Two women sitting and talking.
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Leaders will inevitably have conversations they would rather avoid. Some conversations are so difficult that we put off having them until we cannot postpone the discussions any longer.  

There are obvious reasons we don’t like having these tough talks. Often, we don’t like difficult conversations because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. When we think about the potential negative emotional impact of our words, we simply choose not to say anything at all. In other instances, our conflict management style leans in the direction of avoidance because we don’t like the way conflict makes us feel. Life experiences can teach us that conflict is dangerous; consequently, it feels much safer to keep our opinions to ourselves rather than confront a thorny issue directly.  

Even when we are willing to have difficult conversations, we may feel unprepared to do so. How do we confront the passive aggressive staff colleague, micro-managing lay leader or oppositional board member? We know we need to say something, but where do we start the conversation?  

The more we learn how to effectively navigate tough conversations, the more confident we will feel when we are called to do so. It’s crucial for us to remember that the goal is not to be “right.” When we approach a hard conversation with the aim of proving we are right, we will probably talk more and listen less, which are two ways a hard conversation takes a turn for the worse. If you need to have a potentially high-conflict conversation, check out the resources below for insights and wisdom to help you do so with grace and courage.  


Resources

How to have conversations that matter

Q&A with Celeste Headlee

Conflict and Christian discipleship

Q&A with Michael Gulker


Explore a way of life shaped by Christian practices

Christianity offers timeless traditions of personal actions and community interactions that help both Christians — and the world — to flourish.

Practicing Our Faith offers a fresh way of thinking about our beliefs through the framing of twelve Christian practices. Find ideas, links, worship materials, downloadable study guides, books, and more.


Before you go…

Difficult conversations are not confined to our work lives. High-stakes discussions surface in our personal lives, too. Talking to a rebellious teenager, overly curious in-law, aging parent or an addicted loved one is never going to be easy. The way we approach these conversations matters. From personal experience, when we intentionally prepare to have these tough talks by getting ourselves in the right frame of mind, the Holy Spirit can bear good fruit for everyone involved. I won’t tell you that it gets easier, but I am learning that having difficult conversations is well worth the effort.

If you have stories you want to share with me or the Alban Weekly team, feel free to send an email to alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading! 

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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