This weekend we continued in our series through the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5. One of the verses we explored was Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” My wife and I were talking about this verse Saturday evening. One of the questions or challenges we shared together is the struggle to be a peacemaker and while avoiding hard conversations. Hard conversations are often times the bridge to peace and reconciliation.
So how does a person serve as a peacemaker and navigate through hard conversations? How can a person have hard conversations effectively?
Let me offer three suggestions that I have found helpful in these situations.
- Prepare for the Conversation
- What is my purpose for having the conversation?
- What do I hope to accomplish?
- What is the ideal outcome?
- What assumptions am I making about the other person’s reaction to the conversation?
- What “hot buttons” exist – for me and for the other person?
- How is my attitude toward the conversation contributing to the intended outcome?
- Have the Conversation
- A healthy and effective outcome will depend on two things: what I say and how I say it.
- How I approach the conversation and how I behave will greatly influence what I say and how it is received.
- Acknowledge any emotional energy that might be fueled by the conversation. The emotional content is as important as the facts.
- Keep aligned with the purpose of your conversation. Don’t be distracted by side tracks.
Suggestions for opening the conversation include:
I’d like to talk to you about. . .
I want to better understand your point of view. Can we talk more about. . .
I’d like to talk about ________. I think we may have different ideas on how to ______.
- Work Towards a Peaceful and Healthy Outcome
- Approach the conversation with an attitude of discovery. Set aside assumptions and try to learn as much as possible about the other person’s point of view. Let them complete their thoughts without interruption. Simply actively listen.
- Acknowledge that I’ve heard what the other person is trying to say. The best way to do this is to repeat their points back to them. I don’t have to agree, but saying “it sounds like this issue is very important to you” acknowledges where they are.
- Advocate for my position without diminishing their position. State my position concisely and clarify points they may not have understood.
- End with mutual problem solving. Find areas of agreement on solutions and identify what steps need to be taken. If there is no common ground, a follow up conversation may be needed to explore further options.
Remember throughout the hard conversation the goal is to walk through the conflict with a peaceful outcome. As James 3:17-18 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”