How to Handle the Hard Conversation

I have a very strong personality and an opinion on just about everything. Though my natural bent is more towards introversion, I rarely have a problem jumping into a conversation on a topic I’m passionate about. As talkative as I can be, there are some conversations that I wish I could avoid. You know ones:

“We need to talk about the attitude that I’ve been seeing recently.”

  • “I think you need to take a break from serving for a while.”
  • “You’re one of our most faithful volunteers, but I’m concerned about your walk with the Lord?”
  • “You’re my most talented singer, but I need to know why you’re not coming prepared for rehearsal.”
  • “What’s happening in your marriage?”

These conversations are incredibly difficult to have, especially if you have a team of volunteers. Maybe they are the only person available in in that role. We don’t think we can afford to offend them. We don’t want to drive them away. We worry about the quality of our sound if we lose one of our best players. It’s a very tough situation. To make things worse, these conversations rarely go as planned. However, to be effective spiritual leaders we must have and lead them well.

Servant leadership is sometimes confused with passive leadership. We are, in fact, serving and loving someone by providing spiritual accountability. This is why God has placed us in their lives as leaders. So what do you do when it’s time for a hard conversation? Here are some tips to help you approach them in a way that will hopefully provide appropriate amounts of both gravity and grace.

1. Make sure that you have developed a positive relationship beforehand.

Don’t overlook this important step. You will lose credibility as a leader if you only talk to people when they’re doing something wrong. Build up a bank of positive interactions that you can draw from when the harder conversations roll around.

2. Do not downplay or exaggerate the seriousness of the situation.

Properly weigh the “offense.” Everything doesn’t need a sit down meeting. You can address certain things privately, right as they occur. Pulling someone to the side to address a lack of preparation or similar situation is totally appropriate. Addressing an apparent deterioration in someone’s character is a different story. Those kinds of conversations need to take place in a more prepared environment.

3. Be spiritually and practically prepared.

Don’t rush into these conversations. This is an opportunity to pastor someone that Jesus loves. Hopefully you love them too. Take it seriously. Spend time in prayer for the person and your conversation. Ask God to give you the right words and tone. Once you have an idea of what you’re going to say, listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

4. Affirm areas of strength.

You may have heard this called the “praise sandwich” – you start with good, put the not so good in the middle, and end with more good. It’s important they know that though they missed the mark in an area, they are not total failures. Affirmation communicates that you love them and that they are valuable.

5. Never assume you know everything.

Once you’ve opened up what you want to address, give the individual a chance to talk about it. Let them fill in details you may be missing. You may have misheard, misunderstood, or been misrepresented. Don’t ever rush in with “guns blazing. ” You will ALWAYS do more damage than good. Many times just having more clarity will bring things to a conclusion.

6. Keep this goal in mind: RESTORATION.

Discipline is unpleasant, but if done and received correctly, it should result in repentance and reconciliation. Your goal is not to criticize or punish. It is to get things out in the open, address it lovingly, and then work out a plan for restoration. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are immediately (or ever) put back into the same position of serving again. It means that they are restored to full spiritual and relational health.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

As a young leader, there are certain areas that I am not equipped to address by myself. I need the wisdom of senior leadership, even if it’s simply guidance on how to approach the situation well. Do not be afraid to ask for help when things are above your head (or even when they’re not). It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of maturity! It never hurts to confidentially run things past an older, wiser, or more experienced leader. They may know things about the person or situation that you may not. Trust me, you will save yourself many headaches and bruises.

We must be accountable to our calling by fostering accountability it in the lives of our team members. Are these conversations difficult? Yes. Are they worth it? Absolutely. Love your people enough to have the hard conversations. Be the leader they need you to be, so that they can become all God has destined them to be!

Question: How do you handle hard conversations? Share your comments below!