Confrontation conversations are hard. They rarely go well and most people don’t like them. But what if you could dramatically increase your success rate?
Most advice on this focuses on what to say. This is important, but not the whole picture. I used to believe that the truth was sufficient all by itself. If I shared truth in love, then the confrontation should be successful. But it didn’t always work. In fact, it often didn’t work. Something beyond the content of my correction made a big difference. (Of course, that’s assuming I was always right–which would be bad assumption.)
This post is about a part of the confrontation that most people don’t think enough about. Not only do you need to think about what to say, you need to be mindful about when you say it. Even the most carefully crafted conversation can go wrong if you do it at the wrong time.
I use this question to decide when to confront: Can I drive this truck over that bridge?
There are some special relationships that I think have special rules, such as marriages or your boss–and yes, those are supposed to be two different relationship categories. 🙂 But for the vast majority of relationships, I think about a truck on a bridge.
First, take a good look at this diagram–which not only has a truck and a bridge, but a cute bird. (It’s a picture with something for everyone.)
- The truck: the issue/problem you need to talk to the other person about
- The bridge: the strength of your relationship with the other person
- Driving the truck successfully across the bridge: the other person receives your challenge and growth happens (enter the cute birds singing)
- Driving onto the bridge, the bridge breaking, and the truck crashing into the river: the other person rejects your correction–no positive change and a good bit of frustration on both sides
Big Idea 1: Having a hard conversation is about helping the other person grow.
It’s not about venting your emotions so you feel better. Success–getting to the other side of the bridge–is helping them change and grow, not you feeling better. Usually, the better job you do blowing off steam and feeling vindicated, the worse job you’ve done helping the other person grow.
Big Idea 2: Readiness is defined by the other person, not yourself.
You’ve prepped your content and are eager to correct–but it’s not about your readiness. Yes, get that ready. But then pay attention to their state of mind and your current relationship with them.
Confrontations are much more successful when they are about helping the other person, not making life easier for you.
Big Idea 3: You can never MAKE someone change.
No matter how well you prepare for confrontations, you will not achieve 100% success. You do have the responsibility to do your part well. But perfection on your part does not remove their part–personal choice. Even Jesus, the perfect man in my faith, had one of his hand picked disciples (Judas) choose not to reconcile in the end. Allow others the same right you want for yourself. Don’t try to choose for them. And don’t make other’s choices your measure of success. Take responsibility for handling your part well–their response is between them and God.
In the next post, I’ll show you some “sub-questions” I use to really decide whether I can drive the truck over the bridge (and I’ll talk more about the details of the diagram, like the pillars on the bridge).