No one likes confrontation.
We don’t like to hear it and only the sadistic enjoy dishing it out. In a culture that emphasizes political correctness and tolerance, confrontation is taboo. If you confront someone for wrong doing, you’re the guilty one.
Confrontation in and of itself is not a bad thing – it’s necessary to help us grow, stay on the right path, and be accountable. The uncomfortable truth is that each one of us is not perfect and moreover, we can have blinders to our imperfections. It’s helpful to see an issue from another person’s perspective. We may know a problem exists but hearing someone else state it gives us the courage to move forward.
Perhaps most people don’t care for confrontation because it is so often handled badly. A not so constructive criticism doesn’t mean the observation itself is bad; it means someone in their own fallible way didn’t present it as well as it could be done.
Constructive confrontation is like cooked cabbage.
I propose that all of us would like certain foods much better if they were cooked properly and served attractively. It’s my opinion that many people don’t care for cooked cabbage because they’ve only tasted overcooked cabbage. Let’s face it – boiled, bland, overcooked cabbage is yucky! But if you cook it just to the crisp-tender stage, season it with just a touch of salt, pepper or caraway seed, add a bit of bacon drippings, combine it with yummy things like corned beef and red potatoes, stuff leaves with meatloaf mixture, or tuck it into fried rice, it’s amazing. Ask my husband. He likes cooked cabbage now – if I dress it up. Caveat: nothing will make sweet potatoes taste any better. Don’t even try to convince me that marshmallows and brown sugar improve the taste. Everyone is allowed one food they do not ever have to eat again, and I claim sweet potatoes as my personal yuck food.
Confrontation is much more delicate and complex than a simple, “You blew it here.” Like the preparation of cooked cabbage, we can take steps to make our observations slide down easier.
Recently I learned the value of dishing out pleasant confrontation. I attended a Christian event where one of the musical groups sang several songs that promoted a world view polar opposite to what the Bible teaches. For two weeks, I wrestled with what to do, finally deciding I needed to speak out. Yet, as is so oftne true, the success of my efforts depended not so much on what I said but how I said it. I needed to speak the truth in love and with gentleness. How do you do that?
Here are nine steps you can use when you need to confront a wrong – nine steps that will bring the results you want without permanently damaging your relationship with the other person.
I prayed that God would go before me to prepare the way. I asked others to pray with me that the person would be receptive, and that God would give me wisdom in knowing how to construct my thoughts.
I started my letter by praising the parts of the events that were God honoring. Secular counselors call this the sandwich approach.
3. Add a touch of humor.
I further softened the tone by making a light-hearted comment about the refreshments, poking fun at my weakness for doughnuts. (They WERE wonderful!)
4. Define the issue.
Confrontation should not be about your personal preferences, comfort level or opinions. Everyone has different styles, likes, and dislikes and to complain that something wasn’t to your liking gives the impression that you expect things done your way, not what is best for everyone. If you don’t like chicken, that’s a personal preference. Keep it to yourself. If the chicken at an event is undercooked, that’s a food safety issue that needs to be addressed. See the difference?
5. Promote righteousness.
The purpose of confrontation is to help the other person be all that they can be in the name of Jesus. It’s to promote justice, righteousness, and peace. If we see a blatant sin that is harming the body of Christ, the Bible instructs us to rebuke and correct. It’s a biblical mandate (2 Timothy 4:2). But we must be very careful to state it as such and strip our language of anything that sounds like a personal preference. We are “speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15)) and therefore, our goal is to show concern for what is best for the other person, not what is convenient for us.
6. Give concrete examples.
Don’t make the other person guess. Vague accusations will sound like accusation. Remember, you want resolution and if you want something to be done about the issue, you need to spell out the problem in such a way that the person understands and is inspired to fix the problem.
7. Admit you don’t know everything.
The other person is closer to the issue than you are. They may have made deliberate choices that took into account the bigger picture. People have reasons for doing what they do. While this shouldn’t keep us from speaking out, at least we need to show respect for the other person’s perceptions, knowledge, and decisions.
8. Offer solutions.
Say what you want to see happen. Offer alternatives. It’s tough being a leader. Event planners are busy, tired, distracted people too who need infusions of fresh ideas. Go a step further and offer to be part of the solution.
Recently, I noticed some weak spots in another program. One side complained they didn’t have enough volunteers; the other side complained that when they offered to help, their offer was ignored. Being in the latter group, I went to the event organizer. “What is a job no one else wants to do?” I asked. To my surprise, she told me. I offered to not only do that job but organize other volunteers who had no slot to fill as part of my team. That simple act made a huge difference in the overall success and positive spirit of the event.
9. End with encouragement.
Thank the person for their hard work. Reiterate the positive points. Encourage them in their quest to follow, honor, and magnify Jesus. This is the top part to the sandwich approach – praise, make your point, praise.
Granted, if you have to deal with the issue face-to-face, you may not be able to get through this entire list. Do what you can, keep it positive, listen lots, and if the person becomes defensive, keep your cool.
Within a week of my confrontation, I received a warm, positive letter. God answered my prayer and prepared the heart of my hearer to listen to my concern. The time had come for change and my letter acted as an impetus for that change.
I’m no expert on confrontation. The only reason I’m able to cite nine ways to do it right is because I have done it wrong so many times. Before I voiced my concern this time, I pleaded with God over and over, “Please help me do this the right way.” I still blurt out accusations without tethering my emotions. I have a long way to go! This time, I discovered that confrontation can bring about the results we want. Just like my enjoyment of a yummy plate of cooked cabbage, noodles and bacon, I find I long to taste a proper dish of palatable confrontation again because now I know – it can work.
Give us hope! How have you seen confrontation work successfully?