resolve conflicts through clear communication
Husbands, wives, parents, children, friends, neighbors, employers—relationships fill our lives. They require the investments of time and care, especially when conflicts arise. A courageous conversation is an effective tool that you can use to resolve relational conflicts.
Ten questions are involved in a courageous conversation. Through this guide to your discussion, you will address the pressing issue, the consequences of the issue, the responsibilities of those involved, and the hopes and plans for improving the future.
It is a rare experience for most people to feel safe enough to talk about their deepest needs and fears, because there are so few people who can listen from another’s perspective. A courageous conversation can create the atmosphere of patient listening that blends the elements of mercy and truth by seeking for a greater level of trust and communication in the relationship.
There are three goals for a courageous conversation:
- To gain wisdom to see from a bigger perspective. Our perspective will broaden when we listen to others and when we seek God’s viewpoint on an issue.
- To gain understanding that will establish trust in the relationship. When you see from another’s perspective, you can understand why they behave as they do. In an environment of mercy, they will be free to share their heart and honestly face the truth about their perspective of the issue.
- To gain knowledge so that you can take the next step. When you have gained wisdom and understanding, God will grant the knowledge of His will to resolve any issue.
The conversations often come up without any invitation or planning. When it becomes apparent that there is a problem because someone seems hurt or feels frustrated with trying to be understood or communicate an issue, it’s time to begin the conversation. Watch for these cues and be ready to humble yourself and begin the process of understanding the root issues with a courageous conversation.
A Key to Success
One definition of intimacy is “in to me see.” When we look through another person’s eyes and see as they see, we can begin to understand why they are behaving the way they are. Then we can look at the truth together and each one will be challenged to make the necessary changes to resolve the issue. This attitude of seeking to understand each other and to work together to bring a solution is the key to the success of courageous conversations.
1. What is your most pressing issue?
When it is apparent that there are issues to resolve, begin by humbly asking about the most pressing issue. “What I hear you saying is that your most pressing issue is . . . .”
2. In addition to this issue, is there something else?
The goal of asking this question is to get to the root issue, since many people are not be able to describe their most pressing needs. Listen to what they have to say and try to see if one of these two root issues is causing the intense feelings:
- Fear of Rejection—An issue or person is making them feel like they are unacceptable and they don’t feel good about themselves because of it.
- Fear of Failure—An issue or person is making them feel inadequate.
If it is appropriate, and you sense that the person is open to discussing these issues, you may ask if these fears are the root problems. Otherwise, go ahead and discuss the issue that they state is the most pressing.
Write down the most pressing issue, because all of the other questions will refer to it. If there is more than one issue, ask which is the most pressing. You can only effectively deal with one issue at a time.
3. How is this issue affecting you?
When you ask this question, listen closely and put yourself in the other’s place. Take the brunt of their intense emotions and do not defend yourself. Instead, grieve with them over the hurt that you or others have contributed to in their life. This enables you to see how serious the issue really is and what the cause and effects are for you and those around you.
It is important for you to express an understanding of how they feel. When people feel that they are heard and cared for, they can begin to move on to resolving their issues. To express that you understand, rephrase what you heard the person say to their satisfaction.
4. What will the future be like if nothing changes?
At this point of the conversation, you will see the high cost of doing nothing. Do not gloss over what you hear; stop and truly consider it. Seeing this picture will motivate everyone to be committed to resolving the issue.
Once again, rephrase what you heard the person say. If they are not satisfied with your understanding, be patient as they verbalize their thoughts so that you can truly understand.
5. What do you see as my responsibility for this issue?
This question opens up the opportunity to really understand the heart of the other as they share their real needs. If you begin to explain, complain, or blame the other in response to what they say, the conversation will fail. You need to show a willingness to humble yourself and to seek after Christ’s righteousness, instead of defending your own.
Understand the heart of the other by rephrasing what they have said to their satisfaction. If you see further insights into your responsibilities, be willing to share them to reveal that you understand the issue.
6. What do you see as your responsibility for this issue?
This question may take some by surprise, since they have probably been looking at themselves as a victim instead of seeing that they are also a responsible person in the situation. This is a turning point in the conversation by allowing them to share the responsibility for resolving the issue.
7. What does the preferable future look like to you?
It is now time to focus on what could be and should be. You will find hope for a solution as you agree on a desired future and begin to share a vision that restores your enthusiasm and sense of partnership. God will begin to help you see the future as He sees it, filled with plans for good and not for evil.
8. What is the most powerful thing that we can agree to ask God for?
Since the personal responsibilities and the preferable future have been discussed, it is time to decide how you will pursue that future. Will you seek to resolve the issue in your own strength, or will you rely on the power of God to fill you and enable you to walk in His ways of harmony, responsibility, and peace? You now have the opportunity to cast your burdens on the Lord and seek His aid for living in full restoration. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Psalm 55:22).
9. Based on the above, what is the one thing we cannot fail to do?
This question helps you focus on the one thing that will make all the difference in moving ahead to the preferable future if it is executed with consistency and excellence. It is a simple idea, such as “we cannot fail to communicate.” Understanding this one thing puts you on the path to peace.
10. What practical steps must we take to make this happen?
Now is the time to talk about the things you can do to make your objectives happen. These are activities you can plan out—you know who is supposed to do what by when. These are the highly leveraged steps that produce great results.
May God grant you the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding that you may walk worthy of His noble calling and produce fruit that will stand the test of eternity as you make noble plans and carry out noble deeds.
Chris & Anne Hogan
Imagine a married couple who enter a counselor’s office so bitter that they cannot even look at each other speaking with a venom of past hurts, but who leave a few hours later arm in arm, smiling at each other! This is the result that Chris and Anne Hogan have experienced over and over again with those whom they counsel. The principles that Chris and Anne teach in seminars and in personal counseling are demonstrated in their own marriage and family of ten children.