–which means I have alot to learn about my confrontational style with the very people I have had hurts feelings over the years. th

  12. added on 4 Sep, 2011

    I am a very non-confrontational person. To be honest I would rather wrestle that 800 lb gorilla than have to deal with confrontation.

    That being said– I’ve found that the longer you wait, the worse the problem can get. Small things that may be easy to correct early on- tend to snowball until you have a laundry list. Now instead of trying to fix one problem, you’re having to confront several issues at once.

    I’m learning that a direct approach can be most effective. If you can manage it, talking directly to the person about the issue is the way to go.
    If it is a serious problem, it can be helpful to discuss steps both parties can take to prevent problems from happening again- or happening with someone else.

    Lastly I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. No one is perfect… as Jesus says in Luke 6 “…First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Taking time to pray and reflect on the situation may help us open our own eyes and see ways we can improve as well.

  13. Tammi Payton
    added on 4 Sep, 2011

    I, like most people, do not like having confrontations. I have found, however, that addressing whatever the situation might be before too much time has passed is always better. The key is handling the conversation with the approach of care for both yourself and the other person or persons. This is of course, sometimes easier said than done. I always try to keep in mind that there might be other circumstances that I or the others were not aware of. I also think that being willing to admit when you are the one in the wrong goes a long way for others being able to admit their shortcomings or wrong doings as well. It comes down to being accountable for our own actions and holding others to theirs.

  14. Blake
    added on 5 Sep, 2011

    As someone who grew up with a father that never shared his feelings, I am still in the early stages of learning how to properly bring problems/confrontation before other people. For me the biggest obstacle to overcome is the desire to not hurt the other persons feelings and just have the conversation. Sometimes the truth or right answer hurts or is painful to figure out and it’s hard for me to think of hurting someones feelings. But, I am slowly finding it is much easier to deal with the problem/confrontation as it happens instead of holding it inside and letting it grow. The longer it goes unresolved the bigger the problem becomes usually growing much bigger that the initial situation.
    There are two bible verses that I try to lean on in these situations that help to make me stronger; Matthew 7:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-20.
    I have finally figured out that I must first lay my problems at the feet of my Lord, Jesus Christ and ultimately whatever happens is not becasue or about me. Thanks for making me think about this and realize how I have grown in this area.

  15. Corey
    added on 6 Sep, 2011

    Confronting a person without compassion and love seems pretty easy to me. Not having to take into consideration the person as having feelings, thoughts or opinions on the matter at hand would make the whole confrontation process a WHOLE lot easier. But throw grace, mercy, forgiveness – the idea that we attempt to bring a person back into community by treating them as a person who does indeed belong makes it a lot harder. Caring confrontation sometimes requires that we look at ourselves and the issue with more depth. We have to find a way to acknowledge the wrong while trying to bring loving restoration. This is the difficult part.

  16. added on 6 Sep, 2011

    Speaking our truth in grace-filled ways can certainly be a challenge. We’ve all experienced truth-telling that lacked tact, compassion and real understanding of the situation. I often find that I need to detach myself from the situation and consider how a uninvolved third person might respond. When I see the situation from a “detached” point of view, I can more readily see the needs and perspectives of both parties. Only then am I able to speak my truth with integrity, and not from a place of anger or resentment.

  17. Chelsey Plumley
    added on 7 Sep, 2011

    To be honest, confrontation isn’t really in my vocabulary. I take it all in, try to fix or change it myself, without help or other’s insights and push it away. But as you said, Jim, the problems come back and emerge elsewhere, or two-fold.
    My parents were very passive-aggressive. They never dealt with my behavior up front. They held it in until one day just exploding with anger or frustration. That unfortunatly has been my method. However, I am forever trying to better myself and be the opposite of what my parents were. I want my children to speak to me. I want to speak to them without hesitation. I want to speak to my board, my youth, my youth’s parents with confidence and grace.
    To begin a conversation that has confrontation at its root, I need a list. If I have things written down before hand I will be sure to get all my points across. A conversation like this can get out of control, because we know things can get heated fast and the list will bring things back to the point.
    This is definetly a learning experience, but with God’s direction I believe caring confrontation can be done.
    We must start slowly. If I confronted each person right now that is on my list, they would think I went crazy. One person at a time, almost like practicing, until I can get to the big wigs. These things must be eased into slowly and gracefully.

  18. Matthew
    added on 7 Sep, 2011

    I will be honest I agree with what Jim has to say about confrontation. I need to confront some one in order for me to go one at times. I know someone who is very close to me and she does not confront people about things. She feels that it is rude and mean and when she does not confront people it hurts her. She believes that she should take the hurt and not hurt others. I barely agree with that. As she does this I feel it hurts her more then what it would hurt her to confront someone. All I can say is that it is a work in progress for me and her and that it takes a lot prayer and patience!

  19. Rosanna
    added on 7 Sep, 2011

    Confrontation is easy for me, but it hasn’t always been that way. I grew up a people pleaser, someone who never spoke their mind. I would always have a smile on my face, but deep down I was frustrated and upset a lot.

    About six years ago I moved to Colorado and was working at a construction company in the human resources department. My director Barb was an awesome mentor. She taught me that confrontation is one of the most important aspects to our jobs. With patience and much practice through performance evaluations, firing, lay-offs, and write-ups, I learned how to give constructive criticism and taught the employees that confrontation doesn’t have to be bad, but can be very good.

    I have had many negative encounters with confrontation in the past, and I have learned from them. From not confronting the issue, I alienated and ruined some relationships. Before my experience with HR, if I had a problem with someone, I would pray and ask God for guidance. That is where I left it though, and I never did what God was telling me to do, and that was to talk to the person. I didn’t know how to do it.

    Now when a problem arises, I address it right away with grace and compassion. I care very much about people and relationships. If you take the time to hear both sides of the story from an outside perspective, give people respect to talk out their feelings, and work together on some type of a resolution, you can have a caring confrontation that ends in peace…even if that peace to agree to disagree.

    Chelsey- Having of list of points that you want to get across is a very good idea. Many times with my family I have much to say, but the conversation gets stuck on one issue that isn’t even part of what we need to discuss.

    Corey- I know how you feel. Confrontation is the easy part for me too. It’s bringing in the Grace and Compassion that can sometimes be the hard part. I have to remember not to take things personally.

    Tammi- Yes, holding others and yourself accountable is key. That is another component that is very important with confrontation.

    Summer- Yes, relationship building is so important. Each person and each situation is different. It helps to know the person and the best way to address the issue with them.

  20. Cydney
    added on 9 Sep, 2011

    I generally hold back from confrontation because, I think that it will:
    • hurt me or someone else,
    • have a negative impact or outcome on future interactions, and/or
    • cause further/deeper issues down the road making things worse.

    In reality, I know this is not true.

    My logical brain tells me that “caring confrontation” or “crucial conversations” are productive, healthy and safe. Intellectually, I know that it is good to talk things out and not carry difficult feelings and experiences with you.

    My emotional brain on the other hand is screaming at me, “Run as fast as you can the other way and don’t look back! Do not have that conversation!”.

    In these situations it is often easier to let the fear and emotion side of the mind over power the logical good decision making side resulting in a lack of crucial caring conversations.

    The price that is often paid from not having the conversation, as experienced more than I care to admit is that more damage can be done by burying those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and then having them manifest themselves later in some ugly and unfortunate way doing much more damage. I would like to believe that the “out of sight, out of mind” policy for these situations would work, but the reality is that it never does and almost always makes thing worse.

    Words that I would NOT use are….”Please don’t take this the wrong way, but…..” Whatever follows the “but” is not going to be good and usually puts the receiver on the defensive. I would also not speak for others during this conversation.

    Words that I would use are:
    • thanking them for taking the time to speak with you,
    • letting them know that they are important, and
    • framing a difficult comment such as, “when you do (blank), I feel (blank).

    These conversations can be difficult but with practice and care they can become easier. Unfortunately, I have a lot of practice still ahead of me!

  21. Heidi
    added on 10 Oct, 2011

    I was blessed to be able to read this blog to one of my youth yesterday. She has a situation in which she knows she needs to confront a friend about his behavior, but doesn’t know how. Like most of us, she is afraid, and has avoided the situation for quite some time, but it just keeps getting worse. I read this to her, and explained that, even when it is difficult, it is the best thing to do. I told her I don’t like confrontation either, but sometimes it is what makes us better people.

    When I have to confront, there are some times I have to take a day or two to get my emotions into check. Like Jim said, if I can think of myself as a third party, I can detach myself enough to make the conversation effective.

  22. Pam
    added on 23 Jan, 2012

    Confrontation in a positive way seems to come natural for me at this time in my life. It hasn’t always been that way. However, with the life circumstances that I have experienced, and as I have grown as an individual, I have worked very hard in being able to confront people in a positive way.

    Avoiding confrontation can lead to bigger issues. Sometimes however, we need to take some time before confronting a situation due to how we ourselves may react. We need to keep our emotions in check in order to be effective in our confrontation. This is where I use what I like to call the pop bottle approach.

    Take a 20 ounce pop bottle and fill it up with water and place it in the freezer. When you have a situation that you need to confront but fear you may not be in the best frame of mind to handle it immediately, take the frozen pop bottle of the the freezer and wait for it to thaw completely. This is usually enough time to get emotions in check and trully give some thought to the situation. If you find that the 20 ounce size isn’t big enought you could always move up to the 2 liter.

    In Peace,


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