The Art of Confrontation – How to Share Tough Truths in a life-giving Way
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, to the one truth-teller, people respond with anger and to the other, they melt into a puddle of conviction, saying: “Would you help me?”
So, for years, I’ve asked the question: Why do SOME people have this power 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. And unfortunately, confrontation is an art form that a lot of people haven’t learned yet.
Thankfully, Jesus outlined 5 life-giving commands we need to follow when we confront, [& if you missed part 3 of our teaching series “Changeable,” you can read these 5 ideas here: Confrontation_Notes. A lot of times, people aren’t rejecting our “truth” as much as the “way we shared it.” But, lets be honest: Sharing truths with people is the easy part… but earning the RIGHT to share truth is a whole different matter. And with this in mind, allow me to introduce you to a powerful – even magical – principle called the “Check Book Theory” that will enable you to become the “lovable truth-teller.”
The checkbook theory has many names. In his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey called it an emotional bank account. Others call it a love sandwich, but that name creeps me out. Here’s the gist: People are like checking accounts. Some Christians have acquired the misguided notion that believers are called to confront the entire universe and do so in some freaky weird ways.
You’ve got to make deposits before you can make withdrawals. If you write a check you cannot cash, it’s called bouncing a check. (You see, young people, in the old days people actually got punished for spending money they didn’t have. Sounds like a very scary world, doesn’t it?) Banks would sometimes fine you fifty dollars for writing checks with insufficient funds. So, the analogy goes, if you confront someone (make a withdrawal) without first loving on them (making a deposit), you’ll certainly make them mad (bounce a check).
You should be able to do an amazingly intense confrontation without a person freaking out, provided that you’ve made an adequate amount of deposits of love. After all, these deposits reveal your love for them. For example, we’ve all been confronted by people who didn’t give a rip about us. And not surprisingly, we all responded in the same way, “Who are YOU to tell ME I shouldn’t pee in a public shower?” or something similar. (Just kidding. That didn’t actually happen).
We all hate it when people share truths without first giving us empathy or showing us that they care. And why? We live in a culture where people share truths for selfish reasons all the time. Honestly, we all operate with this conditional teachability as a matter of survival. Depending on the source, I’ve read that the average person experiences between six hundred and three thousand advertisements per day. Regardless of the exact number, we can all agree that a ton of ads bombard us each day. We live in a world where things are constantly being marketed to us: “You need this new car/wardrobe/ electronic gadet/etc.”
We live in a world of endless truth claims. All throughout church history we see that even biblical truth has been constantly peddled for selfish gain. Our emotions protect us from such liars by conditioning our teachability. We all secretly ask, “Does this person really care about me? Will he inconveniently show me selfless love? Or is he just trying to take advantage of me, and sucker me into a colon-cleanse?”
As a general rule, if you’re ever scared to confront a certain person, ask yourself, “Have I made an adequate amount of deposits?” or “Have I shown them the type of love that they can understand?” If not, there’s often a good reason why you’re scared. You know you’re about to bounce a check. Any idiot can share the truth, but earning the right to share truth is a totally different issue.
When applied to parenting, it can be profound. Your household can operate with an amazing number of high standards provided that your deposits of intelligible love exceed your demands. Thus, when kids rebel from their “Pharisee Parents,” it’s usually not a result of stringent boundary making. After all, I know many parents who are incredibly restrictive, yet their strong-willed kids never rebel for long. Rather, rebellion is usually the child’s way of saying, “Your love isn’t translating into my language; therefore, all I see is oppressiveness.”
All throughout Scripture, we see God using the checkbook theory. Just think about the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), or when Jesus ministered to the woman at the well (John 5). It was a massive gesture of kindness that He was even willing to talk to a woman like her in public. In fact, Jesus was so committed to making loving deposits that, despite the church rebukers of His day, He constantly risked His own reputation to hang out with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:27). “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “God’s kindness leads [us] towards repentance” (Rom. 2:4).
It’s also interesting to note that Jesus constantly healed people – demonstrating the mercy of heaven – while He preached truth. And when a person alters your life with such profound grace, you’re likely to listen to him even if he has tough things to say to you. A person who makes adequate deposits never has to water down the truth. Jesus simply demonstrated the deposits of heaven, such as healing and deliverance, before He demanded submission. And we would do well to emulate the Master.
I’m not saying that people will always respond after deposits. If a person is narcissistic or self-deceived, they will find a way to “play the victim.” There have been people who, no matter how many deposits I made, they still had a chronic inability to step into other people’s shoes. But, what matters is this: We gave people our best. And in the process, we became more like Christ.
So, who are you feeling stress with? How are you going above and beyond to deposit into their life?
“Lord, help us to be more like you–teach us what it means to first show empathy and love before pursuing conflict and change.”