church_guide_to_conflict

The Church Worker’s Guide to Confrontation

Here the thing: I hate conflict.

I am allergic to confrontation.

But, I’ve learned through my experience as a ministry leader that conflict is necessary and even good. In addition, there is no such thing as good leadership without confrontation.

Confrontation is necessary to maintain healthy relationships. Confrontation is necessary for employee development. Confrontation is necessary for reaching goals. I would even go as far to say that confrontation is a necessary part of spiritual growth.

The problem is that many of us are either really bad at confrontation or entirely unwilling to engage it. This has to change. We must become comfortable with it and experts at engaging it.

So, how do you become comfortable and an expert? Let’s start by making up a word. The word is “carefrontation”. It’s a silly word that my team uses to describe crucial conversations with volunteers and staff. We use this word because we believe that confronting is the caring thing to do, if you care about the well-being of the people involved and the health of the church or organization.

So, let’s talk about the art of carefrontation. In my opinion, learning to become an expert at carefrontation requires answering 6 questions.

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1. SHOULD I HAVE THIS CONVERSATION?

Not every issue requires a carefrontation. It isn’t helpful if we confront every little problem we see. Sometimes great people say or do dumb things. When these situations are isolated and low-impact, they don’t require a formal carefrontation conversation. How do you know whether or not carefrontation is necessary? Try asking these questions:

Is this behavior reoccurring?

Saying something insensitive once is entirely different than regularly saying insensitive things. When the situation is isolated, it’s often better to leave it alone. If it is reoccurring, it’s probably worth a carefrontation conversation.

Is this disrupting the team?

Sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s your place as ministry leader to carefront a person, especially if the behavior or situation is more personal in nature. I would suggest that you should carefront if the behavior is impacting the team or the ministry. If I know that Ryan plays video games until 3 in the morning every night but it isn’t negatively affecting the team, I might leave it alone. However, if Ryan is cranky in team settings and missing deadlines, I will carefront him about his time management.

The first step in becoming an expert carefronter is deciding whether or not the conversation is necessary.

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2. AM I ANGRY?

One of the reasons we struggle with confrontation is that our emotions are often involved. It’s relatively easy to confront someone when we weren’t the person who was hurt. However, it’s an entirely different scenario when we are the one who is angry.

In my opinion, personal anger will escalate a carefrontation conversation. Perhaps you’re different, but when I’m angry I’m far less articulate, rational or forgiving. Because of this, I think it is best to postpone a carefrontation conversation until I have a handle on my anger.

With that said, timing is important. Just the other day, I was part of a meeting in which someone said some things about me that were completely out of line. I was angry. I knew that I needed to address the situation the same day but I didn’t want to volcanically erupt on the person, so I postponed that conversation until the end of the day.

In situations when you know you will lose it, I might suggest telling the person you are hurt and angry and that you need to talk the situation out but now isn’t the time. Then, schedule a time to hash out the issues.

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3. AM I PREPARED?

Carefrontation conversations are crucial conversations. There’s often a lot hanging on the outcome of these conversations. This is another reason we are intimated by confrontation. It’s interesting how much we prepare for some crucial moments in our professional lives and not others.

  • The first time I preached on a Sunday morning at my church, I practiced that sermon out loud at least 5 times
  • The first time I was given the opportunity to lead worship in a weekend service, I memorized all the chords and lyrics
  • The first time I presented a budget to an elder board, I knew my presentation backwards and forwards

And yet, up until recently, I never rehearsed carefrontation conversations. I just hoped for the best and winged them.

I’ve come to realize that carefrontation conversations deserve the same level of preparedness as other crucial moments in ministry. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Write down what you plan to say
  • Say what you plan to say out loud to make sure it is logical and sensitive
  • Take the situation to a trusted mentor and role-play the conversation
  • Brainstorm all the possible responses the person will have and prepare appropriate responses

In my experience, many of us carefront poorly because we don’t adequately prepare. Consider applying the same level of preparation to these crucial conversations as you would other crucial moments in ministry leadership.

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4. AM I FOR THIS PERSON?

Think about a few times that you have been confronted. There were times when we felt attacked and betrayed. These conversations left us feeling fearful and hurt.

Other times, we actually felt grateful. Why? We were grateful because a caring person had the courage to carefront us about something we needed to change in order for us to reach our potential. In short, they were for us.

Before you carefront something, ask yourself: “Am I for this person?”

In other words, am I sharing this difficult information because I care about their well-being and I am hopeful that this conversation will help them grow and reach their potential?

The truth is that if you are truly for the person, your attitude will translate through your words, facial expression and body language. The recipient will feel it. If you are not for the person, they will feel it just as equally. They will be feel threatened and immediately go on the defensive.

It’s so important, when preparing for a carefrontation conversation, that we ensure that we are for the person. Our attitude and posture will set the tone for the conversation.

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5. AM I UNDERSTANDING CORRECTLY?

When carefronting a person, the words and tone we choose are very important. There are two ways to go after an issue. Here’s option one:

“You did this. It was wrong. Stop doing it.”

This is an accusation. We put them on the defensive. Sure, I’m exaggerating the wordage but you know what I mean. This is typical language in a confrontation conversation.

Personally, I find option two to be much more effective.

“This is what I experienced. It really bothered me. Can you help me understand what happened?”

I love this approach because it presents options. There’s always the possibility that I completely misinterpreted their words and actions. It’s much easier to backtrack after saying, “This is what I experienced” than, “You did this.”

Secondly, when you ask questions, you allow the other person to explain their actions. They will do one of two things: They will apologize and seek to make things right, or they will dig a deeper hole by deflecting or attacking. Their response to your honest question will reveal their level of humility and teachability.

When carefronting, the words you choose and the tone you set are important. Personally, I’ve found greater success with asking honest questions than making accusations.

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6. IS THIS THE RIGHT PLACE?

Environment is important. Where we are, who is there and what is going on all influence a conversation. When engaging an carefrontation conversation, environment is especially important. If you know the conversation will be emotionally charged, I would suggest a private, neutral setting.

A few bad ideas…

  • A carefrontation conversation in your office or home will feel like you are using your space as a power play
  • A carefrontation conversation in a public place will likely make the person feel even more uncomfortable
  • A carefrontation conversation with other friends or co-workers in view or in ear-shot will shame the person and likely lower their credibility with co-workers… not to mention, you’ll look like a heartless jerk.
  • A carefrontation conversation over email or text will lead to all sorts of misperceptions and misinterpretations.

The best place for a carefrontation is neutral and private space: An empty office, a small conference room, etc.

Let’s wrap this up. Most of us hate conflict and confrontation. And yet, it is an important and healthy part of ministry leadership. Great leaders are experts at carefully confronting. In my opinion, improving in this area involves correctly answering 6 questions.

  1. Should I have this conversation?
  2. Am I angry?
  3. Am I prepared?
  4. Am I for this person?
  5. Am I understanding?
  6. Is this the right place?

Take these questions into consideration the next time you need to carefront someone. We’d love to hear how they work for you. Also, if you have others suggestions on what makes for a successful carefrontation, please leave them in the comments below.

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