One skill a shepherd needs is knowing how to have hard conversations.
In Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud articulates a number of points that I have learned the hard way over the years. (See p. 199ff) I will integrate my thoughts with his.
1. Don’t put off the conversation because you dread the difficulty of it. But don’t rush in. Pray through it and have a plan. What should be in that plan?
2. Begin with the end in mind. Where will the conversation end? “I want to leave the conversation with the person knowing…..” My conversations have often called for repentance – a change of mind resulting in a change of direction. What will happen if there is no change of direction? Be ready for that.
3. Combine care and truth. Have a balance of both. Care about the person and care about the truth. Know your tendency. Do you tend to be too squishy? Do you tend to be too harsh? Be honest, clear, caring, authoritative.
4. Write out the wording. Cloud suggests role-playing. Though I have never done that, I have written out what the facts were or what I wanted to say. Saying something like, (his wording), “I have a list of things I wanted to make sure we covered,” is not strange.
5. Get the tone right. Have a gentle, caring, calm tone can keep the conflict at the lowest necessary point. Moving into a stressed, argumentative, louder, overbearing tone starts to heat the conversation up. It is not only what we say, but how we say it that counts.
6. Be ready for evasion and defensiveness. If we begin with the end in mind, then we will need to prepare for a lack of receptiveness. That often involves listening to the person well, and staying on track with the point of the conversation. “I understand….. but I want to make sure you understand what I am saying…”
7. Express your care for the other person. See #3. God cares for him or her. You should also. Let him know that. Let him know how this sin is dishonoring God but that you are still committed to loving him biblically.
8. Call for repentance. If you are speaking as spiritual authority and sin is involved, then it is good and right to call for a decision. “In Christ’s name, I am calling on you to repent of….. Will you repent of this sin?
9. Bottom line: cultivate the fear of God, not the fear of man. Having hard conversations will not make you popular. But God will see, and bless it. Others will hear and respect you for it.
Hard conversations have to happen. They are a form of correction. The questions is do we have the courage to have those hard conversations. And when we do have them, are we speaking skillfully?