Confrontation –  Speaking the Truth in Love

Paul writes to the Ephesian Church and tells them that, as believers, we are to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Most people I relate to see this as “confrontation.” And, worst still, they see confrontation as negative and difficult. So, let’s look briefly at this whole area of speaking the truth in love.
The question we always need to ask: Do I care enough to confront the right way?
When working with relationships we instinctively know the following:
1> Conflict is unavoidable
Perhaps we ought to add conflict to death and taxes as one of the things we can count on in this life. The only way to avoid conflict is to isolate ourselves from all other people on the planet. So, we need to learn to deal with issue that cause conflict because they are inevitable.
2> Conflict is difficult
No one likes confrontation, so almost everyone avoids it. And those who do like it have their own psychological issues! Why is it difficult to confront? We fear being disliked, misunderstood, or rejected. We fear the unknown. We are not use to sharing our feelings. And we worry that we will just make things worse. Let’s face it: few people have been taught healthy confrontational skills.
But this I know: How we handle conflict determines our success in tough relational situations
So, how do you handle conflict in your relationships? Did you know that conflict always compounds when confrontation is not done quickly and correctly? That’s why your approach matters. Here’s a sampling of harmful strategies that we see people using when they deal with conflict:
Win at all costs. It’s like a shootout at the OK Corral. It’s quick, brutal, and destructive.
Pretend it doesn’t exist. If you hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, evil will not exist.
Whine about it. Winners aren’t whiners and whiners aren’t winners. Playing the victim doesn’t cure conflict. It just irritates everybody.
Keep score. People who keep a record of wrongs can’t ever start over fresh. And nobody can ever get ‘even.’
Pull rank. Using position never really resolves conflict. It merely postpones it.
White flag it. Quitting is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
None of these approaches will give the help a person needs to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
Conflict resolution isn’t complicated. Intellectually it’s simple. But emotionally it can be difficult. It requires honesty, humility, and dedication to the relationship. Let’s look at the first two points of what is a six-step plan to help you tackle the task of confrontation.
1> Confront a person only if you care for that person
In rare instances people must confront someone they don’t care about, such as in legal trials or when abuse has occurred. But there are not typical relational conflicts. In nearly all relational situations, it is most productive to go into a confrontation keeping the other person’s interests in mind.
In the past when you attempted to resolve conflict with another person, what has been your goal? Sympathy? Quick relief? Victory at all costs? Next time try to go into it with the goal of making it a win for both parties. And if you attempt to ensure that the other person wins first, then you know you have the most beneficial perspective.
2> Meet together as soon as possible
When conflict arises, we are tempted to avoid it, procrastinate dealing with it, or ask someone else to resolve it for us. But the truth is that anytime you let conflict go – for whatever reason –  it only gets worse. If people are put in a position to start speculating about another person’s motives to figure out what might have really happened, they often think their worst. Putting off confrontation only causes the situation to fester.
So, don’t store up issues. It is never a good idea idea to save up a bunch of stuff and then give a person a history lesson during a confrontation. Instead meet together right away, face-to-face. If that’s absolutely impossible, then consider a conversation by phone. But under no circumstances should you confront a person via e-mail.
3> First seek understanding not necessarily agreement
A significant hindrance to positive conflict resolution is having too many preconceived notions going into a confrontation. There’s a saying that the person who gives an opinion before he understands is human, but the person who gives a judgment before he understands is a fool. So, go in prepared to listen and don’t pre-judge.
United States President Abraham Lincoln was well known for his tremendous people skills. He remarked, “When I’m getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third off my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say – and two-thirds thinking about him and what he is going to say.” That is a good rule of thumb. You cannot reach understanding if your focus is on yourself.
As engineer Charles F. Kettering said, “There is a great difference between knowing and understand; you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.”
4> Outline the issue.
When it’s your turn to speak and to make yourself understood, it’s important that you take a positive approach. Here is what I would suggest:
Describe your perceptions. In the beginning, stay away from conclusions and/or statements about the other person’s motives. Just tell what you think you see, and describe the problem you think it’s causing.
Tell how this makes you feel. If the other person’s actions make you angry or frustrated or sad, express it clearly and without accusation.
Explain why this is important to you. Many times when a person finds out that something is a priority to you, that is enough to make him want to change.
Engaging in the process without emotional heat or bitterness is essential. You don’t have to turn off your emotions; you just need to make sure you don’t verbally assault the person you are confronting.
5> Encourage a response.
Never confront others without letting them respond. If you care about people, you will want to listen. Besides, “One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears – by listening to them.” (Politician Dean Rusk).
Sometimes simply having the discussion helps you realize that your perceptions were wrong. Other times you discover that you need to take extenuating circumstances into account. Encouraging a response helps you better understand the person and the problem.
It also gives the other person a chance to process the issue emotionally. Most of the time when you confront people, they will have an emotional reaction. They may be shocked or get angry or feel guilty. They may want to share those feelings with you, or they may not. But no matter what, you should encourage them to give you a genuine response. Why? Because if they don’t have their say, they won’t be able to move toward a resolution to the problem. They will be so focused on their response that they can’t hear anything else.
When confronting people, you will discover the following:
50% of the people don’t realize that there is a problem
30% of them realize there was a problem, but didn’t know how to solve it.
20% realized there was a problem, but didn’t want to solve it.
The bad news is that one out of five people doesn’t want to seek a positive solution. The good news is that 80% of the time there is great potential to solve the conflict.
6> Agree on an action plan.
Most people hate confrontation, but they love resolution. And the only way to achieve resolution is to take positive action. By developing and agreeing to an action plan, you place the focus on the future, not on the problems of the past. If the person you’re confronting wants to change, they will gravitate towards the possibility of making things better.
A good action plan should include these points:
Clear identification of the issue
Agreement to solve the issue
Concrete steps that demonstrate the issue has been solved
An accountability structure, such as a time line and a responsible person
A deadline for completion
A commitment by both parties to put the issue in the past once resolved.
If your confrontation is formal, such as in a work setting, then put the action plan in writing. Then you can always go back to that document if resolution doesn’t go as planned.
Successful confrontation usually changes both people, not just one. Positive change is the first measure of success when resolving conflict through confrontation. The second is the ongoing growth of the relationship. Any time you truly do resolve conflict in a relationship, it doesn’t hurt the relationship; it actually strengthens the bond between the people.
But it all starts with genuine concern for the other person. President Abraham Lincoln summed it up when he said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend … Assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself … you shall no more be able to pierce him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.”