How to Have Tough Conversations – Highlands College

Welcome HC Students!

Have you ever wondered why some people can say “difficult” things (and people receive it), while others simply open their mouths and people freak out?

Over the years, I’ve noticed that two different people can share the exact same truth yet, get different results!

So, for years, I’ve asked the question: Why do SOME people have the gift of confrontation and others do not? Even more, how can I acquire such skills? Whether you’re a parent, a boss, a teacher, or a friend, we will ALL have moments when we need to be painfully honest with the people around us.

Thankfully, the Bible gives us 5 life-giving rules of confrontation we can follow – like, (Go directly to the person rather than gossip; Do it gently and with humility, etc.) So, if you’re newer to the topic of Christian confrontation (and when we’re wise to do it), be sure to read my full article on Biblical Confrontation and When to Do it . But, the big idea is this: A lot of people aren’t rejecting “our truth” as much as the unBiblical way we shared it.

For those who want Advanced Tips on Confrontation, a few years back I made a list of additional tips that have helped me over the past two decades of pastoring (such as, always try to confront face-to-face vs. through writing; or, always try to do two follow-up meetings after a confrontation.)  And again, you don’t have to do these things. But, I guarantee you that you’ll burn a lot less bridges if you do them!

But what about Super Complicated Circumstances?

Many years ago, I found myself in an impossible leadership situation. Almost all of my problems came down to one insecure leader. And I felt like my only solution was to quit. I mean, I felt like I had tried everything, and yet, nothing was working.

So, one day, I was whining to God about this person, and I felt like God told me: “Peter, I want you to brainstorm a list of creative ways you could influence this situation. If you think you’ve tried EVERYTHING, then, write them out.

Of course, by the time I came to the end of my list, I realized, there were A LOT of things I hadn’t tried. Indeed, I had only tried about four things (which I kept doing over and over again). But as I listened to the Holy Spirit, I came up with 17 different ways I could influence this situation. And after applying a few of them, the Lord completely transformed that stressful relationship into something amazing.

So, ever since that time, I began giving this list out to other people who felt stuck in a similar hopeless situation. I started calling it  The Traffic Light of Influence.

How the “Traffic Light of Influence” Works

Think of someone difficult in your life (who you’d like to confront). Then, imagine you had 17 different choices, organized into three categories: red, yellow, and green- just like a stoplight.

The Green Category is filled with inspirational ways to influence this circumstance. (Things like prayer, servanthood, and authenticity).

The Yellow category is what I call  crisis modes of influence that you should only use after exhausting the green options (Things like mediators or counsellors). And finally,

The Red Modes are what we call collateral modes of influence. (Things like blogs, boycotts, or legal maneuvers). I.e., They may change things; yet, they often create collateral damage.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that automatically tends to turn to dangerous “red light” forms of influence by default. Rather than being a last resort, it is the starting point for many people. And inevitably, we end up transmitting pain rather than transforming it, and antagonizing rather than influencing!

So, think about a stressful relationship in your life and then listen to God speak as you read through the Green Light forms of influence.

But the main lesson is this: If we truly love people and want to influence them, we can’t merely “speak truth” at people. Most people tend to limit themselves to one or two “modes of influence” to the exclusion of the others. And when these limited approaches fail to achieve the results we want, the devil uses these failures to make us feel hopeless. However, by prayerfully considering other ways of approaching things, God can show us solutions that we might not have seen before.

So, Heavenly Father, as we learn the art of courageous conversations, help us become creative. We want to model you in every way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Peter Haas – Lead Pastor of Substance Church – an international multisite church based in Minneapolis. Peter writes comedy books on spirituality: “Pharisectomy: How to Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases”(2012) and Broken Escalators (2015). See – @peterhaas1 (twitter & instagram). He is also a dj-turntablist who produces & tours with Substance Variant. Click to visit one of Substance’s Church live services, or see our documentary film-style services on Youtube. To watch our worship videos, see Substance Input Output.

Substance Church – Downtown Minneapolis Campus